Saturday, July 30, 2011

Observations from Holland: Ntjam Rosie, Tineke Postma

The North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands is said to be the biggest indoor fest in the world. I have no argument. It’s a tremendous event with quality music from start to finish. Like so many jazz festivals, you’ll find rock and pop and soul music as well. Names like Price and Snoop Dogg and Seal--Hell, even Pal Simon and Tom Jones were there this year. No question though, jazz was abundant and in all forms, from big band to traditional to bebop to more modern and experimental groups.

It also showcased some Dutch jazz musicians, of which a couple are worth mentioning. Bear in mind, there were 13 stages at the event. To see everything was impossible. To see all Dutch jazz was just as impossible as it was to see all other kinds. It was a dizzying experience in some respects--so much goes music missed. SO MUCH good music experienced and savored.

North Sea Jazz is something fans should try and see. The host city of Rotterdam is warm and welcoming. Friendly. Easy to get around. Laid back. Plenty for tourists to take in. Shopping. Night life. A nice arts community. Dining of all kinds. It’s a perfect host city for this huge event and the venue -- a huge facility dubbed Ahoy -- is unique and impressive.

[PHOTO: Ntjam Roise at North sea Jazz, 2011, © R.J. DeLuke]

There’s no predicting how the careers of musicians will go. No formula for success. Why this person “made it” and that person didn’t, in terms of public recognition, is largely a mystery. The famed jazz producer Orrin Keepnews once told me that some musicians were “inevitable,” meaning that regardless of what he did as a producer, or anyone else, that cram was going to rise to the top. The talent was too immense. Coltrane, Monk. Sonny Rollins. That’s true.

What becomes of so many others, why some rise and some don’t .. who knows. Good fortune certainly plays a role. But it remains a mystery. Just like individual songs. Why this one makes it and that one doesn’t. Who knows.

A noteworthy discovery in Rotterdam was Ntjam Rosie, a resident there for a while now, but originally from Camaroon. She’s a singer in the manner of perhaps a Lizz Wright or Angelique Kidjo. Soul, world music, jazz, R&B all have a place in her music, as does, certainly, sounds she’s heard in Camaroon. She’s a trained vocalist who writes just about all of her own material and is bent on carving a career based on that. Her latest album Elle exhibits her songwriting. It’s a good disk, but in performance, like most good artists, she is more dynamic and engaging. It should be that way and not the other way ‘round.

Performing at Ahoy, she exhibited charm and a relaxed ease, fronting a larger ensemble with percussion, flute and vibes to go with the basic rhythm. She was energized and so was the crowd. Her voice is pristine and she communicates her lyrics directly and clearly. A fine sense of rhythm and harmony. Her influences she channels through her own filter and it comes out a mixture of pop, soul and world music, with underpinnings of jazz harmony. She’s not pushing pop hooks in order to be heard. Very musical.

Her story is spreading around Europe. Why this one makes it and that one doesn’t, who knows. But this lady could be one whose name is heard more and louder. Her music is accessible without playing down to the crowd. It’s her own voice -- inward and outward. Who knows ………

On a different note, Dutch saxophonist Tineke Postma has had successful albums in the United States, the latest The Dawn of Life (Challenge Records), out in Europe and due in the U.S. soon. It’s outstanding, with her European quartet. She’s also recorded with people like Geri Allen and Teri Lynne Carrington and is part of the recently released Mosaic Project, with Esperanza Spalding, Allen, Helen Sung, Ingrid Jensen, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson and Dee Dee Bridgewater. She has a gorgeous sound and an infectious approach to music. She’s already carving out a sound that belongs to just her.

At Ahoy, her set was superb, playing with pianist Marc Van Roon, bassist Frans Van Der Hoeven and drummer Martijn Vink. Dynamic and strong music. Great communication among the quartet. She’s a very fine player whose rewards are only just beginning and are well deserved.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Eliane Elias Shows a Captivating Charm to Merge with Monster Musical Talent

Eliane Elias was a fantastic pianist when she came from her native Sao Paulo to New York City in 1981. She’s already worked with some of the best Brazilian musicians as a teenager. Her early albums show a pianist with monster chops, but with the ability to display delicate beauty. Passion and emotion.

She did a vocal album of Antonio Carlos Jobim music (Eliane Elias Sings Jobim, Blue Note, 1998) but admits she was a bit tentative with her singing. Since then, her soft, sensual voice has become more of a mainstay in her work. Dreamer (Bluebird, 2004) was a delight, as was and Boss Nova Stories (Blue Note, 2008). More surety in the vocals. With Brazilian music, she’s obviously at home and nails the material, but other songs she selects come joyfully to life.

Now there’s Light My Fire, out this year on Concord. It’s not that dissimilar in content to her recent vocal outings, but her masterful piano has a strong presence, her singing seems to grow stronger. Her band is tight. It’s a record that’s jumped up the musical charts. In support of it,. She’s on a huge tour that takes her and her sparkling band around the world. Not too many artists can boast of such an itinerary. It’s warming to see a performer of such class, style and talent get the support of fans and the music industry.

An fans, she has in large numbers. Her live concerts are always enchanting because the musicianship is so high. At Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY, in June, the band was full of energy. She did songs from the new CD, as well as some from past albums. Romero Lubambo joined on guitar. Marc Johnson, one of the finest bassists out there, is still at the hub of the rhythm and percussionist Marlvaldo dos Santos adds a great layer to the sound. The band sizzles and Elias‘ voice adds the charm and sensuality

“I’m truly very excited with this album,” she said after the concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. This album, from the very beginning, had a force of its own. It’s doing so well. It’s so wonderful to see. When you do the work, and the way it’s being received by critics, by the people … You saw the show. You see how people love it. There’s such energy. We’re very happy about it.”

It’s a joyous event when this band plays. So much that the superior musicianship might slide under the radar. But listen closely and see what’s at work. Fantastic music, great piano.

The band had been in South America and from SPAC was off to Canada. The Europe, South America again, Central America, to the United States and back to Europe. Then the U.S. and Asia. So much of the world will get to see it.
“I always brought different elements of Brazilian music, but I’ve done a lot of albums that were more instrumental. This is a vocal album that still has a lot of piano. But this album, with the vocals has more of a variety of elements of Brazilian music, than just the bossa nova. There’s some music from the north of brazil, from Bahia. And some Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Then we have percussion added,” she said. “It’s a very special album and it has an aspect to it that is different than the others. It has some very sexy moments. It has moments that are very cool, vibey. But also a lot of rhythm, groove and romance. It has different things that worked so nice together.”

Elias has found a way to get everything to work together.

Though she says her first love is jazz, having been influenced by the greats like Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, she also loves the music of Brazil and puts a stamp on it that is now her own. It’s intimate and joyous. And her playing still smokes. Don’t be surprised if more hard-core jazz albums emerge as Elias’ career continues its growth. This is a first-rate musician whose accolades, and awards that have been amassed along the way, are well deserved.

In concert, it’s invigorating.