gig reviews – issue 4

GIG REVIEWS

  •  THE CONVERGENCE QUARTET
  • ORNETTE COLEMAN/ MASTER MUSICIANS OF JAJOUKA
  • JAZZ A VIENNE 2009

THE CONVERGENCE QUARTET

Churchill College Recital Room, Cambridge, Saturday 2nd May 2009

A co-operative, trans-Atlantic group whose previous visit to the UK resulted in a fine album (this tour also involved a recording session, so keep your eyes peeled for future developments), the Convergence Quartet boast a wealth of combined experience: Taylor Ho Bynum’s immersion in the complex musical worlds of Anthony Braxton, Harris Eistenstadt’s fine work as a leader, and Alexander Hawkins’ and Dominic Lash’s involvement in the UK improv scene. As might be expected then, they played a fascinatingly varied programme, but there was also a real sense of a group identity – perhaps cemented by the fact that this gig came towards the end of a week spent touring the UK.

The concert began with Lash and his woody, twangy ‘improv bass’, Eisenstadt inquisitively testing the waters alongside. A few minutes in, and Bynum began to play a muted and moody melody with the softest of touches, continually cycling back to the original theme as the piece developed, rather in the manner of Miles Davis’ ‘Nefertiti’; it certainly gave an unusual structure which would prove to be typical of the group’s atypical ability to create something diverse but not perversely scatter-brained, to balance composition and improvisation, to create new configurations and patterns afresh, at will.

Formal experimentation was perhaps most notably attempted about half-way through, with a performance of Dom Lash’s piece ‘Representations’, in what was announced as its 15th configuration (previous performances have included a rather fine one at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival, available as a free download on Lash’s Last FM page). While its restraints (involving much page-shuffling and stern concentration, and afterwards described by Hawkins as akin to Russian roulette!) could potentially have zapped some of the spark from the group, on this occasion they provoked a degree of interaction that was quite different from the improvisations on the composed pieces, but no less fascinating. Hand signals led to transitions between sections or signalled duets, trios, and whole group configurations, different musical events occurring on different planes – thus, a series of vaguely Messiaen-like chords carried on underneath several other switches from the rest of the group (though this never felt like a changing background, an accompaniment to the piano). All this resulted in a kind of textural overlapping which meant that the piece, which might otherwise have seemed rather austerely episodic, instead seemed purposeful and knife-edged poised. It was fascinating indeed to watch musical minds at this level of concentration, to see if the risks taken paid off.

A Leroy Jenkins piece dedicated to Albert Ayler emerged in heartfelt quiet, cornet and trumpet delicate with their unison melody. The band certainly have an ear for not often-heard compositions: it’s nice to hear this legacy of the underrated jazz masters getting its due, rather than endless re-hashings of 1930s popular songs and jazz standards. And they proved this once again by performing Tony Oxley’s ‘Crossings’, which juxtaposed full-throttle free jazz squall, full-band cluster climaxes, bowed drone tones, and a pretty melody whose appeal was illustrated when Bynum spontaneously whistled along to Hawkins’ rendition.

There was much to notice about the individual players. Bynum plays his cornet loud (those high, brash tones!) and with some style too – by which I mean to suggest, not that he demonstrates a polished virtuosity (though virtuosity it is), but rather, that his playing locates him in the great tradition of ‘bad-taste’ jazz trumpet, with cartoon parps (which, perhaps not entirely due to coincidence, require a lip position which gives him the temporary appearance of Donald Duck) and ‘distortion’ through the use of an ‘on-off’ mute effect. Indeed, he has rather a lot of these tricks up his sleeve – including pouring water down the mouth of his flugelhorn, which gushed out in irregular spasms as he played (though it didn’t really seem to effect the sound of the instrument), and using a ‘jazz hat’ as a mute. But they never really felt like ‘tricks’ – sure, he does them because he can (and what’s wrong with a bit of showmanship?) but he also does them because they make musical sense, and they never distract from the overall direction of the particular piece in which they are employed. This was best demonstrated towards the end of a piece where Bynum circular breathed to sustain a one-note drone. Many players, I’m sure, would have employed it to generate applause in their solo (nothing like that sort of display to get listeners excited) but – proof that Bynum didn’t want to be the flashy focus – it ended up being probably the quietest element in the texture, occasionally rising in volume to create odd harmonisings with the bass as things were dominated by sprightly piano.

Hawkins seems to get better every time I see him live; every solo he took tonight was a journey, or, if you prefer, a well-told short story. They would begin as jazz explorations, or even boogie-woogie-flavoured romps, before whipping themselves up to a frenzy of clanging clusters, rolling glissandi, and fast-paced, dissonant runs, like a dancer tripping over their feet as the speed of their performance spins out of control. This was both tremendously exciting and the consequence of a logical development – jazz taken to the edge and then pushed over, because there really was no where else to go – and it was always – somehow – contained within the framework of a two or three minute showcase.

The afore-mentioned ‘Representations’ demonstrated Lash’s skills as a composer, an organiser of sounds, and he proved equally capable slotting in with Eisenstadt to provide tight grooves on the jazzier numbers, though the most notable moments in his performance were when he made full use of his instrument’s range, bowing behind the strings, teasing out harmonics, changing the whole texture of a piece with sensitive arco work.

Eisenstadt is not the most flashy drummer, but a vital part of the Quartet’s musical identity: he has a tendency to go for the slightly off-kilter groove, loud, chunky, thumping beats and cymbal crashes just past the point you’d expect them to occur. He’s a sensitive ballad player as well, mallets making cymbals sigh, barely there as the group trod more tender lines; and he proved his improv credentials in the freer passages, with moments of perfect quick-thinking, most notably when he followed two taps on the snare with two on cymbal, almost as if he was in dialogue with himself as well as with the other musicians. A small moment, easy to miss with all the other activity that was going on around it; there were probably many more of a similar kind which I failed to notice, indicating the music’s real fullness and richness.

The audience was not particularly large, but clearly appreciative, and so the Quartet finished with an encore: a slice of South-African good humour via Dudu Pukwana. Bynum inserted a neatly-disguised ‘Happy Birthday’ quotation into his muted solo in honour of the pianist (incidentally, who knew that Mr Bynum was such a good SA jazz player?), and everything ended with a series of churchy and completely satisfying chords, bass and piano linking tones and the last reverberations of the piano’s sustain pedal fading away with an effect that almost sounded electronic, merging with the short, satisfied sigh of a listener in the audience to perfectly satisfying effect. (David Grundy)

ORNETTE COLEMAN/ MASTER MUSICIANS OF JAJOUKA

Meltdown Festival – Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 21st June 2009

A curious beast, the Meltdown Festival has been going for a couple of years now. Over a week-long period, a famous musician of some sort is invited to ‘curate’ a series of concerts taking place in the Southbank Centre; the purported aim is to encourage collaboration and experimentation, to bring in big-name draws but to encourage them to try out something a little different.

One suspects that being appointed ‘curator’ may have been something of a token gesture – a marketing opportunity, to reach out to a certain fan-base, more than an appointment made in order to further genuine artistic exploration. That said, legendary as he is in certain circles, Ornette Coleman is not necessarily the most marketable, or bankable, of artists, and the announcement of his curatorship this year raised hopes – or at least, more than the usual amount of curiosity. The presence of Moby and Yo La Tengo on the week-long bill was not a good sign, and there was something of a sense of opportunities missed – for instance, it might have been nice to have an evening dedicated to Ornette’s large-scale compositions – ‘Forms and Sounds for String Quartet’, ‘Skies of America’, and the like – or to have brought in some of the European free players (who were shoehorned off into a single night: the trio of Evan Parker, Marc Ribot and Han Bennink) to generate some creative tension and to juxtapose quite different approaches, to emphasise how much Ornette’s music was a move away from previous traditions and how it influenced new lineages, to bring the root into contact with some of its furthest-flung branches. Nonetheless, James Blood Ulmer, the Liberation Music Orchestra and The Roots (joined on this occasion by David Murray and by veteran saxophonist Andy Hamilton, in a tribute to Fela Kuti) made up for the commercial concessions, and Ornette himself seemed to revel in the opportunities provided, appearing onstage most nights to jam with the various acts

As on most days, there were free performances clustered around the main event. The location for these, the Free Stage, could be found in front of an array of beanbags and trendy stools, tucked away in a little corner among the gleaming, light-filled spaces of the Festival Hall. On this particular occasion – the last day of the festival– it witnessed a lengthy improvisational experiment by a group led by Leafcutter John, in which the musicians responded to graphic-score-type cues, created from audience suggestions. It went on way too long, and the tendency of the ‘rhythm section’ to try and play like a jazz rhythm section meant that there were moments which got dangerously close to noodling and dull groove-riding; that said, the presence of a number of stringed instruments (electric violin, cello and bass) was a nice textural combination, perhaps shown off to best effect in a section entitled ‘Peking Opera’, and there was some extremely fine playing, on clarinet and saxophones, from Mr Shabaka Hutchings, a young player who’s been cropping up in various improvisational contexts recently, and who, on this showing, has some very interesting things to say on his instruments. Soaked in sweat at the end, the sheer effort he put into his performance even while others seemed to be coasting was exemplary, and his brief nudging of the music into bona-fide free-jazz territory provided the best moments of the performance.

The Master Musicians of Jajouka, who had been performing free shows around the Southbank Centre all week, and who had joined Ornette’s band on-stage for one number the previous Friday, performed a half-hour set. Divided equally between drummers and reed players, their music came out as blocks of rhythmic unison, leader Bachir Atta playing phrases which the other players closely followed, slight delays between each line giving the effect of a Reichian pulse movement. It did feel as though the music lost something from the context, and the awkward clap-along which ensued when one drummer took to the front of the stage and performed a semi-dance heightened this even more: this music feels like it was made either for more open, less formal public spaces, with room for dancing or squatting or standing, and the physical reaction it evinced was forcibly restrained by the western concert-hall setting.

This was music which settled on one idea and ran with it, with little variation besides the abrupt song-transitions, which Atta would signal by playing a new melody. The focus, then, is not western, progression-oriented forms, and something of this comes through in Ornette’s own playing, such as the lengthy improvisations on ‘Chappaqua Suite’, where the unfolding of ideas on a similar plane is not about building up to emotional climaxes, as the Coltrane-tradition of saxophone players in particular emphasise (though Coltrane himself tended to reach that peak of intensity and stay there, more than building up or building down), but about the constant stream of ideas within particular parameters which are open to change but which are not under the force of having to change.

The festival itself, with its proclaimed desire to mix artists and encourage new collaborations, risked being a ‘melting-pot’ in name only – collaborations that were occasional, polite, and something of a formality. But it actually worked here, as Ornette’s current band – a quartet with electric bassist Al McDowell (playing in the instrument’s high register and essentially filling the role of guitarist (rather too politely, it must be said – James Blood Ulmer, who also played the Festival, would surely have been the better choice)), acoustic bassist Tony Falanga, and Deonardo Coleman on drums – ran through their usual setlist with their customary brevity (songs tend to run no more than five minutes), but then adapted to the presence of a number of guests.

The first of these, Baaba Maal, strolled on stage for just one number, a ballad, and his powerful voice lifted up in counter-melodic ecstasy to Ornette’s saxophone, though his contribution remained rather limited, as he seemed to be trying to work out how to fit into what was already a fine combination. Flea, best known as the bassist from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, was the main advertised guest, and there was much speculation before hand as to how he was going to fit in, but he’d clearly learnt the music, fitting straight into a difficult unison melody and generally providing understanding melodic patterning to go alongside McDowell and Falanga (though the sound mix was at fault here, with the electric bass mixed up way too high, nearly drowning out McDowell and making a mockery of Ornette’s core group philosophy, of a band all pursuing their own separate but complementary melodic strains).

After an hour or so, the Master Musicians once more took to the stage for a jam with the band, and, while at first the rhythm section seemed to find it a little hard to fit in, once Ornette started playing that became pretty much irrelevant, as his burning alto lifted over the two bands playing behind him, so that they became a wash of colour, a wall of sound, psychedelic indeed.

Applause was rapturous (perhaps a little too rapturous – as always at these occasions, it seems that the audience is willing to cheer anything to the rafters, including false starts), and the final number of the evening found Charlie Haden, lit mysteriously in shadow, joining Ornette and his son for a trio version of the inevitable ‘Lonely Woman’. While one couldn’t say that Ornette was exactly taking it easy through the rest of the concert, this seemed to be the most challenging context he’d found himself in so far, and it was a good chance to hear his improvisational thinking in a less cluttered context. Deonardo’s rhythmic touch can be a little heavy-handed at times, and he seemed to realise this, sitting out for long periods as the two old men duetted. Ornette’s playing was gleamingly melodic as ever, and Haden’s resonant plucking of course hearkened back to ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ performance, but his tendency to go off into folky Americana melodic noodlings did seem to run contrary to Ornette’s more carefully-shaped directions. That said, it was a nice way to cap off what was a fine evening: a fitting climax to a festival which, on this evidence, and according to reports from the performances which led up to it, seems to have transcended the hype which might have proved its downfall. (David Grundy)

JAZZ A VIENNE 2009

Various Venues, 27th June – 10th July 2009

Arriving on the evening of 29th June, I missed the main gig, a double bill by big bands led by Gil Evans’ associate Laurent Cugny and the American Jason Lindner, the latter being particularly well-received by those I met who were at the concert. The festival therefore started for me with the wonderful Zozophonic Orchestra, who sounded like archaic country blues with slide guitar meeting Gerry Mulligan. The charismatic leader, guitarist and singer who went by the name of “Manouche” sang a range of standards such as “Trouble in mind” and “Stormy Weather “ and their set remained one of the most memorable of the festival at the scene de Cybele. The following Fred Nardin/ Jon Boutellier quartet were pretty good too.
The first main concert in the Theatre Antique was given over totally to Martial Solal and, although only half full, the audience that had assembled was very partisan. However, the set opened with Solal’s specially commissioned composition for six pianists with the Moutin Brothers playing bass and drums. The music consisted on written statements for the six keyboards interspersed with a solo feature for each musician, none of whom other than Solal seemed to have much identity, and the fragmentary nature of this work left everyone hoping that the following duet with the 91-year old Hank Jones would be better. Unfortunately, the Moutins seemed inappropriate for Jones’ clear, concise improvised lines and Solal’s angular interjections sat uncomfortably with the older musician’s more orthodox approach. The repertoire included a host of hackneyed standards like “Tea for two” and “Blue Monk” and the failure of Solal to let Jones solo without interference created a muddle rather than a duet between two master musicians. After this, Solal’s Dodectet took the stage with the strings from the Orchestre de L’Opera de Lyon in a programme of Solal’s more classical flavoured work, which took its cues from Serialist composers, with a lack of either melody or thematic material, let alone swing, that eventually cleared the venue of those that had remained. Solal’s daughter sang in a fashion not dissimilar to Norman Winstone. All in all, it was a pretty woeful experience and let me reluctant to go on to the club to listen to more music.
The following afternoon’s concert by the Cine Classics Band featured a wealth of Disney and other film tunes before the evening’s gig with Dave Sanborn and George Duke / Chaka Khan. Sanborn proved to be hugely effective and performed a set that payed homage to Ray Charles, Fathead Newman and Hank Crawford as well as old chestnuts such as “Basin Street Blues” and “St. Louis Blues” (in an adaptation of the Gil Evans score) and his band included several horns as well as Gene Lake’s drums and Ricky Peterson’s keyboards. After the previous evening’s debacle, this was more in keeping with what jazz is about and, as a live experience, much removed from his studio work. Ditto George Duke’s trio, which truly burned behind singer Chaka Khan, who proved far more adapt at jazz that you would have appreciated, even if she had a tendency to reach for the higher ranges from time to time. There was clearly a great deal of chemistry between Duke and the flirtatious Khan and their set was thoroughly enjoyable. However, the highlight of the evening was Duke’s performance of a stomping blues that was so good you didn’t want it to stop. Earlier in the day, the French soul group “Laome” had entertained the crowds on the Cybele stage with their collection of three talented singers and infectious grooves. The day for me concluded with drummer Anne Paceo’s trio who included a piano and bass in the line up. This music was much too similar to Brad Mehldau’s trio and it was difficult to retain interest after a handful of numbers.
The third day at the festival saw the Garfield High School Jazz Band take the stage in a programme of Ellington material but a sudden and violent rain storm meant that this excellent big band had to leave the stage and all subsequent concerts were cancelled. This didn’t bode well for the concert at the main venue where Roy Hargrove was to lead his big band for the first half and then return with his Funk / Rap outfit “RH Factor” for the second. The weather cleared up and Hargrove led his orchestra through a brilliant set that recalled recent bands such as Charles Tolliver’s, but was not averse to tipping their hat to earlier swing bands and Dizzy Gillespie’s wonderful group. Wearing a light grey suit, a pair of red and white Nike trainers and matching bow tie and a trilby, Hargrove seems to be reinventing himself as a jazz equivalent of Kanye West. The band played with brio and attitude. This was one of the festival highlights, especially when the fabulous jazz singer Roberta Gamabarini sang a couple of numbers. Almost as enjoyable was RH Factor although I wasn’t quite as struck on the rapper MC Solaar as the brilliant girl singer who remained un-credited in all of the festival brochures.
The next day I caught the strange Plan B 4Tet in the scene de Cybele and found the line up of accordion, clarinet, double bass and drums playing a kind of reggae-fied klezmer music not to my taste. The Brazilian-themed evening was a total non-event, with the vocal group “Trio Esperanca” leaving no impression and the following Gilberto Gil being nothing other than bland pop. The day was salvaged by catching guitarist Will Bernard’s trio with organist Will Blades and drummer Simon Lott smoking in the Club de Minuit: this would have pleased all fans of the recent John Scofield / MMW collaborations. For me, this is exactly the kind of group that typifies the difference between American and European groups and is indicative of the manner in which the former have an ability to truly go for the throat with no holds barred swinging. Like many American musicians, they can take the music right outside but the groove is the main thing and this is never sacrificed. Everyone at this gig went home happy and I was pleased to meet up with the leader afterwards who informed me that this group will be touring the UK in August. I would wholly recommend their appearances. This was another highlight of the festival.
On Saturday, I caught the Turkish / Italian pianist Murat Ozturk playing a solo recital at the museum across the river in St. Romain–en-gal. His opening number sounded like one of the most tranquil episodes of Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert and an abstract interpretation of “Darn that dream” intrigued but his tendency for introspection – which even saw “C-Jam Blues” build up to an anticlimax – soon bored. Indeed, he made Tord Gustavesen sound like Jerry Lee Lewis in the manner in which he tried to avoid excitement. Despite the enthusiasm of one of the piano-teachers at the workshop, Ozturk seemed indicative of what I feel is a negative influence in jazz piano. I regret that I am not enthusiastic about the current style of piano playing.
By contrast, the evening in the Theatre Antique was dedicated to the blues and the evening opened up with the personable French harmonica player Jean-Jacques Milteau who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jack Hargreaves of “Out of town” fame. Agreeable as his set was, Joe Louis Walkers cranked things up to a higher level with a feisty set only to be followed by Lucky Peterson’s group that saw the leader largely swap his guitar for a Hammond B3. He announced that it would be largely a jazz gig and, having worked the audience up with a rendition of “I can’t stand the rain,” there were little complaints from the audience. Peterson is a hugely engaging performer and a great entertainer. I thought that his set, which continued well in to the early hours of the morning, was brilliant and it was apparent that he was enjoying himself so much too that he didn’t wish to leave earlier. The repertoire took on a whole host of favourites from soul numbers to Horace Silver and Robert Johnson.
If you want any proof of Blue Note’s demise as a credible jazz label then their artist Raul Midon’s opening set on Sunday was proof. Playing solo guitar and singing, this was folk-pop music and whilst obviously appealing to the audience, was a bit tame in my estimation. More to my liking was the group SMV which saw three bass guitar titans in the form of Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten take to the stage accompanied by a keyboard player and drummer. On paper, this could have been a recipe for disaster, but the attention to writing served to ensure that this concert was musically rewarding and hugely entertaining. Miller was the star of the show and I suspect that it was his craftsmanship that ensured this was such a success. Homage was made to the late Michael Jackson with renditions of “Human nature” and “Beat it”, demonstrating that his music is probably held in much higher esteem by musicians than the jazz audience. Victor Wooten’s bass was a new experience for me and I thought that he was easily the equal of the other two. Jazz as entertainment, maybe, but who is complaining if the results are as good as this?
If anything, the Monday was even worse than the Brazilian night. The afternoon had been promising with the guitar-led group “Rencontre” but I missed most of singer Yael Naim’s set dedicated to the music of Joni Mitchellm, which featured the flugelhorn of Stephane Belmondo as I was playing with a group from one of the workshops. Her set was followed by that of the smarmy singer Seal who guaranteed the biggest audience of the festival and the wrath of the local paper “Le Dauphine” which described his music as “soul music without a soul.” The difference between Seal’s music and the jazz which made up most of the festival was immense and the lack of any real music in this gig warranted the wrath of the jazz purists. I didn’t even think that he had that great a voice either – maybe this is something that has been fabricated in the studio. It was plastic music for people with cloth ears. Again, the day was rescued at the Club de Minuit where people looking for proper music could hear Nasheet Waits’ “Equality,” featuring Stanley Cowell, Tarus Mateen and Logan Richardson on alto. This pushed contemporary jazz to its boundaries with improvisations that frequently kicked away the bar lines and structure of the music in some of the fastest and most furious time / no changes jazz I have heard. Mateen and Waits are joined at the hip as a rhythm team and Cowell was immense at the piano, occasionally distorting the sound of the grand piano through his lap top. Logan Richardson is yet another name to look out for and his cool, acidic playing fitted perfectly in place with this wondrous music. Again, proof, if needed, that a gulf does still exist between jazz in Europe and the States. Personally, I didn’t feel that the much-vaunted Martial Solal was in the same league as Stanley Cowell.
Poor weather again marred the free gigs in the Scene de Cybele. The Big Band de Savoie delivered a great set that included some music by Mingus but the abandoning of the Jazz School Studio band set by another American college band disappointed many fans like myself who find these groups to be of an exceptionally high standard. In the evening, singer Kevin Mahogany played the first half of the evening in a set that was clearly influenced by the repertoire from his home town of Kansas City. The coupling with singer Kathy Kosins proved an excellent foil and the band, billed as the “Godfathers of Groove” (Red Holloway on tenor, Grant Green Jr on guitar, Reuben Wilson on organ and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums) were great. It was disappointing to see that they had no CDs of this line up on sale and their concert was particularly good. Fans of the music of Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams would have been particularly pleased. A “big thumbs-up” is also due to Red Holloway, not a name heard too often but someone from an earlier generation of players who seemed to deliver some great solos with consummate ease that is missing from many of today’s jazz wannabees.
This set was followed by opera singer Barbara Hendricks’ concert with the flat-pack, ready-to-assemble Magnus Lindgren quartet. Dressed in black, Hendricks sported a demeanour that suggested her evening of “singing the blues” would be serious affair. Unfortunately, she had no aptitude for jazz and failed to reign in the operatic tendencies so that the music was at once dreadful and unintentionally comic. The results were so shocking that it beggared belief. Luckily, Esperanza Spalding’s quartet in the Club de Minuit then played until early into the morning that was so spell-binding that the earlier events were quickly forgotten. A fantastic bassist as well as singer, this was the most exciting gig of the whole festival and the rapturous applause that greeted her final number was totally deserved.
On the Wednesday, the Truro College Jazz band flew the flag for British jazz and continued to deliver a set of polished original arrangements that set them apart from their American counterparts and offered something completely different from a medium – sized big band. The warm response to their concert was wholly deserved – someone should get the word out in the UK just how good this band is.
Again, I missed the first half of the concert in the Theatre Antique due to the fact that I was struggling elsewhere in a band from the workshop, but the combination of Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright, Angelique Kidjo and “Simone,” in a tribute to the latter’s mother, Nina, was explosive. Backed by Nina Simone’s original band, all four singers were superb but Lizz Wright was exceptional. Dianne Reeves clearly demonstrated why she remains the greatest female singer on the current jazz scene whilst the Beneniose singer Angelique Kidjo added a more esoteric approach provided a welcome contrast. This was another brilliant evening. The night concluded with Blue Note recording artist pianist Aaron Parks’ trio with Ben Street on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Still only 25 years old, the music initially seemed a little tame but the bass and drums helped kick the music along. Again, I could not help thinking about the similarity with Brad Mehldau’s approach and whilst Parks does seem to be a slightly more rugged performer, you couldn’t help thinking that there are plenty of other pianists out there in the world of jazz with a more robust approach to the music who are probably more deserving of the attention.
My final day at the festival saw me catching up with Herve Sellin’s Tentet, fronted by the pianist and composer and including a five piece front line of horns plus vibes and rhythm. Whilst clearly influenced by Wynton Marsalis, Hellin served his apprenticeship with Johnny Griffin and led his group through a set that recalled the work for larger ensembles by Stan Tracey. This was about the only straight- ahead / hard bop group that played a Vienne this year and is perhaps indicative of the lessening hold on the music as a whole. Well written and executed and always swinging, I must feel that this band sounded like it had gate-crashed its own party.

Sellin’s group was followed by the bi-annual visit of Wynton Marsalis and the LCJO. Perhaps the frequency of the visit accounted for the indifferent size of the audience or maybe they were hip to the fact that this band now seems increasingly irrelevant. The best moments were in Ted Nash’s scores dedicated to painters Matisse and Jackson Pollock – the latter clearly written to sound like the Ornette Coleman group of the late fifties despite the fact that Pollock was actually a Trad fan. These scores were great but Marsalis’ writing is, at best, indifferent – rather like sub-standard Ellington. A rendition of Fletcher Henderson’s arrangement of Ravel’s “Bolero” was ragged. The LCJO is an odd beast for there are repertory bands that play the older material far more effectively whereas the new compositions are nowhere as near as bold as those being written by the likes of Maria Schneider, Bob Brookeyer, John Hollenbeck, Michael Mossman , etc that remain more representative of where jazz is as the second decade of the 21st Century approaches. As a consequence, this was a somewhat muted ending to the main theatre for me this years and I regret that the need to catch the early train the next day meant that I didn’t catch all of the set by Baptiste Trotignan with Mark Turner, Jeremy Pelt and Eric Harland: what I caught of the first half sounded extremely good.

LINKS

Musicians’ Websites

 

Youtube Footage of Performances from Festival Jazz à Vienne 2009

 

(Ian Thumwood)

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