09/21/08

Jazz Festival 2008 Brazil

Brazil is primarily known in the jazz world for bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim and the developing styles of the past few decades. Jazz Festival Brasil is the dream of Marcelo Costa, a trumpeter who decided that it was long overdue for the music he loves (pre-bop jazz) to be featured in his native Brazil. After staging its debut concerts in 2001, Jazz Festival Brasil became an annual festival in 2004. Pianist Judy Carmichael is an integral facilitator of the festival, planning the schedule with Costa in addition to performing with her own band. Most unusual about Jazz Festival Brasil is that it is a three-day traveling event that visits seven cities during September. At a few points in time, the festival is taking place in three cities at once.

I traveled with the Judy Carmichael Septet, seeing the group perform in São Paulo and Brasilia before catching the other four bands at Bela Horizonte’s Palacio das Artes. One of the top stride pianists of the past couple of decades (Dick Hyman, Louis Mazetier, Neville Dickie and Jeff Barnhart are among the handful around today who are on her level), Carmichael has rarely been heard in this large a group. The horn players (the witty and powerful Michael Hashim on alto and baritone, the up-and-coming tenor Nik Payton, trumpeter Charlie Caranicas and trombonist Dan Barnett) worked together very well, riffing behind the solos and cheering each other on.

With Carmichael (whose striding left hand makes a bassist unnecessary) contributing outstanding piano solos and occasional vocals, the versatile David Blackhorn (hinting at Charlie Christian on electric guitar and Django Reinhardt when playing acoustic) and the inventive drummer Ed Ornowski, the group showed plenty of spirit on a variety of swing warhorses. The two concerts that I caught (at the Bourbon Street Music Club in São Paulo and Brasilia’s JK Memorial) not only featured different verbal announcements by the pianist but a mostly different repertoire from night to night. Highlights included “I’ve Found a New Baby,” “’Deed I Do,” a Carmichael-Payton duet on “Keeping Out of Mischief Now,” an uptempo “Christopher Columbus,” and Fats Waller’s “Minor Drag.”

While Carmichael’s group consisted of Americans, two Australians and Payton from England (he has moved to Brazil and acted as the group’s Portuguese interpreter), Irakli and the Louis Ambassadors is a Louis Armstrong tribute band from France. Their repertoire was mostly from the Armstrong All-Stars of the 1950s, and trumpeter Irakli de Davrichewy often played solos that quoted Satch’s phrases, but there was only one vocal, clarinetist Alain Marquet (from Paris Washboard) was closer to Sidney Bechet than to Barney Bigard, and the band paid homage to Armstrong rather than merely duplicating the past. The crowd loved this hot band, particularly the drum solos of Sylvain Glevarec.

The most modern music of the festival was provided by the David Braid Sextet, a fine Canadian band that often played music from the Count Basie/Lester Young repertoire while showcasing its own individuality during solos. Tenor saxophonist Perry White was particularly impressive (displaying a harder tone than Lester Young on “Blue Lester”) while pianist Braid dedicated a creative and episodic solo version of “Yesterdays” to Oscar Peterson.

Gunhild Carling from Sweden is an entertainer whose performance with her band was as close to vaudeville as it was to jazz. While she loves to blast out notes on trombone, Carling seemed to be engaged in a “can we top this?” contest with her international band, which included guitarist Chris Flory and trumpeter Marcelo Costa, who was one of the very few Brazilians heard at the festival. Along the way Carling sounded like Billie Holiday singing “Moonglow,” played trumpet and scatted on “Sheik of Araby,” attempted to create a hot solo on recorder during “Stardust,” tap danced on “China Boy” while holding her trombone (that performance also had her brother, clarinetist Max Garling, juggling), played harmonica on a blues, ran out into the audience along with the other horn players on “The Hucklebuck” and, as an encore, playing three trumpets at once during “The Beer Barrel Polka.” One half expected her to emerge for a finale while riding an elephant!

While trumpeter-singer Leroy Jones could not help sounding a bit sober in comparison to Carling at first, his band (mostly featuring players from both New Orleans and Finland) captured the crowd with their musicianship, joyful rhythm and infectious spirit. Jones’ trumpet playing ranged from Louis Armstrong to Clifford Brown (his heartfelt version of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” was a highpoint) while the soulful singer Trisha Boutte, who was featured during the second half of the set, excited the crowd with Mardi Gras songs, swing standards and a lengthy version of “The Saints.”

While it seems strange that there was no actual Brazilian jazz at Jazz Festival 2008 Brasil, Marcelo Costa and Judy Carmichael succeeded in presenting high-quality and entertaining traditional jazz for audiences that were outwardly appreciative.

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