When Toots Thielemans turned ninety in 2012, a select group of artists paid him tribute at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Pianists Kenny Werner and Herbie Hancock took turns to accompany the legendary Belgian master; Brazilian singers Dori Caymmi and Eliane Elias shared the stage with the man they had revered since childhood.
On Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018, the Marni Theater in Brussels hosted a 50th birthday celebration of another remarkable Belgian jazz figure: Anne Wolf. Born in Brussels to a father who loved painting, and a pianist mother who loved Chopin, Wolf joined the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1985. A master class in Paris with the exceptional Michel Petrucciani changed her life forever.
“It’s a pleasure to share this evening with you, and with musicians who are close to my heart,” said Wolf at the start of the evening. The concert was one of the headlines of the River Jazz festival, jointly organised by three institutions who care a great deal about the promotion of jazz music in Brussels: Senghor Cultural Center, Jazz Station, and the Marni Theater. Its fourth edition, the festival runs from 12th until the 27th of January and is hosting world-known musicians and bands like Richard Galliano, Marc Ribot, the Steve Houben quartet; Yves Teicher and Fabian Fiorini, among others. With concerts for kids, conferences and exhibitions, the festival had an activity for everyone.
“This is a composition inspired by the three kids I met in Gambia,” said Wolf, introducing one of the first pieces where she shared the stage with bassist Theo De Jong, singer Magda Mendes, percussionist and flutist Esinam Dogbatse, and drummer Lionel Beuvens. Mendes captivated the audience with her soft, melancholic skat-singing, reminiscent perhaps of a distant sunset in her native Portugal. Dogbatse is a multifaceted artist, one moment playing the drums, the next one beguiling the crowd with the delicate, whisper of her flute.
In front of a full-house theatre, Wolf performed a set of compositions that varied in style and rhythm: blues, sambinhas, bossanovas, smooth jazz, and French chanson too. Then she left the stage and found a seat amid the audience, ceded her place at the piano to another great Belgian musician, Nathalie Loriers, who delighted the audience with compositions by Wolf, but also by Belgian composer Pierre van Dormael.
Long-time friend Bo Waterschoot performed a heart-rending bass duet with Theo De Jong where Waterschoot displayed the mastery she holds over her instrument. High and low notes, quick or prolonged, Waterschoot knew how. After Loriers, in came pianist Ivan Paduart, who greeted Wolf somewhere in the distance, then sat down and began to pay his tribute.
In a handful of pieces, Philippe Decock played the harmonica and knocked out the audience. Averting his eyes, introvert, almost self-effacing, he accompanied Mendes voice, or Dogbatse’s flute, or simply improvised a blue, melodic line that seemed to come from the depths of his heart. At the end, all the musicians gathered on stage and bowed, then Wolf played one last piece before thanking the audience and saying good night.
Good to know:
The River Jazz Festival ends on Saturday with the Tuur Florizoone trio at Jazz Sation; Nowhere at Senghor; and Psül at Marni Theater.