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Soul & Sun: The 2013 Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival – Preview

One of the jewels of what Aruba, the mythical Island east of Venezuela, has to offer is its swinging annual jazz festival. Thanks to maverick producer Erik Eman, Aruba has become one of the essential stop for any music fan. Indeed since it’s creation some 5 years ago, the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival has welcomed worldwide stars including David Sanborn, Izaline Claister, Chaka Khan and The Ploctones. And it’s not about to end. Proof again is the 2013 edition on October 4th and 5th.

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You will feel the passion in the air and the electricity on the stage…guaranteed, especially with such a tremendous line up of international stars including El Grand Combo straight from Puerto Rico to the super full of soul Giovanca and her swinging voice to the legendary George Benson and his enchanting guitar. Also count on the salsa caliente of Willy Garcia and the wicked moves of Marquese Scott to make you hip-hop and dance all night long, non stop!

This Festival will take possession of you and will make you One with the heat of the night under the perfect spell of the island of Aruba.

Albert Einstein wrote that “without music life would be a mistake”. I would add that without music, Aruba wouldn’t be Aruba. Music is always in the air with the permanent swing of the wind battering the Island. And when it’s mixed with the notes of the genius jazz players, it is elevated to another level of perfection. This is the experience you get by taking a trip to this mythical destination. It’s also a delight to meet locals who embrace you as your equal and don’t look at you as a simple tourist.

Having visited many Caribbean islands, it is a treat to be welcomed with such grace and with many inviting smiles of love. Stop reading and book your one way ticket to Paradise. This year I encourage you to also book your hotel at The Renaissance which will host the full festivities. It’s in the heart of Downtown Oranjestad, a one-stop party town! Be ready to put your dancing shoes on and let’s dance the blues!

By Emmanuel Itier

Medium Crossings & Visual Tonality: The 2010 Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival – Feature

The texture of music and film belies a contextual inevitability. The mixture either works with a tangible congruence or its misses the beat with the differing click of the metronome.

With the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival, subtle care has been taken to mix the ideas of the two mediums which at times function as one and the same progression. As stated by many musicians loving to see films or filmmakers grooving to the visual motifs of the different performers, the interaction is one of vehemence but also one of grace.

Beginning with film, the music tends to revolve in tandem with almost all the stories giving an exceptional through line that anchors the films.

The first, “The Tender Hook” takes places in the jazz age but within the context of the Australian underworld. The power player in question is played with conviction and music intonation by none other than Mr. Smith himself, Hugo Weaving. The charm that he can exude even when his vicious tenacity comes out is palpable. The story revolves around a boxer who falls in love with Weaving’s girlfriend, played with a light knowing by Rose Byrne. The musical connection reflects in Weaving’s band playing just before a fight, a matter of fixing not lost on the viewer. The narrative is a battle of odds which ultimately shows that the victor is the one with the least to gain.

“True North”, by comparison, lacks a musical truth throughout. Its context follows the story of Irish fishermen who ignore the ethics of the sea by taking on human trafficking as a way to bring in more money. Like “The Perfect Storm” but with human cargo, the idea becomes about “the catch”, both literally and figuratively. The structure that keeps the film going is the brevity and drama of actor Peter Mullan showing his indie chops after making many significantly larger films. The ultimate resolution tries to be mythic in certain base contexts but ultimately falls short of the mark, because even though the logic of the film is sound, it tends to be overplayed.

“Coals To Newcastles” in juxtaposition, is purely about music and the paradox inevitable within. Following the band New Mastersounds, it follows the progression of their performances (which are a mixture of funk and blues) from their home base in Leeds on the road to New Orleans during Jazz Fest. The idea permeates in the irony that these British boys are taking American music, playing it in the UK then coming back to the US (specifically in the place it was invented) and performing it for Americans. While the societal context of what is being done is not necessarily explored, the truth of the experience of this music to both the band and its audience does come through with flying colors. Its subtlety shows the global language that music provides.

“Ivory” interrelates music back to a narrative form in the story of a young aspiring pianist who is striving towards a milestone that will define his adult life: the Lizst Competition in Budapest. The key to the thinking here revolves around the structure of style and passion and how to interweave this in a music-based context. While the progression seems a little naive and one sided, the crux and reality of this kind of life is undeniably based in these facts. With small cameo roles by Peter Stormare and Martin Landau, there is a balance of pedigree and efficient cinematography that gives the story backbone from which to work on despite the fact that ultimately its crux rests on the inevitability of a love triangle.

“In The Eyes Of A Killer”, by comparison, rests in its laurels of supposed “bad cinema”. Using a plot device in the form of a man who receives an eye transplant from a murderer who ravaged a town on the California coast years ago, the narrative basis forms structural flaws from the beginning. While the noir stylings are apparent, especially in relation to “Cape Fear”, the acting is overplayed and the dialogue repetitive. The lack of true drama and the nature of a distinct thriller plays to more of a camp structure without the awareness of it. Directed and starring Louis Mandylor with cameos from his brother Costas as well as James Marshall (“Twin Peaks”), the betting was a balance of commercial and art house fare which neither seems to accomplish.

“Cartagena”, in distinction, knows what it is on all points which allows it to succeed. Its strength lies in playing its leads against type motivating their true possibilities to shine. For many years, Christopher Lambert has been synonomous with “Highlander”, even though he did that film in a second language (English) with a discernible accent. Reflecting him in his original French here shows a nuance which is similar with Antonio Banderas (though the latter had more success Stateside). The story is a simple one but not overbearing in the way it is handled. An alcoholic washed-up boxer (Lambert) takes a job caring for a crippled socialite (played with conviction by Sophie Marceau of the Bond film “The World Is Not Enough”). As would-be with wanton relationships, the caring becomes a two-way street. The simple acts like rolling on grass and sitting overlooking the city at sunset works in the texture of the old school romance films never pandering to an overworked melodrama but instead letting the characters breathe and act in natural ways as befitting of such a vibrant city. The movements of character venture as lyrical giving them a rhythm of life.

“Dvojka” approaches the relationship issue in tandem as well but with less of a remarkable bent creating the crux of the three way relationship and its inevitable progression to doom. The filmic approach to this material is much more rough but undeniably realistic in its breakdown. The inherent problem is in its amateurish capture despite some shrewd dramatic choices in the structure of the actors. While formulaic in its progression towards its final resolution and dramatic intent, the breakdown of human behavior rings true in that isolation, even in intimate situations, is an interactive endgame.

“Driven To Race” revolves in a more visceral induction following the structure of young racing competitors that builds up into a sponsorship fueled competitive league. These kids are not driving the small functional lawnmower motors but the full-end race cars. This of course is fueled by the ambition at times of their parents but the actuality is that running races of these types to get to the big time is an expensive business and only works if you win. Granted the balance of race footage and interviews shows the possibility and personalities which will rule these kids later in life as well as reflective interviews of the big NASCAR drivers who speak about making their bones with this league as a stepping stone to where they are now. “Driven To Race” shows the progression of what young racers need to do to make it in their later years. It just doesn’t happen on the luck of a penny. It is about maturity, skill, charm and, above all, marketing.

In interstructuring ideas of music, emotional connotation or literal visceral connection usually determines the mood whether it be the heavy keys of a piano, a vibrato voice or the vicious jam of a bass line.

Continuing with music portion of the festival, the inherent ideas of tone exist within a visual connotation reflecting both the experiences of the performers as well as their soulful connection to the melody and its meaning.

Julia Kay, spinning country with a subtle texture of pop, brings to vision a young Shania Twain with an essence of confidence and accessibility. The utter of essence in bridging the two worlds involves the aspect of edge which someone like Sheryl Crow has been able to encompass. Kay’s ability becomes apparent when she doesn’t just doesn’t hit the notes but inflects them. Whether it be “Wake Me” with a tinge of Stevie Nicks doing “Gold Dust Woman” or the effective “Renegade” with its style mixture and vicious circle, the ideas are there. However, the selection in covers reflect an even deeper connection with a soulful rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Son Of A Preacher Man” and a pitch perfect rendition of Peggy Lee’s “Crazy” that permeates a connotation of a bygone era.

Ben Baxter, who watched Kay’s performance from the front row, understands the connection to the audience and maintaining the energy without becoming too aware of it. Undeniably connections (just due to the guitar style and vocal range) bring to mind odes of John Mayer which is not lost on the artist when he later does a cover of “Daughters”. However, his stop note progressions despite maintaining a certain through-sound make more references in time possibly to John Mellencamp. “Flash Before My Eyes” betrayed a half-step drop without a thought which is harder to do than most think while “Never Let Go” and “Time To Change” reflect Baxter’s vocal ability to simply let the emotion sing without belittling a sense of darkness underneath. His opening cover of “Aint No Sunshine” spoke riddles but his inclusion of a Robin Hood-ode played true with little irony to his Austin roots using storytelling structure with a sense of knowledge befitting of a film lover.

Tamara Miller, by comparison, lacked a consistency of stage presence despite her musical signature “60 Seconds” having appeared on a heavily watched television show. Her tonal intonations spoke more to a piano-based lyricist which while poignant suffers from an over-saturation of similar sounds. While “It’s In Your Eyes” written on the cusp of Baby Grand in Florence whispers odes to Tori Amos, its overlying emotional arc doesn’t quite hit the mark. “Down To Earth” provides a bit of chill while “Every Day Is A Better Tomorrow” reflects a Sarah McLachlan texture nevertheless not defining a true rhythmic identity.

Redstone Hall, hailing from Los Angeles, mixes a more jam-based ideal which, while inherently visceral, is 70s-stressed in its soul. Despite this thought when the band gets running, its interaction is scarsely abated though at times one can see the lines. “Get Back Jack” plays with a stop/start funk progression which resembles certain ideas of Maroon 5 with keyboard/vocalist Stephen Rothstein pushing the octave range when necessary. The band’s inherent strength revolves in the ability in all four members ability to retreat purely into instrumentation like with the closer “Renegade” which signals with guitarist Zach Hall’s ability to rage up tempo beats all the while pushing the envelope.

The Alex Lasher Band, continuing with a sense of nostalgia, understands the perception of his audience reveling in guitar sinued grooves while permeating the marketing punch of an Idol in the making. The key incumbent after viewing the performance is that in certain overarching music, the intent is to integrate the advent of talent with the needs of the songwriting. While Lasher moderately balances the possibilities in both these ways with his vicious jam structure, the overall mentality needs to warm in tandem to his wares meaning he needs to adapt a more specific idealization in terms of his connection to the audience.

Acidic, by paradox, completely jumped off the wagon in relation to its identity in a smaller-based town. Relevant in a more urban Downtown LA setting, the Chili Pepper-induced stylings here relevant in an almost punk structure appealed to the young audience members. The response of the older, jazz-inflected crowd gestated in curiousity reflected simply in confused harmony while the overall ambition and stage presence of the lead singer rang true without a doubt. Despite being the wrong quotient for this particular outlay, Acidic’s energy was undeniable in its presence.

The Flutterbies, in texture, optimizing a new vision of alt-country functions within a rockabilly tendency buoyed by the searing vocals of Maureen Davis. Utterly at home within torch songs or “down-and-dirty” ditties, “Louder Louder” emphasizes audience participation with its canon refrain while “Hummingbird Heart” sings of joy and darkness in lost love. “How I Get Over You” though highlights in delicious vision wrapping guitar riffs and Davis’ silken voice into a structure of rock-out sensuality without overcoming with melodramatic visions of heartbreak.

With the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival, obvious intentions reflect as well within the rhythmic progression of life and art which tend to straddle the abstract edges of both these mediums offering a balance of life and love.

Rocking Youth & Lakeside Celebrations: Summerfest 2009 – Milwaukee, WI

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Music perception can be seen by many to come with age or the appreciation of it. Some believe it happens in your youth with a myriad of different influences. The key is being cross generational: those who can branch the consciousness but also inform others how to appreciate their own uniqueness and impact their past which, in turn, permeates the future.

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Summerfest, held in the heart of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, lisping on the shore of Lake Michigan and hidden under the concrete of towering overpasses and bridges, works in congruent form not just because of its headliners but in its ability to key in new talent, many of it from the local and regional arenas.

Location of course always is key. Being situated at the Comfort Inn Downtown Lakeshore, walking or shuttles make it easy to make the trek to Summerfest wherever your mood takes you, late night or otherwise.

All times visited provided projection in terms of talent with rock taking the veritable center stage. However it was the smaller visions of new bands, off the beaten path, that really blew the expectation while the musical legends provided the volley to show that the intensity and worship was not undeserved.

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Circle Of Fifths headed the pack with an early afternoon set at the Harley Davidson stage. Buoyed by a killer singer mixing essences of Aaron Lewis, Chad Kroeger and a bit of Hetfield, the quartet belted out a hard raging blow out that rivaled the instrumentation of many of the top professional headlining bands. They played for over an hour and a half encouraged by the sound manager while wrecking through some great artist homages as well as essences of their own. From their older “Here We Go” to the roaring possibilities of new tracks from their upcoming album including “If I Fall” and “Whip”, there is a distinctive sound that keys in from bits of Metallica but with a slightly more hard line rockabilly function which makes them kick.

Between the intrinsic guitar solos, the band jumped in the fray with some great covers, two of the best being Led Zeppelin, which are the hardest to do, in the vision of “Immigrant Song” and “Whole Lotta Love” which had the drummer craving more in the best Bonham kind of excess. Metallica’s “Seek & Destroy” and Alice In Chains’ “Man In A Box” revved up the audience even further as the crowd continued to swell.

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On the other end of the time spectrum in the late night, Roster McCabe set the lakefront ablaze in the small cauldron of the Tiki Bar. Located in a small shack away from the main stages, this treasure was discovered after a headliner ended at 11pm and the Leinenkugel Amber from the Captain’s Deck motivated a group of young twentysomethings down the path of ruin over a pack of smokes. Like the swirling beauty of Burning Man or lurid bonfire hallucinations, McCabe had the young crowd swooning and moving with hard grooves.

While at times slipping into reggaeton, the hard guitar revving along with synth progression and slamming drums had the integers of all sexes dancing in a circle of energy. The jams undulated for fifteen minutes at a time bathed in the blood reds and burnt oranges as the skin blazed in the cool night air.

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In the essence of the afternoon, the Refugee Tent, akin to the Tiki, brought the temptation in a different way. While not as resolutely popular at McCabe, The Last Rhino showed its enthusiasm with a mix of acoustic revelry to attack the anti-septic tinge of a Weezer cover mixed with the right amount of country gusto.

The percussion-infused tribal elements that sounded through brought to mind a mix of Stevie Ray Vaughn mated with the old school jams of Dave Matthews without the saturation. Again the gravitational perception of these multi-generational connections continue to surprise. While the twenty-somethings twittered along, an older gentleman approaching the apex of his life on the back end was beating along with the drums like a bat out of hell.

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The younger progression was seen within the conception of “Emerging Artists”. Geri X, spotlighting a mix of Avril Lavigne but with an actual punk background and requisite tatoos to show her dedication, played to a decidedly committed teenage audience. Epitomizing the essence of angst but with requisite aspiration in tow, her songs detail that that paradox. Originally from Bulgaria but now esconsced in Tampa, Florida, she, along with the bassist, her respective other, replete with full beard and background vocals, let the essence of Chris Isaak speak through her in female form. The songs from “Found A Pearl” to “When I Die” show the definite conflict of emotions inside and around the green streaked jet haired singer’s head while odes to her father like “Stubborn Man” show the element of connecting with her young audience’s changing focus. Admitting that she was a bad girl as a teenager, she says that time gives clarity when you reach a supposed age of reason. While her instrumentation had a edge to it, her crystal sweet voice needs more emotional richness or harshness to it as the proponent of her onstage persona has potential which needs to transcend yet maintain her fans’ obvious fervent attention.

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The real eye opener in terms of expectation and affirmation was the winner of a high school band contest who played the Casino Stage. Arts & Crafts, despite being barely 18 if that, had their potential down pat. Despite some overarching persona issues which always get either worked out or not, the level of technical prowess especially on the part of the lead guitarist and drummer rocked the house. Aided by another lead guitarist, effective but in full Guitar Hero mode, as well as a female bassist obviously enjoying herself with the boys, the influences which clearly had an impact on the judges were richly impacted within the mixed house which was more older generational. From the funk of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” to sheer rapid nature of The Who’s “Something Loose”, the impact of requisite 60s elements all the way to the guitar harmonizing of the Eagle’s “Hotel California” integrated the proceedings to a differing level. But it was their original songs which used tonal shift that really showcased the talents.

From the journeyman guitar riffs reminiscent of the real John Mayer brilliance within the essence of “The Drifter” to the slow jazzy riffs-turned-metal underpinings of “Stopping Out” to the acrobatics of “The Only One”, Arts & Crafts showed the possibilities of talent in the youth in current form. You could see the perfectionism in the mind of the lead guitarist which shows technique and passion in congruence while the drummer, arguably the youngest in the band, who simply slaughtered with a drum solo not capable of some people twice his age. A “Chemical Romance” might dwell within the hearts of these performers with full intensity at their fingertips but it depends on the ability to transcend the barriers, including college.

Bookending these smaller acts on the side stages intrinsically partaking the day, the headliner acts on separate stages the first night showed the diversity of programming initiatives.

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Showing his stamina and ability to levitate into the guise of all, Buddy Guy, affluent in his ability to mimic guitar styles, fully jammed out his constituents on stage whisking his fingers across the guitar like glass. But as the witching hour approached, the glow of neon and voices of fans stomping along illuminated the view as the Leinenkugel flowed. Staind, massive performers in their own right, first came on the radar a little more than 10 years ago. Having seen them in The Roxy Theatre on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles back in the day, the complication of the lighting rigs might have grown but the down home gruel infused richness of the guitar weight combined with singer Aaron Lewis’ steely and emotional voice still hit the audience like a hammer. In a deafening singalong with “Awhile”, the roar of the crowd toasting beers upward and out made the sea of souls revel in unision.

The major headliner gave the intersection of young idealism with the propensity of a lifetime of conflict and advocation. Just the ideal of Bob Dylan has influenced the generational consciousness in terms of sociological upheaval from both and emotional and intellectual standpoint. Coming out onstage in the iconic black hat with his band in congruence, Dylan started out guitar riffing before making his way behind his old school piano synth. Any misconception of man playing the essence of old is sorely mistaken. Despite a different style of pace, Dylan maintains an ultra modern cool without the presumptuous arrogance that infuses so many successes. Dylan recognizes the relativity of the play. As Chris Isaak once mentioned when he watched Roy Orbison performing for a large audience, the essence was the mystery. Too many performers tend to over talk. Dylan lets the music speak. As the performance revolved from be-bop influenced zoot riffs to almost psychedelic symmetry as jagged shapes floated behind the band, the power of the man is clear. The crowd surged to its feet with the jam-induced eminence of “No Direction Home” bringing the connection fully into being as the influence of this man echoes razor sharp.

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The key when in a city like Milwaukee for a festival of epic proportions is late night angles, food availability and geography in place. While the late night after Dylan revolved into a darkened rooftop revolving with kamikazes, Guns N’ Roses covers, youthful girl interaction and Randar, the master of ceremonies, the need for consumables rang apparent. Steps away on the winding road, the Astor Hotel on Juneau Street, is replete in the diminishing beauty of its 1930s glory. Entering its halls, manned with a Shining-like dexterity, the ghosts pull at the doors. Caddy corner down the street, 1260 N. Prospect has the distinction of recently being featured in the Johnny Depp-starring, Wisconsin-shot gangster biopic: “Public Enemies” as John Dillinger’s apartment. But, alas, a late night urge tugs at the thirst.

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At 2am, the only spot open was Victor’s, affectionately nicknamed “Scarface Disco”. Replete with black leather, dingy corners, glowing blue rocks embedded in the walls, the Spotted Cow was milked smoothly as Emily, the bartender encouraged a dice-fueled drinking game that painted the walls.

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Daily interactions for the lunchtime centered have a selection in play of the necessity. After an immediate jump off a red eye, Bloody Marys were needed Wisconsin style. The raised vision of Sobelman’s Pub & Grill emerged from the industrial landscape. Prepped in advance with multiple pony glasses of Schlitz for the taking, the beauty of the cocktail’s mason jar presentation draped in cheese and various other ornaments made the spicy smooth as shrimped torpedoes bathed in batter crunched in unison with a tangy cocktail sauce.

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The Third Ward, by comparison, opens up the freshness as a long corridor of organic products and stacked-to-the -ceiling pubs give new meaning to the term “lunch meeting”. Sitting down immediately upon entering at the St. Paul’s Fish Company, the lobster and crab claws bathed in garlic hits the scent. Schlitz, as a rule of thumb, begins the pour. The shrimp and sausage gumbo hit with a twang though not as tangy as necessarily envisioned. The mussels bathed in white wine jumped the scales in consecutive order. The Milwaukee Fish Fry replete with grouper battered in Schlitz flaked with every bite in wonderful richness.

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As a last stop persuasion, when all else fails, beer is an undeniable equator. As the brews flow in lovely symmetry from the effortless taps of Lakefront Brewery, the Dark starts the journey. The story becomes almost as inventive as the end result. With an operator utterly consumed in her job and a mug of beer at her side, the basic nature of the business was broke down into the essences of life with R-rated frivolity thrown in for good measure. Audience interaction is key but rewards are given. Drinking up is a way of life. Beer buddies were needed and found directly as a vat overflowed in good natured excitement with its froth showing.

Summerfest offers a destination of revelry for everyone with a grand perspective of the young blasting through as the elders of yore maintain their status. With new discoveries of particular note in Circle Of Fifths and Roster McCabe, the programing aspect seen in a cauldron of possibilities shows the potential of this festival as a blasting off point for new young bands while still offering a bevy of both classic rock and popular acts to fuel the fire. Food and the night pull continuously as the celebration continues. Leaving in rest as the plane banks away from Milwaukee into the sky , two Wisco party girls, hats in hand, toast some Jack Daniels to salute the future of Summerfest as it rocks ever more.

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