Wednesday 22 September 2010

Back to the Erdre

I've written about the Nantes Jazz Festival before (in 2007); I'm returning to the subject because it still does not have the recognition it deserves.

2010 was the 24th year of a festival which has expanded to include 8 main 'scenes' in the city along the banks of the river Erdre, plus other 'scenes off' including concerts in hospitals and a prison. Add to that gigs in neighbouring villages, a record fair and a round table on promoting jazz. And a regatta of sailing boats, old and new. There are food stalls from the francophone culinary world- the big hit this year was the fouée, a Breton variation on pita with sweet or savoury filling, some excellent bieres artisanales and Muscadet, and all the concerts (80+) were free of charge.

The organisers' aim is to present 'tous le jazz' - including music this old jazz snob finds hard to recognise as jazz at all- but that's ok, there's always something of interest going on, and at least the 'did I really pay good money to listen to this?' feeling is absent!

The Scene Nautique is the largest, holding 10000 people and always filled to overflowing; it's a large platform in the middle of the river- the audience sits on the bank facing the band, with the overflow on the other side. It's for big stars - disappointing like Charles Lloyd's Coltrane-lite 2008 performance and last year's phoned-in Ron Carter gig, exciting like the Henri Texier Strada Sextet with Roswell Rudd, and engaging like the Louis Sclavis Trio. This year's stars included the Roy Hargrove Quintet- I wasn't sure I'd come to the festival this year until I saw they were appearing, but I loved their cd 'Ear Food' and I was knocked out 2 years ago to hear the Hargrove Big Band corseted into the tiny Jazz Gallery in NYC. In the event they were great to hear, though all the time you longed to be there with them in the confines of a club. Saturday night was Django night, with Daniel Givone, Romane, Angelo Debarre & Christophe Lartilleux, but by the time we got to the 'scene' it was overflowing, so we had an early night.

We did arrive in time on Sunday to hear Le Gros Cube- a band comprising some of the big names of the regional scene playing the music of Queen (honestly!). No less than 3 singers attempted to invoke the spirit of Mr Mercury, and they and the band were obviously amusing themselves enormously. Much of the huge crowd seemed to be having fun also, but after 2 numbers ( no solos) we made our excuses and left. Not so much 'tous les jazz' as 'pas de tout le jazz'.

The heart of the festival is the Scene Sully, a sloping area holding up to 3000 people, around 1000 seated on chairs whose devilishly uncomfortable seats are still imprinted on my cul. It's worth it though for the quality of the music, from the quiet classicism of trombonist Yves Robert to the Mingus-like Andy Emler MegaOctet. China Moses channeled the spirit of Dinah Washington, Sophie Alour (ex-Rhoda Scott tenorist) played a brave set with just bass and drums which was perhaps a little under-powered, though my colleague had to be restrained from storming the stage when she announced one number as 'When Ah Meuve Ma Beudy.' Well, he's a fan, and he likes her saxophone playing too.

The best music at Sully was the quartet of Helene Labarriere, a virtuoso bassist whose quartet played an uncompromising set of enormous power. The worst was a silly set by the Trio D'En Bas, whose leader played approximate tenor and sang Zappa songs badly, although he apparently didn't realise it.

There's also an Electro-Jazz scene- but my ears can no longer stand p a turned up to eleven so I missed Bristol's Get the Blessing.

To conclude, it was a mixture as always- I'll certainly be back next year when I'm sure there will be something special for the quarter century. See you there.

I'd hoped to meet up with the formidable Gérard Terrones at the festival- he runs the wonderful Futura-Marge record labels- but we missed each other. We caught up in Paris and I stocked up on his recent cds, then went to hear the Franck Avitabile Trio at Sunset- as a jazz club promoter it was encouraging to see a club completely full for the gig, though as an audience-member I would have preferred not to sit with my arms pinned to my side while breathing into Franck's collar. He's been compared to Michel Petrucciani and Martial Solal; although he lacks Petrucciani's steely touch and Solal's free-flowing melodic imagination. But he has a lyrical power of his own, and Henri Texier and Aldo Romano were predictably superb.

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