North Sea Jazz Festival 2016 – Rotterdam

Rupert Parker makes his annual pilgrimage and as always enjoys the city and the music

Rotterdam

Rotterdam

North Sea Jazz Venue

North Sea Jazz Venue

Foyer Band

Foyer Band

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Ibrahim Maalouf

Ibrahim Maalouf

Steps Ahead

Steps Ahead

Dave Holand and Kenny Barron

Dave Holand and Kenny Barron

Esperenza Spalding

Esperenza Spalding

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

Pat Thomas

Pat Thomas

Kassav

Kassav

This year’s Rotterdam’s North Sea Jazz Festival sticks to its winning formula of jazz, rock soul and blues with distinguished improvisers sharing the bill with Earth Wind and Fire, Simply Red and Pharrell Williams.

Even though Rotterdam’s skyline has startling new additions every time I visit, the North Sea Jazz Festival consistently delivers the goods. They should know what they’re doing, as it’s been going since 1976 and has been held in the same place in Rotterdam for the last ten years. If you have visions of wellies and mud, forget it, as it takes place mainly indoors and you only have to stand in two of its thirteen stages. Add to that impeccable organisation, so everything starts on time, great sound and a wide range of food and you have the recipe for a perfect three days. The good folks of Rotterdam thoughtfully run the metro until the last act has finished and the festival is only a few stops from the centre of town.

This year the recipe is the same as ever – big names to bring in the punters, Pharrell Williams for the young, Earth Wind and Fire for the not-so-young, and Simply Red for all ages. Bluesman Buddy Guy, at 79, is still going strong and provides a direct link to the original Chicago Blues. He always puts on a show and this time does vocal impressions of Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters as well as his normal repertoire. The future of his type of blues isn’t in doubt as his 17 year old protégée, white guitarist Quinn Sullivan, proves with a blistering torrent of raw notes.

Someone once called Diana Krall a saloon bar singer as an insult, but she’s on good form and delivers her tasteful brand of jazz piano and vocals to an attentive crowd. She tends to let her guitarist do too much, but a solo version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” was a triumph. I wish I could say the same of renowned Brazilian singer Gal Costa, who seems to be pitifully let down by her choice of material.

Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maaloouf was also pushing the boundaries of song. He’s composed a suite, inspired by Oum Kalthoum, an Egyptian singer from his childhood. He wheels out an Oud player to pick out the melody, then his quintet get to work, weaving an intricate web of music, perfectly played. Maaloouf is artist in residence at the festival so he plays a number of concerts but, for me, this is the most satisfying.

Next day Steps Ahead deliver a fine set with their vibe playing leader Mike Mainieri doing a tasteful solo version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life”. This is a classic quintet, and Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias has been with the band since 1982.I’m particularly impressed by the tenor player, Donny McCaslin, who also played on David Bowie’s last album. He has a spot later, in one of the smaller rooms, with his own quartet and I’m not disappointed.

On the last day I’m treated to the fine duo of pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland, both playing competitively but creatively. Esperanza Spalding delivers a full version of her jazz opera “Emily’s D+Evolution”. Charles Lloyd, at 78, still manages to conjure exciting and reflective sounds from his tenor and his New Quartet works well. There’s also Ghanaian highlife from Pat Thomas and Kwashibu Area Band and the very danceable Kassav, still playing their Zouk rhythms after all these years.

Now I always vow that I’ll concentrate on the jazz and won’t creep into the larger halls for the big names, but it’s impossible not to be tempted. I did buy the first Simply Red album, a long long time ago, but Mick Hucknall is in surprisingly good voice and I find myself singing along. Reaching further back into history, Earth Wind and Fire were founded in 1971 and sadly, their leader Maurice White is no longer with us but that doesn’t stop them belting out their greatest hits. A climactic finale mixing “September” and “Let’s Groove” sends me out dancing into the streets of Rotterdam.

The next North Sea Jazz Festival takes place 7, 8 and 8 July, 2017. www.northseajazz.com/en/

The Nhow hotel makes a comfortable and convenient base and is just a few metro stops from the venue. www.nh-hotels.com

Rotterdam Info has information about the city. http://en.rotterdam.info/visitors/
Tourism Holland has information about the country. www.holland.com/uk/tourism.htm

All pictures copyright Rupert Parker.

Rupert Parker
Rupert Parker is TV Producer, cameraman, photographer and journalist. Although his special interest is food, wine and travel, he writes about everything from wilderness adventure to gourmet spa tours. His articles appear, not only in British national newspapers and magazines, but also in magazines in China and India. Read more on his Planet Appetite website and follow him on Twitter @planetappetite
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