Jazzkaar Journal: Dianne Reeves, George Duke and Tallinn Shine
Duke and his band, including smooth backing singers Shannon Pearson and Lamont Vanhook, tore through extended medley-based jams for an American songbook from the '60s through tomorrow that backed up Duke's assessment. "Oh, Oh" from Duke's collaborations with Stanley Clarke hooked the first five rows of people that were pressed against the stage into a dance party, and the group never slowed down after that until they had worked up everybody in the place.
George Duke Band
After rolling into a fifteen minute instrumental of old school fusion and heavy techno-funk Duke connected some personal mileposts ranging from his highest charting, early '80s hit "Sweet Baby," to current releases like "Everyday Hero" and "I tried to Tell Ya." The audience reacted like every tune was a family favorite, and the band fed off that energy. Around a third of the set featured vocals. The swarm sang along to most of them.
Upright master Michael Manson, who has been with Duke for a variety of genres, slapped his electric bass silly, while Jef Lee Johnson kept his guitar feedback tuned to the key of Zappa most of the time. Gorden Campbell was a true force behind the drums and Andrew Papastephanou backed up Duke on keys without interfering with the star. The sound in the granite cavern type venue wasn't the clearest to be heard, but for heart pumping beats it wasn't bad at all. Duke's nearly two-hour set was a feel good affair, and the jumping, posing floor clearly got the feeling as dozens swayed en masse.
By the 90-minute mark some fans started to drift outside for a smoke or ride home but most stayed in the sauna-like scene. That gave people more room to dance, and when Duke hit his synthesizer effects board many free spirits bopped into individual motions that made Duke appear like a master of marionettes. It was almost 2am and the trains had stopped running. No matter. Duke and his band were bringing everybody home.
All the stops were pulled out and the high priests of all-powerful nasty invoked when Duke single-key surfed into hearty samples of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone during a huge "I Want To Take You Higher" finale. Admirable heights were scaled. If all ambassadors were as effective as George Duke the world would be a much more danceable place. Some Estonians polled indicated they didn't know anything about the USA except regarding the music and the military. Draw your own conclusions.
Gigs and Digs
Most performers at Jazzkaar may not be international stars,but that doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of world class talent on display. The duo of Korea's impressive, challenging vocalist Youn Sun Nah and extraordinary Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius offered a wildly original set of acoustic scorchers. Wakenius riffed poignantly while Youn Sun Nah covered Bossa Nova scat and inflections from Tania Maria to Yoko Ono. It came as close to performance art as to mainstream jazz.
During Nat King Cole's "Calypso Blues," Youn Sun Nah hypnotized the crowd with hand gestures as if she were literally throwing her special effects style voice from a whisper to a howl around the stage, illustrating why she was chosen '09's winner of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture. She can even breathe in amazing tones. As the intensely beaming Youn Sun Nah drew appreciative murmers from the audience the understated but still powerful Wakenius maintained a nice balance with crystal clear picking. Covers of "My Favorite Things" and a fine "Don't Go Away From Me" in flawless French added another dimension to standard catalogues. Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon" could be the type of trademark calling card to gain this well-matched duo major recognition.
Youn Sun Nah (left) and Ulf Wakenius (right)
Facial expression played a key role in many Jazzkaar performances, and the Russian Cultural Center was a proper venue for that, with excellent sightlines from every ticketed viewing point. Murals of fiery Russian sea battles adorned the lobby areas, accented by detailed architecture and museum worthy busts of past administrators and officers. An engraved plaster hammer and sickle still adorned the stage. A progressing, time-lapsed video collage of the venue and audience introduced each group, while similar but distinct background footage added a sense of evolving continuance to the acts.
The videos also played well over in Rock Cafe, with other strobe lit flashes of enhancement that continued Jaazkaar related imagery but also illuminated the almost polar opposites of festival venues. The Russian Cultural Center had brightly painted, creamy walls and detailed curved stairway columns. Rock Cafe had dark, weathered bricks, beat up memorabilia, and multi-stained facilities. Each place had tons of personality, and rotated shows were a fun filled double-feature.