The festival's director is a drummer named Maris Briezkalns. He alone waves high jazz's banner, in part by developing and showcasing local talent deserving of wider recognition. For this year's fest he invited a panel of jazz authorities to assess and evaluate Riga's crop of emerging artists. The assembled gatekeepers were drawn from territories as diverse as Israel, Belgium, Italy, Ireland and the US. I was among them.
Of all the new artists I met, the one who captured my imagination most was Laima Jansone, a quietly charismatic woman who plays the kokle, a traditional Latvian instrument resembling a zither. She performed with acoustic bass and drums, strumming and improvising in a three-way exchange that resonated with mesmerizing grace. Her approach underscored an inevitable melding of world elements - the hybridization and hyphenation of jazz.
Coupled with the more established performers I heard - Buika, diva vocalist from Spain; Astillero, tango modernists from Argentina; and Victor Bailey, electric bass monster from the States - the festival's aim was true. It organized a global view of jazz that expands the definition of the term.
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