Bonaire Heineken Jazz Festival: Blue Notes & Pink Flamingos
Plaza Beach Resort/Kon Tiki Beach Club/other venues
Bonaire, The Antilles
May 25-29, 2006
One of the newest jazz festivals in the Caribbean, the Bonaire Heineken Jazz Festival met with great success again in this, its second year. Organized by the Bonaire Jazz Foundation, the festival, held during the long weekend of May 25-29, took place at several venues, all of them providing a delightfully relaxed atmosphere. Of the three main concerts, the first two took place on the beach of the Plaza Beach Resort, and the third at the Kon Tiki Beach Club. There were also late night sessions at the City Café, a short beachfront walk away from the Little Havana Jazz Club, and a Sunday brunch jam session at Den Laman's beachfront restaurant.
Bonaire, which lies close to both Aruba and Curacao, and is one of the Netherland Antilles ABC's, has its own distinct character. Unlike the touristic highlife and Americanized casino hotels of Curacao, the island seems gentle and laidback. Surrounded by the waters of a marine park, it's reputed to be a perfect base for divers and snorkelers. Non-divers can enjoy the above-water attractions, which include beautiful beaches and exotic wild life. The starkness of the inland island wilderness contrasts dramatically with the serene Goto Meer Bay wildlife sanctuary and its pink flamingos. Bonaire is a wonderfully de-stressing vacation spot.
The festival was mainly attended by the local community, plus some die-hard jazz aficionados from further afield. It opened Thursday evening with Papiamentu Poetry and Jazz at Fort Orange, featuring the duo of Merietza Groot-Haakmat (vocals) and Hershell Rosario (guitar and bass), and Ced Ride And Trio. Groot-Haakmat was born and raised on the island of St. Martin. Since moving to Curacao she has enjoyed a successful career as a singer and dancer, and has been invited to perform for the Dutch royal family on several occasions.
Ride has become a leading singer-composer in Curacao. He's multi-talented: an actor, singer, composer and painter. His awards are numerous. His CPST Trio (Curacao Papiamentu Swing Trio ), featuring Pierre Dunker (bass) and Stanley Betrian (guitar), performed poems and songs composed by Ride in Papiamentu with Caribbean rhythms, and transformed into jazzy patterns.
The late night session in front of City Café featured Moogie and friends and Question Mark. Moogie came to Bonaire from Florida in 1990 and stayed. Moogie (vocals and percussion), and friends Robbie Swinkels (guitar), Lando Asjoe (bass) and Chris Morkos (drums), make music which is best described as jazzy Caribbean soul. Question Mark, a band from Surinam, was led by Bud Gaddum (saxophone) with Marvin Nijhove (keyboard), Robby Tjon en Fa (bass) and Regillio Matoerin (drums). Their specialty is "SuriJazz , a mixture of Surinam rhythms and Western jazz. By the end of Thursday, when I arrived, the festival was clearly off to a good start, and the jam session continued well past midnight at the Little Havana.
Friday evening's events were at the Plaza Hotel beach bandstand, the site of the two major concerts. The opening group, the Ronchi Matthews Zumtum Quartet with Konkie Halmeyer, opened with a driving keyboard number and an improvised reading of "Satan Doll." This was followed by a terrific performance of Gershwin's "Bess, You Is My Woman." Ronchi's improv and interpretation deserve wider notice.
Next on were the Cubol City Big Band, the festival's featured band, led by Lucas van Merwijk. The smoking, twenty-strong, salsa and Latin unit stands comparison with prominent Latin big bands on the Miami scene and their Havana and Santiago peers. A driving, well organized and well rehearsed lineup, they're fronted by a new Celia Cruz, the Venezuelan Yma America.
The band also includes Marc Bischoff (keyboard), Mick Paauwe (bass), Nils Fischer and Gerado Rosales (percussion), Alberto Caisedo (vocals), Cyrille Oswald, Rolf Delfos, Gerrit Jan Brinkhorst, Milan Bongers and Wouter Schueler (saxophones), Ilja Reingoud, Martin van den Berg, Louk Boudestijn and Frans Cornelissen (trombones), and Charlie Biggs, Petere van Soest, Rob van der Wouw and Michael Simon (trumpets). Sound is by Juan Viloria. The audience loved them, moving and grooving as though in a big city salsa club.
Saturday's concert at the Plaza beach opened with the Konki Halmeyer group featuring steel drum performer extraordinaire, Konkie Halmeyer, playing original compositions and some great covers. The group generated an authentic Caribbean vibe. Anastasia Larmonie followed with her band, swinging in modern jazz style. Larmonie powers the entire performance and keeps her musicians at her side, performing strong originals along with traditional tunes.