Gent Jazz festival review, part I

Wed 15 Jul 09 - by oemebamo - 1 Comment

The Gent Jazz Festival in Beyondjazz hometown Gent (Belgium), is taking a few days off as we write this, with Richard Galliano rounding up the first part of the festival last Sunday. The festival formerly known as the Blue Note Festival has always been split into two parts, titled “All That Jazz!” and “All That Jazz?”. The first brings the classic jazz sound, while the second part stages artists that have a more cross-over sound. Trying to avoid genre definitions it boils down to this: the first part’s seated, the second’s not – ha!

Gent Jazz’s strategy has always been to attract an audience with a couple of big and popular names, and meanwhile introducing some of the lesser known talents. The festival has brought us George Clinton, Soil & Pimp Sessions, Erykah Badu, The Cinematic Orchestra, … so we’d call ourselves regular visitors. In this first festival weekend, we picked the second day with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, the Fred Hirsh Trio + 2, and the Nina Simone Tribute concert.

The Brussels Jazz Orchestra is a 16+ piece jazz band with excellent musicians, playing the kind of jazz you expect to hear at a standard jazz festival. The concert showcased 4 compositions that made it into the finals of their International Composition Contest. Later that evening a clearly surprised Sakiko Masuda went home with the audience’s as well as the jury’s award.

After a half hour break that our friend, regular Beyondjazz guest and the evening’s dj Christopher filled with a lovely MJ cover track and lots of other of our favorite jazz anthems, the Fred Hirsh Trio + 2 got on stage. (“+ 2” meaning added trumpet and saxophone.) Impressive music by excellent musicians bringing a powerful concert, which is half a miracle considering Fred Hirsh has spent half of 2008 in a coma. (Fred Hirsh has been HIV positive for more then 20 years now.) Where half of the tunes of the band definitely were too technical for me, the other half (coincidentally being the uneven tunes – heh?) did somehow captivate me. Other reviews have indicated this concert as one of the definite highlights so far this year.

Highlight of the night was the Nina Simone tribute concert. Nina’s band leader for 41 years, Al Shackman, started the “Sing The Truth” concept the year Nina died of breast cancer at the age of 71, now 6 years back. The musicians from the original band invited spectacular vocalists like Lizz Wright, Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Nina’s daughter Simone Simone to bring us a selection of fantastic songs from Nina Simone’s repertoire.
Mr. Shackman took the time to share stories about how it was to play, tour and live with Nina, and he sure had lots of experiences to tell us about. Maybe a bit too much talk? That, and the fact that every 2 tracks the singer switched, took away some of the flow of the concert. But, luckily, that didn’t prevent magic from happening. Lizz Wright was truly spectacular, and also Dianne Reeves left us stunned with versions of truly classic songs by the high priestess. Inspired versions of “I Put A Spell On You”, “My Baby Just Cares For Me” and “I Loves You Porgy” gave us goosebumps. A tribute night is never the real deal, but with 4 amazing singers like these, this was about as close as you can get to paying honors to the amazing singer Nina Simone was and through her records still is.

Nina Simone tribute: Lizz Wright Nina Simone tribute: Lizz Wright
  • Nina Simone tribute: Lizz Wright
  • Nina Simone tribute show: Simone
  • Nina Simone tribute show: Lizz Wright, Simone, Angelique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves
(All pictures above are © Jos L. Knaepen)

Dutch speaking readers are recommended to check the local news blog Gentblogt, that has a write-up of every single day so far. Author of those is Bruno Bollaert, who’s also sharing a whole bunch of his great photos of the festival – and most other jazz concerts in and around Gent, for that matter.

For the second part, these acts are on the roster on Thursday; Briskey, Leela James and the ever-awesome Jamie Lidell on that first day. For the closing day we hope Jamie Cullum will get us convinced. And on Friday we’re looking forward to the collaboration between Jef Neve and José James.

Jef Neve is a very talented Belgian jazz pianist and composer. With his weekly radio programme on national radio Klara (classical and jazz), he’s also an important taste-maker for the jazz crowd in Belgium, so we’re glad he picked up Beyondjazz favourite José James.
On the tour that Jose James did to promote his debut album, Jef Neve’s show was one of the stops. Those who were there for the live recording, will agree there was an awesome chemistry, when the two young jazz cats played together. Ever since, they kept in touch and decided to share the stage whenever their agendas match. Jef Neve already guested in Jose’s performance at the Ancienne Belgique (Brussels, BE) earlier this year, but we missed that one, so we’re eager to know what they’ll be up to now. On we read there’ll be a Coltrane project from the two this autumn. We can only expect the best. Great music on the best sound system we’ve heard ever at a festival. Bring it on!

One comment so far

  1. lensco wrote July 16 2009 at 11:23 am

    Those 4 ladies were really something special, aye. Powerful!
    Can’t wait for Jamie, José and Jamie…