North Sea Jazz leads, as befits a good festival, to loads of choice stress (which is rewarded)

Diana RossStatue Ben Houdijk

“Is this a jazz festival?” A radiant red Diana Ross, beaming with happiness, poses the question Friday to the sweating, excited audience in the largest hall of the Rotterdam Ahoy complex. The North Sea Jazz Festival can take place there again after two years of absence. It is very hot in the Nile, which can accommodate more than ten thousand visitors. Not everyone who wants to can enter. Ross, who announced that he wanted to start fifteen minutes earlier, turns out to be in top form, contrary to fears.

Where she mainly sounded out of tune in the television registration of her performance at Glastonbury, she sings I’m Coming Out and the block of Supremes hits as it should be. And she also surprises by returning to her role as Billie Holiday in the film Lady Sings the Blues (1972) with the glowing ballad Don’t Explain† A present from Ross to the North Sea Jazz audience, to whom she asked the natural rhetorical question.

Gary Bartz (81) already proved that North Sea Jazz is still mainly a jazz festival on Friday afternoon. Outside, in the Congo tent, he surrounds himself with the young English jazz band Maisha and not only plays beautifully, but occasionally also sings very fragile, as Lee Konitz often did in his late years.

Trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire is also very impressive, whose playing on Friday afternoon in the Madeira hall is mainly in a subdued, at times moving blues mode. Which is a beautiful tribute to the now deceased, permanent North Sea Jazz guest trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

You just had to look for that new Madeira hall, because an entire wing has been added this year, including the RTM Stage. This increases the spread of the public, but also causes some unrest on the first day. There is something wrong with the signage, and the maps with the three divisions Uptown, Midtown and Downtown mainly cause confusion.

But it is an improvement. The RTM Stage is an excellent replacement for the old Amazon stage, which is somewhat provisionally screened with cloth. The only so-called plus concert of the weekend will also take place here on Friday; only Diana Krall has to pay extra. However, the singer does not come with a band, because it was partly affected by corona. Sad, but secretly also nice, because we actually prefer to hear Krall alone, singing behind the grand piano. And she does it even better than hoped. She alternates sad songs from the Sinatra repertoire with works by Bob Dylan and For the Roses by Joni Mitchell, which gives goosebumps.

Erykah Badu Statue Ben Houdijk

Erykah BaducStatue Ben Houdijk

Then you’ll be glad you got rid of the stress of choice (Akinmusire or Makaya McCraven, who plays in Congo?) by just listening to Krall for an hour. Then no masterclass from Herbie Hancock, the 82-year-old keyboardist who is artist in residence this year, which means that he will perform in a different formation every day.

Apparently every festival-goer has checked his performance with a permanent band in the block schedule on Saturday, because the Amazon is already full half an hour before the start. Either security has missed that or they don’t have the manpower to block the entrances. In any case, it is far too full when Herbie Hancock takes the stage with his band on time. He sees the commotion in front, where hundreds of people have lined up in front of the first rows of seats with a seated audience. He hears the shouts for ‘sit’ and ‘sit down’ from the hall and you can see him thinking: I’m coming here for the thirtieth year, but I’ve never experienced this before.

His words – ‘Let’s have some fun, not fighting’ – work. The noise disappears and fun will it be. Hancock covers all facets of his immense oeuvre, plays both powerful piano and spatial synths, gives the Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke the opportunity to give a lesson in African jazz and leads his band through a beautiful version of a song arranged by his trumpeter Terence Blanchard. footprints by Wayne Shorter. And of course, finally, there’s the keytar, which was already so seductively behind Hancock. Take a moment for the right settings – wonderful, the tranquility that the man still exudes – and then they are the first squishy funk notes. chameleona true jazz classic from the seventies that is worth the long wait alone.

Nile Rodgers & Chic Statue Ben Houdijk

Nile Rodgers & ChicStatue Ben Houdijk

It is a pity that we had to leave a little earlier at the performance of Hancock’s drumming contemporary Eric Ineke. Ineke and his young band played the music of Frans Elsen (1934-2011), which was recently released. The Norwegian cycle lent itself perfectly to open improvisations by, among others, saxophonist Benjamin Herman in the role of Piet Noordijk.

North Sea Jazz lends itself perfectly to this kind of occasion formations. At the same time, there was also the Han 80 program, in which the birthday of drummer Han Bennink was celebrated by, among others, the younger generations Ben van Gelder (sax) and Reinier Baas (guitar).

Dutch jazz is once again well represented this year, thanks to, for example, saxophonist Tineke Postma. Since a few months she can finally get her beautiful album Freya (2020) on the stages. On Saturday evening she plays for the first time with the American jazz pianist Kris Davis, and that turns out to be a combination that leaves you wanting more. Both musicians are constantly looking for notes and harmonies that are never obvious, but are also not sought after difficult.

The contemporary performance also fits in well with the route along ‘old legends’ that Postma could make. In a few hours, spread over the hall complex, three stars played who helped shape the history of jazz. In addition to their advanced age (80 years or older), they all share a crucial role as Miles Davis’ accompanist. To start Saturday with Hancock, then go to guitarist John McLaughlin and marvel at not only his brilliant and lucid playing but also that of his band and ending with 85-year-old bassist Ron Carter has something of a pilgrimage .

Only all these musicians, to whom we can also add Gary Bartz, are not only alive, they continue to search for new jazz patterns and do so with visible pleasure. Carter’s drummer may have been gripped by the virus, but there was no question of canceling. Then play as a trio in the overcrowded Madeira. Piano, bass and tenor sax (Jimmy Greene) perform without interruption from Mack the Knife by many standards. Very elegant and understated, nobody misses the drummer, because actually we mainly want to hear Carter.

Michael Kiwanuka Statue Ben Houdijk

Michael KiwanukaStatue Ben Houdijk

After that, the stress of choice that comes with a good festival strikes again. Do we stay with Postma or do we go to Erykah Badu? We’ve seen just enough of soul folk singer Michael Kiwanuka before to establish that he lives up to his place in the largest hall. But otherwise we have heard too few soul sounds.

So a little late to the Nile, but just in time for the entrance of the notorious latecomer Badu. She’s in shape. Her voice is smooth and soulful. The typical musical mix of hip-hop and soul is sharpened by a strong band, only those band members don’t have to be introduced for twenty minutes, as Badu thinks they should do.

A shame, but the need for more soul is met quickly and not far from the Nile in the Congo, where Yola combines soul with country very traditionally, but very strongly without frills.

And then run upstairs again, because no one answers Ross’s question with a resounding yes like tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, a disciple of John Coltrane, who, towards midnight, when Nile Rodgers turns on the hit machine with Chic, plays all the songs with a strong repertoire of his own. noise blows away.

Greater capacity

This year North Sea Jazz took place for the first time in the enlarged Ahoy complex. New is the Rotterdam Ahoy Convention Center and the RTM Stage. A whole extra wing actually, which made the audience spread more.

The expansion has also resulted in increased capacity. Instead of 25 thousand tickets, 30 thousand tickets were sold per day for this sold-out edition of North Sea Jazz. You didn’t notice anything of those five thousand more daily visitors. It even seemed a bit quieter, except for the non-functioning air conditioning by Diana Ross.