I discovered the Nantes Jazz Festival- Les Rendez-Vous de L'Erdre- by accident last year. I was planning a solitary holiday in France, and there was only a limited period of time when I could take the break. I wanted time to read and relax, but if there was some jazz, all the better. Turning to Google, I entered the dates, added Jazz Festival France, and up popped Nantes. The programme was very tempting- Henri Texier, Roswell Rudd, Mingus Dynasty....even more tempting was the fact that all 80+ concerts were free, there would be a record fair, and street food from every francophone nation would be on sale.
Of course I returned this year, wondering why the festival wasn't better known outside France, even outside the region. We heard no English voices, saw few cars from outside the region (you can tell from the number plate).
The festival covers Friday-Sunday night of the 1st weekend in September; the 2007 programme included Ricky Ford, the Paris Big Band, the Sclavis/Texier/Romano trio and the remarkable Japanese ensemble Shibusa Shirazu.
Ricky Ford played harder, tougher than I'd heard him before, in a Coltrane-inspired set. Unfortunately the trio with him was led by a drummer of such crass insensitivity that there was no rapport with Ford. Christian Vander- « Drum hero » mondialement reconnu, compositeur, chanteur, batteur fondateur de Magma- according to the website, obviously thought he was emulating Elvin Jones, unfortunately without any of that great drummer's taste and discernment. (One odd moment: Ford leaned away from the mike at one point in the middle of a chorus and caught a breath- many in the audience immediately started to clap as if the solo was over.) It makes me wonder how many jazz listeners understand/ can hear song form during an improvisation. Perhaps I should take along some copies of Conrad Cork's 'Harmony with Lego Bricks' -see www.tadleyewing.co.uk
The musical highlight of the festival was the Sclavis/Texier/Romano trio, a working band who really did listen to each other. Louis Sclavis mostly played soprano and bass clarinet, managing neither to sound like Coltrane on the former nor Dolphy on the latter. Sophia Domancich played a beautiful duo set with drummer Simon Goubert, and French-resident organist Rhoda Scott cooked up a storm with an all woman band, all previously unknown to me- Sophie Alour (sax) Lisa Cat-Berro (sax) Julie Saury (dms).
We missed the Paris Big Band- by the time we reached the riverside 'scene' where they were playing every seat was taken, there was a huge standing crowd, and we were tired- from a distance they sounded good!
But the real spectacular highlight was the performance by Shibusa Shirazu, a 30+-strong troupe involving musicians, dancers, a painter and a 20-foot floating dragon. I'm not sure I can find the words to describe the performance, which began with a dancer in a loincloth unfurling a banner, followed by Tokyo 'bar girls' in orange and green wigs, mock-Hawaiian dancers waving giant bananas, a male singer in what looked like a large nappy and short dressing-gown, a young woman flautist with white angel wings who leaped around and sang (whatever she's on can I have some please?), butoh dancers and a 20-piece band who played wild improvisations over a thunderous rock beat. The two guitarists both thought they were Hendrix, one tenor player had listened to a lot of Gato Barbieri, the other to Rollins, and there were exciting solos by two trumpet-players. Then along came the dragon, controlled by two men in rowing boats, expertly steered down the Erdre in front of the stage.
You probably wouldn't buy the cd, and at 2 hours it was maybe 15minutes too long, but what a spectacle! You can get a taste of it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snF_7YiGVGw.
But really, you had to be there.
At at the record fair, I came across a copy of Komeda's 'Astygmatic' on vinyl, which I had failed to find in Krakow. So I guess I'll go again next year, especially if the moules-frites, oyster and Muscadet stall is there again.