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Monday, August 12, 2019

Jazz em Agosto, Day 8

By Paul Acquaro

8/11/2019, Lisbon

The final day of Jazz em Agosto and I found myself on a plane at 6:40 a.m. heading towards Frankfurt. There was a family event to attend and so I bid my adieus the night before and lamented the fact that I'd be missing the closing shows. 

I was particularly interested in catching the trio of guitarists Han-earl Park, Nick Didkovsky and saxophonist Catherine Sikora, performing as ERIS 136199. Park comes from a post-Derek Bailey perspective, adding electronic mayhem to his guitar, Didikovsky has avant-rock in his musical veins, and Sikora straddles the melodic and experimental with a full bodied sound. The later show, Mary Halvorson's Code Girl hardly needs an introduction, and I'm sure was an intriguing performance capping the festival.

I did take the chance however, on the penultimate night, to sit down with festival director Rui Neves to talk a little about the festival and his work as artistic director. Sitting down at the outdoor patio that served as an after concert hang, Neves talked about how the Jazz em Agosto festival was started as an experiment by Dr. Maria Madalena da Silva Bagão Biscay, wife of the first Gulbenkian Foundation president José Azeredo Perdigão. Back in the early 1980s, Lisbon was not the tourist magnet it is today and in August the city would be nearly empty as people took to the beaches for holiday. The first event was four nights and featured Portugese musicians. was a prototype, a chance to see if they could create something interesting. The following year, they went much bigger, hosting the Sun Ra Arkestra, Dave Holland Quintet, and Terje Rypdal. The next year after that, Steve Lacy, Saheb Sarbib, Paul Motion, and Trevor Watt's Moire Music, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

The festival is a part of the music department at Gulbenkian, which itself hosts a world class orchestra and choir, explained Neves, giving credit to his colleagues at the foundation, especially José Pinto (Deputy Director, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Music Department). He added that the music supported by the Gulbenkian Foundation is quite important in Europe and shares a large responsibility in maintaining the arts in Lisbon. As to directing the festival, the important piece, he said, is that he does not see the music as "avant garde" or "free jazz", rather, as "present music", which contains the past and future. In regards to the festival, they are very selective and "even chose the days on which the bands play, thinking about what may work better on a Thursday than on a Sunday." 

Neves is truly invested in the music and travels to shows and festivals, researching the musicians that are invited to Jazz em Agosto. "All of the musicians that played here surprised me at one time," he remarked. Reminiscing on what sparked his interest in festival programming, Neves told the story that as a young man in 1973 he attended his first festival and went on to list a mind-boggling set of musicians who appeared. My notes grew a bit hazy here, maybe due to the rain dripping down my back or the late night relaxed atmosphere, but I did note that one of the groups he mentioned was "The Trio" with John Surman, Stu Martin, and Barre Phillips. I can imagine that alone was enough to spark a lifetime of this work.

ERIS 136199 © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar 

Mary Halvorson's Code Girl © Jazz em Agosto / Petra Cvelbar

Index of posts for Jazz em Agosto 2019:
Day 1:
Day 2:
Day 3:
Day 4:
Day 5:
Day 6:
Day 7:
Day 8: