COLOURS OF JAZZ IN SPRING
penultimate part (9) of the inaugural S&D Joined Up Jazz Festival presented in association with Hot Biscuits
by Norman Warwick
In a week when the mountains and valleys were still a remarkably lush green, we took a meandering late afternoon drive into Areciffe to find flashes of colour daubed and mixed on the landscape’s pallet. How such muted colours on so dainty looking wildflowers emerge through our unforgiving topsoil and out into what, at this time of year, is still wild and windy and wet in those hills is just beyond us. Pale blues, bright yellows and vivid reds spring from the temporarily green earth and the drive down from Playa Blanca to Puerto Callero was like being framed within a Monet.
A few minutes later we were sitting outside The Italica restaurant on the front at Matagorda, looking at crashing white breakers and rolling waves of a dozen different hues of blue. The pork chops were lovely, the service friendly and that view was worth every Euro of the bill for the meal.
We arrived, half an hour later, in the car park of Castillo de San Jose as dusk began to fall, offering us just enough time to see for the first time the heroic and somehow mythical horses and their riders that seemed to be wading through an incoming tide as if fixed on some epic exploration or glorious quest. Readers who are familiar with the North West of England will be aware of the Antony Gormley ‘tin men’ who populate the coast around the Crosby area.
These bigger statues are, like those in Lanzarote’s famous underwater museum, created by Jason de Caires Taylor and in this light seemed eerie and other-worldly, reminding me for some reason of the ‘pale battalions’ referred to by first world war poet Charles Sorely. For some odd political reasons these (commissioned) statues, that add such a spirituality to this shoreline, have been ´de-commissioned´and are now in storage !?
It was soon time to present our tickets and take our seats for the concert we had come to see but we had time before the start to introduce ourselves to our neighbours at the table. We have said before in these reviews that one of the joys of the layout for these concerts is the view afforded to each table placement and the opportunity the cabaret café style offers to meet new like-minded people and have a chin wag.
The other couple sharing our four seater table turned out to be from Cork, whereas we are from Manchester and yet coincidentally we each had grown up children living in South Korea and so we all had many tales to tell of anxious parenting.
All such chin wags fade away here when the artists take to the stage and so it was when Kike Perdomo introduced his three colleagues from his eponymous quartet. At first sight it was a fairly conventional line up of Kike on saxophone leading a drummer and standing bass player and,…..then we did a quick double-take at the instrument the guitarist was wielding. It was electric with a fret board cut off at the neck, so there were no tuning pegs. And what a sound it made.
Kike was obviously sufficiently comfortable in his own musical skin to allow his colleagues their turn in the spotlight and the guitarist wove some silky webs to support Kike’s own soulful solo spots. The programme notes had promised the acoustic and classic sounds of jazz with nuances of other genres including ‘bop’ and ‘groove’ and that promise was kept. The playlist was compiled pretty much from Kike’s two latest albums, Celebrate and Brooklyn Roots and after the show I was able to purchase an album on which the group were accompanied by a traditional ‘big band’.
This live performance included a mazy interpretation of Bye Bye Blackbird and a beseeching Ask Me Now and a quick vox-pop of a few other members of the audience revealed that the particularly gentle performance style of these talented musicians had been duly noted. Our new friends from Cork were certainly won over by a genre that was new to them and who had turned up ‘just to give a try to something new.’
My wife’s yoga professor Daniela Scimonelli,whom we had bumped into just before the show began, told us afterwards that she had been very impressed by the bass player and drummer who had lent understated support throughout and had never intruded into melody lines and harmonies. This, she said, had been her type of jazz !
COMPOSE, IMPROVISE, … WRITE IT DOWN
We were fortunate to catch a free concert performance recently, that we had somehow overlooked being advertised. The Concierto Trumpetere was held at the end of April in the Biblioteque near the UD Lanzarote football ground. This was a performance to highlight some graduating players from the local music academy. Supported by their tutor, three late teenaged male players took to the stage, looking slightly startled to be up before an audience. The three student players were already superbly accomplished musicians but were far from being concert-honed performers. There was a shyness and slight uncertainty in their introductions to musical pieces, and music sheets had to be sorted from the random order each player seemed to have brought on stage. The playing is everything, though, and that was superb.
So, too, was a programme that included a suitably sparkling version of Handel’s Royal Fireworks, a sprightly When The Saints and a wonderful Yankee Doodle Dandy, composed by George M. Cohan. To see a new generation playing a song I learned from my dad some fifty years ago, and that I had watched many times as performed by Jimmy Cagney, was an absolute delight and evidence that our young people can be trusted to enhance our ‘old’ music.
A concert we had seen advertised well ahead of time, however, was staged at The El Grifo Bodego (left) on La Geria, the vineyards of Lanzarote. on Friday 4th May. Having enjoyed a guided tour of the vineyards a few weeks earlier we felt confident in bringing along some friends from England, who were staying with us, to see Pablo Rodrigues on violin and Humberto Rios on piano perform what the adverts described as classical and world music.
We stepped into a beautifully lit ‘concert room’ with the El Grifo logo shining from the backstage wall. The logos seemed to fit a pair of ‘speech marks’, or even headphones, around an elegant piano and two other places laid out on stage, wired for sound.
Framed photographs, available for purchase, of the vineyards, grapes and even tendrils, adorned the walls and we were lost in admiration of them when we bumped into writer Christine Want, a member of the Lanzarote Creative Writing Group which I attend. She introduced me to her friend who turned out to have been singing in the Polofonica Sin Gines concert we featured here in a recent review. The lady was just thanking me for my kind words and saying how much she had enjoyed taking part in the performance when a huge burst of applause signalled that the two musicians playing tonight had taken to the stage.
First impressions were of how young they looked, and how very different in character they appeared to be. Pablo was flat capped and casually attired, and his habit of pushing his glasses up and down his nose lent him an air of the late British comedian Eric Morecambe, or for any readers who might remember the Lancashire folk music scene of the seventies and eighties, also of the hugely comedic but musically gifted Stanley Accrington. Although Humberto looked rather the more dapper of the two, the respect between the pair was immediately apparent.
Their playing of the opening piece was initially very lively with an interesting pizzicato section and percussive violin playing before slowing to a more serene and reflective flavour.
A jauntier number followed, with a rolling undercurrent on the piano while the violin suggested calmer waters above. At one stage Humberto stood to reach inside the body of the piano to pluck at the strings hidden within. The introduction seemed to have referred to ‘jazz king’ and there was certainly a jazz influence here.
Syncopated rhythms continued and there was a Joplin-esque rag wiping of the piano preceding a violin solo with a gypsy air. That instrument then ceded to a beautiful piano piece. Our friend, Marlene Bewick later told us this reminded her, too, of Jim Reeves’ classic country number He’ll Have To Go.
Their fourth offering featured a haunting faraway fiddle sound accompanied by sparse notes on the piano that echoed as if through the labyrinths of time with a pizzicato section on the violin seeming to call us from thousands of years ago.
The musicians took us to the interlude with Pablo playing the violin as if it were a ukulele. This seemed, to your fanciful reviewer, to echo church bells peeling across the plains in some Aaron Copeland-esque fanfare.
As opposed to cups of coffee at a fiver a time that we were used to purchasing during intervals at such events in England, here we were instead offered free glasses of wine. We chose a lovely dry white which served as a fantastic advert for the Bodego and there were, too, free cheeses and nibbles to enjoy.
The musicians (left) wandered around and engaged with the audience during this interval and I took the opportunity to speak with Humberto, who told me they were almost at the conclusion of a long tour that had brought them through Holland, Germany and Spain and out here to the Canary Islands. The whole tour had been well received, he said, but he seemed genuinely pleased with this quality of venue and the warmth with which the audience were responding.
The second half opened with the men introducing a new friend and accompanist to the stage. Alexis Lemes is well known on Lanzarote and much further afield for his skills on the the timple and we have previously reviewed his work on these pages. From the very outset his insertions added a whole new dimension to what had already been outstanding playing by Pablo and Humberto. What might have risked sounding cluttered with three such diverse instruments instead added clarity to the voice of each, and every number was now being hugely applauded by cries of bravo!
In the fourth number of the section we were treated to violin, timple, piano, hand clapping and foot stamping that eventually relaxed into a gentle violin refrain that reminded me of an old English hunting song.
We were now, too soon, arrived at the closing number and after a few bars I wrote a note that it reminded me a little of Miles Davis. It was then that my pal Steve Bewick took the pen from my hand and wrote on my page “sounds like an arrangement of Miles’ ‘So What’”
Steve is a jazz presenter on various radio stations so I obviously bow to his wider knowledge especially as, when he and I used to co-present a programme called all across the arts on Crescent Community Radio in the UK, it became apparent that not only did he know more about jazz than I do, but also knew how to engineer his way through a programme in a manner that is still beyond me after twenty years of broadcasting!
Nevertheless, after Pablo and Humberto, had responded to a loud and lengthy standing ovation by returning to play solo pieces that finally fused into a wonderful closing riff, we took the opportunity to revert to our investigative journalistic ways and have a chat with the players.
We learned that the pianist and violin player will be working in the UK over the summer and will perform at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe festival. They described the stage performance we had seen as ‘improvisational’ and revealed that although they compose their own music only about five per cent of it is yet written down. There had been an opportunity for audience members to leave e mail address details so that they can be updated with news of the musicians and Pablo revealed that all those on the list would receive two free preview samples of the recording the pair are scheduled to make ‘in the winter.’
There are jazz and world music festivals across the UK throughout the year and if Steve can arrange some air play for that cd who knows what opportunities might be forthcoming to these wonderful musicians? Positive reviews on platforms such as Lanzarote Information can help, too, and of course fans can pass on information even further afield to help Pablo Rodriguez, pianist Humberto Rios and their special guest, timple player Alexis Lemes, reach out to the huge audience they deserve.
We double checked the advert for the Sunday evening event and read, with sinking hearts, that it was similarly loosely described as taking place at Avenida Playa Honda, and that free seats would be available until full. Still, ever hopeful and full of the island’s ‘there’s always manana’ spirit, we parked up behind the shopping centre and headed down towards the beach. Assuming that the venue would be somewhere along the sea-walk, we found it only a couple of hundred yards away. Teguise might have provided a stunning backdrop if ever Romeo and Juliet had shown up, but this was the site of a jazz concert,… and was another perfectly appropriate venue.
The back curtain of the stage was provided by a beautiful beach and gentle sea, and the seats were laid out under huge gazebos, With restaurants and bars in easy reach and plenty of space around the seated areas, there were three or four hundred people already listening to, and enjoying, an opening spot by a local trio of percussion, keyboards and guitar, playing a set of funky fusion jazz.
I sometimes find that tracks in this genre are to me indistinguishable from one another but that is not to deny the passion or the expertise of these players, nor the sinewy rhythms and sensuality of their music. By the time they handed the stage over to the main guests of the evening there were perhaps another three or four hundred people in the audience in the gazebos and surrounding areas.
Fifteen suited gentlemen took to the stage after having been introduced as Orquesta De Jazz Del Atlantico, but it seems they are an orchestra who do more than simply play jazz. They also seek to constantly remind new generations of fans and musicians of those trailblazers who brought jazz to such commercial prominence in the twentieth century.
This orchestra researches the attitudes and styles of those past masters and serves concerts, usually based on the works of one giant of jazz, to highlight the influences and innovations within a body of work. In doing so they hope to give new entrants in the field the necessary tools to further develop the music of a particular jazz pioneer, and tonight they were going to shine the spotlight on The Duke Ellington Band. Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington was an American composer, pianist and leader of a jazz orchestra from 1923 until his death aged 73, a career spanning more than fifty years.
Without being able to explain why, I always seem to hear similarities between The Duke Ellington Band and the music of The Glen Miller Orchestra, and that happened again with the opening couple of numbers here. However, as the concert continued we began to hear the African sounds that Ellington experimented with, and that came to be a major signature of his music, around his recording of Black, Brown and Beige his musical story of African American slavery.
Such a great musician was The Duke (remember the song of that title that Stevie Wonder wrote and recorded about him?) that I and many critics think his music was beyond the categorisation of even a genre as wide as ‘jazz’. So great a musician was he, in fact, that he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Special Prize Award.
Despite the whispered aside of an audience member in front of me that he had ‘always found Ellington a little too fast for jazz,’ tonight’s programme offered plenty of light and shade and changes of tempo. There were lengthy introductions between numbers, in Spanish, that I’m sure were informative and interesting observations of Ellington’s work but I’m afraid I cannot shed further light on them. I would have found them both interesting and helpful, and it was noticeable by their attire, movements, dance and rapt attention to these introductions that there were scores of jazz players amongst this huge audience. I later learned that usually these introductions are made in English too, but a flight scheduled at 10.00 pm, only fifty minutes after the close of the concert, left too little room for discussion.
Most of the members of the Orquesta De Jazz Del Atlantico had taken prominent solo spots, and had all delivered expertly with verve and assurance, before a young vocalist from Lanzarote was introduced. He took what had already been a fantastic audience-friendly performance to a thrilling climax.
In a deep, powerful voice and with a dynamism that totally belied his small stature and baby face this young man urged us, from his first song, to Jump For Joy. This was the title song of another of the Duke’s musical explorations of African American identity.
It was immediately clear how the Orquesta De Jazz Del Atlantico had to play in a slightly more restrained fashion to support a vocalist, but they delivered with no less flair or attitude, and this was an example of highly skilled vocal and musical technique.
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore has long been one of my favourite songs, and I have heard it delivered in a hundred different attitudes. It is easy to make the song sound forlorn and resigned in the sense of being a song for a lost love. Here the song was delivered in the tone of someone who has found love and is therefore content to not ‘get around much anymore.’ Recorded by the greats, like Ella, like Louis and like Tony Bennett, and more recently by Harry Connick Junior.
The vocalist seemed, in his introduction to his next song, to reference a previous Sinatra version and then delivered a bright, bouncy and breezy Sunny (Yesterday The Sky Was Filled With Rain). This is a track Steve Bewick explored in forensic detail in a 2020 article in Sidetracks & Detours. I best remember this song as a recording by Marvin Gaye but it was also covered by Boney M and, I think, Georgie Fame, as referenced by my fellow Joined Up Jazz Journalist, Gary Heywood-Everett in his debut contribution early in the year. It was written, lyrically anyway, by a black artist, Bobby Hebb, who recorded it on the night Kennedy had been assassinated. The song speaks about solace and reconciliation as much as it does about the weather.
There was a presentation of a plaque to the band by a representative of the ayuntamiento to commemorate this event and then a prolonged encore to a rapturous standing ovation from inside and outside the seated areas. As we looked back we could see throngs of people dancing in the street and to the sides of the gazebos were scores of mums and dads and little ones bopping along too. Every single orchestra member took a solo spot in the course of this encore and deservedly so. They all promised to be back next year, and we promise we will be there to learn more about whichever jazz great they then introduce us.
We arrived back in Playa Blanca in time for a meal at our favourite Mama Rosa, (closed for the last ten months and under refurbishment in the hope of covid leaving and tourists returning) on the walk way, near the statue of the poor clown with the broken trumpet, between the harbour and the town beach.
photo author This article was written by Norman Warwick, owner and editor of Sidetracks & Detours daily blog who is, along with Steve Bewick and Gary Everett and Susan Fondon, one of the founding members of The Joined Up Jazz Journalists.
We will conclude our Joined Up Jazz Festival with tomorrow´s post, Joining Up Jazz, delivered by Steve Bewick. and Gary Heywood-Everett collaborators on the Hot Biscuits Radio Programme, my colleague Susana Fondon from Lanzarote Information and myself.
jazz logo Don´t forget you can hear Steve and Gary presenting Hot Biscuits on www.fc-radio.co.uk
You can also read an archive of Susanna´s work on Lanzarote Information.
Meanwhile we are also grateful to Jazz In Reading, Jazz North, Ribble Jazz And Blues, Monster fm Radio, and Lanzarote Information for their kind support by including details of our festival in their listings, We look forward to bringing you further details in the weeks to come of the excellent work they do for the jazz community.