TALLINN - It's about time Jazzkaar changed it's name. Since the early 90s, this Estonian music promotion company has been the main vehicle for interesting music. But even a peripheral glance at its touring calendar shows that jazz is hardly even on the menu. Jazzkaar's annual festival is now in full swing, and continues this weekend (April 26 - 28) with a line-up of renowned and obscure acts from around the world.
Unfortunately, the Baltics often become the resurrection ground for geriatric performers who can't land gigs in their home countries. The flailing and the failed sometimes see post-Soviet nations as a place to revive their careers, and play on their "international success" as a drawcard, pulling in audiences who believe what they read on the advertisements.
However, this same factor has a redeeming side: it sometimes allows deserving artists who have been sadly overlooked the opportunity to play to an audience who cares only about the music, and not about the artist's level of fame or fortune.
Such is the case with the likes of Andy Bey, a 67-year old American jazz singer who has found more success in Europe than in his home country. During interviews, Bey has shared his thoughts on the reasons for his obscurity back home, namely America's new focus on pretty, white female jazz singers (read Norah Jones and Diana Krall).
Bey's voice is like hot chocolate on a cold day. He carries a cabaret swing, a style not heard since the departure of Nat King Cole. His deep baritone slips into falsetto without effort or warning. Andy Bey performs on Thursday April 26 at the Vene Kultuurikeskus (Russian Culture Center) on Mere Pst. 5, on the fringe of Old Town).
Bey might qualify as an easy-listening form of jazz, but there's nothing jazz about Ojos de Brujos, an eclectic Catalan collective who play a hybrid of sounds.
Ojos de Brujos means "Wizard's Eyes" in Spanish. The eight members come from Barcelona, and have played all the major world festivals since their inception 's Glastonbury, Roskilde, Montreal Jazz and Womad.
The colorful group uses the flamenco guitar style as a base for chilled danceable tunes, mixing rumba, Afro-Cuban, Latino, hip-hop and funk. On stage they are eccentric and full of movement and life. Ojos de Brujos play the Rock Cafe on Thursday April 26.
The first genuine jazz offering comes on Friday April 27, when saxophonist and band leader Archie Shepp performs at the Vene Kultuurikeskus, alongside French singer Mina Agossi. Shepp's style is conventional jazz. Now a music professor at the University of Massachusetts, Shepp once collaborated with the likes of John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor.
Also at the Vene Kultuurikeskus on Friday April 27 is Aki Takase, an interesting Japanese-born Berlin-based jazz pianist. Takase is noted for her eccentric style, and she will perform music by another artist known for his on-stage eccentricities 's Fats Waller. Waller, who died in 1943, recorded some of the seminal jazz piano pieces, and Takase recreates his style with some original flair of her own.
The festival slips into bossa nova mode on Saturday April 28, when respected Brazilian composer Marcos Valle performs. Valle is regarded as one of the classics of South American pop music, recording seminal samba records in the 60s. His international heyday came at the end of the 60s when he produced records for the famed New York label Verve. Interestingly, Valle also penned the theme to the Brazilian version of "Sesame Street."
It's impossible to pick a genre for Birdy Nam Nam, the "party band" of this year's Jazzkaar festival. The French group is a band of four DJs who have set themselves the ambitious goal of using turntables and mixers as real instruments. Head to online video services such as Youtube if you want to see them in action. You'll see how each member adds an element to develop a song. They don't just play other people's vinyl, they create their own sounds.
Their unusual name is taken from a line in Peter Sellers' 1968 film "The Party" (although Sellers actually says "Birdy Num Num").
Birdy Nam Nam promises to put on a highly energetic show at the Pirita Lillepaviljon on Saturday April 28.
While it's not all jazz, each of the artists brims with potential, if their biographies and music samples are any indication.
After all, Jazzkaar's festival director Ann Erm says the event isn't purely about jazz.
"The goal of the festival has always been the same 's to introduce music on as large a scale as possible, starting with avant-garde and ending with mainstream jazz, including also the more interesting styles of world music and blues," Erm says.
Head to www.jazzkaar.ee for tickets and information.