I was at the North Sea Jazz Festival 2011, and had a great time. I found a lot of inspiration at this great festival.
A friend of mine even said you become a better person after hearing so many good concerts. It's true, the sheer abundance of creativity, music, artistry, saxophones, drums, basses, grooves, swing, etcetera does something with you.
My highlights were:
Yuri honing Quartet. Great tunes, original style, good ensemble playing, sympathetic and relaxed stage presence and an honest way of playing made this maybe my number one or two favourite NSJ 2011 show.
Al Foster with Fred Hersch. This man is alive, more alive than people half his age. He is always smiling and listening. Enjoying himself. t's a joy to hear and see this group play. Foster spoke some workds after the show, and I was privileged to hear them. He expressed his gratitude and love to his fellow players, the fun he had at the festival, the love for Joe Henderson.
Rudresh Mahantappa was special. He is an American saxophonist with his roots in Parker and Coltrane. But he comes from Indian descent. But he only started to discover the music from his roots after his studies. And he integrates them into his current stylle. The result was fascinating. Maybe somehwat academic, like a colleaugue of mine said, but very interesting. I did not appreciate his experiments with electronics so much, but all of his three concerts I did not leave (which I do when I do not enjoy something 100% or more at the NSJ). Also his clinic was inspiring. He told something about the way he integrated the Indian music into his jazz and the way he looks at jazz in general (do not listen to jazz so much but soak up everything else). He also explained some difficult rythms to us.
Kneebody was a discovery I made solely based on the text in the programme notes of the NSJ flyer. They are a group in the tradition of Rudder and Bloomdaddies. But different, of course. I did not listen to their whole set. The sound was very muddy and not so well defined. Also, the keyboard player was not there because someone stole his passport. But I will be watching these guys. The sax player especually was great.
Portico Quartet: I did not like them. I left the hall after just a few bars of music. Too loungy and clubby. No firm groove... Too electronic and not creative. Not for me.
Branford Marsalis was fantastic, as usual. Especially the ensemble playing was amazing. These guys opened all channels and accept everything that happens and work with it on levels that most other musicians never reach. The ballad in the set was too kitschy for my taste though. A special Bravo for Joey Calerazzo on piano.
Prince, well... I love the guy as an artist and musician, as well as a guitarist. I went three days, and although the last day was ok, his performance never convinced me fully. The sound was horrendous, which made it very hard to enjoy anway. I could not even recognize the songs sometimes. It was obvious that he was playing well, but you know, sometimes I do not know why it doesn't do anything for me. Even besides the sound.
I had the same experience with Chris Potter. Of course Potter is a genius, he is maybe the best tenor around today. But I cannot understand him when he plays. He played with Thomas Stanko, and although I hear that is was good, even excellent, I don't enjoy it...
Larry Graham was great. I enjoyed him very much. The arrangement were carefully made and very effective. Everything happened for a reason, but in the sound we still heard explosive funk. He was also a special guest in the first Prince set on Friday.
I did not understand the Brian Blade group called Black Dub. I went there for Brian Blade, who I enjoy immensly as sideman in the Joshua Redman Trio, but this group I did not get. The guitarist is apparantly a famous producer for a.o. U2, but as a singer and guitar player very average... I have no idea what Mr. Blade was doing in this very average rock group.
Paul van Kemenade was inspiring, especially in duo with Stevko Busch. Some players have this, they are not so good, but still I want to hear what their next phrase will be. I do not want to miss out. Magical...
Dave Holland showed up with a trio with an Oud player and John Surman. What a good begin of the Sunday, contemplative, but not boring. Just beautful and great songs. And relaxed and honest ensemble playing.
Dr. John didn't do it for me this time. Although I am a great fan. Too much routine, I think...
Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau was very nice, but not so memorable. I think maybe Mr. Mehldau didn't have his day and was clearly annoyed by the photographers and the stage lighting. Redman stole the show, soulful, direct and honest playing.
Next year, when I have the opportunity, I will be present at the NSJ again. It is a battery charge for me as a musician and a person.