Friday 12 July
North Sea Jazz starts in drizzly conditions, but the temperatures rise to great heights in the halls of the world’s largest indoor jazz festival. The three-day Rotterdam festival is aimed at audiences of various ages and this is reflected in the musical line up: 91-year-old Burt Bacharach plays a generous selection from the American Songbook, the young musicians of The Internet give a contemporary twist to jazz with danceable electronics and fresh hip-hop grooves. Ahoy is sold out with 75,000 visitors and especially the smaller halls are packed well before the start of the performances.
The Rembrandt Frerichs Trio uses authentic instruments such as fortepiano, violone and a special whisper drum kit, so that they match the sound of the Iranian knee-violin player Kayhan Kalhor. Because the fortepiano is difficult to transport, Frerichs plays the grand piano in the Yenisei hall. Kalhor starts and the music initially has an Eastern character. From the moment Frerichs begins to solo, the jazz level increases. The pieces are long and the musicians build up the tension carefully. It is moving to see and hear how East and West reach each other and this first concert is a highlight of the festival.
It is not possible for me to see the Mats Eilertsen Trio and I also have to miss a part of the concert of the Christian Sands Trio, but what I hear is good and the audience that arrived on time, seem impressed.
Half an hour before the start of Rymden’s performance the Madeira room is filled with expectation. It is a golden combination: the Norwegian keyboard wizard Bugge Wesseltoft and the two remaining members of EST (pianist Esbjörn Svensson died in 2008 after a diving accident). Rymden take their audience on a fascinating musical journey full of Norwegian lyricism and dramatic Swedish rock elements.
Jacob Banks is one of the new artists this year. The British-Nigerian singer performed at the Pinkpop festival earlier this year. His powerful baritone and soulful music impress the North Sea Jazz audience as well.
Friday night’s two surprises are the Bob Reynolds Group and Something about Sanna. Bob Reynolds covers a large segment between classical jazz and pop music. Musically his performance is of a high level, but the group also show pure joy, especially when keyboard player Rusian Sirota plays the Hammond organ. Sanna van Vliet sings and plays the piano, but in between the songs she talks in an entertaining way using her dry humor and self-mockery. Her trio performs their own coherent compositions. Bassist Sven Schuster and drummer Joost Kesselaar form an excellent rhythm section and Sanna van Vliet has a pleasing voice.
Saturday 13 July
Pianist Rein de Graaff did a Dutch farewell tour earlier this year. So, his performance at North Sea Jazz is an encore. It is good to see that the Madeira is packed. The Rein de Graaff trio play a spicy set with the American baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and the Dutch saxophonists Maarten Hogenhuis, Tineke Postma and Marco Kegel. Their enthusiasm and musical joy are great.
Jazz veteran Gary Bartz revives his Another Earth project. Fifty years ago he made groundbreaking music with Charles Tolliver, who is present today as well. Pharao Sanders’ place is taken by Ravi Coltrane, the son of free jazz legend John Coltrane. The group plays an exciting set. The rhythms are complicated but the music is warm and spiritual.
Many people want to see Tank and the Bangas from New Orleans. Despite the difficult weather situation in their home town, the group creates an uncomplicated party on stage by blowing up and popping large balloons. Their music is happy as well.
Tenor saxophonist Houston Person is known as a solid hard bop musician. But this Saturday night in the Madeira, he plays greasy soul jazz. With a Hammond organ and witty announcements: “I prefer to play pieces by good composers, you wouldn’t appreciate it if I played my own music.”
I didn’t know the group Mammal Hands. Still, I heard familiar songs. Spotify had noticed that this music would appeal to me even before I did. The line-up of this bass-free trio is simple: piano, percussion and sax. The inventive use of electronics creates a full sound and the group plays beautiful compositions.
This Saturday is all about the Hammond organ: Joey DeFrancesco’s revolving speakers produce a delicious sound. The experienced organist is accompanied by Billy Hart and the young saxophonist Troy Robert. In the meantime a large, lost seagull tries to find its way out.
Macy Gray delivers an entertaining show, and the music (pop, soul and hip hop) is tight and fresh. Her background singer manages to bring the Maas hall down with her impressive powerful voice. It is nice to see how Gray builds up a seemingly intimate bond with her large audience: “It’s about you and me. We must have a great night together.”
The Larry Goldings trio with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, “the best organ trio of the last decade” according to The New York Times, close the Saturday night. Hard swinging, strongly grooving, but subtly improvising towards a soft landing.
Sunday 14 July
The Yuri Honing Quartet open this Sunday with authority. The group has a recognizable sound. The building up of the musical tension of Honing’s spiritual melancholy is superior. The high quality of Dutch bands at this festival is striking. The Sunday audience seems more focused on the music than that on Saturday. In the halls where quiet jazz is played, people listen in full concentration, sometimes with their eyes closed.
Guitarist Reinier Baas and alto saxophonist Ben van Gelder form a unique combination with the impressive Metropole Orchestra. Baas improvises freely and energetically, Van Gelder plays lyrically but adventurous. The driving force of the Metropole Orchestra’s rhythm section is awesome, the strings and the wind instruments put the playing of these young cats in a beautiful perspective.
Kamasi Washington, who performed with the Metropole Orchestra at a previous edition, has to rely on his own people this time. His band plays solidly and Washington’s music easily fills the huge Maas hall. “We play different melodies together to show how people can work together even when they are different.”
We notice Janelle Monáe’s silhouette standing out against the multi-coloured back wall. Is that really her? It seems to be the case, her band starts to play at exactly eight o’clock and the American singer, who is inspired by science fiction, begins her spectacular musical show together with her background singers and ballet dancers. Monáe pays tribute to life, love and her musical example Prince.
Robert Glasper gets the opportunity to show what he has in store; the pianist and band leader feels just as at home in hip hop circles as in a jazz environment. He exploits those different sides to the maximum in three convincing sets, ending with a tribute to his predecessor, trumpet player Miles Davis, that is a self-willed interpretation rather than a respectful copy.
Joshua Redman has been a regular and welcome guest since the 1990s. The saxophonist presents his Still Dreaming project in this final concert. It is a tribute to Ornette Coleman’s quartet Old and New Dreams, in which Joshua Redman’s father Dewey played. Still Dreaming performs pieces from the seventies and eighties, but also own works in Coleman’s free spirit. At the end of this annual meeting of the world wide jazz community, the presenter reflects on the people we lost: presenter and musician Cees Schrama (1936-2019), free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman (1930-2015) and trumpeter Roy Hargrove (1969-2018): ‘North Sea Jazz made Roy Hargrove huge and Roy Hargrove made North Sea Jazz huge.’
Photography: Ron Beenen