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LIVE: NDR Big Band/Bosco/Lovano

The second night of the NDR Big Band’s stint as artists in residence at the Krakow Jazz Festival had the band working with Joao Bosco (above) playing originals and Jobim tunes in the first set, and with american sax hero Joe Lovano in the second.

Bosco is a Brazilian singer, composer, guitarist who is now in his early sixties. But seeing him on stage I would comment that his late thirties appear to be treating him rather well. Musicians have been giving me a buzz about Bosco, and their expressions on stage last night told their own story: Bosco’s musicianship is mesmerising. He has an appealingly characterful voice, which is capable of the lightness of Joao Gilberto. But he can also deliver in-your-face rap, and alliterative nonsense poetry, both in evidence in numbers such as Quilombo. There’s a rhythmic kick in the singing, and a propulsiveness in his guitar playing which spreads through the band like an electric charge. Wladislaw Sendecki on piano and keyboards, Kiko Freitas on drums, an unnamed percussionist, and Stefan Dietz on guitar, in particular, were right on Bosco’s mega-voltage all evening.

I’ll have just one grump. I’d love to have known what he was actually singing about. I know that No More Blues/ Chega de Saudade is about turning your back on “tristeza” and “melancolia”…but the meaning, the purpose of the other songs was left completely unexplained. Maybe World Music audiences simply don’t care. Last night’s audience hooted and hollered and took hundreds- no, thousands- of flash photographs.

The Lovano set touched my emotions in a special way, because of the late, great Steve Gray. His arrangements both opened and closed the set. Gray, who had worked a lot with the NDR Band, was robbed from us at the age of just 62 last year. The set got under way with his chart of Ellington’s Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, to which Gray adds crescendissimo in the title, and to the pages of the chart. It was an absolute barnstormer, showing the capacity of the NDR Band to blaze, to work antiphonally, to honk good n’ loud blues choruses. It also featured the same stellar international rhythm section featured prominently on Thursday of Sendecki, Gary Husband and James Genus.
The encore was another chart of Gray’s: Take the A Train, in the key of A. It was serene, it was translucent. Husband proved just as immaculate with his left hand on slowly rotating pianissimo brush as he is when propelling a full band. And the last word was a coalescing ethereal whisper from Sendecki on piano and Dietz on guitar neck, two colleagues working together in hushed perfection.

I thought Lovano was at his absolute best in Claus Stoetter’s fascinating chart Lethargend. Stoetter, was on flugelhorn, standing right next to Lovano. Maybe the close-up and personal presence of the composer, maybe that extra duty of care to him as a fellow musician, maybe the imperative to unravel and explain to the audience an interesting melodic line here, a fascinating harmonic shape there….I sensed that something special, something memorable was going on in the magic of that moment. The kind of moment which keeps drawing me to jazz.
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