Jazz: Eclectic mix, major sounds, many surprises
Wednesday 07 July 1999
COMPRISING TWO DJs, two decks, and two screens on which appeared two simultaneously screened slides (the same two all night), Berlin's Jazzanova had symmetry on their side but little else. Opening up Friday's late-night show in the cavernous hall of the Old Fruitmarket, the hip remix collective's old-school grooves and digitally-assisted rim-shots were presumably intended to get people dancing. Instead, they had the effect of creating a gap between the stage and the audience that seemed to increase with every new record on the turntable. By the time they were followed by Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz, Wesseltoft had to peer through his spectacles for some minutes before he could see an audience at all.
Faced with a seemingly impossible task, the Norwegian band somehow managed to prevail, and bit by bit the crowd seeped forward to meet them, drawn by the superbly supple drumming of Anders Engen, with free-jazz saxophone riffs wailing over the top of skittering snare-rhythms and loping double bass patterns. The New Conception of Jazz might be lumbered with a rather portentous name, but they more than live up to it.
Earlier that evening at the same venue, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko had presented the music from his album Litania, in a performance so assured that it was close to perfect. Playing with a quintet, Stanko followed the pattern of the album by alternating composer Krzysztof Komeda's repeated elegiac themes with spirited improvisations that at times recalled the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-Sixties. The group was a model of sensitive, emotionally involving jazz.
On Saturday, the orchestra of the Dominican Republic's Jose Alberto was so good that instead of being a routine preamble for the appearance in the second set of the queen of salsa, Celia Cruz, it was more than enough in itself. And if Cruz looked good for 69 (and she is possibly older), Elvin Jones at 71 was a picture of Dorian Gray. Appearing with his group Jazz Machine on Sunday, the famous drummer from the John Coltrane Quartet of the early Sixties made no concessions to his advancing years. His long, ridiculously athletic solos and constant polyrhythmic pulse were marvels in themselves, but what was so surprising was the rigour of the music. While you might have expected headlong bop, what you got were dense, various, and completely contemporary improvisations that called upon Japanese folk tunes as much as Coltrane classics.
Although following Jones was an unenviable task, the final concert of the festival by Steps Ahead was in its own way equally assured. Mike Mainieri's latest version of the band is an acoustic one. As with Elvin Jones, the music was perhaps less emotionally involving than that of Tomasz Stanko, but for mellow and melodic grooves it couldn't be faulted. You could say the same about the whole festival too, for while Glasgow might have slimmed down somewhat, the quality was hard to beat.
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