Review of concert from The Hague, NL, PWA Zaal (North Sea Jazz Festival)
CDnow, 1999-06-12
- Heather Mount


Elvis Costello Impresses At Holland's North Sea Jazz Fest

July 12, 1999, 3:00 pm PT

Among the constellations of summer jazz festivals in Europe, the North Sea Jazz Festival, held July 9-11 in Holland sets the standard. A titan 24-year-old event, this cornucopian festival offers a welcome sensory overload for music fans of all age and ilk.

North Sea's 16 concert spaces ranged in capacity from 500 to 5,000 -- all tucked snuggly under the roof of the Hague's Congress Center. With more than 250 groups hitting the stage, no time is allotted for sound checks -- a sore point with performers, but one quickly forgotten as rooms fill with ecstatic audiences.

Dizzyingly large crowds filled the deliciously catered halls, faces pleased yet puzzled, looking for signs to venues. Ambitious attendees delighted in the quick ticker-tape changeovers of performers; exact show times were kept, but getting to shows on time was tricky, what with dreamy but pricey culinary distractions that slowed down intra-venue motion. After three days of this joyous jazz mayhem, however, many festival-goers took breaks before video screens rather than continue to battle the throng.

The biggest PWA Zaal featured North Sea's star players -- for an extra fee. On Friday (July 9), Al Jarreau took stage. Jarreau also performed with Danilo Perez at a deluxe kick-off event Thursday (July 8) night. Other prized visitors to the PWA Zaal were Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Abbey Lincoln, the Count Basie Orchestra, Oleta Adams, and the festival topper, Elvis Costello.

Hancock's "Gershwin's World" somehow bridged "Maiden Voyage" to "Rock It," while Costello's duets with Attraction's pianist Steve Nieve strummed thumping fans' hearts. Other high points included an astounding performance by Duke Ellington's "Cotton Club Revue," during which tap-dancer Chet Whitmore legged it to the tunes of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

Great as the great hall acts were, one needed not even pop the extra guilders, for other venues featured inspiring acts from all around the world. Local favorites included guitar diva Van Bisenberg, Holland's female answer to Scofield (who also played late Saturday night). Dutch star-trumpeter Eric Vloiemans dotted the map, and Belgians Zap Mama infused klezmer with Congo vibes.

Poland's acoustic klezmer group Kroke performed with sumptuously understated elegance. Regina Carter's excellent performance with her quintet only set the stage for her guest appearance in an electrifying performance by Stanley Clarke's Vertu. Clarke's captivating "Toys" is not to be missed live: Rarely does one get to see performers play so tightly while having such a ball with the music. Arguably, the two biggest crowd-pleasers of all were Rachelle Ferrell, who raised a feverish pitch with the George Duke band, and Californians Tuck and Patti, whose two shows squeezed crowds in like sardines -- humor and chops that translate the world over.

Artists sandwiched in the definitive fray over the modern conundrum, "Is this jazz?" were present in full force at North Sea -- this is a good thing, as the intriguing and atmosphere-shifting shows by DJ Spooky, Funki Porcini, Ben Harper, Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos, and Courtney Pine, would have been gravely missed. Pine led a smart late-night smart techno "party jam" to close the festivities Sunday (July 11) night.

North Sea featured a striking diversity of programming and a subtle but ubiquitous presence of female artists. While some grumpy attendees complained ludicrously about there being "too much to do," people expecting to attend this massive event next year would do well to do some planning before they arrive. But with this much diversity radiated in locations only minutes from one another, who could possibly find the energy to moan?

-- Heather Mount