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

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

As noted in my previous post, the 40th edition of Rotterdam's North Sea Jazz Festival (Friday July 10 - Sunday July 12) bulks with world-class acts in jazz and affliated genres. Last week's post highlighted some modern jazz and vocal jazz acts as well as the living legends of jazz playing at the festival. In this second post, I will highlight a number of local acts, soul and jazz-funk acts, world music performances and a few eye-catching pop and R&B acts.

To get you warm for some of the acts discussed here, check out the Soundcloud playlist below:

Local Acts
Traditionally, North Sea Jazz has not only focused on international artists, it has also given the stage to both established and up-and-coming local acts from the Netherlands and Belgium. One of the acts to look out for this year is Gideon van Gelder, who impressed with his album Lighthouse last year (Sunday, July 12). With his New York based quartet, van Gelder brings a thoroughly cosmopolitan sound that'll capture your imagination. A very different act on Sunday that will definitely be worth your while is the performance by the unusual Belgian trio, Dans Dans. Defying musical genres, the band that consists of guitar, bass and drums alternates between jazz, blues and rock - and does so with captivating force.

On Saturday, the Sebastiaan van Bavel Trio is not be missed. The young pianist has achieved the remarkable feat of winning the prestigious Princess Christina Concours twice - once for the jazz competition and the second time for the classical competition. With his new album As The Journey Begins, Van Bavel presented eight impressive original compositions for which he has won the Dutch national Edison jazz award. On Friday, the Belgian pianist Jef Neve will provide a solo concert. Neve, known for his passion to fuse musical genres (for instance with his "If Mozart And Monk Were Brothers" tour), presented his intense, but impressive album One earlier this year.

On Friday, the Jasper Blom Quartet will present their optimistic and fresh sound that demonstrates that musical sophistication and accessibility can go hand in hand. On their latest album, Blom (on tenor) once again demonstrated his talent as a composer and bandleader. North Sea Jazz veteran Benjamin Herman and his New Cool Collective ensemble will throw a party on Saturday. With 15-odd albums, the band has a quite a reputation to build on and is a guarantor for some serious fun. On their last album, Electric Monkey Sessions, the band explored latin and reggae influences as well as incorporating afro-beat influences.

Soul and Funk
Musical genres are elusive. This is particularly true for the predicate 'funk'. Nevertheless, I will foreground a few acts typified by their undeniably catchy grooves and thumping bass lines. On Friday, Marcus Miller will present his Afrodeezia project. Miller's gigs have an explosive vibrancy with his bass as a constant groovy undercurrent. The current line-up of the band furthermore ensures an interesting dynamic in the band as Adam Agati's straightforward guitar play collides powerfully with the harmonies of Alex Han's sax (soprano and alto) and Lee Hogan's trumpet.

With Forq, Snarky Puppy's Michael League has proven once again that he is a versatile musician. Forq has been fashioned as an all-star band as League is accompanied by Snarky colleague Chris McQueen (who has replaced Adam Rogers on guitar) as well Henry Hey (Rudder, Jeff 'Tain' Watts) on keys and Jason Thomas (Roy Hargrove, D'Angelo, Marcus MIller) on drums. In Rotterdam, the band will conclude the European album release tour for their second album in two years titled Batch (Friday). Don't miss 'em! Just before Friday-midnight, watch out for the Japanese collective Osaka Monaurail. Headed by the Japanese equivalent James Brown, Ryo Nakata, the nine-men strong band know their funk and have been making waves outside of Japan for a few years now. If you like to hit the sack with an adrenaline rush, this is your pick.

Other Acts
Putting that does not come from the Western world in the "world music" category has a nasty neo-colonial feel to it. And it's true, what do Habib Koité and Sergio Mendes have in common - except for making great music? In want for a better category, I put these artists in the "other acts" category. This year, North Sea Jazz has quite a bit to offer on the cosmopolitan front. Definitely worth while is the guitar duo "Brothers in Bamako" that exists of Habib Koité and Eric Bibb (Saturday). The Malian Koité and the American Bibb beautifully managed to build musical and cultural bridges in their music. Another highlight is the performance by Hamilton de Holande and Diogo Nogueira's Bossa Negra, who bring Brazil to the port of Rotterdam with their bossa nova tunes. Hamilton de Holande is known for reinvigorating the Brazilian tradition of mandolin in choro music, while Diogo Nogueira is a well-known samba singer. Their album Bossa Negra released last year was well received. Catch them on Sunday.

Also playing on Sunday is the 17-musicians-strong CMQ Big Band, who are set to play the music by the Cuban singer Benny Moré. Bandleader Luis Guerra and his Cuban-Spanish orchestra will give you a taste of Cuba of the 1950s. As North Sea Jazz favourite, the indefatigable Sergio Mendes will bring us his Brazil 2015 collective. While his music since his collaborations with Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am have lost somewhat of its authentic feel, Mendes is still the world-class perfomer on stage. Catch him on Friday.

Pop and R&B
As I noted in my previous post on the festival, North Sea Jazz has found a good recipe for combining a broad musical palette with commercial success. The inclusion of internationally-renowned pop, rock and R&B acts plays a big part in this. The inclusion of these mostly jazz- or blues-influenced pop acts does not only increase the musical versatility of the festival, it also ensures that the audience is a nice mix of generations, who are exposed to each other's music.

The NSJ programmers put many of these acts on the same day: Friday. Watch out this year in particular for the Alabama Shakes, the blues-rock band around Brittany Howard. In case you haven't noticed, D'Angelo is back released his long-awaited sophomore album Black Messiah. He'll present his new material at the festival with his Vanguard band featuring Kenneth Whalum III on saxophone. That you're never too old to be make a fresh start, Mary J. Blige has proven once more with her last album The London Sessions and her gig promises to be quite something.

Lionel Richie, who proved his showmanship once again in front of 100,000 people on the Glastonbury Festival in the UK a few weeks ago, will also feature on this year's edition. The 66-year-old will play on Sunday. On Saturday, John Legend will make his appearance sharing the stage with seven musicians. Legend has been making waves the last years fusing his composition skills with the charisma necessary for a musician of his calibre.

The French singer Ben L'Oncle Soul should also be high on your list. Singing both in French and in English Ben has got the gift of making palatable music without sounding blasé. Finally, the young talented Belgian Selah Sue is due to appear on Sunday. In 2011, Selah Sue stunned the European continent with her mature voice and reggae/singer-songwriter compositions on her self-titled first album despite being a mere nineteen years old. This year Selah Sue is back with a more pop-infused sound on Reason - check her out on Sunday.

Maurits Meijers is a Berlin-based independent music journalist as well political scientist.