Jazz review: The silent treatment works best
St Lucia Jazz Festival
Friday 15 May 1998
Blige was topping the bill at the first of two big outdoor concerts that closed the festival last weekend in the beautiful setting of the old colonial fort on Pigeon Island. Her outburst seemed a reasonable statement at the time and fairly reasonably expressed, given her reputation, but the blandishments of Ms Blige - of which this was but the first - led to many St Lucians walking out, and eventually to Mary J being cautioned by the police for obscenity. At a press conference later she apologised for underestimating the differences in social manners between Brooklyn and the Caribbean, but the damage had been done and the perceived insult continues to rankle.
Despite the comedy of the situation - "American R&B Singer Swears On Stage" is hardly a news story in most parts of the world - you had to have some sympathy for the scandalised St Lucians, at least after the first oedipal noun, and Mary J should have been aware of the many children in the early evening audience.
That said, it's a good job they didn't book Queen Pen, who at Subterrania in London last week unleashed a constant stream of obscenities that the audience, er, lapped up, with the kind of serious professional approval that once used to be reserved for guitar solos.
The crime of the Argentinian saxophonist Gato Barbieri, by contrast, was to say nothing at all. St Lucians like their visiting artists to talk to them, or - in common with audiences everywhere - to at least acknowledge their existence, but Gato remained obdurately silent throughout. Tantalisingly, he would occasionally approach the microphone with an impressive air of gravitas only to end up whispering something inaudible, or at best letting slip a brief "Ole!", or "Fiesta!", but he was so good that everyone ended up loving him anyway. He also looked like an unusually degenerate incarnation of Keith Richards dressed by Hombre at C&A. In trademark Fedora hat, red bolero-waisted jacket, and lounge-lizard's shoes, Barbieri ordered his band about with an air of casual disdain while puffing out long, arabesque, sax-lines of incredible emotional density in the customary sand-blasted tone that he has made his own.
When Barbieri, who is 63 but looks 20 years younger, left Argentina for Europe in 1962, he became one of the leading avant-garde musicians of his time. When he went to America in the late-Sixties he followed Pharoah Sanders in continuing the expressive preoccupation with deep, long notes that John Coltrane had once favoured. Then he wrote and recorded the wonderful soundtrack to Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris in 1972, and went on to a long and often disappointing career as a star of jazz fusion. In performance in the Cultural Centre of St Lucia's capital, Castries, with the rain hammering down on the tin roof as he played, Barbieri provided a powerful justification for his art, however diverse, mixing Coltrane and Marvin Gaye, funk, tango and the Prozac-tempo cakewalk of Erik Sabe (his most recent enthusiasm), to glorious effect. By the end, it didn't seem to matter that he refused to talk. And not a single oedipal noun escaped his lips. Or not that we could hear, anyway.
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