Superlative artistic quality and enormously enthusiastic public response define the result of the 53 Heineken Jazzaldia



There have been so many sterling artists this 53 Heineken Jazzaldia that it is difficult to highlight any of them more than others. The musical standard was very high, among the highest of the Festival’s latest editions, and the response of the public exemplary, something which is no exception to the rule at this event.

The number of spectators between the paying and free concerts (the latter amounting to two-thirds of the total), came to 171,500.

Some of the performances will remain on the minds of spectators for years to come. Particularly the extraordinary evening of 27th July in the Plaza de la Trinidad. A first part featuring a trio of masters who have absolute understanding of one another and are riding the crest of a creative wave: Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain and Chris Potter. In the second, a recent arrival who will hit any heights she sets herself, because she has no limits of technique, of sensitivity, or of stage sympathy: the singer Cécile McLorin Salvant. She drew several rounds of enthusiastic applause from the public packed into the venue.

And the 29th was equally great, one of the Festival’s finest moments. In the afternoon at the Kursaal, Gregory Porter singing Nat “King” Cole’s repertoire, backed by an enormous orchestra of fifty of the very finest musicians in the Basque Country conducted by Arkaitz Mendoza. Few, if any, are those who can recreate the incomparable Cole better than Porter thanks to his ability to thrill, already proven at the Festival on previous occasions. And in the evening Yann Tiersen, an intimate evening of solo piano. In the Trinidad, Chick Corea in an acoustic trio with John Patitucci and Dave Weckl, the musicians with whom he has enjoyed greatest understanding in recent times, and Curtis Stigers, one of the great vocalists of the moment, of the kind who have the audience eating out of their hand from the moment of singing their very first note.

The Kursaal Auditorium was a sure-fire success thanks to its four aces plus wildcard: the Veloso siblings gathered around their patriarch, Caetano; Brad Mehldau, who continues to surprise even his many unconditional followers, not even he knows his creative limits; Kenny Barron, an enormously elegant pianist; the aforementioned Gregory Porter; and Yann Tiersen, with his also already mentioned intimate evening solo on the piano.

The vocalist Mary Stallings humbly received her Donostiako Jazzaldia Award. She said that she doesn’t consider herself to be a great singer, but rather a teller of stories from the heart. But she’s a lot more important in the history of jazz than she believes. Cécil McLorin Salvant admitted to being among her admirers and invited her up onto the stage of the Trini for a blues duo. Earlier, Stallings had given a warm, unassuming concert in the Victoria Eugenia Theatre. And yes, she did sing from the heart.

The other Donostiako Jazzaldia Award went to Michel Portal, who gave two concerts: one in trio format with Vincent Peirani and Émile Parisien, and other as a guest on Parisien’s project entitled Sfumato. Portal, from Baiona, is the front-runner of Basque jazz musicians and an enormously influential figure in French and European jazz, having been one of the pioneers in introducing free jazz to Europe.

Hugely moving was the tribute paid by Iñaki Salvador and his five companions to Mikel Laboa on the tenth anniversary of the death of this greatly missed Basque singer-songwriter, an essential figure of contemporary Basque culture. The Victoria Eugenia Theatre was also the setting for two evocative fusions between the music of the West and the Middle East, thanks to Rabih Abou-Khalil and his oud (lute) and to Naïssam Jalal and his nay (Arabian flute).

The Green Stage was once again the venue of the most festive and popular concerts. Fiesta is precisely what was provided by Panama’s Rubén Blades, one of the musicians responsible for spreading the popularity of salsa music worldwide, on the beach, where South Americans, thrilled at having their idol so close to them, danced alongside Europeans. Too Many Zooz gave a demonstration of the most contemporary, impatient and provocative urban music. Izaro is the new star of Basque music and charms with her music. Gary Clark Jr. is a monster of the blues. Morgan is the most surprising Spanish group to appear in the last year. Mikel Erentxun is a forerunner of Spanish pop-rock. And Anna Calvi is impossible to classify because she shuns all classifications.

Every day the San Telmo Museum was the setting for a talk by Patri Goialde, professor of Jazz History at Musikene, who gave congenial and detailed explanations of the figures of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus, each followed by a concert. The performances were provided by outstanding instrumentalists including Conrad Herwig, Carlos Martín, Chris Kase and Andrzej Olejniczak.

The Kursaal Terraces, the Nauticool and the Skoda Space in Alderdi-Eder more than met their objective: to give all sorts of concerts to all sorts of people, in the civic atmosphere that makes this Festival one of a kind. Particular mention must be made in Alderdi Eder of the appearance of the Trojan Sound System with Dennis Alcapone and Dawn Penn, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Trojan reggae label.

When it all comes down to it, a very fine Festival. And we already have the dates for next year: 24th-28th July 2019.

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