Mark Guiliana makes mark as Jazz Middelheim's artist-in-residence


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Jazz Middelheim is a great jazz fest situated in front of an old mansion in a park just outside of Antwerp – a gathering small enough to provide an intimate atmosphere, but big enough to book some stellar names. This year's artist-in-residence was Mark Guiliana. The drummer opened the festival with his quartet – comprising of Jason Rigby (sax), Fabian Almazan (piano), Chris Morrissey (bass) – their set energetic, yet subtle, leaving no doubt about the abilities of these musicians to deliver an exciting example of modern jazz. Guiliani's Beat Music performed the following day, with Morrissey reappearing on electric bass and Jason Lindner on keyboard. This was a superb, highly adventurous and contemporary showing, one of the band's best (though I still prefer the more improvising original line-up with Tim Levebvre).

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Back to day one, where Joshua Redman was dealing in deep finesse with his quartet of Ron Miles (trumpet), Scott Colley (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). This Still Dreaming unit put the spin on historic cuts by the Old and New Dreams quartet from the 1970s and 80s. Redman's men more than did the music justice, with his poised tone leading from the front and the passion of percussionist Blade always a pleasure to hear.

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The closing heavyweight act on day one was Charles Lloyd & The Marvels. Their set saw the legendary saxophonist accompanied by Bill Frisell (electric guitar), Greg Leisz (steel guitar), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Eric Harland (drums). It was great to hear Lloyd play a more electric set and the country flavours that Frisell and Leisz brought to the stage somehow gave the music a fresh relevancy. 

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Far less reliant on harkening back to past traditions, their collective eye on the future (no matter how bleak) were Matthew Herbert with his Brexit Big Band. Despite the seriousness of the subject, this was decidedly playful music. A concept that's fun to experience: rare indeed. Slapstick and surprisingly soulful. 

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Tony Allen on day three was simply a joy to hear. His performance with Jean-Philippe Dary (piano), Matthias Allamane (bass), Irving Acao (sax) provided a polyrhythmic wake-up call for all those who seek to elevate technical excellence above emotion. Allen's grooves wound straight for the soul. 

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As did Randy Weston's African Rhythms tribute to Thelonious Monk. What can one say? A deep bow to this 91-years-old pianist, a living legend in his own right, who led Alex Blake (bass), Neil Clarke (percussion), TK Blue (alto saxophone and flute), Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Vincent Ector (drums), Robert Trowers (trombone) with a spirit that belied his age. Never missing a beat, these guys did Monk more than proud.

– Peter van Breukelen (story and photos)