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Latin And More 7/6/2003

In the first of a two part series, Eric Montfort previews two Latin protagonists that shall grace this festival

Twelve years since its inception, The Malta Jazz Festival continues to attract new audiences, encourages new musicians, and contrary to what happens in many other venues abroad, largely as a result of its location, it also serves as an alternative night out for many young people. This may have also prompted the organisers to get artistes who can be appealing and at the same time articulate. The festival is not the kind to host acid jazz talents, and anyway this genre has somehow gone into hibernation. But there are plenty of Latin sounds once more but again there are ways and means of slotting in the right Latin jazz talents.

"We are constantly in touch with foreign musicians and jazz schools. We receive musical arrangements from an ever-increasing circle of friends and we constantly exchange ideas for new projects. We try to keep in touch with associations and other festivals to know what's happening every season. Our festival is designed to be in tune with what's happening abroad," stated artistic director Charles Gatt at a recent press conference.

Organised by The Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, The Malta Jazz Festival will take place between July 18 and 20 at Ta' Liesse, Valletta. The festival is sponsored by Cisk Export Premium Lager and Vodafone Malta Limited and supported by Le Meridien Phoenicia and the American Center.

Farsons Marketing Manager, Pierre Stafrace said: "Farsons has been supporting the Malta Jazz Festival since its inception. Over the years the organisers have managed to attract a long list of top international jazz players, which is an incontestable credit in itself. We are pleased to associate our premium brand, Cisk Export, with such an event. This year's programme promises to be one of the best entertaining musical activities this summer."

One may argue that we have already seen a few talents performing here but then such talents have passed through so many things ever since they were here. Cubanismo, Tania Maria and Coco York have been involved in many different projects and their respective performances shall be entirely different from what they delivered when they last performed at Liesse.

Cubanismo may have retained their swagger and wild poly-rhythms ever since last year's brilliant show. Then they kept jazz lovers on tenterhooks and dance lovers grooving. Their leader Jesus Alemany knows all too well that it is useless to try and be intellectual without being ear-friendly. After all the indigenous Indians or even the big band talents that influenced him were anything but intellectual.

His orchestra is filled with the likes of Irakere veteran flutist Orlando "Maracas" Valle; saxophonist Yosvany Terry from Los Terry, his family's Afro-Cuban group; the great Cuban bassist Carlos del Puerto; and tres player Pancho Amat. The all-star percussion lineup boasts the venerable "Tata" Güines and Roberto Vizcaino on tumbadoras (conga drums), and the always inventive timbalero Emilio del Monte. And such musicians, besides Alemany's sound knowledge of the Cuban, Caribbean and indeed ethnic music is enough to guarantee eclectic sounds all the way. Besides, Alemany surely gets a helping hand from his wife, top musicologist and BBC presenter Lucy Duran and Hannibal Records, the company which has signed him and his band.

Last year, Alemañy reassembled the band and recorded their second album Malembe. It proved to be a difficult sophomore, following the huge success that was generated by the band's debut eponymous album. Yet, it managed to make the grade. The Jazz Times described Malembe "...another fine and fiery album....an assemblage of mighty players...the instrumental prowess is firmly in place...this music is driven by a powerful groove imperative..." Such a description would be enough to whet more appetites.

"Cubanismo will be providing the right pitch from the very first night of the Malta Jazz Festival. Their music is a celebration of the legacy of Cuban music leading, no doubt, to irresistible dance tunes. Those who were present when Cubanismo! performed in Malta in a previous edition already know this from experience," said Daphne Testa, Vodafone Marketing Communications Executive.

Tania Maria's last performances was a decade ago. Now, she will be performing with the Viva Brazil Quartet. Well, she would probably be in a more jubiliant mood. Ever since, her country managed to win two World Cups but sadly another great compatriot of Tania Maria, Ayrton Senna lost his life. Well, what have football and car racing have to do with jazz, or even Tania Maria. They may not even be remotely involved with this artiste, except for one common factor, namely passion. Brazilians tend to do really well what they love doing, if they can get the chance of course.

Tania Maria is one typical Brazilian who knows what she wants and does what she wants. Her brilliant voice earned her the Golden Feather Award presented by Leonard Feather, a famous jazz critic. In 1985, she was nominated for the Best Jazz Vocalist of the Year at the Grammy Awards. She has a sense of belonging and adventure. Her fusion of warm Latin rhythms, like samba and chorinho, and the northern tonic accents of nostalgic jazz and blues is unique, and a rare feat in itself, since it requires knowledge, experience and spontaneity. Tania Maria deftly utilises them, but instead she uses their similarities and their differences to create a mutual sound that pleases the ear.

This is music in which she holds dear the message of memories, of people as well as individuals, of men, women and children. Memories made of cries of freedom, pride defended, and cultures preserved, but also hopes and the reclaiming of dignity. Most importantly she has purified these rhythms, taken away unnecessary elements to bring forth the essence, the urgent and the vital.

Tania's double CD set entitled Viva Maria showcases her abilities as a truly eclectic pianist and singer who has absorbed the many musical influences of that country as well as those of Europe and the U.S. While Maria has developed her voice and sings quite well, she thinks of herself primarily as a pianist. Playing with quick precision and a sharp, percussive attack, she often scats along with her improvisations, much the way George Benson became known for doing.
On an entirely different plane pianist, composer and arranger Mike del Ferro is also a soloist whose reputation has led to his performing, recording and touring with musicians like Toots Thielemans, Jack DeJohnette, Richard Galliano, Scott Hamilton, Thijs van Leer (Focus), Benny Bailey and many others. Apart from being a pure jazz pianist, Mike del Ferro has been involved in recording dozens of albums with different styles of music. Between 1995 and 1997, he taught Jazz Piano at the Royal Conservatory in Gent,Belgium).

Coco York has travelled the world from Australia and Africa to Europe and the United States ever since she performed here in 1996. This level headed singer shared the stage with artists such as Clark Terry, Lionel Ritchie, BB King and has performed for Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and the US President, the North Sea Jazz Festival, The Ellington Centennial Festival and the Jazz and Heritage Festival of New Orleans, among others. This time, Coco York shall be undertaking a workshop and this should surely intrigue a few of those who, like Sandro Zerafa and Dominic Galea took such workshops and the Malta Jazz Festival itself very seriously.