Live review

ROUND-UP: Bergamo Jazz Festival 2019

Gianluigi Trovesi (centre right) receiving his 75th birthday cake
Photo credit: Gianfranco Rota

Bergamo Jazz Festival 2019
(Various venues. 21-25 March 2019. Round-Up by Brian Marley)

Gianluigi Trovesi, 75th Birthday Celebration – 21 March, Teatro Sociale

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The concert began with a duo of Gianluigi Trovesi (alto sax, bass clarinet) and Anat Fort (piano). This proved to be a rather twitchy set, and at times their playful ‘you go first/no, you’ manner seemed more theatrical than musical. But Trovesi was as lyrical as ever, and Fort accompanied him deftly. A pleasant but underwhelming experience.

Trovesi was then joined by Paolo Manzolini (guitar), Marco Esposito (electric bass), Vittorio Marinoni (drums) and Fulvio Maras (percussion), and they immediately fired up his compositions. When Fort and trumpeter Manfred Schoof joined them, the temperature shot up another notch, especially when Schoof let rip with flurries of smeared notes. At swifter tempos, Fort played darting runs and harmonically rich, sometimes highly dissonant chords, and during her solos she added twists to the music that were extremely inventive.

The second half featured Annette Maye (clarinets),Trovesi, Schoof, and the Bergen Big Band directed by Corrado Guarino. Under the title Dedalo, they presented an exuberant suite of Trovesi compositions, including Herbop, From G to G, Hercab, and of course Dedalo, a mixture of circus romps, lyrical ballads and operatic overkill. The band powered through Guranino’s charts like a well-oiled machine, and double bassist Magne Thormodsaeter reached deep into the music and played the hell out of it.

Archie Shepp in Bergamo
Photo credit: Gianfranco Rota

Archie Shepp Quartet and Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective – 22 March, Creberg Teatro

Archie Shepp kicked off the evening with a solid set that featured Coltrane (Wise One), Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, and, always the backbone of his music, the blues. Because of embouchure problems that began in the early 1970s, he’s adopted a double-lip grip on the mouthpiece and reed that seems to require frequent adjustment mid-phrase and looks distinctly uncomfortable, but he played with fervour, especially on soprano sax. His phrases tend to be blunter and shorter than they used to be, with an occasional breathy pfff on the final note, especially when playing a ballad, reminiscent of Coleman Hawkins. His singing voice is, however, gruff but supple, as demonstrated on Lush Life, and Revolution. Carl Henri Morisset (piano) and Darryl Hall (bass) provided robust support, but it was drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake who carried the set. Even when playing a fairly straightforward backbeat, he added bombs, accents and splashes of colour in unexpected combinations and breathed life into every aspect of the music.

Next up was Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective. Despite his considerable skills as a trumpeter, musical director and soundtrack composer, Blanchard seems to have struck out with his E-Collective concept, which updates with electronics the kind of thing Miles Davis was doing around the time of Bitches Brew. His quintet presented unsubtle and rather tedious jazz-funk, textural rather than melodic, which somehow managed to be neither funky nor jazzy. The solos, especially by guitarist Charles Altura, seemed aimless and interminable. Blanchard played almost nothing but short phrases, sometime consisting of as little as three or four notes at a time, which seemed more akin to musical cues than solos per se. (Ed: John Watson also heard this band in Birmingham)

Hamid Drake and Pasquale Mirra – 23 March, Accademia Carrera

On a high from yesterday’s triumph with Archie Shepp, Hamid Drake played a duo set with vibraphonist Pasquale Mirra. Tucked into a corner of one of the galleries, they made music that flowed freely and intuitively. It was highly energetic and richly melodic, and when Mirra draped fabric over the bars of his vibraphone to dampen the notes, and added various small rattles, wood blocks and other hittable objects, their percussiveness reached dizzy heights. An exhilarating performance.

Sara Serpa
Photo credit: Gianfranco Rota

Sara Serpa and André Matos – 24 March, Ex Oratorio di San Lupe

This venue, with its resonant acoustic, was ideal for the spare music of Sara Serpa (vocals) and André Matos (guitar). Serpa scrupulously avoids ornamentation and often sings wordlessly, which makes even the slightest pitch deficiency obvious, and during the first few numbers there were one or two notes she didn’t quite hit foursquare. But such minor infelicities didn’t mar what was, in every other respect, a beautifully nuanced programme of traditional Portuguese songs, American standards and, perhaps best of all, the duo’s own compositions, which often featured unorthodox structures and serpentine lines.

David Murray and Dezron Douglas
Photo credit: Gianfranco Rota

David Murray Quartet – 24 March, Creberg Teatro

That evening, Murray’s Quartet reminded us of what the jazz avant-garde sounded like back in the day. Murray, in fine voice on tenor sax, was spiritedly supported by David Bryant (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums). They kicked off with Butch Morris’ Obe, and took in old favourites such as Morning Song and Chelsea Bridge. During his fiery solos on uptempo numbers, Murray frequently launched into the false upper register of his instrument, and he often concluded tunes with thrilling solo cadenzas. Bryant’s knotty pianism, worrying away at variations on a few phrasal cells, seemed occasionally to slow the music’s momentum, but he always added something meaningful. Douglas and McPherson played superbly, and their solos were Festival highlights. The concert ended with a fierce blowout that drew strenuous applause and shouts of approval from the audience.

Manu Dibango
Photo credit: Gianfranco Rota

Manu Dibango – 25 March, Creberg Teatro

Headlining on the final evening, Manu Dibango (the so-called lion of Africa) and his ‘African Soul Safari’ group were tighter than tight. Old lion he may be (he’d recently celebrated his 85th birthday), but boy can he roar! Although his alto sax solos tended to be brief, they were sturdy, rhythmically precise, and, most importantly of all, exciting. Drawing on his Cameroonian musical legacy, and incorporating elements from other parts of Africa, he began with Douala Serenade, a tribute to his home town. Keyboard player Julien Agazar was at the heart of the music. He also sang along with the backing singers, Isabel Gonzalez and Valérie Belinga, both of whom played small percussion instruments throughout. Actually, to describe them as backing singers does them an injustice; they contributed hugely to the the music, their unison lines providing much of its swing and sway. Midway during the set, for a change of pace, they and Agazar sang a Portuguese ballad acapella, then it was back to the delirious, rhythmically charged swirl of the music, which concluded with almost all of the capacity audience dancing in the aisles to Dibango’s first worldwide hit, Soul Makossa.


Before Dibango’s group took to the stage, Dave Douglas, Bergamo’s musical director, announced he would be standing down after four years in post. He then introduced Maria Pia De Vito, his successor, and wished her good luck. Since its inception in 1969, Bergamo has gone from strength to strength, and given De Vito’s inspired work at the 2018 Ravello Festival, I suspect great things are to come.

Categories: Live review

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