Dave Douglas Supergroup Dazzles Among Homegrown Artists At Guimarães Jazz

 Nov 15 Dave Douglas UPLIFT 11

Guimarães is Portugal’s birthplace. Surrounded by verdant hills, this quiet, small city where independence was forged feels separate even by the standards of what the Guimarães Jazz programme calls “semi-peripheral” Portugal. The festival is bracketed by big international guns, opening with Dave Holland’s Aziza, and closing with trumpeter Avishai Cohen and the Mingus Big Band. But at its heart, it nurtures local musicians and listeners.

It mostly takes place in the Vila Flor cultural centre, where audiences materialise shortly before each show to smoke outside, then vanish to leave the square empty, each night ritualistic and discrete. My stint begins with the Pablo Held Trio’s prismatic European bebop. Their roots in Minton’s lie in a knotty mix of abrupt rhythms and stately prettiness, reconfigured by German classical explorations. Drummer Jonas Burgwinkel shows remarkable textural variety, especially in his sometimes glassy, shivering touch on the cymbals. Later on this Saturday night, Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra play hot New Orleans sounds with New York punk dishevelment, a hybrid he’s explored for decades. The easy, sweet sinuousness of white-haired clarinettist Doug Wieselman feels like the real Crescent City thing, and singer Catherine Russell’s debut with the band helps them slip into Bessie Smith’s sultry sling-your-hook blues, ‘You’ve Been A Good Old Wagon’. A middle-aged woman’s exultant grin as she abandons her partner to dance down the aisle confirms the good times.

Nov 11 Guimares Jazz Porta Jazz 2

The annual Guimarães Jazz/Porta-Jazz collaboration between musicians and a visual artist involves entering the Black Box venue’s intimate, inky dark, symbolic of a descent into the Portuguese underground worth the trip on its own. For a dislocating hour, video artist Miguel C. Tavares improvises with footage from his globally shot films, in response to the music of pianist João Grilo’s newly created quartet, glimpsed aglow in the gloom. An initial surge of urban imagery shifts to tree-lined snowfields, where snowdrops meet petal-falls of piano. Hushed beauty in turn shatters into astringent introspection soundtracking Hong Kong streets, where Tavares loops and lingers on commuters staring at phone screens. Restless music falls silent, the projection itself audible, John Cage-like, forcing uncomfortable contemplation. It’s a mesmerising trip, wholly jazz in its high-wire conception: Norwegian bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen and Danish drummer Simon Albertsen only met local talent including atmospheric saxophonist José Soares days before. Chicagoan bassist Matt Ulery’s band Delicate Charms, including Snarky Puppy violinist Zach Brock, are meanwhile in residence for a week of masterclasses and barroom jams, with Ulery also leading an orchestra of students from Porto’s leading jazz college, ESMAE, in a concert of his cinematic compositions. With such committed collaborations, Guimarães makes its own music.

Austrian David Helbock’s Random/Control are a trio of one-man bands (Johannes Bär ranging from tuba to busker-friendly knee-percussion), playing heavily treated versions of favourite pianists’ compositions, from a lovely modal meditation on Keith Jarrett’s ‘My Song’ to, appropriately, Brazilian omni-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal. Portuguese accordionist João Barradas pulls similar, keyboard-like versatility from his instrument, leading his band in a spare sort of fusion. With M-Base veteran Greg Osby guesting on alto they are a beautifully balanced quartet, driven hard by drummer Naima Acuña. Brazilian Letters, Felipe Senna’s symphonic treatment of Lèa Freire’s songs for the Guimarães Orchestra, is enlivened by the hearty charisma of flautist Freire herself, who leads her jazz quartet into sunken caverns of heartache made lush by strings. This is restorative music, borne on the orchestra’s swell and sway.

Dave Douglas brings up the American heavy ammunition on my last night, but precedes his Uplift band’s debut with this disclaimer: “We want to assure you that we’re not the Americans who vote for that President...” In a star-heavy line-up, Bill Laswell’s bass Buddha presence, and ectoplasmic aural tendrils emanating from newer downtown luminary Mary Halvorson and Rafiq Bhatia’s guitars, both intrigue. And if only a sudden soul-jazz blast easily meets this project’s inspirational intent in devolving times, that suits 10 days of cerebral and diverse jazz, which could only happen in exactly this way in this modestly magical place.

Nick Hasted
– Photos © Paulo Pacheco, Guimarães Jazz 2018 

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