Souza, LaVette Sparkle at Kriol Jazz Fest in Cape Verde
Detecting the jazz quota at the Kriol Jazz Festival on April 10–13 was a tricky endeavor. At the fifth annual edition of the festival, held in Praia, Cape Verde, there was no denying the excellent musicianship of many of the Cape Verdean artists, such as singer-guitarists Rui Cruz and Kim Alves and vocalists Ceuzany and Isa Pereira. They delivered commendable performances that maximized Cape Verde’s signature musical imprint of guitar-driven tunes with passionate vocals, sung in Portuguese and in a Creole dialect.
Given its unique geographical location, the 10-island nation attracts an influx of culture from neighboring African countries as well as from Europe, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. And with the festival held in the nation’s capital, those rich cultural exchanges can certainly strengthen its artistic reach. Festival organizers bolstered their lineup with musicians from Brazil, Italy, Benin, Congo, Gabão and the United States.
Singer-songwriter Carmen Souza, however, stood out from the crowd. Her April 12 set in the Pràça Luis Camaöes square in the city’s Plateau district sparkled with jazz nuances such as the elegant improvisations from pianist Filipe Melo and bassist Theo Pascal. Elias Kakomanolis drove the quicksilver rhythms with the subtlety of a straightahead jazz drummer, never overpowering Souza’s enchanting voice but also showing more agility than a mere timekeeper.
Souza, who was born in Portugal within a Cape Verdean family, frequently accompanied herself on acoustic guitar and keyboards and mesmerized the audience. She was particularly convincing on a passionate rendering of Amandio Cabral and Luis Morais’ “Sodade”—a Cape Verdean anthem—and the spry originals “Magia Ca Tem” and “Novo Dia.” She animated her slightly raspy alto with guttural shadings, growls and cries without veering off into callow theatrics. She was just as moving when she instilled some Cape Verdean rhythms underneath jazz standards, such as “Donna Lee.”
Drummer and educator Ron Savage led a splendid trio consisting of keyboardist Jetro da Silva and bassist Alexander Tóth. In an engaging yet professorial manner, Savage told the crowd that they would perform the music of Milton Nascimento and Horace Silver. They began admirably with a loose reading of Nascimento’s “Ponta De Areia” then segued into “Nothing Will Be As It Was.” Savage quickly noted that the trio’s delicacy with Nascimento’s already pneumatic melodies was getting lost in the crowd noise, so he immediately shifted gears, using Ahmad Jamal’s classic “Poinciana” as a bridge to Silver’s “Peace” and “Song For My Father.” The strategy worked as Tóth anchored the trio with brawny bass lines that pulsed directly into the crowd, while Savage navigated rhythms from straightahead swing to funky backbeats to Afro-Cuban-infused improvisations, underneath da Silva’s crisp keyboard work.
Percussionist Jerry Gonzalez imparted some feisty Nuyorican jazz as he manned congas and trumpet in front of his ensemble El Comando De La Clave on the Pràça Luis Camaöes stage. The group hit some high points on the pulsating Pedro Flores song “Obsesión,” a bustling rendition of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” and a magnificent reading of Consuelo Velázquez’s “Bésame Mucho,” which featured Gonzalez’s finest trumpet performance of the evening.
Vocalist Bettye LaVette, an intriguing choice to close the festival with her gutsy blend of blues, rock and soul, ruled the stage and received several standing ovations for her raw renderings of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” Lucinda Williams’ “Joy” and Sharon Robinson’s “The High Road.” She belted testifying lyrics against Brett Lucas’ howling guitar, Charles Bartels’ buttery bass lines, Alan Hill’s creamy keyboard riffs and drummer Darryl Pierce’s gutbucket rhythmic pockets.
Brazilian alto saxophonist Leo Gandelman guided an ensemble with valve trombonist Serginho through a dynamic program of mostly originals that combined the improvisational vigor of jazz and the rhythmic bite of Brazilian samba with the crowd-pleasing swagger of funk on catchy originals such as “Lançamento” and “Numa Boa.” The Benin-based Gangbé Brass Band also shined as it integrated Latin and West African rhythms with Mardi Gras horn riffs and melodies.