The World in a Festival

I’m fond of expounding my theory that given that the birth of jazz as an amalgam of ragtime piano, African drumming, French and Spanish chamber music and light opera, and John Philip Sousa Marches, there’s ample proof that jazz was the original World Music. In the century since, it’s been embraced by musicians and fans around the world, been absorbed into national cultures and been transformed in ways no one could have predicted.

A few examples from this year’s Vancouver International Jazz Festival certainly bears this out.

Israeli pianist Anat Fort recently moved back to her native Tel Aviv from Brooklyn where she’d been active in the musical community. “I’ve moved the centre of my activity to Israel but have never disconnected from the New York jazz scene. I still go there often, collaborate with the wonderful musicians and get great inspiation from it. But being based in Israel, it is easier for me to get to Europe now where my music is heard the most. And being in the Middle East – as opposed to the West – has had its influence on me for sure.”
Fort has put out a number of critically acclaimed recordings on ECM having been introduced to the label by her collaborator and mentor, the late Paul Motian. Her recent ECM release Birdwatching includes an unexpected collaborator, Italian saxophonist and clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi who was a frequent visitor to Vancouver back in the 1990s. The whole Italian Instabile Orchestra came one year with Pino Minafra and the full crew, but Trovesi also came with his G to G octet who produced an outstanding recording for Soul Note.


So how did this collaboration come about? In an email Anat said, “I’ve heard Gianluigi on many recordings before we met. I’ve always admired his beautiful sound and open musical personality. I could ‘hear’ us in my mind playing together. And then, we were playing at the same festival in Novara one spring, and the director introduced us. From that point on it was about what to do first because there were a lot of ideas. So first was a duo concert in Novara the following year. And then he joined the trio in Israel. And from then the way to the record was easy (if long time-wise …)”.

Here is Anat Fort talking about the music and what it means to her:

Although Trovesi is a renowned multi-reeds player, he sticks to alto clarinet on the recording – here is a video from a delightful live performance by the quartet from Tel Aviv in December of last year. Trovesi plays saxophone and it really reminds me of another famous international collaboration – some of those Jan Garbarek/Keith Jarrett collaborations from the 70s like Belonging or My Song.

Anat Fort will also be doing a free duo concert with her long-time musical soul mate (and Vancouver resident) composer and vocalist Ayelet Rose Gottlieb on Granville Island on Canada Day.

Shifting to Manchester, there seems to be a burgeoning scene in the north of England and some exciting things seem to be centred around Martin Halsall curator of the Gondwana Records label and leader of the Gondwana Orchestra. One of his label’s bands was a sleeper hit at last year’s festival – GoGo Penguin played a knockout show with their subsequent release on Blue Note last year leaving them poised for wider recognition.
I’ve been enjoying the Gondwana Orchestra’s most recent release When The World was One; it reminds me of another British aggregation which made a big splash in the early days of our festival – Loose Tubes. They’re both extensions of Mingus and Ellington with a hint of a South African flavour in the writing but the added influences of both Coltranes, John and Alice, are very much in evidence. With a featured role for Rachael Gladwin on harp, they include calls to the spiritual as in their Tribute to Alice Coltrane and Alice’s own compositions Journey In Satchidananda and Blue Nile. Elsewhere an Afro-harping Dorothy Ashby groove mixes with the ethereal in combination with Keiko Kitamura (an occasional collaborator with Jah Wobble!) on koto. Besides Halsall on trumpet, they clearly have some players to watch like Nat Birchall on saxophone (with his own releases on the label) and Taz Modi on piano.

Here’s an overview of the most recent recording –

and their magic on the Alice Coltrane composition –

and an extended feature on the Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards from earlier this year –

But at this year’s festival, we get 2 for 1 – another Gondwana Records labelmate group Mammal Hands is also coming as part of the Made in the UK series. The trio of Nick Smart on piano, Jesse Barrett on drums, tablas and percussion, and Jordan Smart on saxophones deal in swirling process music that owes as much to electronica, minimalism and the unravelling of Indian ragas as to the jazz tradition.

Here’s a live session from their first recording –

and a powerful performance from last year’s Montreal Jazz Festival –

Finally, returning to the festival after a 10-year absence is The Flat Earth Society from Belgium. Their music is often as heretical as their name, mixing Belgian brass band with circus music and covering a range of artists from Louis Armstrong to the Residents to their latest recording Terms of Em-barr-ass-ment which evolved from a tribute to Frank Zappa and his compositions from Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance to City of Tiny Lights!
Composer, clarinetist, saxophonist and keyboardist Peter Vermeersch was the leader of the 80s avant-rock band X-Legged Sally (who recorded for Knitting Factory and Sub Rosa) before forming FES in the late 90s. Along the way, they’ve also collaborated with pianist Uri Caine, cellist Ernst Reijseger and the king of the chromatic harmonica Toots Thielemans! I remember seeing them at the Roundhouse (where they’ll be again this year) back in 2007 and they blew the roof off the joint – if you miss the musical insanity of the Willem Breuker Kollektief, the Flat Earth Society may be for you!

Here’s the Henry Mancini Orchestra on acid –

and a rockin’ live version of Zappa’s Tiny Lights –

That’s where the International comes from in the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival – go around the world without leaving your own backyard …

Anat Fort & Ayelet Rose Gottlieb – July 1st, Performance Works, Granville Island – 3:45pm [FREE]

Anat Fort & Gianluigi Trovesi – July 3rd, Roundhouse Performance Centre – 1:30pm

Matthew Haskall & The Gondwana Orchestra – July 3rd, Roundhouse Performance Centre – 5pm

Mammal Hands – July 3rd, Roundhouse Performance Centre – 1:30pm

Flat Earth Society – June 25th, Downtown Jazz, Georgia Stage 3:15pm [FREE]

For more previews and information about the other great artists coming to this year’s festival and information about how to get tickets, check out the Coastal Jazz Blog.

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