Review: Billy Childs Quartet and Trilok Gurtu at Valamar Jazz Festival

Billy Childs Quartet; Trilok Gurtu Quartet 
(Valamar Jazz Festival, Sv. Nikola stage, Poreč, Croatia. 27th June 2013. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

“This is paradise, this is beautiful, I would have liked to spend a week here,” said Billy Childs. Those were the first words spoken by a visiting musician from the Valamar Jazz Festival’s magically located stage, nestling right by the sea. A ferry taking less than five minutes brings the audience from Poreč harbour to the island of Sveti Nicola, for the first of three double bills of music. A holiday mood prevails here, not least because this time of year has two Croatian natonal public holidays. Last Saturday 22nd June was Anti-Fascist Struggle Day and Tuesday 25th was Statehood (or Constitution) Day. 

The highlights of the opening  set, from Billy Childs’ Quartet, were the two solos from alto saxophonist Steve Wilson. The Virginia-born reeds player certainly has pedigree: he’s an alumnus of bands led by Chick Corea, Maria Schneider, Christian McBride and Dave Holland. (There’s a good, short interview with him HERE)

Many alto saxophonists make the attempt to drive a band and inspire it to greater heights through force of presence, experience and personality, by sending out constant and probing challenges to the rhythm section. There can be very few – if any? – in the world in 2013, however, who are capable of doing it with the command, the fluency, the technique, the strength of tone, the fertility of ideas that Steve Wilson now has at his command. 

His solos on two of Billy Childs’ lengthy-song-form compositions, Aaron’s Song, inspired by the composer’s eldest son, and The Hunted, were also the moments when powerful bassist Hans Glawischnig, endlessly creative drummer Kendrick Scott, and the pianist/composer/bandleader Childs himself also gave of their very best. And their best, to misquote Longfellow, was very good indeed.

Billy Childs, Steve Wilson, Hans Glawischnig, Kendrick Scott

The second set featured Indian-born percussion legend Trilok Gurtu, heard very much on his own terms. Rather than his band with Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa which was touring Scotland earlier this year, he appeared last night with a hand-picked band of younger players. It takes a powerful bassist to survive, let alone to thrive alongside Gurtu, and the Spanish-German bassist Jonathan Ihlenfeld Cuniado gave exactly the right kind of strong drive and insistent groove to give the band a solid foundation and a constant sense of propulsion. Classically- trained Turkish pianist Tuluğ Tırpan has not just strong technique but a vivid sense of colour on electronic keyboard, and Cologne-based trumpeter Frederik Köster has a strong personality and makes inventive and subtle use of electronics. But in the end this is a band in which the percussion master can allow his imagination free rein, can savour not just the sound possibilities of a vast range of percussion, but also the ironies and inconsistencies of his musical identity; and, as if those weren’t enough to be going on with, also cajole, impress, tease…and completely entertain the appreciative holiday crowd.

This first night on the stage by the sea left the audience in a happy mood for its return journey across the water to Poreč’s welcoming harbour-front. It set the holiday mood, and a high standard, for the rest of the festival.

Categories: miscellaneous

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