Gent Jazz Festival 2009: Days 1-5
This orgy of pianos reaches its pinnacle with the Brad Mehldau Trio. Being married to the Dutch singer Fleurine, Mehldau's able to speak in the Flemish tongue, not surprisingly the only American to attempt such a thing during this festival. The trio's gigs are subject to the sensitivities of its leader. More than many outfits, there's the chance that the music might not be imbued with its full spark. Mehldau doesn't fake it, and it's usually possible to catch any dissatisfactions or artistic weariness. This gig's one of the best, and probably the peak form possible from the pianist. Mehldau's battle is almost half won because of his sense of authority, before even beginning to speak about technique or expression. He has a way of making every "sentence" count: of pausing, ruminating, delivering then climaxing. Therefore, the mind is not allowed to wander during this set. There's always some unexpected twist or curve to magnetise the audience.
The festival's first five days of hardcore jazz finishes with the Richard Galliano Quartet. The next weekend's four nights will be dedicated to jazz peripherals, with dashes of soul, rock, country and electronica. Frenchman Galliano is the night's exception, although his band does include a pianist in the shape of Gonzalo Rubalcaba. It's nearly a Stateside-based supergroup, with the remaining pair being bassist Richard Bona and drummer Clarence Penn. An attempt to imagine the globally-untethered style they might adopt turns out to be accurate. The base is jazz, but Aregentina, Brazil, and most of the African continent are potential melodic and rhythmic sources, even as these motifs are deliberately displaced and incorporated into a polyglot style. Bona's presence is particularly strong, as he's providing a wide range of vocal effects, a wordless instrumentalist. Galliano will knock, shake or bounce his accordion, making use of its wheezily percussive nature. He'll also heighten the lung-bellow qualities of the instrument's breath, while ribboning out highly decorative lines. Following the intense journeying of Mehldau, this set has the desired lightness of touch that's suitable to make the crowd breathe out and relax. The tunes aren't lacking in substance, but they're mostly bright and happy, just what's needed as the loins are girded for the all-night jam session.
Jos L. Knaepen & Bruno Bollaert