The first day of this year’s Jazzaldia festival was round, culminating in an excellent double program in the Plaza de la Trinidad. For a moment, it seemed that there was no pandemic: the masks, the social distance and the reduced capacity were there, but the poster with top international artists such as Franco D’Andrea, Dave Douglas or Cécile McLorin Salvant recalled the best evenings of the recent history of the festival.
In Italian jazz, Stefano Bollani or Enrico Pieranunzi may be more popular pianists, but Franco D’Andrea is a figure of unrivaled importance. The pianist represents a completely genuine way of approaching jazz and improvisation, unwaveringly maintained throughout his entire career, until today, with 80 years of age still creating original music at the highest level. Apart from names such as Alexander Von Schlippenbach or Martial Solal -the latter now retired-, there is no active European figure of piano major than D’Andrea, and this is why the opportunity to listen to him twice on the opening day of Jazzaldia was so special. of this year. D’Andrea is the living history of jazz, one of the great names of a generation that has already acquired legendary status, and with that halo of veneration he was presented by trumpeter Dave Douglas in the concert where they shared the stage, aware of the enormous carving of the pianist.
The meeting of these two references from different generations was not unprecedented: both have collaborated on numerous occasions, and Douglas is one of the American musicians who has shown the most sensitivity to European jazz in recent times (unfortunately, for many North Americans solo jazz occurs within the borders of your country). In the morning, at the San Telmo Museum, D’Andrea had given an exquisite solo piano recital, showing the most intimate side of his musical personality, deconstructing themes such as Naima O Giant Steps de John Coltrane, Take The A Train Duke Ellington or the classic I Got Rhythm by Gershwin, and playing to pleasure with harmonies and rhythms to turn each piece into something totally his own.
In the Plaza de la Trinidad, the pianist performed in a quartet with Douglas, the double bass player Federica Michisanti and the drummer Dan Weiss for a concert completely different from that of the morning. In this case, the music was choral and fully intuitive, with high doses of communication between the four musicians, who were developing the themes in a determined and inspired way, always pointing in the same direction. The leaders’ piano and trumpet gracefully intertwined or flew solo, and both performed chilling solos, though the entire group contributed to the concert being unforgettable, with special mention of Weiss’s magnificent drums. Music that, in essence, has nothing new, but that was at all times so free and vibrant that it sounded like a pure musical avant-garde.
And few things can be more avant-garde today than drawing on tradition, when done like Cécile McLorin Salvant does. It’s a matter of ability and, of course, of personality: anyone can imitate the classics, but reinterpreting them with the magic and charisma with which the American woman does it is really difficult to see. Even in a format as collected as the one she presented in San Sebastián – just voice and piano – the vocalist’s music is a real whirlwind, and there was not the slightest hint of limitation due to the duo format: each performance sounded as if there was no better way to face it than that. The expertise of the pianist Sullivan Fortner, who started playing with McLorin Salvant a few years ago, has a lot to do with this, finding himself with the difficult task of occupying the position left by the fantastic Aaron Diehl, but Fortner is one of the finest pianists. of his generation, a luminous voice in that reinterpreted tradition embodied by McLorin Salvant and a partner exceptional for her.
The singer’s concert was pure perfection, all polished to the extreme, but also with a great purity in the proposal, without the sterility that can be assumed to something so measured. So much so that it is a theme from a Kurt Weill musical that the Spoonful by Willie Dixon, original compositions or even the Everything is colored shared by Triana and Lole and Manuel: the vocalist transmits with each verse she sings, communicating with the piano in an almost telepathic way so that all the music that is born on stage is at the service of the song, and of that irrepressible expressiveness that characterizes his voice. Nothing has changed since she arrived on the scene: there is no one in today’s vocal jazz comparable to her.