By Ted PankenIJanuary 11, 2022
For its 53rd season, the Voll-Damm Barcelona Jazz Festival has adapted to the economic realities of COVID-19 by reducing its practice of presenting concerts in different venues in the Catalan capital. Instead, the festival held the majority of its fall 2021 programs in the spacious, wood-walled auditorium of the 184-year-old Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu.
The auditorium also hosted a series of public master classes, led by a Who’s Who of international luminaries, including Melissa Aldana, Jakob Bro, Chris Potter, Richard Bona, Vijay Iyer, Christian Sands, Ben Monder, Tomatito, Ambrose Akinmusire, Kenny Garrett and Chucho Valdés. These took place in collaboration with the jazz department of the Conservatory, with a faculty that includes Barcelona pillars like saxophonist Gorka Benitez, guitarists Jaume Llombart and Dani Pérez, bassist Horacio Fumero, singer Carmen Canela and the drummers David Xirgu and Gonzalo del Val (who runs the department).
During the week of November 29, the Conservatories hosted concerts by four student-teacher or student-guest ensembles. On the first night, master American tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry and Catalan flamenco jazz avatar Marc Miralta (on vibraphone) led a group of mostly teenage undergraduates through a harmoniously sophisticated program of out-of-the-world swingers. beaten paths of different tempos – including Joe Farrell’s “Moon Germs” and “Buzzy” by Charlie Parker – and a few blue ballads. The members played local gigs before the show with McHenry and seemed ready for prime time. 17-year-old trumpeter Victor Carrascosa matched McHenry’s idea for idea with a strong tone. 19-year-old Estefania Chamorro guided the flow of the drums with poise and lively dynamics, deploying a vocabulary that channeled the minds of Billy Higgins, Edward Blackwell and Paul Motian according to the dictates of the moment.
The following evening, Toni Vaquer, an alumnus of the Global Jazz Institute and a mentee of Danilo Pérez, led the Liceu Gran Ensemble, a hybrid unit made up of cellists, violinists and double bassists from the classical department (located to the left of the stage) with a brass and woodwind section of the jazz department (on the right of the stage) and a rhythm section led by drummer Jeff Ballard, gave a master class before the concert. Perhaps because of the vibrant acoustics of the auditorium, the sound was voluminous: the horns tended to drown the strings. But the students walked through Vacquer’s difficult paintings with aplomb and attention to the phrasing and attacks necessary for each genre.
The third night featured the Liceu BLAM (Black American Music) collective, a 17-piece group comprising two drums, several guitarists, a large brass section and five female singers. This was the brainchild of Michael League of Snarky Puppy, Bokanté and David Crosby, who lived in a small village an hour from Barcelona last year and joined the faculty in the fall (he also teaches bass and soup-to-nut album production). For the concert, League students selected some 35 songs representing the black musical scenes of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Texas, collectively creating arrangements, as well as a few numbers from guest singer Alex Dee. The spectacle was merry, bubbling and sloppy. The acoustics of the hall did the music no favors; the instrumentalists needed phrasing work; it was a challenge for the singers to interpret the lyrics in english with enough idiomatic nuance to convey the message. But the overall mood was cathartic, and Sarah Lilu delivered Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” with a deep soul.
The enlightened emphasis on the afro-diasporic roots of jazz and pop that League and McHenry provide adds a substantial layer to the Conservatori’s program. “The genres that I’m most famous for playing are the black American musical genres,” League said. “This region is so far removed from the culture that created the music that these students study in every way – not only geographically, but also in terms of attitude – that I thought it would be a good idea to create a course in “Research by performance”. Even musicians in the United States often do not know where some artists are coming from. As a teacher I learned a lot by diving into each region and bonding – a certain musician played in a certain band when they were young, then they had their own thing, and then it influenced a band with which I grew up on. You are still studying non-musical history based on geography. But in music, we don’t always do that, or we’re not as precise as we should be.
“White people participated and contributed to the music, but we don’t control it,” McHenry said. “We’re included because we know what black musicians did first. I passed these beliefs on to my students without talking about them endlessly; they have a clear idea of how I feel. Comic
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