Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rhythms and a blue note at the Dubai Jazz Festival

The hardest thing about inviting people to come to the Dubai Jazz Festival is convincing them that there is any jazz to be seen. And it's quite understandable when the promotion for the event makes it look like it's all about pop and rock. In fact, I thought so too, until I researched further and found out the Jazz Garden, with its lineup of actual jazz musicians.

(L to R) Rob DeBoer and Shilts; Sax Gordon and Alex Schultz; Raphael Wressnig

To be fair, it's nice of the organizers to have four free-to-attend weekday events of jazz music here. I attended two of them, the first act of the first night being the Canadian acid/groove jazz duo Four80East. Nu jazz is not something I typically listen to, but the band had a great beat from percussionist Tony Grace, with crisp keyboard/electronic and sax sounds from Rob DeBoer and guest feature Paul "Shilts" Weimar, respectively. I bought a dropcard after their set, and found some more nice, bouncy tracks by them online.

Guitarist Alex Schultz and organist Raphael Wressnig in their band Soul Gift were next, featuring guest appearances by some other nights' vocals artists for some of their numbers. The set was made by Wressnig's energy at the Hammond and Schultz's demonstrations of amazing guitar technique. Sax Gordon jammed with them, and was, well, simply phenomenal. I forget the name of their second tune (I only remember it was a cover of a famous song), but it was irresistibly catchy.

(L to R) Lebron and Jonathan Fritzen; Tad Robinson; Tad Robinson and Soul Gift with Sax Gordon

On the second weekday night, popstar-ish pianist and cheery crowd-pleaser Jonathan Fritzén had the stage, featuring saxophonist Lebron for a boppable smooth/contemporary performance.

Tad Robinson followed with great blues and swing vocals (and some nice harmonica too) in a most enjoyable set, supported by Soul Gift and Sax Gordon.

Nestor Torres and band (top row); Billy Childs and quartet (bottom row)

The first act on the ticketed night I attended was Nestor Torres, a renowned Latin jazz flautist. His was not quite my kind of sound, but it was good music within the genre, and he is definitely very skilled with his instrument (as was his band's keyboard player with his own).

Being a fan of jazz piano, I was eagerly anticipating the appearance by Billy Childs and his quartet in the second half. And I was not disappointed by what was on stage; Childs was as brilliant at the piano as I expected he would be, the band had a great harmony, and their saxophone player was outstanding. Unfortunately, the set was ended half an hour earlier than stated on the program, and (maybe this had something to do with it), due to the proximity and orientation of the so-called "Main Gig" stage, we had to endure a good deal of sound from Santana's performance and roaring fans very audibly intruding into our Jazz Garden listening zone --- especially annoying during Childs' more mellow pieces. It was really unfair to Childs and his quartet, as well as to us paying audience members, to have to deal with that, and it soured the end of, and what would have otherwise been the high point of my DJF experience.

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