Belgian Jazz Festivals Celebrate in New York City with a Live Show
New York's musical melting pot is about to get a jolt of European energy thanks to two Belgian Jazz Festivals that are being celebrated in the Big Apple on May 25 with a concert and culinary event at Le Poisson Rouge, the Manhattan jazz club located at 158 Bleecker Street. The concert will celebrate the Gent Jazz Festival (July 7-16) now in its 15th year and the 35-year-old Jazz Middelheim (August 12-15) by showcasing some of the musicians who will appear in Belgium later this summer. Hosted by Sven Gatz, the Flemish Minister of Culture, Media and Youth, the phenomenal performances from four of Belgium's jazz bands will be matched by a tickling of the taste buds, a sampling of culinary delicacies created by Belgium's two-Michelin starred chef Viki Geunes.
While Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett headlined the 2015 Gent Jazz Fest, where international stars regularly appear, the New York event is a cultural reverse commute, a concert designed to bring Belgian musicians to this side of the pond. The show will feature performances from four bands with ties to Belgium, a country that is geographically small but has always been a hotbed of jazz.
First up at the May 25 Le Poisson Rouge show is genre-busting Carate Urio Orchestra, a seven-member band from Antwerp led by saxophonist and vocalist Joachim Badenhorst. The band's low-fi sensibility weaves together improvisational jazz and ambient sound in a thoroughly modern and exciting way. Carate Urio Orchestra is touring the US in support of the its recently released CD Lover.
Keyboardist and composer Jozef Dumoulin and the Red Hill Orchestra will follow featuring the Americans Ellery Eskelin (tenor saxophone) and Dan Weiss on drums. Dumoulin plays a retro Fender Rhodes to such stunning effect that his music has been called a mysterious version of sound poetry. Red Hill Orchestra's performances are unpredictable but always entertaining due to impromptu interactions of the band's lively shorthand exchanges. "I let myself be led by what touches me moment to moment, " says Dumoulin. And the rest I try to ignore."
The Robin Verheyen NY Quartet, led by the Belgian-born, New York-based saxophonist deftly builds sonic bridges between Europe, West Africa and the US with a rich amalgamation of jazz styles from blues to bop and swing. His band features the trumpeter Russ Johnson, Drew Gress on contrabass and Jeff Davis on drums. The band's latest CD, A Look Beyond (Cap-Vert Illuminations) was inspired by journeys to Senegal and West African musical traditions that let the drums roll.
The final performance of the night is from the cheekily named Bureau of Atomic Tourism (B.O.A.T.), a multicultural sextet with Teun Verbuggen on drums, Tim Dahl on bass, keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jon Irabagon (saxophone) and the Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson. If jazz has a punk rock branch, B.O.A.T. might be its poster child. The wall of sound created by the seven wailing men is a sonic pleasure to behold. B.O.A.T. is on its first tour of the US supporting its' latest CD, Hapax Legomena.
Like any destination jazz festival, there's more than just music to experience in Belgium this summer. The country is gearing up to put on a pair of epic events. Both Gent and Antwerp are cities known for history, culture, the world's best hot chocolate and for being fashionable foodie havens. One advantage to visitors of Belgium is its size: both cities are located within a 30-minute drive of each other, as is the capital, Brussels, and the charming medieval city of Bruges.
The nine-day Gent Jazz Festival takes place July 7-16 at the Bijlokesite Arts Center in the middle of the city. This year's line up spans the entire spectrum of jazz from international mainstream and avant-garde to fusion and jazz rock. Here is where Terrence Blanchard will kick things off and Pat Metheny and Ron Carter will appear as will Max Richter, Jill Scott and many more. Local bands are well represented from Flat Earth Society to Balthazar.
Over in the riverside city of Antwerp, 2016 will mark the 35th edition of Jazz Middelheim August 12-15, in a continuation of Belgium's summer long jazz celebration. Featuring continuous music on two stages, the festival's lineup includes more than two dozen concerts over four days. Among the artists are Eric Thielemans, an Ornette Coleman Tribute, Ludovico Einaudi, Melanie De Biasio, The Mechanics Are Dancing in Your Head, Tutu Puoane, Liberation Music Orchestra, Artist in Residence Avishai Cohen and many more.
Gent Jazz Festival and Jazz Middelheim, like other multifaceted music festivals, have the added attraction of great food, beer and wine. Duval Moortgat, Le Grand Noir and Lillet are partnering with the Festivals to ensure no visitor goes thirsty. Food trucks and comfortable tented areas with tables and chairs make for a comfortable culinary area for repose between concerts.
In Belgium, Flemish and Walloon cultures exist side by side while speaking different languages – Dutch and French – they share a culture of music. The Gent Jazz Festival and Jazz Middelheim are a source of national pride that unite the Low Country and attract thousands of jazz lovers from Europe and beyond to Belgium for summertime entertainment and respite. With these three events, the New York Le Poisson Rouge showcase and two Jazz Festivals, Belgium shares its leadership role as a nurturer and promoter of the multicultural force that is jazz today.
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