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Malta Jazz Festival 2003 - More Cross Cultures And Local Talent 7/13/2003

In the second and final part of the Malta Jazz Festival preview, Eric Montfort focuses on the ever changing and merging cultures that shall once more feature this year.

Cross cultures are becoming all the more important in an age of cultural diversity and a yearning for cultural tolerance in the wake of corporate blandness. The music of the 21st century will probably be defined by the creation of new styles from such cross-cultures.

Alternative band Calexico and myriad dance act Mint Royale are two such prime examples. But then so much cross culture had been taking place in jazz, long before such artistes were actually born. Even nowadays, jazz still has a lot to offer and by all means it is expected that many jazz talents, established or emergent should continue infusing more different styles and refer to various, apparently disparate styles, just as the late Miles Davis did with rock and just before his death with rap and hip-hop.

Saxophonist Wayne Shorter certainly knows a good deal about cross-cultures. He and his former band Weather Report were innovators in jazz, having learnt a lot from none other than their mentor Miles Davis. After graduating with a BME from NYU in 1956, Wayne Shorter played with Horace Silver. He joined Maynard Ferguson's band, meeting Ferguson's pianist Joe Zawinul in the process.

The following year (1959), Shorter joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, where he remained until 1963. After a few prior attempts to hire him away from Blakey, Miles Davis finally convinced Shorter to join his Quintet in September 1964, thus completing the lineup of a group whose biggest impact would leap-frog a generation into the 80s. Staying with Miles until 1970, Shorter became at times the band's most prolific composer, contributing tunes like 'E.S.P.,' 'Pinocchio', 'Nefertiti', 'Sanctuary', 'Footprints', 'Fall' and the signature description of Miles, 'Prince of Darkness'.

Wayne Shorter is the kind of man who's thoughtful and laconic. Thus it is no surprise that his latest world tour featured him performing long, multi-sectioned numbers. But he and his band which features Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on double bass and Brian Blade on drums -never rambles. Their highly focused, accomplished performances have won huge critical acclaim.

At 70 he has managed to get along with much younger players and like Herbie Hancock, his fellow member of Miles's second quintet, he is seemingly preserved in his forties by some magical elixir.

One can expect a finely balanced ensemble with Patitucci's firm, energetic playing the motor of the band, freeing Perez to sprinkle notes here and there, sometimes building up a great frenzy. Blade's cymbal work - particularly on a loose-rivetted ride cymbal is enticing and can really leave a good impression.

Wayne Shorter's recent albums, Footprints Live and Alegria helped keep him on top of the jazz league. Alegria is his first all acoustic studio album since 1967 and Shorter is again at a creative peak. With a wild soprano wail, Shorter leads off the CD with his new, absorbing boogaloo 'Sacajawea,' one that soon morphs into searching, nearly free jazz, with a magisterial solo from the composer. Such is Shorter's notion of cross culture, which on this album also refers to classical masterpiece and cerebral unusual post-bop.

Septeto Roberto Juan Rodgriguez featuring David Krakauer should not be under-rated. They can and will conjure songs that say so much about Latin and Jewish cultures. This fusion may sound odd but it isn't. The Jewish community in New York can vouch for him and next October, he shall be performing shall perform with Shapiro's Midnight Minyan and Bernstein's Diaspora Soul band at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. Rodriguez has been mingling and studying Jewish music and cultures for more than three decades and his subsequent work with John Zorn further helped him understand their cultures. Let's face it, most US jazz performers who aren't of African origin are mostly Jewish or Italian. Rodriguez who is Cuban is all the more a pleasant surprise because he has managed to address what seems to be a completely alien culture with so much ease.

This is indeed another great example of cross-culture fusion, done with so much verve, class and authenticity. At the Malta Jazz Festival, Rodriguez will be supported by David Krakauer (clarinet), Marcus Rojas (tuba), Mary Wooten (cello), Meg Okura (violin), Ted Reichman (accordion), and Bernie Minoso (bass).

Diane Reeves should also provide a good antidote against global upheaval, instability and war. Her several superb Blue Note albums again reveal another artiste keen on expanding border-crossing musical interests but much interested in developing her voice. On her ninth Blue Note release and 11th recording overall, The Calling - Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, Reeves celebrates the esteemed jazz vocalist who inspired her to seriously pursue the art of singing. "I learned from Sarah and Betty Carter that you have to have your own approach, your own concept. Even though I never emulated her, Sarah was there at the beginning for me, but I moved on and was influenced by a range of other people over the years. But now I feel so very confident in my own voice that I can fully celebrate Sarah's inspiration and spirit."

The Malta Jazz Festival has slowly but surely helped to launch various local talents, some of whom have also grown bolder and settled abroad. Sandro Zerafa is one such act. His performance with two French jazzmen at St. James Cavalier last November showed his academic and creative proficiency as a guitarist. His current quartet represents a new wave of eclecticism in today's jazz, assimilating post-bop influences, as well as more modern trends in popular music. Having furthered his studies at The University of Lyons, he eventually moved to Paris and broadened his social- and creative base. Yet, he also has a knack of fusing various styles and as such, he can only continue moving forward.

Dominic Galea (pianist and composer) studied jazz music with his father Sammy, and also in London with Stan Tracey. He recently attended the Berklee Jazz Clinics held in Perugia and has performed at the Bratislava Jazz Days in 1985 and at the Malta Jazz Festival in 1994. His composition Horizon, performed by himself and local musicians Mario Aquilina and Charles Gatt was featured in a compilation of performances by groups with leaders like Stanley Clarke, Terje Rypdal and John McLaughlin. With his brother Benedict, he launched the CD album Mnajdra Jazz Suite.

Dominic is also the composer of a ballet, several musicals and songs but his love for jazz has time and again prompted him to perform at various venues including this festival. His band features among the finest and most flexible players and comprises Sammy Murgo (sax), Walter Vella (saxes and flute), Roger Azzopardi (trumpet), Mario Aquilina (bass), Noel Grech (drums), Alex Debono (percussions) and Dominic Galea (piano).

The Malta Jazz Festival, which runs over next weekend between 18 and 20 July, at the Grand Harbour, Valletta, is organised by The Malta Council for Culture and the Arts. The festival is sponsored by Cisk Export Premium Lager and Vodafone Malta Limited. Other supporters include Le Meridien Phoenicia and the American Center. The festival nights start at 8.00pm.

Tickets at Lm7 each for an evening ticket or Lm15 for the entire weekend, can be purchased from The Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, tel 21 245 168, and Vodafone Retail Outlets in B'Kara, Gozo, Hamrun, Naxxar, Paola, Sliema, Valletta and from Planet Vodafone at Marsa. Tickets can also be obtained from Exotique Complex (Sliema), D'Amato (Sliema and Valletta), Knight Music (Hamrun), Ta' Geraldu Kiosk and t-Teatru Manoel (Valletta), and Memories (Bugibba).

Further information may be obtained from the website: www.maltajazzfest.com.