Monthly Archives: February 2008

Jazzkaar Festival 2008

In Tallinn, a city where gothic cathedrals are overlooked by contemporary glass hotels, and ultra-fashionable woman in high-heels carefully tred their way through the medieval cobbled streets, it is evident that tradition and modernity go hand in hand. The Jazzkaar festival, fittingly then, is a celebration of music which borrows from the past, whilst at all times looking to the future. 

Embracing a range of influences including the Nordic folk heritage of the North, the gypsy traditions of its neighbouring South, and the established jazz cannon of the West, Estonian jazz has found its own organic sound. Local musicians such as Villu Veski and Tiit Kalluste have sought comfort in the vaporous sounds of Scandinavia, matching ghostly soprano saxophone with pulsating accordion. Their duo performance in one of the city’s seemingly infinite cathedrals was simply breathtaking. Completely attuned to their surroundings, the utilisation of the building’s natural echo provided an ethereal and reflective quality to the sound.

In juxtaposition, Jaak Sooaar is the driving force of the experimental scene; his guitar led trio, The Dynamite Vikings, are influenced as much by John Zorn and Tim Berne as Jan Garberick. Strangely the performance took place at a Pavilion on the outskirts of the city (a huge greenhouse of a building with tropical plants to boot) but the performance was a fascinating blend of subtle Zappaesque parody, intense free jazz solo work and some of the funkiest riffs of the festival: uncompromisingly forward thinking music without being inaccessible. 

As well as being a showcase for local artists, the abundance of global talent made Jazzkaar a festival of international appeal. Stepping in from the cold Estonian air, the charismatic Lenny Andrade certainly warmed things up as her Brazilian Sambop Band set forth with their lively and often romantic bossa-nova. Sticking with the Latin theme, Son De La Frontera made the concert hall feel like a Spanish street party with their traditional flamenco guitar work and dancing. But personally, Grammy award winning Angelique Kidjo from Benin was hands down the most entertaining and energised performer of the week: her Afro-beat and funk derived music set the crowd alight with pulsating rhythms and textures.

There was no shortage of big names to draw in the crowds either with Dave Douglas and Al Di Meola selling out their concerts, and with living legend Roy Ayers bringing his notoriously tight soul-jazz outfit to town the chance of the dull week was impossible.  Still exhaustively touring, even now in the autumn of his life, Ayers’ show was positively electric.  With one of the best working rhythm sections in the business and an unfaltering capacity to make people dance, smile and generally go wild, his place at the top of the entertainment ladder is as secure as ever.  

But ultimately the highlights of the week were the impromptu after-hours jam sessions at Clazz Jazz Club.  Nestled in the Old Town world-class recording artists were able to trade fours with local musicians long into the morning, providing a grateful audience with epic cutting contests and rousing sing-a-longs: a harmonious international example of the transcendent power music.

Pharoah Sanders at the Jazz Café, London

pharoah-sandersPharoah Sanders is the most loyal of Coltrane’s disciples.  And even now at the age 67, this elder statesman of the 60s black avant-garde scene continues to carry the torch for his fallen musical mentor.   

The tenorman from Little Rock Arkansas kicked off his Thursday night set at the Jazz Café with an epic version of ‘My Favourite Things’.  Sanders attacked his instrument, spraying out long runs of multiphonic notes to create his instantly recognisable muscular style. Switching between sharp ear-splitting screams and deep guttural growls, the timbre of his horn adopted a vocal quality; which he eventually took one step further by taking it out of his mouth and making it play on its own (a trick he has become famed for over the years).

However, in an uncharacteristically drab blue jumper, and looking somewhat shaky on his feet, Sanders’ energy dwindled as he played the lush ‘Say It (Over and Over Again)’ off Coltrane’s Ballads album.  But after sitting down for a while, and allowing pianist William Henderson, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Joe Farnsworth to stride out on their own, he rose once more.

Sadly the formulaic approach to each number saw all band members playing uninspired solos for drawn-out periods; eventually the lacklustre sidemen becoming a little tedious to watch.  It was left to Sanders alone to lift everyone’s spirits by finishing the set with the rhythm and blues tinged ‘Wisdom through Music’.  By blowing into the crowd, jovially dancing (albeit in a geriatric fashion) and even gyrating his saxophone, he created a carnival atmosphere in the venue.

Unfortunately, he did not come back and encore with any of his earlier Impulse tunes, but considering his age and the amount of effort it took for him to climb up the stairs to his changing room, I don’t think anybody disapproved.