Published Sep 27, 2010Tangier is known as a spiritual home of the beats and writers like William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Allan Ginsberg and Tennessee Williams. The chance to explore beats of a different kind there was irresistible, so an invite to cover the 11th annual Tangier Jazz Festival was eagerly seized. The result was a fascinating experience on many levels.
No standard jazz fest tents here: Much of the action took place inside a real palace, Le Palais. Marble columns, opulent decor, chandeliers and mosaic provided quite the ambience for four separate clubs and lounges hosting music every night of the festival. The lineup was far from star-studded, but some significant artists and groups from Europe were featured.
First up was solo blues singer/guitarist Cisco Herzfelt. He laid down some pretty authentic licks on covers like "Sixteen Tons" and "Baby Please Don't Go." That is when the true nature of this cosmopolitan event kicked in: here's a German singing about New Orleans in a Moroccan palace.
Next was the Dallas Quartet. Heavily influenced by the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt, they were technically competent while lacking the true joie de vivre of the style. At the TanJazz club, American Al Copley was dishing up more blues. Formerly with Roomful of Blues, he entertained with some lusty piano work that included a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonation that got the dance floor moving with some good rock'n'roll dancing. The Manel Camp Quartet featured fine trumpet playing but their mellow sound was lost in the party atmosphere of the large Renault Palace venue.
The clear headliner of the whole fest was legendary piano veteran Monty Alexander. He didn't disappoint, delivering a stunning performance that proved he may be the most versatile pianist in jazz today. He moved with graceful easy from Satie-like serenity to reggae- and calypso-based tunes from his native Jamaica. A version of "No Woman No Cry" went over big with the well-dressed crowd. And he played outdoors under a full moon - jazz festival sets do not get much better than that.
Headlining the next night was Uros Perry Perich and the Pearlettes. This was a tribute to Ray Charles featuring the 16-piece Bernd Hasel Groove Orchestra. Pianist Perich has an uncanny resemblance to Charles both as singer and pianist, but he is actually a short white guy from Slovenia. The ballads worked best, such as "Georgia on My Mind" and "It's Cryin' Time Again," and his backed-up singers added some visual variety. During the set, spied beaming was Philippe Lorin, the distinguished looking Frenchman who created this festival, one that any jazz fan visiting Morocco should attend.