REVIEW: Jazz International Rotterdam 2017

"Sublime conversations": Bobo Stenson Trio
Photo Jacky Lepage / from artist website/ Creative Commons


Jazz International Rotterdam
(LantarenVenster, Rotterdam. 27-29 October 2017. Review by Rob Adams)

Jazz International Rotterdam is an event that makes the most of that ‘A-Z’ in the middle of jazz by presenting an eclectic programme that encompasses an extraordinary range of music as well as encouraging collaborations that cross geographical borders to bring compatible musicians together.

Over an intense three days in the admirable LantarenVenster, a venue whose main auditorium, more intimate Hall 2 and socially encouraging foyer left the UK party in attendance wishing they could take it home with them, it was possible to encounter hard core electronic improvising, courtesy the UK’s tough, intricately exciting Strobes, happen across the naïve, folky charms and vocal manipulations of Belgian-Latvian quintet How Town, be impressed by the coming together of Middle Eastern songs and instruments with the big band tradition in Common Ground, and be lured into the grooving, exuberance of Afro-Latin-Funk funsters Koffie.

The addition this year of a Nordic theme only added to the eclecticism, with Norwegian bassist-singer Ellen Andrea Wang’s trio bringing a breezy pop sensibility, trumpeter Mathias Eick suggesting kinship with Neil Young’s song style and the rhythms of Americana in his depictions of the farmlands Scandinavian settlers tamed in America’s Midwest, and Danish drummer Snorre Kirk introducing some Mingus-like blood and guts into the festival finale.

Among the Nordic visitors there were the very well-known and the not quite so familiar. Young Danish composer and conductor Kathrine Windfeld had been working with the Rotterdam-based Codarts Young Talent Big Band for a week beforehand and presented work full of ambition, disciplined ensemble colour and sparky individual expression. Bassist about the Norwegian scene of the last fifteen years, Mats Eilertsen’s Rubicon – six Scandis, one Dutchman – benefited no end from the presence of saxophonist Trygve Seim’s lonesome, keening glissandi, and in a final night highlight, Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson’s trio with bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jan Fält shared a series of sublime conversations that were masterly in their sculpted concision, voluptuous tone (Jormin especially), and exquisitely timed wit.

With only one American group - trumpeter Marquis Hill’s Blacktet upholding the brisk, businesslike approach of the Chicago scene while introducing the superb young vibraphonist Justin Thomas – this was very much a celebration of European jazz, even without the Nordic element.

If some of the home-produced music and collaborations had a work-in-progress quality about them, other examples were ready to fly.

Drummer Joost Lijbaart, possibly best remembered in the UK for his work in saxophonist Yuri Honing’s pop song exploring trio, has teamed up with singer Sanne Rambags and guitarist Bram Stadhouders to create something between meditative soundscapes and trippy trance music that’s all the more impressive for its spontaneity. At times Rambags sounded for all the world as if she was calling up the spirits of some undetermined European folk tradition and used the folky fricatives’ vocal percussion possibilities brilliantly to involve the listener and interact with Stadhouders’ yearning guitar and Lijbaart’s carefully chosen, atmosphere-enhancing drum beats and bell chimes.

More pre-composed but with a marvellous air of freshness in their lithe melody-making, Amsterdam-based bass clarinettist Maarten Ornstein and Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs played duets of superb assurance and lyrical gracefulness and when they were joined by bassist Tony Overwater, by coincidence a colleague of Lijbaart’s in the Honing trio, they formed a trio of fabulous shape and assurance that was all about quiet unshowy skill and immediately personal audience engagement.

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