The 1st annual Smooth Jazz Festival in Bregenz took place August 29/30th in Bregenz, Austria which is located right next to Switzerland and Germany, so smooth jazz fans from all across Europe gathered there for some of their favorite music at the lake of Constance. The organizers took great care in creating a laid-back atmosphere to enjoy the music with bars, a catering area and scattered tables and chairs to bring a piece of Southern California to our shores. I applaud Christian Boessner and his crew for taking the efforts (and risk) to bring smooth jazz to Europe, and - with the exception of some smaller concert events in the past -, this has been the first official attempt to bring smooth jazz to a larger audience in Europe.
Concerts started each day at 5:30pm with a gig to warm up, followed by two main acts, finally closing the evening with different DJ-acts. Friday was not too well attended despite a good line-up. Lounge-band Gabin from Italy opened the festival with their groovy and jazzy brand of music fronted by a great singer, their hit "Into My Soul" went down very well with the crowd.
First main act was guitarist Chieli Minucci (of Special EFX fame) with Alex Bugnon on keyboards and Marion Meadows on saxophone, backed by the band of Pat Appleton, who did a good job. Chieli Minucci and friends jammed heavily with extended solos, crossing fusion territory often, only few moments of the concerts were more laid back, Marion Meadows was my favorite part of the show with his smooth playing, I particularly enjoyed his solo on the Stevie cover "Cause We've Ended As Lovers".
Unexpected highlight of the first evening were De-Phazz, the lounge/chill band around leader Pit Baumgartner, they delivered a top-notch show full of humor and fun, with great musicianship and catchy songs, singers Pat Appleton and Karl Frierson both carried the show and left the audience in an upbeat mood.
The evening was closed by Praful who was backed by a turntables/sampler artist and a percussion player, he played various saxophones and the flute over house grooves delivering some of his best known songs.
Saturday was better attended and really delivered the first real smooth jazz treat of the festival with the show of Peter White, but first it was talented singer Pat Appleton with her band warming up the crowd. Unfortunately she played more pop/rock music which didn't do much for me, so she seemed to be a bit out of context at this festival.
The first headlining band was guitarist Peter White with saxophonists Jaared and Rocco Ventrella, backed by the band of Pat Appleton. Peter White eventually was able to create some real smooth jazz vibes and mesmerize the audience, people rushed to the front of the stage in droves. Peter White is a such a consummate performer, and his mix of smooth jazz songs and well selected covers (among them "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", "Who's That Lady" and "The Closer I Get To You") resulted in a truly great show. Jaared played his saxophone with lots of emotion and delivered a beautiful song from his current release Addiction, the Earl Klugh cover "Jamaican Winds" which was a highlight of the show. And newcomer Rocco Ventrella on saxophone played his heart out, he proved that he is a musician to reckon with and I look forward to hearing more of him. As surprise guest Pat Appleton came to the stage to sing a classic Basia song together with Peter, later Marion Meadows joined the band. I was in Smooth Jazz heaven, and when they played a few bars of Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" with three horns and acoustic guitar, it almost knocked my socks off! This concert was absolutely brilliant and the highlight of the whole festival - and sadly the only one deserving the tag "smooth jazz".
The festival was closed by super-star Candy Dulfer, this time she had a trumpet player in her band which yielded some great horn lines, the big black guy she had in her band at this year's Berks Jazz Festival was not there, so the soul element was definitely lacking, instead she opted to give us lots of hard-hitting funk. The concert was very loud and very groovy, and Candy worked hard to bring us in a party mood. Personal highlights were "Every Time" from her Candy Store album with an extended guitar solo by Ulco Bed and her world-hit "Lily Was Here", the rest of the show was very professional and polished although smooth jazz played only a minor part. Her encore was "Funky Nassau" which says a lot. Nevertheless, it was a good concert by a world-class band.
After that Adani & Wolf played a house DJ-set with Rocco Ventrella on saxophone added as live musician, which brought the festival to a close.
Looking back at the 1st annual Smooth Jazz Festival, I must say that I am happy to see people willing to put such an effort together and I really hope that the festival met their expectations financially and artistically, so it will be continued next year. I really liked the setting and felt comfortable there, and I am confident that some of this year's flaws in the organization will be worked out next year, as this is a learning process for all involved. Musicwise I hope that they will live up more to the term "smooth jazz" next year and will draw a larger crowd, so smooth jazz really can catch on in Europe.