Europafest: Jazz Highlights was recorded live at Theaterhaus Stuttgart in West Germany in April 1990. The DVD includes performances from such prominent artists in the jazz hemisphere as keyboardist Sun Ra, saxophonist Bob Berg, guitarist Bill Frisell, and saxophonist Archie Shepp showcasing one song played by each performer. The concert spans a wide range of jazz from the upbeat and contemporary pop regions of the jazz outfit Steps Ahead to the avant approach of jazz that saxophonist John Zorn’s Naked City takes. The compilation is entertaining and exposes audiences to facets of jazz that they may have never known existed.
The show starts off with exciting gyrations generated by Steps Ahead, who create lively propellered excursions lead by saxophonist Bendik, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and guitarist Jimi Tunnell. The springy dynamics and fluid atmospherics of their compositions begin the show with a sense of elation, then the concert moves into the domain of Asian-tinged jazz patterns with singer Samui Nori and Red Sun entering the stage and profiling the silky twitters of saxophonist Wolfgang Puschnig. The duet of saxophonist Charlie Mariano and pianist Jorg Reiter bridges the soulful swags of Mariano with the elegant twirls of Reiter into a gently versed soliloquy, while the fusion of contemporary rock and classic swing jazz cultivated by guitarist Mike Stern and saxophonist Bob Berg create rapidly moving formations and soft undulating chord shifts.
The next half of the DVD focuses on freestyle jazz makers like Sun Ra and His Omniverse Ultra 21st Century Arkestra, and the Rabih Abou-Khalil Project. Guitarist Rabih Abou-Khalil plays the oud creating shimmering mid-eastern tones as upright bass player Glen Moore accentuates the meditative mood with gentle flicks and paper-clipped by glittering bell chimes, wooden shakers and tingling tambourines. Sun Ra and His Omniverse Ultra 21st Century Arkestra venture into Afro beats and bright horns flavored by Ra’s stylized soulful funk keyboards and vocalist J. Tyson’s spiritual singing. The dissonant angles, sharp piercing chords, and eerie squiggles of John Zorn’s Naked City enter into a strange world of peculiar sounds, sometimes even sounding like a clan of tropical birds communicating with each other. The underbelly of steady beats act as a solid base for the strange sounds as guitarist Bill Frisell moves in and out of the angular passages. The concert concludes with the Archie Shepp Quartet as singer/saxophonist Archie Shepp leads his band of pianist Horace Parian, drummer Marvin Smith, and bassist Wayne Dockery into channels of elegantly strapped riffs, sprinting keys, and slinky beats.
Besides the classic performances of the afore-mentioned artists, the DVD also contains some extra material including artist biographies and a bonus section featuring some of Arkadia’s own artists including Reggie Workman, Joanne Brackeen, and David Liebman. Europafest: Jazz Highlights takes a close look at an event that has influenced present day jazz paradigms. The concert covers a wide spectrum of jazz colors which spotlights artists who have continued to expand jazz music’s parameters, and lets audiences check them out in a live setting.