I still remember the year when Gregory Porter performed on the tiny roof terrace where usually some local and other DJs were spinning records. Nobody really seemed to take notice. Yesterday, he played the biggest hall of the Ahoy festival complex, the Nile. A solid set, totally deserving all the accolades. Earlier that day on the same stage, it was George Benson who more or less opened up this year’s festival with a set that demonstrated that even though he undoubtedly is a master, you could tell that time marches on for all of us. He let some parts sing his backing vocalist or the audience or left out entire parts of “Turn Your Love Around”, for example. His background vocalist and percussionist, Lilliana de los Reyes, helped out on “Moody’s Mood”, but she is not to blame when you compare her to the brilliant Patti Austin who sang on the original. Also, he let her sing a solo and guess what, it was one of those crowd pleasers that everybody likes: “Ain’t Nobody”. Suited the big stage, but wasn’t really moving. I think Chris Walker on bass saved the set in more ways than one.
The very unique sounding voice of Gretchen Parlato could be heard in the Missouri hall, one of the smaller venues at Ahoy. Her interpretation of “É Preciso Perdoar” (from her most recent LP “Flor” on Edition Records), was really wonderful, as was her “Magnus”, a tune that has always been in her repertoire. She invited her son up to the stage to sing with her. A funny and cool thing. I really can’t praise Taylor Eigsti enough. His ideas on the piano and Rhodes were really totally imaginative and exhilarating. Actually, I guess we witnessed one of the best rhythm sections around: Luques Curtis on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Nice to hear her beautiful “Better Than” in concert again.
It was really strange seeing thousands and thousands of people cramming inside the building and almost nobody was wearing a mask. It felt a bit insecure and almost otherworldly. Let’s see if we get out of this alive!
I also witnessed the regal appearance of the great Lizz Wright. It always looks so easy and soothing when she’s belting out pieces like “Walk With Me”. Lizz was accompanied by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bastien Stil and for most of the pieces, the orchestra arrangements actually put a real dramatic spin on some of the tunes. She opened up with “Old Man” and continued with songs from her ever-widening repertoire, like the classy “Dreaming Wide Awake”. Great solos from her pianist and organist Kenny Banks. Good for her that she now has her own record company, Blues & Greens Records, with a new album “Holding Space”, recorded live in Berlin.
So what about Diana Ross then? Her Las Vegas-style show, again at Nile, seemed to work much better than the earlier one by George Benson (both are in their late 70s now), even though she too, let large parts of the songs take over by her four superb backing vocalists. Diana looks amazing and she can still get across with pieces like “Love Child”, but in total, it was more of a nostalgia trip with all the Supremes Motown hits and some of her early 80s disco stuff. Plus, I’m not really a fan of her most recent record. Thankfully, she only did a couple of tunes from it.
Which leads me to Herbie Hancock. I saw him earlier that day checking in at the same hotel that I’m staying at. He gave a one-hour masterclass which was basically about two of the many many outstanding songs he wrote over the years: first, the pretty explosive and spacy “Actual Proof” from his 1974 LP “Thrust”, and then “Come Running To Me”, one of my favorite Herbie tunes, taken from the “Sunlight” album from 1978. He told really interesting and insightful stories about that time, about the people who he recorded with, about the situation in the recording studios in those days, and of course about the hundreds of different keyboard sounds he was using. Actually, in the late 70s, it was totally impossible for him to play “Come Running To Me” live because he was using the vocoder and all the synths simultaneously. Since he is a real tech buff, he is happy to include it in his shows these days. Herbie plays tonight and he also visits Berlin during his extensive European tour (August 1st). It was a bit puzzling for him when the guys at Sennheiser, who came up with the vocoder in the 70s, asked him to test it and there was no other musician around except him. Also, he said that he always created some unexpected and quirky and surprising textures and rhythms to his pieces, just because he wanted to see if his peers could get along with that. Hilarious! When he was announced on stage, the word greatness was in the room. Humble as he is, he didn’t want to buy into that and said that all of the people in the audience exude greatness. As far as social media is concerned, here’s the mantra: it doesn’t matter how many followers you have. The only follower you need is you.