Globalism held its head high at the tenth annual Ponta Delgada Jazz Festival last week. Five nights of concerts performed by an international coterie of improvisers in the superb acoustics of a nicely modernized old center-city theater for a stylish, educated audience didn’t seem a cultural far cry, though they were held in the capital of the Azores, the mid-Atlantic archipelago 700 miles from mainland Portugal.
My detailed critique of the fest, which featured bands led by New York-based alto saxophonists Lee Konitz, Marty Ehrlich and Daniel Carter as well as the Hot Club of Portugal Septet and pianist Joachim Kuhn, is commissioned for the January issue of Down Beat.
So let me note here only that Konitz (just named an NEA Jazz Master, born in Chicago 81 years ago and now residing most of the year in Koln, he performed with the estimable Minsarah
trio), Ehrlich (my longtime neighbor in the East Village, playing his own pieces and some by the late Julius Hemphill with his
about-to-record Rites Quartet of cellist Erik Friedlander, trumpeter James
Zollar and drummer Pheroan ak Laff) and Carter (also an NYC
downtowner, with a nominally collective ensemble comprising trumpeter Demian
Richardson, pianist John Blum and drummer Federico Ughi) demonstrated highly contrasting approaches to their horns and to jazz-expansive creativity.
Audiences of 600 to 800 mostly local residents attended shows starting at 9:30 each balmy night in the handsomely restored, updated and well-equipped Teatro Michalense. The generally bi-lingual, all-ages Azoreans were unfailingly
receptive to even the most abstract spontaneous sound play, and after the concerts younger folks wandered through Ponta Delgada’s narrow, cobblestoned streets to drink sherry in cafes or hang out in the ultra hip Colegio 27 restaurant/club. Further demonstrating that the local is now global, many listeners wanted to talk about U.S. politics as well as new music.
Rui Melo, heroic producer of this fest, is a Ponta Delgada native who attended university in Manitoba and has a strong taste for music that his Azorean audience speaks of as “free-style.” For past fests he’s imported Americans such as bassist William Parker, saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Dave Douglas, drummer Hamid Drake and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore. But he knows a balanced program is necessary to nurture the grass roots audience that attends as much out of curiosity as devotion.
Local fans seemed interested in lecturer Bernardo Moreira’s very basic “History of Jazz,” for which the Hot Club demonstrated styles ranging from New Orleans marching band to fusion and “free”; Carter and company anchored an afternoon blow out session with local players, and I pontificated on “Jazz Now — and Its Future,” illustrating with video clips of Wynton Marsalis, Vernon Reid, John Zorn, et al. The Trem Azul jazz store of Lisbon had a table for cd and dvd sales, at which I scored several promising recordings on the store’s own Clean Feed label and two Miles Davis videos unavailable in the States (one from ’71 with Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Michael Henderson and three percussionists, the other live from Copenhagen and Rome in ’69 with Miles’ never-documented quintet of Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette).
There was plenty of time during the day to walk through botanical gardens, drive through the volcanic island San Miguel’s deeply green forests and visit the steaming geysers in the town of Furnas. New York to Ponta Delgada is a long air-trip, requiring a plane-change in Lisbon, but there was no lack of information about culture in this remote place: the Avenida Hotel where all the fest’s guests stayed had CNN, the Al Jazeera network and MTV in every room, plus internet hookups. I didn’t need to follow every dip and twist of the markets or presidential candidates over the week away — respite is nice! — but did check in for updates at least once a news cycle. I found the music at least as enlightening about what’s happening in our world as the sound bites on tv. Both broadcast the same message: Change is inevitable, change is gonna come.