Saturday, 3 August 2013

Dhafer Youssef Ankara Concert, August 1st 2013

It has not been even 6 months since Dhafer Youssef has given a fantastic concert in Ankara Jazz Festival with his fabulous quartet. This time, the nice square of Cer Modern Art Center was the concert place yesterday for this fantastic musician. In addition to their quartet configuration (Dhafer YoussefKristjan RandaluAudun Erlien and Chander Sandjoe) we had Eivind Aarset on guitar, Hüsnü Şenlendirici on clarinet and Aytaç Doğan on kanun. The band has  previously performed with Hüsnü Şenlendirici and Aytaç Doğan in İstanbul and North Sea Jazz Festivals and gathered very good reviews.

Many of latest performances of Dhafer Youssef are including his great compositions performed with a tensional and energetic European Jazz style. He is using his oud and incredible vocal to give the oriental taste. He is not only a member of the band but also a conductor directing the transitions and solo performances. I think it is a great idea to include Turkish musicians to the band and what we see as a result is proving that the musicians are really excellent choices. Hüsnü Şenlendirici has real good reputation among musicians all around the world. My questions in some of my interviews were for learning European musicians’ knowledge for Turkish music and musicians. Not surprisingly, they are generally answered as “Hüsnü”. He is always improving his old school style for clarinet with academic work and integration. I have listened to Aytaç Doğan first time yesterday. He is just great. I will surely follow him more closely.

The performance has started with the quintet version. The piano entrance of Kristjan Randalu was great again. His style is really as soft as silk. Audun Erlien was always there at the back with electric bass – strong and solid with the drummer Chander Sandjoe. Different that the previous concert, Chander Sandjoe was a bit more silent. The solo performance of Kristjan Randalu in around middle of the concerts, I think, is the most important highlight of the night. Eivind Aarset was responsible almost for all electronic background. He, with his laptop open in his front, was a great ingredient in the resultant beauty. The overall sound was amazing. I should mention here that the previous concert’s hall and the square of Cer Modern have very poor acoustic conditions. However what I have experienced in the previous concert in Meb Sura Hall was the best I have ever heard at that place. Same has applied yesterday and I, again, have listened to the best sound created in the square so far. It is obvious that Dhafer Youssef is caring about that and the sound engineer from Berlin (he was in Ankara for both concerts) has a big contribution in that. This experience forces me to make a comment that if musicians care about the good sound then the good sound is achieved.

The entrance of Hüsnü Şenlendirici and Aytaç Doğan to the stage in later performance was good and bad at the same time. Aytaç Doğan was the shining star of the day. He was like playing all the time with Dhafer and the band. The way he is carrying the melody in his solo performance was incredible. It’s the first time I am listening to Hüsnü Şenlendirici in such a configuration; but I can easily say that especially in the first parts, his accompanying to Dhafer Youssef’s high register vocal was not successful enough. From beginning to end there was also a serious clip-like problem in the sound of clarinet. Especially their intense duo performances in high frequencies are generally destroyed with this unwanted noise. However, I should admit that Hüsnü Şenledirici was just like a master in his solo performance and their duo with Aytaç Doğan. Moreover, the following performances of Hüsnü Şenlendirici with the band were better.

Ankara audience had a real good participation in the concert considering the holiday time and ongoing Ramadan. As far as it is seen in the ovation part they liked what they listened to.

Friday, 2 August 2013

North Sea Jazz Festival 2013 - A Visitor's Notes on Festival and Some Performances

It's been almost 20 days since I had experienced my best days of jazz ever. These dreamy days have been lived in North Sea Jazz Festival 2013. You know; when you have so many data in your hand, you generally do not know where to start. That’s why I have waited so long to write an overall review of what I lived in my first North Sea Jazz Festival. I am intentionally predefining my review as “what I lived in North Sea”, because in my opinion a normal human being can live at most quarter of what’s going on throughout these three busy and jazzy days.

Since this review is written also to give general information for any possible new participants for following years, I’d like to start with a little bit about the organization, place and travel from abroad. The festival has been held since 1976. The place was Hague until it is decided in 2006 that Rotterdam will be the new home for North Sea Jazz Festival. You can easily arrive at Rotterdam in at most 30 minutes from Amsterdam Airport. The city is small. Therefore it is never a problem to reach to the Ahoy, the port on which the festival is held. All you have to do is to stay at a hotel near to a subway station. With its beautiful view, my hotel Inntel was, for instance, was a nice place for being on the line of subway to Ahoy and near to the Central Station, where the train from Amsterdam touches to Rotterdam.

Although it was my first time in North Sea Jazz, I had a general opinion about the festival, mostly thanks to some of my jazz enthusiast friends who has been participating in the festival for years. Additionally, started from the day I have decided to join and begun to plan my schedule, I was a bit aware of what has been going on every year in this incredible organization managing more than 150 performances with 1200 artists in three days in 15 stages

In spite of all these previews of mine for the festival, I was simply in the state of OMG when I saw the crowd in front of the Ahoy at 2.30 pm, almost two hours before the doors of Ahoy opened in the first day July 12th. I have never seen this many people gathered to listen to jazz by paying almost 70 Euros for a single day or 200 Euros for three days (I am not counting at least two plus concerts for each day priced 15 Euros or 30 Euros). I have also observed that many people could not find 3-day or 1-day ticket at the first day. I have heard that at least 30000 visitors have come to Ahoy each day for the festival. I have bought the tickets almost two months ago to prevent such things and I advice the same for all future participants.

Let me give some information also about the physical structure of Ahoy. There are four floors including the entrance floor. Most of the performance halls are at the entrance, floor 0 : Nile, Maas, Congo, Congo Square, Mississippi, Amazon, Darling and Hudson.

Only Mississippi and Congo Square are open air places. Rests of these halls are concert halls in different sizes.

Smaller ones, which are mostly resembling to fairly large jazz clubs, are located on upper floors: Yenisei on first floor, Madeira (and Tigris) on second floor and Volga on third floor. I have to mention that some other places in which many exhibitions, resting places, VIP events and interviews are realized: Central Square is in the entrance level to take something to eat and to sit down while watching previous year’s legendary concerts or the ongoing performances of celebrity musicians in the biggest hall Nile. Birdland is for VIP events. Jazz Cafe is on the first floor for questions & answers and interviews. Mekong is on the third floor for Jazz Art exhibitions. In addition to these, there were many stands near to Central Square which includes exhibition and sales of CD, LP, instrument and hi-fi speakers. There were many drink stands and fairly enough types of food places most of which are located near to Central Square and some of which (mostly smelly ones) are located outside on the open air way from Nile to Hudson passing through Mississippi.


Considering 2013’s program I can easily say that the styles of the music (although its main genre seems to be jazz) tried to be distributed in almost all aspects or kinds residing in the vicinity of jazz. From hard-bop to Nordic, from Latin to avant-garde, from R&B to funk and from soul to blues. Therefore, I think the participants’ profiles were widely distributed in age, hometown and wealth. All these different styles seem to be consistently distributed to different places. For instance, bands having a real American Jazz style were generally in Hudson. Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Charles Lloyd and Ron Carter have all performed in Hudson. We also saw some names from other schools in this hall, who are certainly affected by mainstream jazz such as Avishai Cohen, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Monty Alexander, Michel Camilio, Zakir Hussain and Eliane Elias. Amazon can be shown as the biggest hall for jazz. It is mostly used for plus concerts whose tickets are sold individually. Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, Dee Dee Bridgewater and David Sanborn’s concerts were all in Amazon. Two symphonic performances, EST Symphony and Eric Vloeimans and Limburgs Symfonie were also in Amazon where a big stage is needed. Darling and Congo were hosting generally bands performing with a higher energy level and decibel with many electronic contributions. Robert Glasper with Lionel Leouke, Next Collective and Electric Masada from Darling and John Medeski from Congo can be given as examples. 

From the snapshots I have added to my review you can easily see that the most crowded place for jazz lovers was the indoor way between Amazon and Hudson which includes also the entrance of Darling. This path was generally blocked when a long queue for a well-known name in Darling and start or finish of another important name’s performance in Hudson are coincided. Maas and Nile are giants of the place. The celebrities such as Sting, Santana, Jamie Cullum, Bonnie Ratt, Steve Winwood and John Legend were listened at Nile. Jazz, Funk (even Soft Rock) and R&B singers with big bands were generally at Maas. Gregory Porter, Gretchen Parlato, Ben Harper, Anthony Hamilton, Brecker Bands Reunion can be given as examples from Maas. Madeira, although it is on the lower lines in the daily program sheets, can be one of the most important places for real jazz lovers in North Sea with its line-up such as Kenny Barron, The Cookers, Willie Jones, Steve Coleman, Steve Swallow and Carla Bley. Yenisei and Volga have been the place generally for qualified European Jazz musicians such as Mathias Eick, Yaron Herman, Ivo Neame and Martin Tingvall. Outdoor performance places Mississippi and Congo Square were generally presenting big bands featuring soloists or entertaining rhythmic groups. Anat Cohen has performed in Mississippi. I should also tell you that we have a Turkish singer performing in Missisippi: Karsu Dönmez.

In this three days program most of my time has passed in Hudson, Amazon and Yenisei. Madeira was the place that I’d like to be very much in but I generally waited at the door because of its small capacity.

For all these three days – since it is my first time – my main policy was to listen to as many different musicians as I can achive. However I have also chosen three performances for each day which I’d like to experience on a good seat from beginning to end. Between these three performances I was planning to see small partitions from some names that I have never seen before on the stage. This way, I saw at least seven performances each day in almost 9 hours. 

During realizations of these plans, most of the time, walking between my main performances to small partitions became a real rush and a stressful act. This also sometimes prevented me from comfortably eating and drinking. But you know, who cares eating when there is good music playing. My single mistake, I think, was to divide some performances into two when two of my favorite musicians exactly coincided at the same interval. The organization has no contribution to this, everything is a result of my vast musical taste and hunger. I strongly recommend you not to do that division and to decide on one.

Let me also shortly review each performance I have joined. The first day has started with a single piece from Anat Cohen and Royal Conservatory & Codarts Big Band in Mississippi. Then I was at the fabulous performance of Terence Blanchard, Brice Winston, Fabian Almazon, Joshua Crumbly and Kendrick Scott in Hudson. Terence Blanchard was as perfect as he usually is. The pianist Fabian Almazan and the drummer Kendrick Scott were highlights of the concert. The single mistake that I have seen during the festival may have happened in this performance: the announcement system mistakenly worked twice and told something in Dutch in the middle of Terence Blanchard’s performance.

My second station in July 12th was Amazon for a single piece from Eric Vloeimans, Martin Fondse and Limburgs Symfonie. The compositions were brilliant. Congo was the next place to hear again just a single piece from John Medeski with Martin & Wood. They have a great album together. Their performance seemed to have gathered many listeners from this festival.

Then, for my second concert in first day, I passed immediately to Yenisei, where Mathias Eick performed with Andreas Ulvo, Audun Erlien, Andreas Bye and Kenneth Kapstad. Yes, you did not read it wrong or I did not write it mistakenly. We simply had two drummers on the stage with two full drum-sets. I was really wondering this performance since the one in İstanbul just before North Sea was cancelled. The pieces were mostly from his ECM album Scala. Many electric ingredients and two drummers turned the concert into a very tensional one. It was a good concert when evaluated in general but I was expecting a better one considering overall sound created. I think Yenisei is a bit problematic place for music performances because of its low ceil heights considering mostly mid-frequencies. Mathias Eick's followers know very well his unique sound from the trumpet which has many layers that should certainly be given to the audience in a live performance. Moreover, the sound produced seems to need a bigger hall. I think Darling could be a better place.

Diana Krall was waiting in Amazon for the first plus concerts of the festival at around 9 pm on July 12th. I have never listened to her lively before. Listening to jazz celebrities is always a strange experience for me. You know, big concert halls, cold and far away stage and lots of fans around are not the things a real enthusiastic jazz listener like. Diana Krall is an important jazz vocal however. She sings flat – I mean real flat. Many find this boring but less know that singing flat – like talking in daily life – is a real difficult thing to do. During her beautiful performance she sang many songs from really earlier times of jazz and blues. She also has covered some Neil Young’s wonderful compositions – this was my favorite part in the concert. I had to leave Diana Krall’s last two or three performances to have a look at Santana and Monty Alexander Trio Plus. Santana was just a big show at Nile. The Hudson’s door was almost stuck because of the crowd. What I see was a big applause from the audience after each piece. As far as I have experienced in last two pieces, Monty Alexander Trio Plus’ concert was just great even resulting an encore which is rare in North Sea due to tight schedule.

My first day has finished with two coincided performances – the incredible Roy Hargrove Quintet and our qualified European pianist Yaron Herman. I have chosen Roy Hargrove as the entrance. Both performances were telling stories from different worlds but with same level of beauty. Roy Hargrove’s compositions and performance were great again. I should admit that I hardly left it.

July 13th has started with Gretchen Parlato and Gregory Porter in Maas with a full house. What a wonderful voice they both have. Their duo performance was just touching. Before E.S.T. Symphony, I have seen a single performance from Sangam project of Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland at Hudson. When I was passing to Amazon I have tried to enter Madeira for Kenny Barron’s Platinum Trio but the door was closed and there was a long queue. As far as I have heard from my friends, Kenny Barron’s performance was fabulous.

My first beginning to end concert in second day was E.S.T. Symphony in Amazon, a symphony project achieved by composer/conductor Hans Ek, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström whose names you will remember as the living members of one of the best European jazz trios in jazz history Esbjörn Svensson Trio. After Esbjörn’s passing away we can see this symphony project as the most important work Magnus and Dan are presenting together. I had seen them in İstanbul three day before their North Sea performance and wrote a detailed review about that great concert. The line-up is changing in each E.S.T. Symphony concert. There were many different names in the premiere in Stockholm and İstanbul. Here in Rotterdam, we had Yuri Honing on saxophone, İbrahim Maalouf on trumpet, Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar, Yaron Herman and Martin Tingvall on piano. Since the interval defined for the concerts are not long enough in North Sea we had some missing pieces compared to İstanbul and Stockholm such as Seven Days of Falling. Again, an interesting difference is that there are trumpet players in Stockholm and Rotterdam but we did not see a trumpet player in İstanbul. The Amazon stage was big enough for the big orchestra and the sound was very good compared to a bit problematic sound created in İstanbul.  The stage placements are a bit different too. Magnus, Dan and other soloists were at the forefront right after Hans Ek. I learned that they were preferring to be at the back but the stage structure of Amazon caused them to do this. I am excluding the incredible Marius Neset in İstanbul, but I think soloist performances were generally better in North Sea than what we listened to in İstanbul. Even Magnus and Dan were a bit more energetic. I think two most important parts of the concert were İbrahim Maalouf’s wonderful and oriental contribution with his quarter-tones to the piece Behind The Yashmak and the guest appearance of Jamie Cullum in the last piece Love is Real. Besides I have at last met face to face Wilfried Rijsemus, a real jazz lover from Holland with whom I share many interests in jazz for a long time especially for E.S.T. stuff.

After E.S.T. Symphony concert I was planning to see Willie Jones III in Madeira but what I see was again a big queue and closed doors. Again friends joining the concerts mentioned me that what I am missing was another great performance. Before passing to my second plus concert to Amazon I wanted to have a look at Eliane Elias, Randy Brecker and Marc Johnson at Hudson. The concert was fairly good but mostly for looking for a calm Brazilian sound.

Chick Corea and The Vigil at Amazon was a real promising concerts for most of us with Christian McBride on bass. I have lately listened to these two great musicians with the incredible Brian Blade on drums in a wonderful concert. The musicians and compositions were surely all good but I think because of our great expectations the overall performance was not satisfactory.

After an early exit from Amazon I found the opportunity to join Questions and Answers of Magnus Öström and Dan Berglund in Jazz Cafe in the middle. I found the forefront seat and I barely noticed that the woman I am telling “excuse me” while passing was Dee Dee Bridgewater waiting for her turn after them. I made some contributions and asked some questions. I also found some time to talk to my heroes after the event. It was again very depressing to remember Esbjörn’s death.

The last part in my second day was including three single performances from The Cookers in Madeira, Zorn at 60 Electric Masada in Darling and Talking Cows in Volga. The Cookers were really good. The Electric Masada has the highest decibel I have ever heard in a jazz festival. I just had a snapshot look at John Legend’s performance in Nile and ran away from R&B. The end of the day was wonderful with the incredible duo of Michel Camilio and Tomatito. They were really energetic and lively. The compositions, arrangements and overall sound in Hudson were really touching.

The last day has the most difficult schedule for me. I was mostly at Hudson because Kurt Rosenwinkel, Branford Marsalis and Avishai Cohen were there too in consecutive performances.

To start with Kurt Rosenwinkel’s performance was not what again the audience expected but anyone should respect the great technique and sound of this fabulous guitarist. Eric Revis was very good in this performance as well as he is in Branford Marsalis Quartet. When I have found some time I had a look at Ivo Neame Octet in Yenisei which includes Jasper Høiby on bass. In other words, 2/3 of the qualified trio -Phronesis- was on the stage. I have listened to their performances till the end. They were just great. Next to this I also found the chance to see Marcus Miller: The Renaissance at Nile. It was a great show for jazz. Considering the non-jazz line-up in Nile in three days Marcus Miller’s concert was a very important one gathering this many people just for jazz. The compositions and the musicians’ energy were just awesome.

Next Collective is a kind-of-new sound from USA with Gerald Clayton on piano. We had also the great Christian Scott on trumpet. Their compositions are carrying also European tastes and the album is a real success. Since Branford Marsalis Quartet was at Hudson for the following performance and I would see Next Collective in New York in following days I convinced myself to see just the entrance piece of this good concert in Darling.

It was more than a full house in Hudson in Branford Marsalis Quartet’s Concert. We have noticed that there were something wrong when Branford could not come instantly to stage when presented and the problem became evident when we saw that he is trying to fix something in his instrument while his friends are keeping the performance going on. I am not sure but I think the instrument has broken while being carried by airways. Fortunately, after the first performance another musician has made a soprano saxophone to reach to Branford Marsalis and we have listened to a great concert. Joey Calderazzo, Eric Revis and Justin Faulkner were just amazing. Can you believe it? The instrument is hardly working, it is replaced then, you are facing this problem lively on the stage, your friends have to compensate your absence by changing arrangements and you can still return for a great performance. All my respects and WOWs are for Branford Marsalis. This was my first time for his quartet. Their duo performance with Joey Calderazzo was just touching in İstanbul and I was looking forward to listening to the quartet. I got what I expected.

Between Branford Marsalis Quartet and Avishai Cohen Quartet I tried to see Steve Swallow Quintet in Madeira and Joe Lovano in Amazon. I have managed to enter Madeira and at last could see Steve Swallow and Carla Bley together on the stage. Amazon was closed due to high demand.

I have listened to Avishai Cohen Trio before. The quartet configuration and the other musicians were all new for me in live performance. The energy level of Avishai Cohen Quartet in Hudson at the entrance was very low and I think the drummer could not join the event with an enough concentration at first. Later on, the band found their best state and Avishai has started to impress audience again. The encore was a classical solo performance from him: Alfonsina Y El Mar. The last jazz concerts I have seen in the festival were Robert Glasper Experiment with Lionel Loueke in Darling and Ron Carter and WDR Big Band in Hudson. Besides, after his fantastic concert in İstanbul, I wanted to listen to Sting again this time in Nile considering also that Branford Marsalis will be on stage with him. It was just a wonderful end to this fabulous festival.


If you are interested in jazz but new, YOU SHOULD GO TO NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL.

If you are not listening to jazz, YOU MAY GO TO NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL.