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San Sebastian Jazz Festival 2002

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San Sebastián is the perfect atmosphere for seeing jazz. For the past 37 years, the city tucked away in Basque Country of northern Spain, has hosted the Jazz Festival. Many artists, such as BB King, Diana Krall, and Branford Marsalis, have brought their music to this town facing the atlantic ocean, surrounded by mountains. The Festival, recently sponsored by Heinekin, has brought fans and artists alike to this town for an extended weekend of jazz spanning all genres and musical times. Spanish culture, incredibly welcoming and laid back, sets an ideal scene for a jazz festival. Aside from the scheduled acts of the festival, many of San Sebastian’s bars featured smaller jazz groups performing. Amongst the many Spanish concertgoers, there was always an eager music-lover ready to discuss the finer points of jazz and funk music.

At this year’s festival, scheduled over five days, July 24-29, festival-goers could view such diverse musical acts as, Maceo Parker, Chick Corea, Bill Wyman, Abdullah Ibrahim Trio, Uri Cane, Dave Douglas, Richard Bona, and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown all in all over 35 musical artists from all over the world sub Saharan Africa to Norway. The venues for music differed greatly, one could partake in jazzy jamming on the beach on the Encenario Verde (green stage), in the Plaza de Trinidad- an open plaza tucked between the mountainside of Monte Urgull and the narrow streets of San Sebastian’s old part, in the spectacular indoor concert hall Kursaal, or in the small underground jazz club Altxerri.

Thursday, July 25th

The evening began by checking out Chick Corea at the Plaza de Trinidad, where he thoroughly impressed the crowd with his piano work and in depth musical investigations, including a round of Childrens song 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 6. Corea’s mastery of the electrical piano was incredible, varying from subtle to the forceful and innovative. After viewing a bit of the next act, Nuevos Medios a fusion of jazz and flamenco, featuring over 12 different artists, I headed to Playa Zurriola to check out the music at the three free venues-the Heinekin tent, Frigo Stage and the Green Stage on the Beach.

In the Heinekin tent, I caught the last three songs of the Bruknahm Project, a jazz-hip hop group from New York representing the Knitting Factory label. The group, headed by Sebastian "Siba Giba" Bardin, drum machine and MC, and Saundi Wilson, keys, and featuring Abraham Burton, sax, Justin Asher, bass, and Kiambu Dickerson, rapper. Bruknahm’s sound includes forays hip-hop, jazz, and progressive break beats. They took it upon themselves to liven up the crowd and bring everyone out of their seats for their last two songs, Showtime and Elitist Bullstuff.

After the show was over, I moved to the beach’s Green Stage to partake in Uri Crane’s Bedrock 3, an impressive improvisational group comprised of Uri Crane on keys, Tim Lefebvre, bass, and Zach Danzinger, drums. The group began by playing mostly funk, alternating between solos. Crane’s work on keys was innovative and catchy, keeping everyone on their feet. The Danziger’s constantly evolving percussion drove the pace of the concert along as he alternated between break beats, progressive drum rhythms and slower syncopated jazz beats. Lefebvre did a formidable job of tying together the whole musical soundscape with his clean bass riffs and deep funky chords. After a few songs the band added another layer to their sound by incorporating pre-recorded musical backgrounds, on top of which they laid down their improvisational sounds. Their sample tracks included sweeping string ensemble pieces, house beats, dubbed out reggae tracks and a French version of the classic "raindrops keep falling on my head." Behind the band, the visual screen showed the artists playing, their images digitally manipulated, over top of them seventies style visual effects such as tracers and light prisms. The Bedrock 3, set the scene for an incredible night on the beach, their music fit in perfectly with the surroundings and was well accepted by the Spanish Audience.

Friday, July 26th

The evening at Plaza Trinidad started with the Bill Wyman Rhythm Kings. The group, headed by Wyman features, Beverly Skeete, vocals, George Fame, organ, Albert Lee, guitar, Graham Mead, drums, Terry Taylor, guitar, Frank Mead, tenor Sax, Nick Payn, Alto Sax, and Mike Sanchez, piano and vocals. The ensemble played various classics such as Jump, Jive and Wail, Tell You a Secret, Hit the Road Jack, and I Put a Spell on You. The songs were performed with high energy, especially from Sanchez, who at one point jumped off of the stage and waded into the crowd. The group’s performance engaged the crowd and raised the energy to a point where everyone could receive the following act, Maceo Parker.

Maceo Parker, and his accomplished back-up band brought the plaza Trinidad to life with their funk stylings and positive energy. Parker, sax, was joined by instrumental accompaniment from Greg Boyer, trombone, Ron Tooley, trumpet, Bruno Spreight, guitar, Will Boulware, organ, Rodney Skeet Curtis, bass, and Jerome Thomas, Drums, as well as vocal back up from, Corey Parker, Martha High, and Charles Sherrell. The group started their vigorous show with a three song funky set including Come On Maceo and

The band moved into a slower pace playing Prince´s Baby Knows, during which Spreight played an impressive guitar solo, and a Luther Vandross selection.

After the soft melodic stylings, the band launched into their trademark deep funk including the popular Shake Everything You Got featuring solos from Boyer and Tooley. Part of the concert included a homage to various musicians of past, as Maceo sang pieces of various songs from Otis Redding, James Brown and Ray Charles. As the concert progressed, picking up energy, each band member turned up their performance, during a few songs back up singer Corey Parker, took the stage to freestyle, adding another dimension to the performance. Parker, playing sax and flute at times, kept the set moving as an MC. His spry dancing, inspired the crowd to keep moving even during the slower sections. The crowd interaction with the artists transcended cultural and language differences. Though most of the audience were Spanish speaking, they were singing along with the tunes, and echoing the band’s mantra of "We Love you." The Musicians thrived off of this energy and continually thanked the audience of the festival, at one point, Maceo stopped the concert to reach across and sign an elated fan’s CD. By the end of the set, everyone was singing along with the words of the group, and dancing, deeply lost within the funk.

News of the group’s dynamic live performance preceded them. Parker, is one of the artists that brought many from near and far to San Sebastian. Bruno, a funk fan, who stood next to me, confessed that he had saved up a good part of his summer earnings to travel to San Sebastian from Palma Mallorca, one of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean. While he is a fan of jazz, he jumped at the chance to see Maceo live. Two Australians who I met later the same night, informed me that they had planned their trip across Spain to correspond with San Sebastian’s Jazz Fest when they had learned of Maceo’s performance.

Saturday, July 27th

Situated where the river runs into the ocean, San Sebastian’s Kursaal is an fantastic venue for music. Its wood paneled main hall, with three levels and a balcony is a perfect venue for Abdullah Ibrahim Trio’s simple, haunting jazz. The set was an ethereal blend of Abdullah Ibrahim’s piano, Belden Bullock’s bass, and George Gray’s guitar.

Their set flowed continuously, each song blending into another. Ibrahim followed a delightful minor theme throughout his whole performance. Bullock and Gray provided rhythmic and tonal counterpoints to each note delicately touched by Ibrahim. While at times the performance seemed a bit ordinary, well performed but lacking melodic or rhythmic innovation, the band mesmerized the concert hall with their soft playing.

This evening, the beach set a perfect setting for Heinekin Ultissimo, led by Mark Ledford whose musical talents include the guitar, trumpet, and percussion. This evening the rest of the band was comprised of Will Calhoun (drum kit), Allen Hinds (Guitar), Jim Anton (bass), Domingo Patricio (flute) and Melena Francis (persussion). They played a mix of old reggae favorites, jazz, funk and samba, using the last few songs to "take it to Brazil." This samba section was by far the most interesting and innovative of the band’s whole set. The rhythmic section lead by Will Calhoun, Melena Francis, and including Ledford at times, brought a lively pulse to the beachfront and raised everyone off of their blankets for a bit of dancing. While some of the surrounding audience members stated that Saturday night’s set was almost identical to that of Friday night, Ultissimo provided an ideal musical backdrop for relaxing on the beach at night.

Sunday, July 28th

Within the smaller performance space of the Kursaal, The Andrew Hill Trio played to a Sunday afternoon crowd. Comprised of Andrew Hill (piano), John Haber (bass), and Nasheet Waits (percussion), the trio specialized in futuristic, "avantgarde" jazz. The pace of the music was strangely syncopated, using unique time signatures and different percussional rhythms and sounds. The abstract rhythms, which after time became strangely repetitive, complemented the furious dissonant piano playing. Haber’s bass, forcefully plucked, provided an excellent frame for the driving, elusive music. Songs played included, Nicodemus and Image of Time.

Outside, on the Frigo Stage, Mac Jeara’s band was performing. From San Sebastian, the band played New Orleans style Dixieland music. The big band sound stood out in a weekend of mostly progressive and modern interpretations of jazz. After a few songs it became apparent that the singer was not familiar with English and was singing traditional American songs phonetically. Most of the Spanish audience was enjoying the music, however it was only a short time before I was ready to check out some other types of music.

At midnight the Frigo Stage was again swinging, this time with the music of the Larry Golding’s Trio. The group, comprised of Golding at the Hammond B-3 organ, Peter Bernstien playing the Guitar, and Bill Stewart on percussion, started their set by setting a base of quick moving, funk. The symbiosis between the band members was increasingly impressive as their instruments wove together, playing mostly in unison with a few stand out solos. After a few songs, the musical tone of the group took a more progressive turn as they began to experiment with tonal interactions and sound textures. At times, Stewart’s percussion effects led the band’s explorations, using different intensities and rhythms to create a musical form.

Monday, July 29th

Over the past four days, it seemed like everyone at the Jazz Fest was gearing up for the big James Brown performance. The air of Plaza Trinidad buzzed with a nervous excitement as the opening band, Larry Golding’s Trio finished their set. The sold out crowd was surprised by a last minute change in the line-up that brought out Patience Debany, a Gabonese singer.

She stepped out in front of a complete band and regaled the audience for about half an hour with her traditional Gabonese songs. Most of these were upbeat, and despite a complete lingual difference, between the artist and the crowd, everyone quickly became very involved in the music. This was due in part to the incredibly orchestrated stage perfomance of Debany, her band and her dancers. During many of the songs, Debany was joined on stage by either 4 male or 3 female dancers, wearing traditional Gabonese costumes. She also accompanied her singing with a drum and at times created interesting rhythmic and sonic fusions with her voice, as she warbled through two songs.

After her interesting set, we were all more than ready to receive the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Slowly the band members began to file onto the stage, warming up, and getting ready for the big Show. Eventually, James Brown’s emecee, a man in a white suit, came out, to announce Brown’s entrance. The musician came on to a band in full swing and immediately broke into Make it Funky. Brown’s stage presence is electrifying, and very energetic, he led the assembly of over 15 musicians and back up singers, as he danced across the stage, and at times joined in on the keyboard. During Living in America he was joined on stage by 2 female dancers wearing American flag costumes, a gesture very well received by the male audience members.

Brown played many of his old favorites such as Payback, I Feel Good, Try Me, and Sex Machine. During these songs, he playfully interacted with his fellow musicians and back up singers. During, a Man’s world, Brown drew the crowd’s attention to the alto sax player, as he jammed out for the tune.

After a few songs he brought out Tammy Rae, a redheaded singer from Las Vegas. Rae sang Etta James’ At Last as well as the Janice Joplin classic, Try. While her singing was fine, it was not on par with that of James Brown. I would have preferred to watch him perform a few more songs.

At the end of the concert, the overall energy picked up and Sara Reya, one of Brown’s back-up dancers, stepped up and started to freestyle to the crowd in Spanish. After her performance, Brown brought out Patience Debany and her dancers and sang a duet with her. The concert ended on a high point, with many over twenty people on stage and the energy of the crowd high and positive. After such an amazing set, the artists left the stage, as the audience chanted for an encore. After a few minutes, the house lights went up, and everyone was left a little confused, and disenchanted.

This small hurdle thrown aside, the festival was an overall success, and many people around me claimed that the Godfather of Soul was indeed a highpoint with which to end the festival. Perhaps the most exceptional facet of this year’s concert was the positive energy of the audience members and the bands that performed. The ambience surrounding the music nurtured and encouraged musical experimentation. It was remarkable to hear the multi-national influences as I heard various forays into the Jazz genre from all over the world. The music of the 37th featured Brazilian Samba rhythms, traditional blues riffs, and traditional African folk songs. This variety was incredibly refreshing, and in the laid-back Spanish atmosphere, made for five days of impressive and ideal music.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Unknown
  • City State Country: San Sebastian, Spain
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