Monday, July 31, 2017

The Very Best Of The North Of Mallorca

The coming week demonstrates just how vibrant popular culture is in the north of the island. It is a week marked by two festivals and one of the grandest of fiesta occasions not only in the north but on the whole island. The Sa Pobla Jazz Festival starts today, the first concert for the Pollensa Music Festival is next Saturday, and on Wednesday - and really needing no introduction - it is the Moors and Christians battle in Pollensa. It is a week during which the north shows itself off to Mallorca and beyond.

The Sa Pobla Jazz Festival celebrates its twenty-third staging. The festival, rather like Pollensa's, ran into some problems during the years of economic crisis. They were financial. The festival has long prided itself on attracting international artists and on presenting them for free. Such a principle was almost inevitably going to run into obstacles at some point, which is what happened. The cost of the artists, of their travel and their accommodation was just one of the financial concerns. So much so that the festival was threatened. Until, that is, sponsorship and collaborative arrangements were put in place. A brief dalliance with charging (a meagre three euros) no longer applies. The concerts are once more free.

This year's festival shows how it constantly evolves. There is a return to spacing out the main concerts rather than their being concertinaed into successive days, but there is also a whole series of "off festival" concerts, which means that the whole season lasts much longer than previously. From today until Sunday, 27 August there will be a concert every evening in the Plaça Major.

Starting things off is veteran saxophonist Ernie Watts. His remarkable CV owes much to legendary drummer Buddy Rich. Watts was the lead sax player in the Rich orchestra. Over the years he has played with various other jazz legends - Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Metheny - and on a broader level with Marvin Gaye, Frank Zappa and The Rolling Stones. With his quartet he has more than twenty albums under his belt.

The second main concert is on Wednesday, 9 August. Richard Bona - bassist and vocalist - explores the crossover between African music and American/European jazz in a mix called Mandekan Cubano. He himself is from Cameroon rather than Cuba. Guilia Valle is Italian but lives in Barcelona. She is one of the most creative bassists on the whole international jazz scene. Her trio, which performs on 16 August, includes the top-rated Menorcan pianist Marco Mezquida.

A few years ago, the Pollensa Music Festival looked doomed. Founded in 1962 by British violinist Philip Newman with the help of key figures at the Club Pollença and town hall, the festival lost funding from the regional tourism ministry. The government was cutting back because of crisis, and cultural events took a hit.

A great deal of credit for the festival's survival has to go to its former director Joan Valent. World renowned for his film scores, Valent was brought in as its saviour. He called in favours from his many contacts, who included the British pianist and composer Michael Nyman. The festival's future was secured.

But not everyone was happy with how the festival was developing. Valent broadened its scope, even including gastronomy. It was a Mexican theme one year that attracted certain criticism, not least because Valent spends much of his time in Mexico. The criticisms, however, were very unfair. The festival owes a great debt to him, including the fact that he dipped into his own pocket.

No longer the director, the organisation of the festival is now a collaborative exercise, and its focus has returned solely to the concerts. The first, on Saturday, 5 August, features the Gabrieli Consort, a choir and period instrument orchestra founded and led by its artistic director Paul McCreesh. The Gabrieli mission is "to challenge common and accepted perceptions of classical music, and to re-invigorate and innovate in order to sustain the relevance of these great pieces of art in the twenty-first century".

Amidst all this music, we have the climax to Pollensa's La Patrona. The Moors and Christians will battle it out as they do every year from seven in the evening on 2 August. There is total continuity with the final day of the fiestas - it's the same each year - from the Alborada at five in the morning to the Thanksgiving following the battle and to the fireworks. One of the great days of summer, if not the greatest.

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