The seventh Gibraltar International Jazz Festival Concert took place at St Michael’s Cave over the weekend and as usual delivered a first class Jazz evening for the faithful fans who made it up there. The bill consisted of two local acts and an international band, Italian Saxophonist legend ‘Stefano di Battista’s Quartet.
When the St. Michael’s Cave main chamber, now auditorium, was conceived as a concert venue in the early sixties, little did anyone at the time imagine that it would celebrate the variety of wonderful music that it has regularly been called to host in its majestic cavernous heart. It‘s a world class venue if only in its magnificence and natural beauty enhanced by the magic of coloured lighting.
I say this because I have rarely if ever, come away from the Cave disappointed. Many Philharmonic Society concerts, World Music Festival concerts and lately Jazz Festival concerts fondly live in my memory and last Saturday was no exception. Local Jazz kings ‘Levanter Breeze’ kicked off proceedings with a compelling set of original music that left no one wanting and some spellbound.
Every time I see them they improve on the polish and content of what has become the Rock’s flagship Progressive Jazz band which you could slot into any similar Festival anywhere in Europe and they would win the audiences over. Nobody plays like ‘Levanter Breeze.’ They are all consummate musicians with a collective feel and vision which is capable of transporting the listeners into a musical dimension and holding them there, as they spin their melodic themes which are sweet and challenging and always creating spaces in your head and heart. This is exactly what good music should do and nothing else matters when you enjoy it.
Levanter Breeze are Peter Martinez on guitar, Brian Torres on keyboards, Louis Chipolina on bass and Francis Pecino on drums. On this occasion they were joined by Arturo Bonich on percussion. Together they spoke musically of our Moorish, Andalusian and Yanito Rock influences, peppered with deft touches of Pat Metheny, Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea and more, all seasoned with musical fairy dust.
That they always get a standing ovation is a given because it is a fair reward for the time and heart they pour into their music and how well they perform it. Their set was balanced nicely with full flights of musical excursions from the individual solos and soulful atmospheric moments of great beauty and sublime music.
We were privileged to enjoy them once again in full flight and we have to hope that we see and hear more of them. You can’t hide musical talent in rehearsal rooms-it belongs in the public realm. We still await their definitive album and a Jazz Festival without them nowadays seems almost inconceivable. Hats off to ‘Levanter Breeze’ although clearly we were all quite happy to be blown away by it.
Singer composer Surianne Dalmedo is not new to the Jazz Festival, she is however new to being in regal company when some members of ‘Levanter Breeze’ joined her on stage to perform five originals before the main event Stefano di Battista Quartet. The musical fraternity here is small but the ones I saw at the Cave on Saturday were full of praise and happy for her performance.
I was too as she’s a determined musician who I know well and who has been around for a while. She is a charming artist to see progressing and finding her own niche as a songwriter and vocalist. She engaged the audience from the outset and pulled off a very good set adding another string to her bow.
The fifty year old Italian saxophone legend that is Stefano di Battista and his Quartet took to the stage for the and sailed into a strident Jazz groove as in a calling card. Steffano then introduced his band members all from Naples (he’s a Roman) and was ever engaging as a truly gifted performer and artist, with panache enough to go up to the audience at various points during his performance and engage with them on a one to one level while still playing sax and joking.
‘Simpatico plus’ would describe him. His band was of the highest calibre musicians whom he showcased and stood aside to enjoy and let us the audience enjoy too. Piano double bass and drums that’s all you need wrapped in a bouquet of gifted musical talents all three. He was enjoying them too.
Steffano di Battista is a wizard on soprano sax and an effusive tenor sax player who often and seamlessly takes his fast solos off the scale as well as he breathes them soft and husky for musical contrast. Complex rhythms and inspired improvisations, which always engaged the band, made for an exciting set which was at times almost Brazilian in delivery and sound. Then he brought in ‘O Sole Mio’ in rhythmic ways that are hard to imagine, let alone describe, but a sight to behold and a feast for the ears. What a player, what a consummate showman and what an inspiring and humble artist who was in awe of performing at the Cave and said so too.
Although I wouldn’t change anything of what I enjoyed about our seventh International Jazz Festival Concert it would be an even more intense experience to see the Steffano di Battista Quartet in a more intimate ‘club’ setting. To have experienced him put a spell on us last Saturday was unrepeatable and he ended the night with ‘Mack the Knife’ where he gave us the opportunity to join in and ruin his perfectly awesome jazz, but it worked a treat and that’s what we came for – a Jazzy musical treat.