Review: the highs and lows of the 2016 Dubai Jazz Festival

Santana is still living the hippy dream Carlos Santana is one of a precious few survivors of the fabled, idealistic Woodstock generation – a fact made pointedly clear when vintage performance footage was screened behind him as he performed. Yet the intervening decades have done little to dull his hippy dreams. Twice the 68-year-old guitarist […]

Santana is still living the hippy dream

Carlos Santana is one of a precious few survivors of the fabled, idealistic Woodstock generation – a fact made pointedly clear when vintage performance footage was screened behind him as he performed.

Yet the intervening decades have done little to dull his hippy dreams. Twice the 68-year-old guitarist halted his searing solos to invoke the spirit of “Bob Marley and John Lennon” (Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors each got a shout-out, too).

“We want peace on this Earth,” he told the crowd sagely, midway through a vamp on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which might mark the festival’s jazziest moment.

“We want to feel compassion, kindness and generosity – we want to put aside politics and religion. We want to feel open to the light – this is the time, the moment, the place.”

Musically, Santana was at his best when reaching back to those dreamy heydays, leading his tight 10-piece band through spirited readings of vintage Latin-rock fusions Soul Sacrifice, Jingo, Evil Ways and, as an encore, Black Magic Woman.

Throughout, the Mexican musician proved his chops to remain in fine form, with ample stage time set aside for lengthy, bitingly rhythmic six-string improvisations.

Santana’s own influence and legacy might not quite be up there with those fallen fellow dreamers he seeks to evoke on stage – but it’s a legacy that clearly still looms large.

It’s true that much of Santana’s recent live work has been lengthy, lucrative Vegas engagements that are deeply odds with his hippy credentials – but hey, who knows what contract-filling jams Hendrix or Jim Morrison might have found themselves agreeing to if they were still around today?

Chris Botti was live and plugged in

The Chris Botti on stage on Thursday night was a different performer to the one we are used to on his multimillion-selling albums.

Where those records are nocturnal affairs, a soundtrack of choice for dinner parties, the 53-year-old was much looser on stage as he indulged in several feats of dazzling improvisation among arrangements ranging from big band to straight-out rock.

But it was when he dialled things down that Botti was truly in his element. His thoughtful take on Billie Holiday’s The Very Thought of You, featuring vocalist Sy Smith, was beautiful.

So was his treatment of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah – where the original revelled in mystery, Botti’s take was more refined and melodic.

Sting was a generous in support

There have been plenty of stories about Sting and his ego over the years but the rock icon was a gracious support act for Botti.

One could sense the mutual appreciation when the pair performed a joint set of covers plus Sting classics.

When it came to the latter, the laid-back, jazzed-up vibe of Seven Days was a treat.

However, their take on the Frank Sinatra classic In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning was a flop – the heartache of the original was criminally replaced with Disneyesque schmaltzy arrangements.

Totally Toto

While Sting and Santana have both stopped by in the past two years, Wednesday headliners Toto last played the Jazz Fest way back in the halcyon days of 2007 – so given the high turnover of Dubai’s expatriate population, the vintage US soft rockers represented the equivalent of young, vibrant, fresh blood.

In the interim Toto split up, reformed, lost bandmates and even released a new album (2013’s Toto XIV). But one can be sure the setlist has changed little since the band’s last visit – even the casual crowd came together to embrace 1982 singalongs Rosanna and inevitable encore Africa.

Music without melody

Kicking off proceedings on Friday night were La Bomba de Tiempo – a fiery, 14-piece percussion troupe celebrating a decade on the road.

That’s a lot of booms, bangs, clicks and clackers, but this storming multitude of sound is “conducted” live, with senior members taking turns to handle the virtual baton, following founder/conductor Santiago Vazquez’s recent retirement.

Channelling a lazy “Glastonbury world music stage on a Sunday afternoon” charm, this was perfect jazz festival fare, setting the Latin vibe firmly in place for the main event.

No one sat down to James

Oh, the woes of being best remembered for a single song. James’s 1989 anthem Sit Down is renowned for prompting fun-loving festival crowds to spontaneously, well, sit down on the floor, and so it was almost disappointing to see the Dubai audience resolutely remain on their feet (the camera phones came out en masse, mind you).

Otherwise, the band’s mix of vintage baggy, Britpop bounce and over-earnest new material (“this song is about my mother dying”, said Tim Booth, two tracks in) did little to endear them to the casual listener.

Schizophrenic sounds for a digital age

American self-dubbed “YouTube sensation” Postmodern Jukebox made their name posting radically reworked, jazz-flavoured video covers of popular hits.

So here we had a honky-tonk reading of Sweet Child O’ Mine, a hillbilly hoedown on Bad Romance and, best of all, a swaggering blues version of All About That Bass.

PMJ are essentially a one-trick pony perfectly suited to the digital age – stumble upon any one of their dozens of covers online and it’s a kooky click, share or swipe. But stacked one after another, this circus act’s songs start to grate – it’s a bit like watching a magician repeat the same card trick, over and over again.

David Gray keeps it classy

It has been five years since David Gray’s last appearance here and fans were treated to heartfelt takes on tracks from the two albums he has released since.

Gray’s setlist showcased the various styles he played with throughout his career, from the straight-up folk of Shine to the orchestral flourishes of the towering Slow Motion.

It was all held together by that ragged and weathered voice that seems to get more gravelly with each release. The sincerity of Gray’s performance somehow keeps staples Sail Away and Babylon from sounding too tired and dated.artslife@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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