Jazz at the top, 2010

Jazz in the face of rain
By Mark Lyndersay.
Originally published in the Trinidad Guardian, October 01, 2010

Lázaro Valdés on keyboards, drummer Orlando Nodal Barrera and bassist Zayda Rodríguez Abreu perform at the San Fernando Jazz Festival 2010. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

It’s hard to tease apart whether the organisation of this year’s Jazz at the top (JATT) was just painfully sluggish or if the rain, which turned the grounds at the top of San Fernando Hill into treacherous muddy slush just slowed things down, but the whole event limped along, plagued by interminable delays.
Band turnarounds seemed to take forever, artistes didn’t seem to want to leave the comforting cover of the stage and by 11:30, the main act, Lázaro Valdés and Son Jazz was still to perform.

The rain took charge early during the second performance of the night, a set by Mungal Patasar and his band, Pantar. As the band gamely worked through its second number, the slow drizzle picked up and stagehands rushed onstage to disconnect the stage monitors. It would be the second disruption that the band would have to work through that night, the first being a poor microphone mix as they opened their set that buried Patasar’s sitar work.

After a short break that represented a full and final blessing of rain for the night, Pantar, pushed back into the well of the stage and arranged around a particularly vigorous leak in the awning above them, proceeded to play as if this was the sort of thing that happened to them all the time.
Most notable among their work at JATT was a Dawud Orr composition, Atma, long on breathy, sensuous saxophone work answered by sharp responses on the pan, and Vahni, a long band jam based on an old calypso refrain that closed their set with.

What followed them proved to be too much of a mostly decent thing.
The 90.1 degree band, led by Kenny Phillips on guitar and ably supplemented by Earl Brooks on the pan, played a set that sometimes seemed as if it had been arranged by a DJ, the band setting out playing a song, then breaking into bold jams on it, some of which vamped through completely different songs before returning to the original melody.

It wasn’t jazz as much as it was funky jamming, but it turned out to be agreeable improvisational fun, with some pleasant surprises like Brooks performance of a quite persuasive vibraphone solo on the Percussive Harmonic Instrument, the locally crafted midi player that’s shaped like a traditional pan.
The approach continued through Kay Alleyne’s turn with the band, as a quite reasonable facsimile of Etta James’ At Last segued into an extended funk romp.

Alleyne proved to be an agreeable and passionate singer, with an ability to confidently assimilate the style of a wide range of vocalists, but the alert listener is left to wonder where her personality is among these stylings. Alleyne’s is a voice that needs a bit more focus to define its own tone and style.
It was a set that, for all its energy, went on at least two songs too long, which was half the excess that Mavis John would indulge in.

Backed by a robust trio that included Richard Joseph on drums and Ming Low Chew Tung on electric keyboards, John’s session was rich but excessive, including a rueful reading of The Beatles’ Yesterday before getting down to the most successful effort of the night at acknowledging one of the goals of JATT 2010, a remembrance of the music of Andre Tanker.
Mavis John offered a soulful take on Slipping Away, the sprightly but lightweight Here and now and a memorable rendition of Tanker’s haunting poem of admiration, Morena Osha. Before inviting the audience to sing her biggest hit, You are what love is, she had one real surprise to spring in her repertoire.

That was an intriguing reading of Shadow’s Dingolay that hinted at the possibility of a grander arrangement and orchestration for the song that emphasised the musicality lurking under the composer’s brusque delivery of the original hit.

Lázaro Valdés took the stage with exuberance, leading a tight, multitalented quintet through fast, seamless sets that touched on Latin classics and original compositions driven by rich, rhythmic percussion.
Vocalist Yalaima Nuñez Tejera offered spirited vocals, took a turn on the congas and even sat in the keyboardist’s chair throughout a lithe, personable set that took musicianship for granted and drove a spirit of fun to the spare audience.

And that proved to be one of the great disappointments of the night, By the time that Valdés and his group began their performance, the audience was, by and large, gone, weary of rain, of muddy turf and most directly, a show time that had run for almost four and a half hours before the headline act took the stage.
blog comments powered by Disqus