It was during Samora Pinderhughes‘ set when the thunderstorm hit. You could hear the thunder inside the hall while he was just announcing his next song. Samora played tunes from his formidable album “Grief” and he had the pleasure of working with the North Sea String Quartet which happened to be special guest for several of his songs. And who actually added to both the drama and the beauty of Samora’s socio-political agenda. His truly amazing band featured backing singers with arrangements by Nio Levon. His guitarist Elliott Skinner was also part of the vocals and together, they created a really fascinating blend of different genres and let the audience participate as well. It was very different to his last show in Berlin at this tiny little bar last November. Many of the pieces had an almost Gospel-like quality to it.
Speaking of the church, I stayed in the Missouri hall for the show of saxophonist Oded Tzur who released his second ECM album “Isabela” last year (his debut ECM “Here Be Dragons” came out in 2021). The set was like an hourlong meditation with Oded and his brilliant band playing the suite from the album which is dedicated to Oded’s wife. And it wasn’t really a pure sax-led concert, but rather a contemplative group excursion into deeply satisfying, soothing territory. Pianist Nitai Hershkovits was given the biggest room here and watching him exude all these ideas and beautiful motifs was worth the trip alone. It all just gelled perfectly and the result was a pretty spiritual trip. And no wonder it was. Combining his Israeli heritage with classical music and oriental-inspired backgrounds like Indian raga, we’ve witnessed a one-of-a-kind showcase of four fantastic musicians, including bassist Petros Klampanis and drummer Cyrano Almeida.
Legendary UK-based group Cymande, who has reformed over 10 years ago, played the Congo tent. With most of the original members still on board, they played their typical melange of jazz, soul, Afro, funk, and reggae. The group managed to win over the crowd immediately and also played some of their classic material from the 70s which came out on Janus Records.
Artist in Residence this year, Esperanza Spalding, had yet another creatively ambitious set with her Off-Brand gOdds featuring a quartet of dancers led by Antonio Brown. The whole band and group dressed in white, it was fascinating to see how each dancer interacted to the solo playing of each band member. During other parts of this extremely entertaining set, Esperanza and her supporting vocalist Safa Ishmel-Muhammad came up with joyous soul and funk tunes and with some beautifully crafted slower pieces, always hymnlike and peaceful. There was a sudden outburst of audience members starting to join in the dance of the final track before the group led us into the night with a chant-like piece with the melody staying in your head for hours to come. In fact, while I write this in the airport lounge, it pops into my head again.
Next edition: please mark your calendars for July 12-14, 2024.