F ES TIVA L REP OR T

Festa do Jazz do São Luiz
by Laurence Donohue-Greene

Carlos Bica

Like The New York City Jazz Record, the annual Festa do Jazz do São Luiz in hilly and historic Lisbon is celebrating its first decade. Cofounded and run by Artistic Director Carlos Martins and Executive Director Luís Hilário (also manager of the venerable Jazz Hot Club de Portugal), this year ’s festival (Mar. 31st-Apr. 1st) featured a wide swath of mostly Portuguese talent. What separates this jazz festival from many others is its presentation of musicians. Various sized spaces at the historic São Luiz Theater (its extravagant main Sala Principal concert hall the largest of four different stages) feature bands throughout the afternoon into the late evening. The festival also recognizes up-andcoming talent by presenting student bands. Secondary and University-level school ensembles play throughout the afternoons at the upstairs (though unfortunately boomy) Jardim de Inverno (Winter Garden). This year 14 schools were represented, competing for the national awards given at the end of the festival to the best instrumentalists and ensemble (which is booked for the following year ’s festival). 2011 “Best Combo” winner, the Quinteto do Conservatório da Jobra (Ensemble Jobra), boasted 17-year old drummer Gil Costa, who impressively fused Philly Joe Jones, Jim Black and Tony Williams into a unique supportive but soloistic approach. For years, the Ensemble ESMAE from Porto, which generates much of Portugal’s strong young jazz talent, has dominated the competition. When not performing, the students listened to their competition or went to absorb the music being featured downstairs, many filing into the TeatroEstudio Mario Viegas - the studio space showcasing four piano trios and two Masterclass workshops. Each

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year there is an invited foreign musician; this year it was drummer Jim Black, a wise selection given his 20-year history with bassist Carlos Bica, one of Portugal’s better-known musicians (both Black and Bica gave Masterclasses). Black brings an attractive jazz-meets-rock approach to his kit and no young Portuguese drummer wanted to miss him sharing some of his wisdom in words - in a single thought, he mentioned Glenn Miller, Led Zeppelin, the Jackson 5, Rush and Joe Henderson - let alone demonstrate his skills unaccompanied. Bica, though Berlin-based and only in his 50s, is an ‘elder ’ statesman for Portuguese jazz (I was hardpressed to find anyone who could mention any local musicians older than 60 with the exception of exceptional violinist Carlos Zingaro). The fall of the country’s dictatorship by the mid ‘70s was partially blamed, consequently creating a youthful and evidently well-nurtured jazz population open to numerous possibilities and influences, including the incorporation of the country’s distinct musical contribution to the world: the achingly beautiful Fado tradition, which dates back to at least the 1820s and is still ubiquitous in the streets and cafés of Lisbon. Those who incorporated Fado and traditional music from Portugal made the greatest impression of the festival. Bica performed on a number of occasions, first off with pianist Filipe Raposo’s trio. Opening with “Em Fado” and “As Guerras Se Apregoaram” (the latter based on a traditional theme), the trio fused the mournful but hypnotic Fado tradition with jazz and classical music (“Kind of Impatience”, their pre-closer, was based on Schubert’s trio op. 100). Instead of a walking bassline, Bica swayed with his bass, his fingers dancing in circular fashion on his instrument, projecting a well rounded, mature and extremely melodic Fado-influenced approach. One of the festival’s main events was Bica’s Azul group in Sala Principal featuring Black and German guitarist Frank Möbus. Bica’s eponymously titled 1996 debut recording was with this group, whose fifth album - Things About (Clean Feed) - was released last year, so their chemistry was unequaled. Throughout the strong set, Möbus’ lurching between aggressive and more splattering paint-like improvisations and resonating lines was flanked by Black’s peripatetic and colorful rhythmic exclamations and percussive effects and Bica’s catchy, circular pizzicato crescendos. The Brussels-based Cornettada (with Italian pianist Giovanni Di Domenico and Lisbon-born bassist and drummer Hugo Antunes and João Lobo) commonly dissects Ornette Coleman melodies. However, most of their set included attractive originals, save for the encore - Coleman’s “The Invisible” (with “Turnaround” and “Brother Blues” quotes). The band’s challenging balancing act of discipline and outright freedom proved rewarding in their succinct improvisations and tune length, each hovering around five minutes. In the theatre’s Spot São Luiz restaurant space, duos played each afternoon. Altoist Ricardo Toscano and bassist António Quintino performed mostly standards and reminded listeners of how simple and yet challenging a combination this can be. The second afternoon featured an altogether different pairing: Mane Fernandes (guitar) and Alexandre Dahmen (electric piano), the latter ’s dark, mysterious chord voicings and original compositions providing less pleasant jazzy ambiance, instead conjuring a dream meeting between Attila Zoller and Larry Young. Other stirring sets included Cine Qua Non (with pianist Paula Sousa and accordionist João Paulo Esteves da Silva) accentuating Portuguese music sonorities and the wild and woolly Tora Tora Big Band, a rare large group on the festival bill, delightfully fusing jazz, Latin, funk, Arabic, Afrobeat, reggae and other world musics. v For more information, visit sonsdalusofonia.com

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