Gent Jazz Festival 2009: Days 1-5
McCoy Tyner's trio is augmented by guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Gary Bartz, both of whom might be considered unpredictable choices as guest stars. Their presence nudges Tyner's music into a completely different zone, transforming magisterial concentration into an outwardly rolling speed-chase. Frisell is paying special attention to his music stand, and appears to be uncertain at times. Then, he'll latch onto a piece's motion and reel off a fluid post-Wes Montgomery solo as if he's been playing with Tyner for months. There's a similar relationship between trio foundation and guesting duo to that found during the Hersch set. Tyner is concentrated rather than showy, with most of the fire licking out of Gary Bartz's horn. Drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt is also repeatedly exploding with hard statements, considerably raising the passion levels with his emphatic belligerence.
July 11: Christian Scott
The New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott is rapidly becoming a significant presence in the rising star stakes. The first time that your reviewer caught him playing live was quite recently, at New York's Village Vanguard with Allen Toussaint's Bright Mississippi Band. Under those dim lights, Scott still looked like the stripling he is, although delivering peppery solos within a sepia trad setting. He seems to be a man of many images, be-suited with Toussaint, and now garbed in an outfit that looks like one of those pooch collars that are designed to prevent paws from opening up healing wounds. Much later in the evening, at the festival jam session, he's reverted to casual, again transforming his appearance completely. This creates an aura of cool that might make Scott appear like an aloof poseur, but this feeling is defused once he opens his mouth, coming across as more relaxed and casual.
Oh yes: the playing. This quintet's music has the advantage of embracing mainstream jazz tradition, funky fusion and ambient balladry, with Scott mastering all of his chosen forms. It's significant that he's surely the only known trumpeter who dares to perform with a deliberately manufactured upwards-bent horn, in the Dizzy Gillespie manner. Such is Scott's great confidence. The combo has crossover approachability, but there are also interludes of spacey exploration, all underlining the involved web of contrasting influences and attitudes that form the Scott stance. Much later in the evening, the band turns up at the aforementioned all-nite (and they do literally mean aaaaaall-nite) festival jam session at the NH hotel's Medieval basement den in the centre of Gent. Here's another facet: even more straight-ahead post- bebop charging, tossed off at a relentless pace, charged with soloing action, and baptising this new fest development with a sizzle. The concept is that the evening's artists will hang around to hook up, and many of them do, although on this particular night George Benson is safely tucked up in his satin sheets, after gliding through a sugary-smooth set of disco pop pap rather than the more jazzy manifestation that was apparently promised.
July 12: The Richard Galliano Quartet / The Brad Mehldau Trio / The Nathalie Loriers Trio & Bert Joris With Strings / The Yaron Herman Trio
The next night, it's back down to the jam session dungeon once more, where the Israeli pianist Yaron Herman manages to top his own earlier trio set. The 'official' performance is efficiently negotiated, but doesn't float beyond a level of reasonable attractiveness. Herman has a distinctive way of releasing brutally cyclic clusters, rising up from his stool to facilitate more wrist-leverage. Later on, this technique is employed in a ceaselessly inventive hi-power gush, as drummer Gerald Cleaver becomes subtler instead, splashing around and supporting Herman's wild excursions. They're relaxed into jam session shape, but this can have its advantages when chances are taken and freedom is allowed. It's a epic adventure into full keyboard dissection. Two totally different environments, of course, but this late-late session provides an essential glimpse of Herman's un-clenched side.
The Belgian pianist and composer Nathalie Loriers is collaborating with trumpeting countryman Bert Joris, her new pieces calling on the services of the Spiegel String Quartet. The entire suite-set has a logically unfurling sequence, making a lyrically narrative journey. Loriers herself is more of a constantly rippling presence than a displaying soloist, but her energy is always reliably smouldering at the music's heart. Joris takes the lead- voice role, his every statement answered or emphasised by the oceanic swell of the strings. They're playing as if this will be the only performance of these pieces, although in these times, there are obviously fewer opportunities to expand a band into this impressive festival incarnation.