VISIONS Jazz em Agosto, “Resistance” through music Festival. Heroes are Gang Leaders, Triple Double, Code Girl. The thirty-sixth edition of the Portuguese review
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There is the thrill of being in Monterey in 1958, at the first edition of the Californian festival, with airplanes that appeared at low altitude from the fog and with the noise of their engines loomed grotesquely on the music, as can be heard from the album made by the performance of Billie Holiday. The festival had been carelessly organized near an airfield. The open air auditorium in the green of the Gulbenkian foundation park has to be seen instead with the planes landing at Lisbon airport. Going with the memory to a few editions ago, the cadence became thicker, a rumble every few minutes, with the lights of the devices appearing and disappearing among the tree branches. A disturbing rhythm, which seems almost to recall music to our contemporary world and its problems.
The thirty-ninth edition of Jazz in August, for almost twenty years directed by Rui Neves, and entitled Resistance, opened on August 1st with Songs of Resistance, a project by guitarist Marc Ribot that revisits songs of protest and struggle, from the movement of American civil rights to European resistance, including Bella Ciao. Also in the early days Heroes Are Gang Leaders presented their work dedicated to the intellectual and African American activist Amiri Baraka. Jazz em Agosto can rightly propose this theme, because it is itself a resistant review, which has kept the bar of a proposal always advanced, non-conformist, out of the mainstream, which has a great sense of how aesthetics is for political self, even without the need for explicit commitment. This year the event was divided into two four-day stages, from Thursday to Sunday, with a concert in the late afternoon in one of the auditoriums of the foundation and one in the evening outdoors.
IN THE YEARS the exhibition with its continuity and consistency of choices has built an audience that also follows with interest the less easy proposals. And that coming from Italy is striking for its attention and its composure. Challenging are often in particular the proposals of the afternoon, where in the second tranche there was a percussion duo by Joey Baron and Robyn Schulkowsky, another by harpist Zeena Parkins and percussionist Brian Chase, and the overwhelming trio of French guitarist Julien Desprez . Many guitars, in this edition.
Two in Thomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double group, with three pairs of instruments, two drums, that of the leader and Gerald Cleaver, the trumpet by Ralph Alessi and the cornet by Taylor Ho Bynum, and the two guitars by Mary Halvorson and Brandon Seabrook . Just the guitars give a compelling imprint to the music of the group. Halvorson and Seabrook exchange a rhythmic and riff creation role, with Halvorson in general in a more subtle, more colorful function, Seabrook – very diverse and compelling – more aggressive, more rocking. Fujiwara and Cleaver play with an attitude devoid of a drummer rhetoric, and avoid a jazzy type of accompaniment, preferring the creation of a dense, fluid rhythmic-timbral base, like a flow in which tension increases and decreases alternate. The two winds exhibit unison motifs often with a marked melodic component, then alternate in the more corrosive Ho Bynum, more direct Alessi, while their interventions are framed by guitars.
THE TRACKS propose strong atmospheres, of an open contemporary, lively, far from jazz conventions. Thomas Fujiwara and Mary Halvorson are two of the most interesting leaders on the scene today, and Halvorson also presented herself at the helm of her own training – her Code Gilr project – with Fujiwara on drums, vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, saxophonist and vocalist Maria Grand, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and a veteran like Michael Formanek on double bass. The repertoire is made up of songs of which Halvorson has composed both music and words, with vocal parts that leave ample space for the development of music.
AMIRTHA KIDAMBI stands between pop and classical contemporary matrix, breaking into some more extreme exits, and sometimes Maria Grand acts as a second voice, while the winds emphasize with elegance or counterpoint. End the solos by O’Farrill, inspired by the tenor sax Maria Grand, in a calm and intense music, in which the Halvorson drives with great discretion, putting herself in evidence only at the end with only one of that intelligence and creativity for which she is known. Even this music outside the box, and that makes you feel like you are down today.