North Sea Round Town

Ahead of the mainstream of the North Sea Jazz Festival, NSRT and inJazz presented slightly more leftfield music plus some bebop

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Nicolo Ricci plays sax with The Hunters in the Snow at North Sea Round Town 2024 © Laupman

The North Sea Round Town (NSRT) is the fringe festival of one of Europe’s biggest jazz festivals. Together with inJazz, the longstanding initiative of Dutch collecting society BumaStemra, they have set up a series of showcases and concerts across various locations in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. A sort of “jazz tale of two cities”, as I am tempted to write!

Starting my journey at the iconic Bimhuis, Amsterdam’s well-known venue, I was particularly pleased to hear for the first time the renowned flautist Mark Alban Lotz, who was showcasing his latest project, Freshta, for chamber-jazz ensemble. Dedicated to the memory of female activist Freshta Kohistani, who was tragically murdered by the Taliban at age 29, the piece captivated the audience with the kind of ethno-influenced sounds the German musician has long been known for. He had a top-notch band including Claudio Putin on clarinet, Jörg Brinkmann on cello, Jeroen van Vliet on piano and Dirk Peter Kölsch on drums. The Freshta project is by no means political, but rather a celebration of the lives of remarkable individuals. 

Among the other showcases of the evening, the so-called Televizyon quartet aimed at recreating the sound of old TV commercials, looking back to the 80s. It was a great opportunity to hear Sun-Mi Hong on the drums, a vibrant member of the young Amsterdam jazz scene whose quintet was notably featured this year at the Like A Jazz Machine Festival in Dudelange. The other band worth mentioning was the energetic trio involving Giuseppe Doronzo on the baritone saxophone and nayanban, an Iranian bagpipe, Andy Moor on electric guitar and Frank Rosaly on drums. The young trio took us to distant shores, notably thanks to the use of the nayanban, an instrument of a bygone age, so rarely seen on a stage.

Talking of strange instruments, Spanish vibraphone player Andres Coll used the world’s biggest homemade castanets during his showcase at the Mood Club room in Rotterdam the next day. For his Cosmic Trio, the Ibiza native is interested in ethnic musics, modern jazz and folk music which he cleverly mixes together with the help of violinist Mateusz Smoczynski, who notably performed a great solo, and percussionist Ramon Lopez. Transcending musical barriers, this outstanding trio delivered a vibrant set that we all wished could have been longer.

Following an afternoon of conferences the LantarenVenster venue hosted half of the inJazz showcases, the other half being featured next door at the Mood Club, giving a very convenient way for delegates and journalists to hop from one place to another. As part of this year’s focus on Italy, the first band on stage seemed to have brought to Rotterdam the southern European scorching sun. The members of the young Italian sextet Wasted Generation, founded in 2019, were all born between 1990 and 2000. In spite of their young age, their music is deeply rooted in the post-bop era and thus perhaps more predictable than other music at NSRT. Apart from pianist Enrico Zanisi, who already boasts an impressive discography (notably on Camjazz), the sextet relied on the energetic trumpet player Iacopo Teolis and lyrical contributions from saxophonist Gabriel Marciano.

As inJazz showcases followed one another, elsewhere in the city the Cinerama theatre hosted this year’s NSRT Artist In Focus, the double-bass player Alessandro Fongaro, for a full 90-minute premiere called Hunters in the Snow. While the outside temperature was still around 30°C, the Italian musician, who also happens to be a member of the Sun-Mi Hong quintet, used the cinema screen as a background for his chamber orchestra’s dream project. Initially inspired by Pieter Bruegel’s famous painting, Fongaro’s project was also influenced by modern photographers. It was the first time ever the bassist had composed for a string quartet, featured alongside saxophonist Nicolo Ricci, pianist Marta Warelis and drummer Jim Black. As the Hunters in the Snow’s project successfully ended, having managed to captivate the audience at such a late time of the evening, I took the opportunity to stroll a bit in the city centre and gazed at the architectural beauty of Rotterdam. The jazz tale of two cities in a country which seems to be a paradise for challenging architects was now over.