North Sea Jazz Festival, July 8-10, 2011
On the same stage, Lovano's US Five was the opposite with Lovano starting a darting, aggressive unaccompanied tenor sax statement. As the rest of the group jumped in, Lovano was off, exchanging lines with drummers Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III on a bebop adventure based on Charlie Parker (the focus of his 2011 Blue Note release, Birdsongs), but flying beyond. Lovano took chances at every turn, pushing the envelope while his band mates kept pushing the rhythm. This was pure, unbridled jazz out of the spirit of Lovano's idols like Bird and Sonny Rollins.
James Weidman flew on piano, a good foil for the saxophonist. This band was scorching, taking no prisoners. Lovano's sound and fury was infectious and inspired awe.
As B.B. King was winding down a perfunctory set that has become more show biz and less raw blues ("You are My Sunshine?" Really?), Kneebody was tearing it up, playing on the edge, raucous, freewheeling, but mesmerizing music. The group followed the band Mostly Other People Do the Killing, which is known for taking the music out on bizarre paths. But Kneebody wasn't taking a back seat.
Propelled by Nate Wood's crashing drums and Kaveh Rastegar's fat, steady bass, trumpeter Shane Endsley and saxophonist Ben Wendell played some fierce, riveting stuff. When the group slowed it down, it was soulful, then using that as a jumping-off point for more mischief. The horn players were kindred spirits in this dense, varied music, high-energy music.
It made Chucho Valdes, with singer Omara Portuondo, seem tame. But their set of Latin music had toes tapping. In another room, however, reed man Michel Portal was playing his interesting post-bop compositions with the help of Akinmusire, Waits and Raghavan. A highlight was the leader and Akinmusire's frantic unison lines, which then segued into a more delicate motif that allowed the trumpeter to float off into a ballad solo containing a myriad of inviting twists and turns. Always trying to create something meaningful, Akinmusire played with strength and beauty.
Pharoah Sanders, now 70, walked slowly to the stage but jumped out of the gate like a race horse, blaring "Giant Steps" with all the flair and excitement of its creatorand his mentorJohn Coltrane. He is still pushing, still reaching, still preaching on his tenor sax. Glasper, with drummer Chris Dave and bassist Derrick Hodge, was equally adventurous. His solo also pushed the limits, using short, choppy phrases and spinning off his own ideas as he investigated the classic tune.
Ntjam Rosie led a larger band with backup singers, doing songs from her new self- produced CD Elle (2011), including "Roof Over My Heart" and "Morning Glow." The Cameroon native is charming as well as strong on stage, has a alluring way with rhythm and harmony that blends into a style she is carving out for herself.
The magnificent fusion guitarist John McLaughlin tries a lot of different musical things. Lately, he's back with probably his strongest suit, playing his quicksilver, electric guitar fireworks over strong, soulful, world beats. He simply sparkled. His playing seemed effortless, but there was so much there in those flying fingers. Good for the head and the soul. Etienne Mbappe was a thunderous bassist, always in step with McLaughlin, while Ranjit Barot's persistent rhythms suited every change in the music. Keyboardist Gary Husband almost seemed superfluous in the maelstrom created by his three mates; the groove was always in high gear, but shifting, not stationary.
For non-jazz acts, the Tedeschi-Trucks BandSusan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks who play blistering blues-rockwas a great choice. They wailed. Trucks is the new Duane Allman on slide guitar (he tours with The Allman Brothers Band, where his uncle, drummer Butch Trucks, is an original member), full of invention, fire and improvisation; he made his guitar talk. Tedeschi's voice was sounding better than ever, strong, emotional, full of soul. And this band had a three-man horn section that included fine young trumpeter Maurice Brown.
They did a flurry of tunes from their new CD Revelator (Sony Masterworks, 2011), and all of them hit the mark, led by Trucks' soaring guitar work. Tedeschi, a strong blues player before she met Trucks (who is now her husband), also got off a virtuoso blues solo that would have made Buddy Guy smile. A fun twist was a down-home funky cover of Sly Stone's "Sing a Simple Song," that allowed Brown to cut loose. "Space Captain," which the couple cut with Herbie Hancock on his Imagination Project (Herbie Hancock, 2010), was also a killer.