The JZ Festival came to a roaring close today, unfortunately with a much lower afternoon turnout due to the rain but once again a satisfying mix of music, fully dug by those of us who did attend. But we skip ahead — first back to details of yesterday’s festival.
Saturday was a very successful day for the festival, drawing medium-sized crowds again in the afternoon and selling out completely the evening portion. The day started with E-Groove, a Shanghainese funk-fusion band who play a popular brand of original instrumental music a la ’80s Michael Brecker. These guys play a regular concert series at the Jin Mao concert hall, and can occasionally be seen featured at JZ Club. Following them was Islaja, a Finnish duo who used lots of loop-based soundscapes to support the female folk vocals. She played guitar, and there was a man who played bass, and he played lots more chordal stuff than traditional bass lines. It was a slightly psychedelic, soothing sort of Finnish folk.
After Islaja finished, things got crunchy when The Thing started playing. The Thing is a free-jazz trio with members from Norway and Sweden, consisting of drums, bass, and saxophone; and their music was raging and intense most of the time, not accessible to the average listener but we thought they were quite interesting and creative. The saxophonist played baritone saxophone most of the time, except for when he busted out the slide saxophone. Though not very loud, the slide sax seemed perfect for this kind of music because it has such a unique sort of effect.
The final group yesterday afternoon was Mi Ni Ma, a trio of laptop-poking, dial-twisting electronica musicians. It was a fun set, sort of dub-influenced hip hop beats. We know there are lots of special descriptors for different types of electronic music, so we’re probably using the completely wrong words to describe this group’s music (and all the electronic music we’ve heard at this festival) but anyway they were great.
After the area was cleared and the hordes of teeny boppers came streaming in, the JZ All-star big band played their set to a completely packed house. It was an ingenious way to bring some jazz into the attention range of young locals who normally wouldn’t ever hear it, and in fact the group was very well received. Of course, the masses had arrived to hear Taiwanese pop artist Chen Qizhen sing and play her guitar. Unfortunately, we had to rush off to another gig myself so we weren’t able to hear what her music was like. We’re sure it was great.
The festival’s final day began with a rain shower, which is never a good way to start a festival day. Even though the rain abated by the time Frog’N’Stein started their 3pm set to open the afternoon’s shows, all the people who had intended to come to the festival looked out their windows at the cloudy skies and wet sidewalks and thought, “I have to work tomorrow”. So most of them didn’t show up, but the music refused to be quashed and continued through the afternoon and evening. The rain stayed away until about 7pm too, which meant that all those people could have come down and had a great time completely dry. Now they’ll have to wait till next year.
Frog’N’Stein is a French funk band, who got the party started as best they could with the limited partygoers. After their set we heard from Beijing’s electric jazz trio Dew, a tightly-coordinated unit headed by pianist Xia Jia. Then, Finnish DJ Vladislav Delay took over the smaller stage for a slightly shortened set of moody, dark electronic textures. Finishing up the afternoon was Yannick Rieu Trio, a Canadian group who we also heard at the Beijing jazz festival two weeks ago. Definitely one of the highlights of the festival, his group played a unique type of jazz replete with sensitivity and communication among the players. Although their instrumentation was the same as Saturday’s final afternoon trio (Sax, drums and bass) their musical style was totally different. It was very free, but not in the squawking, honking sense of the previous day’s trio. It was based in a harmonic framework as straight-ahead jazz is, but allowed to move in many different directions. They have played in Shanghai a few times before, so if you missed them this time keep an eye out for their next appearance in town, as they’re bound to come again.
And for a completely anti-climactic end to my story of the festival, we will admit that we don’t know what happened for the final evening’s performance. The rain started coming down as we left the venue to return a borrowed instrument, and that was right at the time when they would have started letting people into the venue to hear the final two acts — Shanghai Latin Project and Cui Jian. Were they rained out completely? Or did they persevere and rock through the rainstorm? The question remains for now. In any case, the JZ Festival went pretty darn well overall, and we’re proud of Ren and the crew who put it all together. It was better than last year’s in many ways, and hopefully next year it will be even better. The i-mart artists who sold their wares were a fantastic addition, and the location of the venue — while not a grassy park — offered a great selection of food options inside and outside the concerts. The New Factories is really shaping into a cool area, so hopefully this made a few more people aware of it. Overall, we call it a major success.