No Stella by starlight

Martin Longley finally reaches the end of the road at the Gent Jazzfest.

Gent Jazz Festival: Part Seven
Gent, Belgium

Saturday was the final day of the festival, now trimmed of its old closing Sunday programme. Brooklyn singer (and occasional guitarist) José James tilted towards his modernistic jazz-hop, soul side, following previous Gentfest appearances made in a classic jazz guise.

In some ways, this funkier style is where his reputation springs from, if caught live in other cities, but Gent and its sister festival Jazz Middelheim, in Antwerpen, have favoured booking the singer’s older school projects. His set was slick, seductive and softly soulful, but after a while, the performance didn’t offer sufficient diversity to grab the close attention, so a more environmental walkabout was called for, checking out the surrounding scene, spilling out around the crowded main tent.

A return undercover was demanded by veteran Florida-rooted soul singer Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, who pulled everyone into the crush, projecting his post-James Brown line of vintage revivalism, complete with cutting horns and humming organ.

Bradley provided a mass climax for the weekend, but the real peak of the night was about to be reached on the Garden Stage, with a straggling audience who refused to go home. Fittingly, the final three-set marathon (well, actually, four sets in this instance) was given by GoDeville Remembered, a collective combo who were dedicating themselves to a celebration of the prematurely departed DJ Godeville, otherwise known as René Dewever, a pioneer on the alternative Gent club scene.

Given that the Garden Stage has replaced the old between-set dj sessions, it was a good place for Godeville’s old accompanists to play in his memory. These are players who used to improvise alongside Godeville’s spinning grooves, and it was DJ Slammy who inhabited the turntable role, joined by old cohorts that included trumpeter Bart Maris and drummer Giovanni Barcella. There might have been imperfections in their sprawling jams, stretches where the momentum disappeared, but it was this very insistence on chance-taking that ultimately made way for some of this closing night’s greatest music.

The group particularly took off during the last of the four sets, which ended up being twice as long as the others. Slammy discovered some varied grooves, prompting several different dancing styles over several different numbers, breaking into splintered free-improv, then developing an ongoing deep pulsation. Gradually, the small audience started to grow, and few could resist the pull of the makeshift dancefloor, which turned out to be the entire tent-space. A transcendent way to end the second weekend of the festival!