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Your Guide to the North Sea Jazz Festival (Friday July 10 - Sunday July 12) - Part I

Maurits Meijers
Contributing Writer
mauritsmb@gmail.com / @JazzMauritsM

In a few weeks, the 40th edition of the three-day North Sea Jazz Festival (Friday July 10 - Sunday July 12) will kick off. Held in the Ahoy halls in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, North Sea Jazz Festival is one of the biggest and internationally most renowned jazz festivals on the European continent. In this first post of two on the festival, I will highlight a number of interesting acts.

With a very diverse lineup year in year out, the organisation of the North Sea Jazz Festival has managed to make the festival a commercial success while remaining true to its original vocation: jazz. Most importantly, however, the combination of jazz, blues, soul, funk, singer songwriter, hip hop and even rock music creates a gorgeously varied program for the eclectic listener. This short festival guide will draw attention to the highlights of this year's NSJ program. Although there's and should be no such thing as fixed genres, this overview is structured by musical categories to ensure a quick overview.

To get you warm for the North Sea Jazz Festival, a playlist with some of the festival's highlights is to be found below:

Modern Jazz
Nextbop is committed to supporting young and modern jazz music. And, looking at this year's lineup, so is NSJ.

The interesting collaboration between The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman also has its spot in this year's edition. The trio plus one will exhibit their clean, but nonetheless warm and groovy sound on Saturday July just before midnight. On Friday July 10, Vijay Iyer will bring his trio Rotterdam. Accompanied by Stephan Crump and Marcus Gilmore on bass and drums respectively, we can expect Iyer to show us his exhilarating virtuosity once again. Rudresh Mahanthappa will present his Charlie Project on Sunday July 12. On his recent album Bird Calls Mahanthappa took lines by Charlie Parker as point of departure for his original compositions.

That adjectives such as "modern" and "innovative" have nothing to with age, Brian Blade has proved numerous times. Last year's Landmarks by Blade his the Fellowship Band made quite a splash and this year they're to show why on NSJ (Saturday, July 11). A personal favourite of mine, the young Armenian-American Tigran Hamasyan will be awarded NSJ's Paul Acket Award this year. Named after the founder of NSJ, the award aims to put artists in the beginning of their promising careers in the spotlight. The ceremony will be followed by a performance by Tigran and his trio.

It's the oddest of coincidences that two hugely talented jazz musicians from the same city (Tel Aviv, Israel) bear the same name: Avishai Cohen. However, apart from the fact that both are featured in this year's NSJ edition, their music does not invite a comparison. Avishai Cohen (bass) presents his new New York Division with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Diego Urcola and Steve Davis complementing his usual trio (Friday July 10). Avishai Cohen's Triveni (trumpet) continue their European Tour for his atmospheric, yet edgy album Dark Nights with an unusual set up (trumpet, bass, drums). Also don't miss out on the quintet lead by bassist Omer Avital, who also features on the Cohen's Dark Nights (both on Sunday July 12).

For those who don't like to sit still Roy Hargrove and Terence Blanchard will make sure you'll burn some calories. Roy Hargrove, known for his diverse and eclectic approach, will stop in Rotterdam to present his Quintet. They'll make sure you will shuffle those feet and swing those hips until midnight on Sunday July 12. Terence Blanchard will present his intriguing and ultimately super funky E-Collective. The band impressed this year with the new album Breathless released on Blue Note Records.

And although T.S. Monk recently argued in that jazz was not meant for the dinner table, Otis Brown III will provide the tunes while you eat your veal's ribeye during a Friday night dinner concert.

Jazz Greats
Of course, drawing a line between "modern jazz" and "jazz greats" is ambiguous and, in the end, arbitrary. Nevertheless, not a festival would be complete without some these living legends of the scene. On Friday July 10, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock return to North Sea Jazz, since their last visit as a duo 36 years ago. Both on piano and without a rhythm section, the two will surely be a blast.

Despite the 87 odd years he has spent on this planet, the king of cool jazz, Lee Konitz, continues to impress on stage with his Quartet. You can catch him on Saturday July 11. Just like Corea, Hancock and Konitz, Wayne Shorter is another former collaborator with Miles Davis. Yet, with his unstoppable drive to continue touring and making music Wayne Shorter himself deserves the label "legend". Catch his quartet with the usual suspects Danilo Perez (keys), John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums) on Saturday July 12.

Guitar king Bill Frisell will bring his formation to the festival to present last year's album with the colorful tile Guitar in the Space Age!. Together with Greg Leisz on the pedal steel and Sexmob's Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wolleson on drums he'll pay homage to the OKeh label of the 1960s (Sunday July 12). Right after Frisell, Branford Marsalis will feature once again at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Intriguing the jazz world with his sax-solo album In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral, Branford will present instead his Quartet with all-time companion Joey Calderazzo as well as Eric Revis on double bass and Justin Faulkner on drums.

Vocal Jazz and Soul
For those who prefer vocal jazz as well as singer-songwriter music with a touch of blues, the festival also has plenty to offer. Perhaps the most interesting act scheduled is the Joni Jazz tribute act on Saturday July 11, in which a number of the world's best will perform interpretations of Mitchell's music (including Lizz Wright, Michael Kiwanuka, as well as Terence Blanchard and Brian Blade amongst others). The festival also offers some crooning US All Stars with Dee Dee Bridgewater on Saturday as well Kurt Elling and Dianne Reeves on Sunday July 12.

Yet, one of the most interesting performances to look forward to in this category are those by their younger compatriots. On Saturday the young and soulful Leon Bridges will take you back a couple of decades - stepping in the footsteps of Sam Cooke. On this year's tribute album to the Billie Holliday, José James proved that Holliday's songs are just as viable in the 21st century as seventy years ago. On Friday, the fabulous Melody Gardot will present material from a her new album Currency of Man. The album shows a more playful and less thoughtful side of the singer - it should be exciting to see and hear how this'll translate on stage.

Also this year, NSJ presents a number of British singer songwriters. Don't miss Benjamin Clementine for instance on Friday July 10, whose album At Least For Now made quite some waves in the UK and on the European continent. The album by the homeless-turned-superstar singer is to be released at the end of this month. Also high on your list should be the British Lianne La Havas with her sweet yet poignant voice; catch her on Sunday July 12. Another promising concert is the one by Laura Mvula who will play with Rotterdam's own Metropole Orkest. Mvula re-recorded her debut album Sing To The Moon with the famous jazz orchestra bringing her songs to full bloom. And, oh yeah, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga are kicking their inter-generational thing as well…

That's it for this time, in my next post in the North Sea Jazz Festival I'll highlight various local acts as well as the world music acts that are worth your while. So stay tuned.

Maurits Meijers is a doctoral candidate and lecturer at a university in Berlin, Germany.