MICHAEL BRECKER & PAT METHENY SPECIAL QUARTET
Performing in the large Staten Hall, the special quartet of Michael Brecker-tenor sax, Pat Metheny-guitar, Larry Goldings-keyboards and Bill Stewart-drums bent the airwaves to a large crowd of cheering fans. The dream team quartet gave the crowd a nice blend from scorching too-hot-to-handle riffs to the dreamy smooth jazz styling with Brecker taking the lead.
Brecker surprised me, however, with some funky stuff and simply went off on the opening song. I hadn't heard him play like that before. As the North Sea Jazz Festival program said (and I agree), Michael Brecker should record more solo albums. He is one of the most requested musicians on the scene today, but it is time he creates a more personal styling and get past the studio musician and "played with" image. On his new album Time is of the Essence, he played some really funky music with the Brecker Brothers Band, but I much prefer his 1997 Two Blocks From the Edge where the selections are more straight-ahead.
Metheny's smiling face onstage makes me smile too. His vivacious guitar style and demeanor is always a crowd-pleaser. Except for the blue and white striped shirt he always wears, one never knows what to expect from him. You see the obvious pleasure he finds in playing and his direction can swing from rock to jazz and back again as the mood strikes him. He really stretches the envelope, but he always gives a good show. His latest CD Trio 99>00 is rated best of artist and represents Pat's diversity giving you a little bossa, a little bebop, a little C&W and standards like Giant Steps. It is a good sampling for new jazz lovers who want to sample Metheny's many colors.
Golding was creative with the keyboards and organ, creating a wide variety of sounds and techniques. Goldings worked with Jim Hall and revives Jimmy Smith's persona. He really added punch to the concert and came off with some excellent licks during the hotter numbers.
Bill Stewart is a good drummer and former member of the John Scofield group. He is also a creative composer as demonstrated on his Telepathy CD where most of the songs performed are his compositions. Stewart held it down with some tasty drum solos during the concert and all four members of the quartet presented an interesting combination of sounds.
The only disadvantage to completely enjoying their concert was the larger than life Staten Hall. It puts too much distance between you and the performers. The stage is high above the floor, similar to traditional large rock concert venues, thus the huge monitor screen between the two stages. Jazz should be enjoyed up close and personal, so in this respect, their performance seemed a bit remote and musically untouchable. You can worship them from afar, but not feel fully involved with the scene as with smaller concert halls. Nevertheless, their concert was good and it was interesting to see these four join up for this special quartet performance.
PATRICIA BARBER QUARTET
This was the first occasion I had to see Chicago's Patricia Barber. Joining her on piano and vocals were John McLean-guitar, Michael Arnopol-bass and Eric Montzka-drums. She opened the concert with an almost baroque rendition of Autumn Leaves, rather classically heavy with faint hints of jazz thrown in here and there. I kept waiting, thinking that she would break into something more substantial, something I could sink my teeth into. It kept me on the edge of my seat, but as the song progressed with depressing solo flights into the unknown between piano and bass, I asked myself, "What the heck is this dark and esoteric thing?" The composition was long and suffering. Oh well, let's just see what the second selection brings.
The second song began with a soft, but utterly deep exploration and after a minute or so, Patricia Barber finally gave me what I was searching for. When she broke out of the darkness, it took my breath away. "My God, I gasped, whooooooo, wow!" I could only compare it to what a classical background had given the genius of Bill Evans, only Barber didn't let me have the thrill for very long and plunged back into the land of quasars in a vast, moody galaxy. It was disappointing. I would have liked to have heard more from her and less equally depressing explorations from the bassist, Michael Arnopol. Also annoying was her Oscar Peterson vocal noise imitation during her playing. It simply didn't come off.
There is no doubt, Patricia Barber is an unbelievably gifted pianist, but in this performance, her brilliance got lost pursuing lost realms. She will definitely be an artist to watch in the future, when she re-enters the atmosphere.
PIET NOORDIJK ALL STAR QUINTET
Nothing could be more enjoyable than to hear the Godfather of the Dutch jazz saxophonists, Piet Noordijk (pronounced Nordick) and the best out of three generations of Dutch jazz musicians perform together at this outstanding Sinatra songbook tribute. Nordijk is perhaps the biggest lover of the music of Charlie Parker and he really knows how to play like Bird, if he wants to. It is only fitting that he is the recipient of the Bird Award.
If that isn't enough, two others in the All Star Quintet have won the Bird, bassist Hein van de Geyn and drummer, John Engels, the first drummer to win a Bird. Hein is widely known for his association with Dee Dee Bridgewater in the ´90's, paving her way to international stardom. Also not to be overlooked was Jesse van Ruller, guitarist extraordinaire, who no doubt will someday receive a Bird also. In the meantime, he is the first guitar player ever to have won the Thelonious Monk Award. Completing the quintet was pianist, Rob van Bavel who is headed in the same award-winning direction. I can't tell you how extremely talented each one was. You would have had to hear it for yourself.
Selections included a gorgeous rendition of But Beautiful, a really swinging Just in Time, an utterly moving Goodbye and a three-quarter time Second Time Around. An A-1 performance by A-1 musicians.
When Carol Sloane sang Duke's "In a Sentimental Mood," at the North Sea Jazz Festival with only the soft piano accompaniment of Michael LeDonne, it was like warm brandy oozing from her palette. In a large concert hall where you could hear a cotton ball roll down the aisle, Carol raised a good set of goose bumps on everyone's arms. With that deep, breathy, wonderfulness and that easy-going stage presence reminiscent of Mel Torme, Carol's five concert performances during the 3-day festival were absolutely gangbusters. If you saw one concert, you'd have to see another. One simply wasn't enough. At the end of each performance, there was always a standing ovation.
Carol's other selections of Duke's compositions like "Love You Madly, Stompin' at the Savoy, Mood Indigo and Sophisticated Lady," were superb. Just put Carol's CD "Romantic Ellington," on, close your eyes and there you are at North Sea. Carol's other songbooks with Concord Records are exceptional and a must have if you like the styling of Carmen McRae.
As a replacement for Dakota Staton who suffered a stroke and was unable to perform, Carol was a fantastic addition to a weekend of superb jazz. Radio West, broadcasting from within the heart of the festival also carried a live interview and two-song off-the-cuff performance that had listeners spellbound with her vocal charisma and gift of gab.
Look for my personal interview from the North Sea Jazz Fest with this utterly charming and gifted lady, next month on JazzReview.com