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The festival concerts took place at a range of venues, including the small and intimate Club Artelis, the Open Air Leisure Park EGLE and the 1200-seat Riga Congress Center. Rigas Ritmi also organizes concerts at other times of the year-singers Kurt Elling and Youn Sun Nah will play the Congress Center later in 2012-but the July festival is the year's focal point.
Thursday night at this beautiful and welcoming venue was devoted to sets by two young ensembles based in Latvia. North By Northeast, a quartet of young Latvian musicians, demonstrated strong technique on a series of original tunes. The band formed in 2011 and won the 2012 Keep An Eye Jazz Award. The set was tight, professional and melodic, with guitarist Matiss Čudars often adding a rockier edge to the remaining members' more obviously jazz stylings. The band takes inspiration from classical and folk musics, as well as from jazz, although this wasn't obvious in its set, which seemed to draw directly from North American contemporary jazz. North By Northeast is full of potential; once it finds its own distinctive sound then it will be a force with which to be reckoned.
The open air stage, in one of the old city's beautiful squares, was the setting for performances that grew out of two of the Festival's workshops. The Nils Wogram Trombone Show, an octet featuring five trombonists including Wogram, produced a set of funky, bluesy numbers that gave each player a chance to solo. Wogram, who also performed with his Nostalgia Trio earlier in the week, was a terrific player and composer who's enthusiasm seemed boundless. His fellow trombonists were equally enthusiastic and with the support of a rhythm section that once again included Orubs (this time playing a standard drum kit and sporting a Ginger Baker t-shirt), the group played an enjoyable set.
The set by Spanish flamenco vocalist Concha Buika, a favorite of film director Pedro Almodovar, was an intense, emotional experience. She's a striking and commanding onstage presence, with a unique and passionate approach to the interpretation of songs. Her backing musicians were also excellent, with Dany Noel's fretless bass guitar work sounding particularly fine. Her most engaging performance of the night was her rendition of Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas," with Buika singing Brel's original French lyrics accompanied by pianist Ivan Gonzalez Lewis.
<p style="text-align: justify;" font-size:="""""""" looking="""" p="""" span="""" justify;"="" the="""" to=""""> The 2012 Rigas Ritmi Festival attracted over 10,000 audience members to the ticketed concerts and many others to the free open air gigs. Artistically, the audience responses emphatically declared its success. The Festival also looks to the future, providing a platform for younger musicians as a means to enhance their reputations and, hopefully, to help in expanding their careers. On that score, too, Rigas Ritmi should be declared a success. Personally, the find of the festival was the Laima Jansone Trio-a band that brought a unique combination of the traditional kokle and contemporary jazz to the party and created some wonderful music-but that's just one example of a strong young Latvian jazz scene.