North Sea Jazz Festival 2022
(Rotterdam Ahoy. 8-10 July 2022. Round-Up Report by John Ferguson)
The 3-day NN North Sea Jazz Festival operates from a single site, originally in The Hague and since 2006 at Rotterdam’Ahoy, a convention centre and multi-purpose indoor arena . With 12+ stages ranging from large halls for thousands to see the ‘big’ stars (this year including Diana Ross, Herbie Hancock, Gregory Porter, H.E.R., Alicia Keys), to intimate rooms holding fewer than 200 people, timings are respected, so planning what to see is easy. The biggest problem for a music lover.. even on their 20th visit…remains deciding which gigs to leave out, as clashes inevitably happen with the 150+ ensembles playing during the 3 days. A nice problem to have, nonetheless.
The music actually began the evening before the festival, with a ‘cool’ (in both senses) rooftop performance by the US pairing of pianist Taylor Eigsti (his 2021 Grammy-winning album ‘Tree Falls’ is excellent) and singer Lisa Fischer. It was a great start to the long weekend.
The Festival proper got off to a flyer on the Friday with arguably the best singer in the world Lizz Wright – this time with her regular pianist Kenny Banks and backed by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. There was a collective intake of breath by all at the start of the set, when that voice sang the opening lines of Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’ and the quality didn’t let up from there. The lush orchestral tones added just the right amount of sweetness to what is already a voice like honey.
A joy of a Festival is often the discovery of relatively little known talent – many album purchases have resulted from such ‘finds’ over the years. This year’s surprise package was a young Dutch piano, trumpet & stunning vocalist trio, with a noticeable ECM/Norwegian vibe, called Mudita. Two albums in and if there’s any justice, they’ll become household names.
Day 2 kicked off with the return to the festival of Daniel Lanois, with Jim Wilson on bass and with an advertised “mystery guest” on drums. It was wonderful therefore to see the near reformation of Black Dub (who played NSJ in 2011 and didn’t stay together much longer), when none other than the fabulous Trixie Whitley joined them on stage. She of course sang as well as drummed, so it was yet another amazing start to a great day of music.
After visiting a couple of “mmm interesting, but not outstanding” acts, it was a welcome return of Tineke Postma to NSJ, since her set with Greg Osby in 2014 and before that a ‘super group’ in 2009 with Geri Allen, Scott Colley and Terri Lyne Carrington. This time she featured a great quintet including Kris Davis and Ralph Alessi and it was great to see/hear. Edition Records have already announced her new album is recorded and due for release in early 2023, so look out for that!
Saturday night and Sunday afternoon involved two of the young Brits that are raising the profile of UK jazz. Saturday evening’s Joe Armon-Jones set included vocalist Asheber and a sax duo of James Mollison and Nubya Garcia. Nubya’s own set on Sunday afternoon was a NSJ highlight, repeating the success of her debut here in 2018 and reappearance in 2019 with Maisha. Her set here with Joe again, plus bassist Daniel Casimir and fantastic drummer Sam Jones, went down a storm.
Sunday highlights included Japanese star pianist Hiromi performing with a string quartet, led by acclaimed classical violinist Thomas Gould. Hiromi captivated the full auditorium with her piano dexterity and her ability to engage with everyone, using gestures and occasional contortions, to great effect!
Some musicians warrant the term ‘legend’ and two worthy recipients from slightly different generations captivated everyone during their Sunday set. Charles Lloyd and his band The Marvels featuring THE master of the guitar Bill Frisell playing with a ‘hot’ rhythm team of Greg Leisz, Reuben Rogers and Kendrick Scott. Charles’ playing both on sax and flute belies his 84 years and long may he continue to serve up wonderful music, with such great collaborators.
Final gig of this year’s festival by Alfa Mist was initially plagued by major delays getting to the site. Sax/clarinet player Sam Rapley, who had presumably travelled separately, together with Nubya’s drummer Sam Jones, did a sterling job of sound-checking everyone’s gear, while the crowd began to fill the room. The start was delayed by about 25 minutes and clearly things hadn’t gone well (not least that guitarist Jamie Leeming was ‘missing’!) Needless to say however, the professionals that they patently are, shone through very quickly. Whilst to a dedicated Alfa fan, the absence of Jamie’s guitar and consequently of Kaya Thomas Dyke’s wonderful voice at this gig was a shame, the star drumming of Nathan Shingler, Kaya’s solid bass playing and Sam and Alfa’s great soloing, made the gig a success and they deserved all the plaudits from a very satisfied crowd.
The dates of North Sea Jazz prevent or inhibit attendance at other great summer jazz festivals (eg Swanage, Buxton and even Love Supreme & Montreal) every year, but another 3 days of wonderful music with a single ticket for all of the above on one site, is simply an experience beyond compare. 2023 dates are announced as 7-9 July