Jazz breaking news: Jamie Cullum gets 50,000 jiving on the beach and Youn Sun Nah dazzles in San Sebastian

Monday, July 29, 2013

Jamie Cullum broke all records with his free concert at this year’s Heineken Jazzaldia at San Sebastian here in northern Spain.

Over 50,000 people gathered on Zurriola Beach (pictured below) to hear him play songs from his new Momentum album along with his established jazzy repertoire on a very warm evening on Spain’s Atlantic coast, a stone’s throw from Bilboa. This was a new record attendance for a free show at the festival and the organisers were delighted that so many people came into town for the mid-week opening night.

Elvis Costello, who also played a free show on the same stage a few nights later managed just 10,000 (although to be fair there was a slight drizzle by the time he came on). Apart from the Escenario Verde free stage (which is on the beach) there are several other free stages where jazz and other types of music are available from lunchtime till the early hours of the morning ensuring that everyone can find something to listen to every day of the festival.

The festival spreads itself out throughout the town (including gigs at the Basque Culinary Centre) where the Matija Dedic played a great set with picnic food provided by students at the centre. The San Temo Museum also provides a fascinating location for concerts and Barry Guy (bass) and Maya Homburger (violin) played a wonderful baroque set that was totally in tune with the surroundings – the following night Jan Bang’s Uncommon Deities (with Erik Honoré and Sidsel Endresen) had the venue sampled out with their electronica; a totally different experience but equally enthralling.

On the jazz front Dave Douglas, Hiromi, China Moses, Gregory Porter and Vijay Iyer all produced excellent sets in packed venues – the stand out show without doubt was (in his 60th year) the John Zorn Masada Marathon – a four-hour showcase of the two Masada books – Sylvie Courvoisier, Erik Frielander, Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen, Joey Baron, Marc Ribot and Jamie Saft all excellent in the various shows, a very rare opportunity to hear this outstanding work.

Other shows of note that stand out in this Atlantic sea of good music – Diana Krall, once again featuring Marc Ribot on guitar, was amazing – the hard edge and more rocky approach was like a breath of fresh air, this being the third Krall show in three weeks that we have seen. ‘Temptation’ was a riot with Ribot unleashing a savage solo that prompted second soloist Stuart Duncan (on violin) to resort to feedback and distortion effects to try to follow Ribot’s lead – which he did to great effect. Krall then slowed the pace beautifully with her solo section that started with Irvin Berlin’s ‘Lets Face The Music And Dance’ and an almost Jelly Roll Morton version of ‘Peel Me A Grape’. She encored with a duet with Ribot with ‘Glad Rag Doll’, which was just sublime and The Band’s ‘ Whispering Pines’ – if there was ever any doubt – the lady can rock.

Lee Konitz
received the Jazzaldia lifetime achievement award for 2013 and played a masterful set – his alto sax playing as good as ever and his choice of repertoire spot on. His encore was a solo with the audience humming the melody for him – real class. The Steve Swallow band featuring Carla Bley were great as was Pharaoh Sanders (above) – back to the kind of playing that made his name.

The ‘wow factor’ performance of the festival came courtesy of Korean singer Youn Sun Nah (above). She completely stunned the audience in the Plaza Trinitate – a superb performance space surrounded by four and five storey 18C apartments, where the occupants like to hang out the windows to listen. She opened with her set solo, playing thumb piano on ‘My Favorite things’, with such delicacy and feeling that even the seagulls that wheel overhead stopped squawking to listen. She was then joined by guitarist Ulf Wakenius, who’s virtuosity was soon very apparent – he was the last of Oscar Petersen’s guitarists – and he and Sun Nah amazed the capacity crowd with a completely enthralling duet of the utmost intricacy. She has a great sense of humour and her song about fast food, ‘Pancake’, a shining example. The rest of her band Vincent Peirani (accordion) and Simon Taillieu (bass) completed the line up to perfection. If you get the chance to see her, don’t miss out.

This is a wonderful festival in one of the great undiscovered areas in Spain – it may not be the easiest place to get to and it does rain here from time to time but the location and the warm welcome the city gives to its jazz festival more than outweigh these slight disadvantages – the quality of the programming and the location of the venues are some of the best you will find anywhere – roll on the 49th edition next year.

– Tim Dickeson (story and photos)

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