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October 31, 2014
Thursday, November 29, 2012

The most memorable week of the jazz year

The Tom Harrell Quintet on stage at the BA Jazz Festival.
Musical meetings between local, int’l stars are Buenos Aires Jazz’s excellent trademark

Jazz in town

After a six-day marathon of jazz concerts, the twelfth edition of the Buenos Aires International Jazz Festival, held by the BA City’s Culture Secretariat, came to an end last Monday night with Banda Mantiqueira’s truly effusive performance. This was the perfect farewell for a jazz festival whose boundaries have been suitably stretched over the years so as to include a Brazilian instrumental group such as this one.

Everything started on Wednesday 21, with the legendary trumpet player Tom Harrell and his quintet delivering a wonderful set of intense, pure and exquisite jazz.

At 66 and in perfect form despite the on-and-off mental condition that has altered his career (schizophrenia), Harrell commanded his musicians to expose his personal sound of contemporary jazz, an approach that delves in the classics of his instrument, but that also includes modern approaches. It’s no accident that all of his musicians are much younger that him, and that they come from a different stage in jazz’s development: while he is clearly and undisputedly the leader, it was also obvious that the members of the quintet had a vital role (and task) in both fostering the group’s sound and in encouraging Harrell all the way through. It was a great overture for a festival that offered a wide spectrum of jazz styles.

Concerts followed nonstop from then on, and some high points included the gathering of guitarist and composer Ralph Towner and Argentine saxophonist Javier Girotto; the performances of French pianist Alain Jean-Marie with his trio and solo; and US pianist Kirk Lightsey, who also played twice – first solo and then with local talents Horacio Fumero (double-bass) and Pepi Taveira (drums).

As we have said before, one of the merits of this festival is to bring musicians of this calibre and offer the local audience the chance to enjoy them. Lightsey (75), whose credentials include collaborations with luminaries such as Dexter Gordon, James Moody, David Murray, Chet Baker, Pharoah Sanders and Woody Shaw, among countless others, confirmed what an exquisite pianist he is. His gig with Fumero and Taveira was simply superior, ignited by that spontaneous spark that only jazz can create amongst musicians who had never played together before.

The same happened with local pianist Manuel Fraga (an underrated musician who certainly deserves much wider recognition) and his encounter with French bassist Gilles Naturel and drummer Philippe Soirat (members of Alain Jean-Marie’s trio). With just one previous rehearsal, they delivered a set of jazz standards with inspired intensity and the depth of emotion required to elevate this repertoire from mere repetition to true and moving art. Their smiling faces made it clear that they were having a great time on stage, which pervaded their music and reached the warm audience that had crowded the cosy Café Vinilo. The same happened the night before with Belgian guitarist Jean-François Prins and US pianist Danny Grissett (a member of Tom Harrell’s group) with locals Luciano Ruggieri (drums) and Juan Manuel Bayón (double-bass).

The Argentine and international artists in all these “crossings” (there were several of them each night) were up to the challenge, particularly the local musicians (who proved once again that they can be paired with any jazz musician from the European or the much more competitive US circuits), and have definitely shaped the festival’s identity since Adrián Iaies took over as artistic director five years ago.

Iaies, who was exhausted but happy and satisfied, spoke to the Herald about the festival and its outcome. “I believe the festival was, once again, a complete success. I don’t have the official numbers yet, but I believe many more people attended the concerts. Almost all of them were sold-out.” This reviewer shares that impression – even without box office figures, it is safe to say that most venues were pretty much filled to capacity.

“Anyway, I don’t think it was a success only by the amount of people that went to the concerts, but also because of the whole programme we were able to offer. I think it was a very complete schedule.

“When I took over, this festival was called Jazz y otras músicas (“Jazz and other Musics”), and we wanted to give it a definite identity. Jazz as a genre is by its very essence really broad, but at the same time not everything is jazz. With that concept in mind, we gradually stretched the frontiers within the genre, so as to include artists like Marc Ducret, John Hellenbeck, or Banda Mantiqueira, for example.”

Asked about the “Crossings” section, which has somehow become the Festival’s trademark and is rarely found in other jazz events around the globe, Iaies said that, “I think this is one of our greatest achievements: to give local musicians the chance to not only measure their own strengths and abilities, but also to make contact with musicians that play all year long in the busiest circuits, and from then on, who knows, have the chance to also work abroad. From here it gets difficult for jazz musicians to play in Europe or in the US, for we are still a bit isolated. This year (as usual), visiting artists were really surprised at our musician’s level. John Hollenbeck told me, for example, that he could perfectly play with these musicians in New York (Hollenbeck played with Ernesto Jodos, Rodrigo Dominguez, Juan Pablo Arredondo and Jerónimo Carmona). My wish, for future editions, would be to have almost all of the concerts in the programme bringing together visiting and local artists; that would be a great challenge for all.”

In all, Iaies is right to feel satisfied, as all local fans should be. As we had the chance to listen to some notable musicians that otherwise would most probably wouldn’t come to play here, there was also a big offer of performances by local artists who tenaciously animate our local circuit, and who get more chances to be seen in the frame of a festival.

Buenos Aires certainly deserved a festival like this one – now that it seems to have been finally and firmly established, let’s hope it will remain uninterrupted in our cultural scene.

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