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Two Days of Jazz as Bajan Fest Ends

By Terry Joseph
February 04, 2004

"14 HOURS of booming music" sounds like a description of Steelband Panorama competition preliminaries of yore but the similarity at the recent Barbados Jazz Festival only went as far as bands taking more than 30 minutes to set up and, of course, the picnic setting of Farley Hill National Park.

For openers, the Farley Hill presentation climaxing the week-long festival was spread over two days. Specialist instruments also accounted for some of the delay in presenting each next band. Kal David's vintage Gibson Firebird guitar and June Kuramotos's 13-string koto and shamsien are not exactly everyday music sources.

The Saturday concert opened some 25 minutes after its 1 p.m. scheduled start, but Kem soon defeated any negativity with his strident vocals which located somewhere between yesteryear jazz rapper Oscar Brown jr and latter-day Al Jarreau.

Most spiritual in its message, Kem worked largely from his current blockbuster CD Kemistry, his rendition of "Love Calls" and "Brotherman" earning richest applause, ovations shared by bassist Fred Robinson and percussionist Marlon Curry, whose supportive work helped deliver the lead's poignant messages.

Pride of the Cameroons and Verve recording artiste Richard Bona was up next, playing the five-string bass singing, in his native Douala, songs that transcended language barriers, communicating a level of soul (not to mention a little Latin-Jazz and funk) to all present, working the crowd into a lather with "Eyando" and "Ekwa Mwato"; the latter a challenging work mastered by his combination of versatile voice and nimble fingers.

Hiroshima offered both sight and sound plus the distillate of 20 years' experience on the world's most prestigious jazz stages, with June Kuramoto's deft handling of her special instruments and Emmy winning Dan Kuramoto on synthesizer, saxes and flute, rivaled only by the drama of Shoji Kameda on the thundering taiko drums, whose conversations with kit drummer Danny Yamamoto sent the crowd into transports.

They gave us "Turning Point", "Believe", "Time on the Nile", "Caravan of Love", "The Door is Open" and "Eternal Phoenix" among a 70-minute set that garnered new fans for the band and ushered sunset to Farley Hill, adding streaming golden light to an ambience already enchanting and further mysticised by their fusion of Japanese and western music influences, a rhythmic marriage of ying and yang.

Closing Saturday's presentation was Grammy Award winning Latin-jazz master Poncho Sanchez, whose brassy input turned the crowd into a dancing party, the only logical response to "One Mint Julep", "Conmigo", "Not Necessarily" (featuring George Ortiz on timbales and David Urquidi on baritone sax), "El Chingaling", "Watermelon Man" and the song that raised eyebrows, James Brown's "Outta Sight", which featured Sanchez on vocals and horn lines reminiscent of Maceo Parker's work on the original.

The following day started bang on time at noon, with Canadian Steve Oliver on guitar and vocals releasing the positive energy that has earned him a string of award nominations since his debut album First View appeared on the smooth jazz scene just three years ago.

He demonstrated a range of musical styles, from Bobby Mc Ferrin type vocals to Larry Carlton's trademark licks, all with a sense of fun and evidence of energy that conspired to deliver his own distinctive style. His set included "Positive Energy", "Show You Love", ‘First View" and "East Wind"; conquering an audience that was still largely strolling in as he opened the day's proceedings.

Kal David who, in his first outing on the music scene played alongside Peter Cetera (Chicago) was up next with a mix of blues, jazz and soul, reworking a lot of popular songs, adding vocalist Maureen Bono and some novel flavour to "I Who Have Nothing", a dedication to festival producer Gilbert Rowe and "Take a Good Look at Yourself", bringing a Righteous Brothers type of harmony to "I Want You" and "A Thing Called Love", which started an electric slide group in front of the stage.

Bringing up the tail of the 11th annual Barbados Jazz Festival was the group FourPlay, comprising four of the world's most revered jazz artistes, whose list of awards and appellations are longer than the group's extensive catalogue and matches its tally of Billboard accolades and platinum album sales, delivering a virtual "Greatest Hits" album during their hour-long set.

They closed a week long jam that completely captivated Bajans and visitors alike and climaxed a weekend that turned the otherwise tranquil setting of Farley Hill into a rocking jazz party, with eclectic music onstage and David "Ziggy" Walcott's pan ensemble filling in the breaks between headline acts with mini steelband concerts in the food fair.

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