Anouskha Shankar, Sonny Rollins and Tom Jones: the stars of Juan
Sonny Rollins is said to be the "Last jazz giant,": Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, were his mentors or partners – and he has chosen to face up to his age. He’s got his afro hairstyle again, but now naturally grey and blurry. He’s clearly suffering from arthritis, moving slowly and bending forwards. He told the Nice Matin before the concert that he still spends hours practising each day, trying to become a better player.
His show at Juan was outstanding: he ran through a series of new and old pieces, gave plenty of time to his excellent band to play solos, and gave us all that wondrous sensitivity with which he expresses himself.
He started with an original piece he has not yet recorded, D Cherry, in honour of the trumpet player Don Cherry, and then another of his originals, Patanjali celebrating his retreats in India. Next was that old standard “Once in a While”, taken as a very slow ballad. Then came a dynamic version of Serenade, where he moved into excitable free jazz mode.
The next couple of pieces were his own compositions, including the dazzling « Jay Jay Johnson », with its elaborate melody and rhythm. Look out for that one on his next record, coming out soon. The concert finished with what is now a Rollins tradition, “Don’t Stop the Carnival”. And so to his encore, “Tenor Madness” - a piece he recorded with John Coltrane in 1956.
There were a few squeaks, possibly a faulty reed? But these were easy to forgive in a show like this!
As for Tom Jones – what a show!!! The guy is performing as well now as at any time in his career. He manages the audience so well, his band is impeccable, and the music is a fine selection of old standards like “It’s Not Unusual”, “Delilah”, together with a walk through some great standards such as Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil”. And the double irony of Tom singing Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”, in which Cohen laughs at himself saying he was gifted with a golden voice!
With a rousing encore of “Kiss”, this was a truly great concert. And we need to mention Robin Mckelle who gave a performance worthy of Aretha in her prime as the support this evening.
But possibly the finest show of the week was the second on the bill on Sunday, Anoushka Shankar. She’s a sitar player with a great backing group. The music was superb, and when she brought on a flamenco band and played fusion music mixing Indian themes with flamenco passion, it was a fascinating display. Shankar’s album, “Traveller” explores this common ancestry of Hindu music and flamenco, and seeing them play together like this was one of the great spectacles of modern music. Such a beautiful opening, and what a pity to be followed by a horrible concert form Charlie Winston, mixing poor singing with crashing mid-eighties style pop.
There were a few weak spots this week, and the opening night was a disappointment with an awful show from Adam Cohen, with far too much talking, and a series of bland songs until he gave a rendition of his father’s “Marianne” to remind us what a good song sounds like. After this we came to Norah Jones, who seemed distracted by the high winds that evening. Her songs lacked interest, and never reached any intensity.