North Sea Jazz Festival
11-13 July 2008
Ahoy, Rotterdam

A veritable Who’s Who of contemporary jazz was on the bill at the 33rd North Sea Jazz Festival, with titanic names like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter alongside an exciting selection of newcomers. Empirical, Led Bib, Finn Peters, Acoustic Ladyland and others represented the vibrant new UK scene – highlighted as an official theme of this year’s event.

Hancock, with his all-star quintet of Chris Potter, Dave Holland, Lionel Loueke and Vinnie Colaiuta, played to a rapturous audience on Friday night. They delivered the standard funk repertoire with expected finesse, but Hancock was guilty of over-indulgent synth use and an extended keytar solo. The set of recycled classics was immeasurably crowd-pleasing, but it laid bare Hancock’s recent shift towards the mainstream market.

If Hancock has become increasingly commercial, Wayne Shorter is his new arch-nemesis. The saxophonist’s quartet gave the most progressive performance on any stage. A long, undulating, largely spontaneous composition, based on collective empathy and listening to one another, puzzled many onlookers. When the Imani Winds joined in, a hint of orchestrated structure came with them: a spiralling, arabesque theme punctuated moments of free improv, thoroughly absorbing those people brave enough to stay. At 74, Shorter’s creative fire is still burning; his music is as advanced and challenging as any of the young avant garde.

On smaller stages, Acoustic Ladyland gave a typically storming performance and Led Bib drew screams of encouragement with the grimy, punky persona spearheaded by Zorn disciple Mark Holub. Both are surely more ‘death jazz’ than Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, recently dubbed as such by Gilles Peterson, whose high-octane display of backbeat hard bop received repeated encores. James Carter was also in fine form – his consummate virtuosity, passionately gritty tone and constant flow of ideas firmly places him among the top saxophonists of today.

A remarkable 70,000 visitors attended the festival, which spanned 200 shows across 15 stages in only three days. Its position as the highest-profile jazz showcase in Europe is hard to dispute.

Published @, 21/7/08.