The three-day North Sea Jazz had to resign itself to it a while ago. The festival is canceled for the second year. The uncertainty due to corona and travel restrictions for American artists was simply too great. To offer a bit of the North Sea Jazz feeling, there was a hybrid concert alternative this weekend at various locations in ‘downtown’ Rotterdam (De Doelen, LantarenVenster, Bird and the brand new RTM Stage in Ahoy), with live streams for home and historical concert material.
With individual seated concerts – emphatically not set up as an event to be stringed together – North Sea Jazz Downtown was a tasteful sample of what the festival normally offers. It could make you melancholy. But North Sea Jazz showed its resilience. Although the enjoyment initially had a sour aftertaste: the blow of Friday’s re-proclaimed restrictions for the event industry is a terrible knockout.
A striking asset was the cleverly composed international jazz package of European Americans such as guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel – he could only ‘dream’ for a year and a half of a full hall (one and a half meters in LantarenVenster) – bassist/singer Richard Bona and singer José James (resident in Amsterdam) with the Metropole Orchestra.
While singer Trijntje kicked off Friday in Ahoy with her velvet Bacharach ode, trombonist Nabou Claerhout, a fresh promise in Belgian jazz, played with her quartet (trombone, electric guitar, double bass and drums) in LantarenVenster. Her trombone sounded, as in the smoothly contemporary ‘You Know‘, always different: plaintive, firm with sharp strokes, graceful in round sounds or, on the contrary, solemn, like a beacon in a thick fog, whether or not driven by effects.
Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s more muscular swing was also great, especially because of Gegory Hutchinson’s fierce drumming. Work by Mingus and Joe Henderson but also the blues driven ‘Simple #2’ had catchy phrases. The quartet Arifa, started by pianist Franz von Chossy and Zhivko Vasilev on Bulgarian kaval (woodwind instrument), became a voyage across the Danube throughout Eastern Europe, while the tingling soul jazz full of grooves of the trio forced Montis, Goudsmit & Directie to move, at example in the number ‘CEO‘ in 7/8 time.
The Dutch titan carousel of The Quartet (saxophonist Benjamin Herman, drummer Han Bennink, cellist Ernst Glerum and pianist Peter Beets) with guests such as saxophonist Hans Dulfer and flutist Ronald Snijders fell well with De Doelen: it was not lacking in musical temperament, but the messy presentation was a minus.
The Belgian pop singer Selah Sue also performed “popping” on the RTM Stage in theater style with stands, especially after a corona vacuum and years of parental leave. With three additional vocalists, her show had clout. She explored extremes: from small dream songs to a loud dub sound with echoes of her old work.
The Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan was crushing, letting his almost nonchalant bursts of notes come at a rattling tempo. It always feels like an unstoppable play of forces with him, but now the urgency in his game connected him with all the other chosen ones this weekend.