Bad hair and a creepy voice

In this week’s post, as promised, I am joined by Arthur Cole. Arthur and I, as you will know if you’ve been reading my posts over the last couple of weeks, went to the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam last weekend. This post features what we thought were the highlights of the festival. I asked Arthur to write this with me because whilst we have similar music tastes, we inevitably have some slight differences in taste.

Arthur

First of all, my definite highlight of North Sea Jazz 2010 has to be seeing people actually pushing each other out of the way to get to a jazz gig; a sight I’ve never seen before and probably never will again (many walked out again after about 10 minutes, but oh well no comment on the music they clearly just weren’t true jazzers). They were thronging to see Joshua Redman (you can listen to his set here), an American sax player, who had the honour earlier that night of playing with the great Ornette Coleman, and was one of two artists who majorly changed my opinions of them before North Sea. The other was Pat Metheny, jazz guitarist who has probably both the most annoying hair and voice in jazz.

Before the festival I’d thought of both as technically fantastic players, who did nothing very innovative. But live, their talents as improvisers came shining through and they were both definitely worth seeing. Joshua Redman, who in particular had always seemed to be someone who only wanted to be John Coltrane (to be fair who wouldn’t), was really impressive.

Although being billed as a Jazz fest, Rotterdam was prepared to welcome two hip-hop acts who are based firmly in jazz, as well as some bland pop, the less said about the better (take a bow Joss Stone). Both Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and The Roots were very funky (you can listen to their sets here and here, respectively), and their audience interaction made a nice change from the majority of artists who in the main ignored us completely. Hypnotic Brass do seem a bit torn between trying to be true jazz and being popular (it being impossible to be both) and at one stage were gracious enough to admit that “what Miles and Coltrane did was cool but we’re doing our own thing.” The one tune they played which they described a “real music” wasn’t all that successful, but the more upbeat ones were great. The Roots mostly did all their hits, The Seed, Mellow My Man and You Got Me, were all there, as well some tunes from the album they’ve just brought out, How I Got Over, which sounds promising.

Finally, onto two legends we saw, with completely different styles, but who must be my two favourite acts of the week-end. The first is McCoy Tyner, who Al introduced last week, and who showed just subtle the best music can be (you can listen to his set here). We saw two identically set-up quartets, the McCoy Tyner trio with Joe Lovano, and the Chick Corea Freedom Band, which was far more hyped. The difference between the two couldn’t have been more different, as the tunes the Freedom Band played weren’t at all memorable, and their whole manner on stage was annoying self-obsessed. This was particularly disappointing as one of my favourite saxophonists, Kenny Garrett (not to be confused with Kenny G), plays with them, and his solo stuff is so much better. McCoy Tyner is definitely the man go for. The other legend is of course Stevie Wonder, and he was even better than when I saw him a couple of years ago in Manchester. His set was pretty much identical to what he played at Glastonbury, and his band was unbelievable. Enthusiasm wasn’t dampened by having to wait for some football match to finish (World Cup apparently) and it was a fitting way to close a fantastic festival.

Alex

If Pat Metheny has the most annoying voice in jazz then Tord Gustavsen definitely has the most creepy. Despite wanting to hide behind a cushion every time he spoke, the set he did with his ensemble was outstanding. I know I’ve mentioned this ensemble and their latest album, Restored, Returned, 3 times but hopefully this will be the last. The tunes on this album are hauntingly beautiful. The singer, Kristin Asbjornsen, whilst coming across as an annoying middle-aged new age type, is captivating live. Aside from all this, their incredibly rich and mellow timbre sets them up as a band I’d highly recommend seeing if you get the chance.

Two acts that we unfortunately didn’t get to see the whole of their sets because of clashes were TrioVD and, I’m sorry Louisa (consider it unknowing pre-emptive revenge for associating me with Let’s Get It On), Krystle Warren. Both of these two I would go and see given half a chance. TrioVD clashed with Stevie Wonder and Arthur and I had devised a sneaky plan to get as close to Stevie as possible that involved us turning up to his gig early meaning that I only got to see their first few songs. Whilst they were playing I felt like I was being slapped around the head repeatedly with a raucous concoction of squeaks, honks and snaps and I loved it! They were worryingly tight, with all their slight anticipations and hesitations exactly together.

Probably the only thing shared by TrioVD and Krystle Warren is that they were both had a great interaction with their crowd. Krystle Warren was charming and funny as you can hear, along with the rest of her set here. Her voice is so powerful that she hardly needed a mike. Sunday Comfort was a perfect opener. Listening to the album version, I much prefer her solo version of it. In fact I think a stripped back sound suits her far more than what is sometimes an over produced sound on the album.

My favourite act was undoubtedly Ornette Coleman. I was delighted to find that he has not mellowed, at least musically, in his old age. Despite looking like he was nodding off whilst he wasn’t playing, his wild style of playing is still the same as the young man who stares resolutely out from his early album covers. admittedly this would be a detrimental comment when applied to other players but with Ornette Coleman I feel that the rest of us are still trying to catch up to him. He’s still very much avant-garde in the literal meaning of the word. This was reflected in the way that his gigs still manage to drive away the more conservative jazz fans. None more so than his last one with the Master Musicians Of Jajouka. These Moroccan musicians provide a backdrop for Coleman’s unusually set up quartet (Coleman, drums and two basses, one electric and one acoustic) to collectively improvise over. The coolest moment of the festival, and quite probably my life, came at the end of his brilliant first gig (which you can watch the entirety of here); him playing Lonely Woman accompanied by Charlie Haden and Joshua Redman. Need I say more?

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