Gent Jazz festival review, part II
July 16 – Jamie Lidell
The Belgian band Briskey had the honour of opening the second weekend of the Gent Jazz festival, focused on cross-over/fusion acts. But we only got there just when Leela James started. Her job was to get the crowd warmed up with her spicy melange of soul and funk: catchy, but not really remarkable. Her show was a mix of highs and lows, while she tried a little too hard to get everyone involved. The audience loved it though, and the tent was buzzing when the headliner came on stage…
Jamie Lidell came, saw and conquered. In just a handful of years he has managed to evolve from an obscure electronica-wizard to a top-notch mainstream performer. Not that he wasn’t good back then, but he sure gets a lot more attention now – the crowd was huge! Not that surprising considering he has four or five ‘hits’ by now, which the spectators could easily sing along.
He skillfully grasped everyone’s attention and didn’t let go until he left the stage. That alone was an amazing accomplishment, given that the band was incessantly experimenting, with live recorded loops, sampling the audience’s ringtones, freaky voice effects, a customized digital saxophone/vocoder, et cetera. Sonically they went all over the place: pop, funk, hard rock, psychedelica, techno, jazz, you name it. As a true chameleon Jamie perfectly fit in. He clearly enjoyed it himself, and we did even more! Check our video of some footage of the concert.
July 17 – José James & Jef Neve, Rodrigo Y Gabriela
The second Friday opened with the fourth Belgian concert of José James. The vocalist and composer from NYC is slowly but surely building up a heavy reputation in our country, especially after teaming up with Belgian pianist Jef Neve. The two jazz cats seem to get along quite well, and the organisers were smart enough to program them as a duo again. José and his band, including London’s finest Richard Spaven on drums and Glenn Gaddum on bass, played a couple of songs from the debut album (a.o. Park Bench People) and a cover of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ Moaning. We heard some previews of new work too, presumably from the upcoming album on Brownswood Black Magic. Particularly the rendition of a tune called Stay With Me was excellent, with Jef Neve’s piano solo being among the best things I’ve ever heard live. It was a delight to see how much pleasure José and Jef had on stage. So much chemistry, in fact, that Mr. Spaven and Mr. Gaddum were almost background personas for most of the gig. (Also noting that Spaven’s drum solo wasn’t his best yet, in an otherwise great performance.)
José took the time to really elongate the tracks and freely scat all over the place. (Too much? I thought not.) We found this gig definitely a step up from the previous one we saw at Jazz Middelheim, seeing José perform his songs in an even deeper and more thorough way. Check our video of some footage of the concert.
Later that night the sensational Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela were the top of the bill. Wielding a lightning fast and marvelous technique the two virtuosos made more than a few jaws drop. Strumming, picking, banging and knocking on the strings and the wood around it, the two forged a sort of flamenco-rock-house sound wall that must be heard to be believed. While there may not have been a lot of progress and variation in their set, it was yet another memorable closing act.
July 19 – Jamie Cullum
The final day of Gent Jazz was all about the British piano wonder boy Jamie Cullum, but not before some local talent gave it a shot. The HoGent Jazz Orchestra is an occasional formation, consisting of graduates from the HoGent music academy, now active in some well-known local bands. They did a very nice job, playing tunes from Moiano, Earth, Wind And Fire, Jim Cole and other soul and funk classics.
Next up was Lady Linn & Her Magnificent Seven, a Belgian band that has made steady progress over the past years, earning the reputation of solid crowd-gathering festival material. They play swing and big band jazz wrapped in a poppy package – the type that gets your hips shaking and your feet tapping in no time – topped with Linn’s sweet vocal cords. I was pleasantly surprised by their performance!
But as said, the true hero of the night was to be Jamie Cullum, and he did not disappoint. He brought a carefully balanced set with both catchy hits, steamy grooves and unpretentious ballads. There was something for everyone – young and old, connoisseur and newb – and thus he managed to bring jazz to a broader public. Not an easy task.
It was the kind of concert where the band is laughing, making fun and enjoying themselves while actually making damn good music. Which subsequently lead to the audience participating heavily. His sometimes long talks between songs were great and didn’t even pull the tension out of the gig.
While watching Jamie I realized the Gent Jazz crew had successfully tried to bring not only great musicians on stage, but at the same time great performers and entertainers. The Nina Simone Tribute singers, Jamie Cullum, José James & Jeff Neve, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Jamie Lidell, … they all masterfully entertained the huge audience, which in turn gave a lot of love back.
I’ve never seen so much people at the Gent Jazz festival (it was a record edition), and I truly hope they keep this thing going strong!