2012 in the arts: Jazz
Europe continues to draw jazz musicians from around the world
Posted: December 26, 2012
Jazz has declined in popularity for decades in the United States. That has not proved the case in Europe, however - especially in Prague. Younger groups have ensured jazz's standing by pushing its limits. Meanwhile, a number of the remaining top-notch American musicians brought new sounds to Prague in 2012.
The Cinematic Orchestra proved one of the reasons for jazz's 1990s re-emergence in the United Kingdom, with lush soundscapes and breakbeat samples with a trip-hop edge. The concert at Lucerna Music Bar in January began the year in jazz on the right note. New York pianist Uri Caine impressively closed the month at Jazz Dock.
In March, the Agharta Jazz Festival brought Larry Graham & Graham Central Station. Though nothing new, the electric bassist, formerly of Sly and the Family Stone, keeps audiences in tune with the essentials.
Magnus Öström's two-night stand in April proved the highlight of Agharta's spring edition. Formerly of e.s.t., the Swedish drummer and vocalist Öström has put together a new experimental group of musicians to push jazz into a bold new direction.
In May, the legendary guitarist Al Di Meola teamed with the Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba at Rudolfinum for their new world fusion project.
In June, Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics played the Respect Festival on Štvanice Island. Astatke, playing for decades with a spirited music all his own, has received merely the label ethnojazz for his African roots.
July's Bohemia Jazz Fest brought the guitarist Mike Stern and the bassist Richard Bona for opening night. On the second evening, however, headlined by the Spanish duo of Ravid Goldschmidt and Sílvia Pérez Cruz, playing together as Llama, a minihurricane cleared out Old Town Square for a portion of the program.
In September, jazz of all spectrums packed the clubs. Germany's DePhazz brought their once-pioneering electro sounds to Roxy, though one might better classify the group as mainstream jazz-pop. The Sun Ra Arkestra, led by Marshall Allen, played Akropolis in full cosmic regalia, bringing as much of the energy and swagger as they had under their late eponymous leader. Similarly, the Duke Ellington Orchestra marches on and a return to Lucerna Grand Ballroom, led by Tommy James, surpassed previous engagements, nailing down the sultry sound like no others have since the legend himself passed away.
October proved the best month. The trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf drew throngs to Akropolis for his Middle Eastern-Parisian jazz groove. The New York-based soul jazz vocalist Gregory Porter wooed a sold-out audience at Lucerna Music Bar. And Joyce Moreno held court at Švandovo Divadlo with Brazilian acoustic jazz-folk-pop, including samba and bossa nova.
The tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the last of the jazz titans, graced the Lucerna Grand Hall at the end of the Strings of Autumn Festival, on Halloween. Wearing a red cone cap, a long red robe and a long gray beard, the 82-year-old Rollins looked like a holy man, though he and his group seemed off to a shaky start, even on his classics. Then, about a quarter into the set, Rollins transformed into a soaring player, sounding and appearing decades younger than he is. At points, it was a magical performance.
In November, the bassist Marcus Miller brought hordes to Prague Castle; unfortunately, that stream of jazz nights could dry up when President Václav Klaus moves out.
John Scofield's trio with Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart proved Jazz Dock's show of the year, part of a series of guitarists in which the up-and-comer Nir Felder and the Jim Campilongo Trio also played. Closing November, the trumpeter Arve Henriksen and the producer, sound engineer and sampler Jan Bang brought two astounding drummers with percussion installations to Palác Akropolis; such progressive Norwegian jazz has proved the most innovative music in Europe in recent decades, with no end in sight. Though still not technically jazz, the music certainly doesn't qualify as rock.
Though influenced by Jon Hassell (most influenced by Miles Davis), Henriksen and Bang play a more futuristic jazz or even a neo-Viking blues, drawing as much from modern classical, avant-garde and electronica as from lounge and world music or exotica.
If jazz is in fact dead, as the American trumpeter Nicholas Payton (who performed at Prague's Municipal House in July) likes to claim, it's at least going out with a Henriksen and a Bang.
Tony Ozuna can be reached at