On Sunday 19th March, 10 days of Leuven Jazz received its befitting closure with two captivating, soulful performances. ADJA and LUCA Bigband with Tutu Puoane graced the stage and captured their audience each in their unique way, basking them in a bittersweet Jazzy atmosphere, both tranquil and resilient.
LUCA Bigband ft Tutu Puoane
The uplifting first half of the show features South African singer Tutu Puoane whose vitalizing voice pays tribute to Donny Hathaway with a cover of the song Someday We’ll All Be Free and to Makeba, Mama Africa as well. Puoane’s personality shines through her performances: After she announces the name of the African song she is about to perform, the crowd is incited to attempt its pronunciation, “We’ll practice our clicks later at the bar,” she says.
Puaone’s magical voice is accompanied by the astonishing big band LUCA arts school Led by conductor Frank Vaganée, who is in fact turning 37 the very day, something we get to know because Puoane improvises a Jazzy, church-reminiscent version of “Happy Birthday” to sing to him on the stage. The students come forward at different intervals of the singing with dazzling solos that add even more enchantment to the performance. Finally, the show ends with the highlight Heaven Help Us All, the climax and fusion of everything already executed both by the band and by Puoane, a mix of powerful protest songs and a solemn, soothing church atmosphere.
As the audience settles down after the pause, a soft, melancholic, humming sound that is dispersed around the venue starts getting louder from every corner. It becomes clear right away that the ensuing Adja performance aims to absorb the audience into its very own world. As the candlelight brightens the stage and the musicians appear, the setting, with its antique furniture and ample share of flora is revealed to be a pastoral haven. The girls of BURn Leuven walk from among the crowd and climb up to the stage, joining Adja in the center. Soon, the bass joins them and the show begins with a tribute to Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free. Then comes a performance of Adja’s biggest hit, Told You So, where the audience witnesses her outstanding vocals as the band accompanies the singer.
Music meets theater as Adja slowly pours wine into a container and the calming, river-like sound of liquid touching stones fills up the air. To Be Naive is sung in a minimalist production that gets progressively louder and more impressive as each instrument finds its place in the composition. Adja’s vocals stun in acapella complemented by her own snapping fingers before she breaks into a sensual dance and heavy breathing that imitates the sound of wind, a sound gradually echoed by the band. This itself segues into SambaFassa, another highlight of the show, when a trumpet solo stands out in the beginning and Adja’s ethereal vocals ask “How do you feel yeah?” over and over. Towards the end, it is the drum solo that catches the ear and fades into a distorted dream-like pattern that prepares the stage for the following minutes of complete jazz experimentation, imitation and emulation. Thus we are put into a suitable trance before Adja warbles “if I was a burning candle…” extending and emphasizing “s” sounds as she sings (“blisss, tsss”). Such a sequence sketches in the mind a flickering flame on the verge of its eclipse. From replicating the sound of rivers and wind to candles, this was a performance abundant with implications of nature that fit right into the set-up of the stage. This continues as Adja’s quavering vocals sing “Can you swim?” and the band once again takes the stage, simulating waves and fluctuations each in their own way.
At one point, Adja asks somebody from the crowd to dance with her. It’s a short moment but endearing, and further intensifies an image of oneness with the world that the performance is so keen on depicting. Adja and the band close off with a definite highlight, “What We Are Not Supposed To Feel,” somewhat coming full circle to the beginning and where everything started. Here too, Adja’s impeccable stage presence never fails to shine enough rightful attention on the instruments. At one curious moment, Adja takes her microphone to the crowd-favorite, shy trumpet player and he sings a lullaby-like melody into the air, lulling the atmosphere further. Then, just as she slowly made her way onto the stage in the beginning, Adja’s voice gradually fades in the end as she sings “Until my time is come sweet earth takes me home,” and on that note, she leaves us haunted, and stands back for the audience’s standing ovation.
The two performances took place in Schouwburg on 19th March and marked the closing of Leuven Jazz 2023.