Jazz in the Mid Atlantic

870 miles due west of Lisbon lie the Azores, a group of nine islands in the mid Atlantic including the island of Terceira. Terceira is and has been for the past 24 years home to Angrajazz. The festival is held each year in the capital Angra do Heroismo, a town of just 34,000, notwithstanding the festival punches well above its weight and has, during the past 24 years, presented some of the greatest names in jazz. Its proximity to the US ensures that in addition to European artists, particularly from its nearest neighbour Portugal, many of the biggest names on the US jazz scene are enticed to this remarkable island.

Since its inception in 1999 Angrajazz has presented an impressive array of some of the greatest names in jazz. From Toots Thielemans to Cedar Walton, Benny Golson to Enrico Rava, Herbie Hancock to Gregory Porter, in fact, to date Angrajazz has presented over 650 musicians and 150 concerts.

A UNESCO World Heritage site with iit’s colourful buildings also boasts, arguably, one of the best auditoriums in Europe. A former bull ring beautifully repurposed for more genteel forms of entertainment, the Centro Cultural e de Congressos, with its splendid acoustics, excels. The festival is curated by Miguel Cunha, who was also responsible for the design of this magnificent arena.

As is recent tradition, the festival was opened by the Orchestra Angrajazz, a nominally eighteen-piece big band assembled largely from the local population, an achievement in itself. Under the direction of Pedro Moreira welcomed special guest Jeffery Davis on vibraphone. Davis having notably worked with the likes of Joe Lovano and Terrence Blanchard and others.

The orchestra worked its way through a series of charts and special arrangements with precision and aplomb, including Bernies Tune, Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, and Benny Golson’s I Remember Clifford, culminating with Horace Silver’s Jody Grind, with solos from most of the orchestra punctuating superb ensemble playing throughout and a great start to 24 Angrajazz.

Following the beer (a mere Euro 1.50)and gin and tonic break, we were treated to a stellar quintet led by Canadian pianist Renee Rosnes, the wife of US pianist Bill Charlap. She has recorded an impressive list of seventeen albums to date, her latest offering a collaboration with tenorist Chris Potter and acclaimed bass player Christian McBride. A rhythm section completed by long-term collaborator bassist Peter Washington, bass and former Jazz Messenger Carl Allen, drums propelled a front line of Steve Wilson, alto and soprano and Nicole Glover, tenor.

Wilson, possibly best known as a flautist, featured equally on both alto and soprano saxophones with equal assurance. Glover, also a member Rosnes’s Blue Note recording band Artemis, a prodigious talent whose abilities belie her years.

The Quintet opened their set with Harry Warren’s Summer Nights and Bobby Hutcherson’s beautiful ballad Now featuring Rosnes’s sublime piano introduction. A lesser known Thelonius Monk composition, Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues are followed with each of the ensemble taking their turn to solo. Honouring this year’s passing of Wayne Shorter, the ensemble gave us his composition Gina, written for the daughter of Flora Purim and Airto Moreira.

From her latest album Kinds of Love, Rosnes featured her composition Love Does Not Wait (A Vida Nao Espera) with completive solos from herself and tenorist Nicole Glover. Concluding an excellent set the quintet turned to Joe Henderson’s composition Isotope which proved the perfected vehicle for a high powered finish.

Day two opened with the Ben Allison Trio comprising Allison on double bass with guitarist Steve Cardenas and tenor saxophonist Ted Nash. the trio opened with Jimmy Giuffres acclaimed composition The Train and the River. As Allison had previously appeared at the festival in 2005 with pianist Frank Kimborough’s Herbie Nicholls Project it was fitting that the trio featured a Nicholls composition Afterbeat. Nicholls died in 1963 aged just 44 but his compositions endure with this being testament to that.

The Trio also paid homage to another great composer, Carla Bley, with several of her compositions which feature on their album Healing Power, interpreted with sensitivity and played with befitting eloquence. Cardenas playing at times as a colourist with Nash’s tenor passionate and full bodied and underpinned by Allison’s unique bass style. On another Herbie Nicholls composition She Insists from 1949 the trio excelled with often delightfully understated soloing from each. From the trio album West Side Story Songs a Ted Nash composition provided the perfect opportunity for the trio to feature in turn.

For their final offering of this superb set the trio turned once more to Herbie Nicholls with Allison explaining how they had access to unrecorded Nicholls material from one of his distant cousins. Again a 1949 composition Dig That was chosen to conclude their excellent set.

For the late concert Lisbon-based Coreto, a 12 piece ensemble under the direction of altoist Joao Pedro Brandao, presented their 2021 epic A Tribo. Formed in 2011 and having appeared at several European festivals, Coreto featured Brandao’s original composition in seven movements. At times improvisational and experimental in essence the ensemble were driven by drummer Jose Marrucho and featured trombonist Daniel Diaz adding his vocal chanting.

Brandao’s passionate alto provided a creative edge, and Rui Texeira’s baritone at times Surmanesque, combined with a powerful and prominent rhythm section, creating a dynamic foundation for the ensemble. Creative and fluid ensemble playing was evident which provided ample opportunity for improvisation and free playing.

For the 3rd and final day of Angrajazz 24 the much-lauded Immanuel Wilkins Quartet opened the early concert with his composition Apparition. His tone is warm and measured on this beautiful ballad, sensitively reinforced by a superlative rhythm section, drummer Kweku Sumbry, bassist Rick Rosato and pianist Micah Thomas.

Pennsylvania-born alto saxophonist, composer and Blue Note recording artist Wilkins rose to prominence in 2020, having previously featured as a sideman with the likes of pianists Jason Moran and Gerald Clayton and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

The quartet with Wilkins prominent throughout worked through a series of mainly own compositions and exhibited equal poise and assurance on both ballads and more improvisational pieces. Drummer Kweku Sumbry’s ability to range from highly percussive and hard-edge playing to a delicate and more measured style was evident throughout. Both ably supported by long-term pianist Mica Thomas and bassist Rick Rosato.

The final concert of this 24th edition of the festival was devoted to the Vivian Buczek Group. Swedish-born of Polish descent Bucek has been delighting audiences throughout Scandinavia, Europe and indeed further afield with her inimitable vocal style. Supported by a stellar quartet comprising fellow Swede Martin Sjostedt, piano, Karl-Martin Almqvist, tenor and Adam Ross, drums along with legendary Danish bassist Jesper Bodilsen. Opening with Artie Butlers, Here’s to Life and venturing into more recent influences, including Stevie Wonders Visions (from her Roots album) and some original compositions. Fly Away was Buczeks first composition when just 15 years of age, and a more recent offering of better Days Ahead.

A consummate performer with both presence and charisma and the ability to display delicacy and a more raw bluesy feel, she included both standard and some lesser-known pieces. None more so than Abbey Lincolns, Throw it Away and the better-known Waltz for Debby based on Monica Zetterlund’s Monicas Vals.

Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of Angrajazz, and it is certain that this will be marked by another superbly curated festival in the mid-Atlantic.