Festival Review: Sounds of the Mediterranean 2002

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The 22nd installment of Sounds of the Mediterranean, which took place August 21-24 in Rocella Jonica, Italy, continued the festival’s tradition of transforming a laid back seaside resort on coast of the Ionian Sea into a destination for fans of jazz, New Music and World Music who want to soaking up some adventurous sounds along with some late summer rays. The 2002 edition, subtitled “Vocal Armies,” featured a potpourri of imaginative instrumental and human voices with several of the latter showcased in the series of late afternoon performances pairing actors, poets and authors with improvising musicians in the unique combination of literary readings and musical recitals that sets this event apart from other programs on the European festival circuit. Concerts featuring actor Ivano Marescotti reciting sections of Dante’s “Inferno” in his native Romagnolo dialect (as opposed the original Tuscan version) accompanied by clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi and accordionist Gianni Coscia, Alessandra Berardi’s reading of her entertaining, syncopated poetry backed by trumpeter Paolo Fresu and saxophonist Javier Girotto and pianist Danilo Rea’s musings behind a passionate ode the best-selling writer Stefano Benni, the artistic director of this segment of the festival, wrote about Thelonious Monk provided the festival with some of its most memorable moments.

Sounds of the Mediterranean’s musical headliners perform under the moon and stars in an amphitheatre beneath the ruins of the ancient castle that guarded this coastal town, once an important trade link in the kingdom of Magna Grecia, during the Middle Ages. It was a magical setting, redolent with the perfume of jasmine blossoms, for the multicultural line-up of emerging and established artists who presented an eclectic sampling of the broad array of creative music being heard on the international scene today. Opening night was devoted to two sextets. The first was led by Fresu and featured the Belgian vocalist David Linx, the Tunisian oud virtuoso Dhafer Youssef and Wolfgang Muthspiel, a last-minute replacement for the Franco-Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê, in a performance of “Kind Of Porgy And Bess,” the Sardinian trumpeter’s contemporary interpretation of music from the popular Gershwin opera influenced more by Miles Davis’s fusion than the latter’s classic recording featuring Gil Evans’s lush arrangements Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, in its only Italian appearance of his recent European tour, came next. While the audience found Threadgill’s quirky and quixotic music – scored for the unusual instrumentation of saxophone and flute, acoustic guitar, cello, tuba, oud and drums – challenging, it listened attentively and responded enthusiastically to each impressionistic piece the visionary composer and instrumentalist offered. One usually only notices a concert’s sound system when something goes wrong but the Rocella technical crew deserves kudos for a mix that was not only undaunted by the challenge of amplifying an acoustic ensemble in a windy outdoor setting, but succeeded in doing so in a manner that clearly conveyed the sonic nuances of every instrument and did justice to Threadgill’s unique musical vision.

The contrast in dynamics presented by these first two groups was replicated on each of the festival’s following three nights. Swiss singer and composer Susanne Abbuehl, whose recently released debut recording April on ECM garnered her glowing reviews in both Europe and the U.S., cast a spell on the audience with her minimalist settings of e.e. cummings poetry to original music and original lyrics to the music of Carla Bley. On the other hand the Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu, at the helm of a trio featuring keyboardist Jerry Lipkins and singer Sabine Kabongo, a former member of the group Zap Mama, had people dancing in the aisles to his unique brand of World Music fusion. The following evening the British saxophonist, clarinetist and composer John Surman presente



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July 2022
Sean Jones
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