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Live Reviews

Jazz In Marciac Festival, Day 1

By Published: August 3, 2005
Some ethnic spice showed up about the same time early diners were digging into their fois gras de jour, as French vocalist Mina Agossi led her bass/percussion trio on a mix of compositions ranging from standards to a mid-funk rendition of Jimmy Hendrix's "Third Stone From The Sun." Her vocals weren't always defined with ideal clarity, but her sense of showmanship and energy was constant. Her scat work ranged from low-ends getting about as close to Louis Armstrong as a woman might hope for to some animal-like squeals on "Third Stone." The minimal ensemble also worked well off each other, with bassist Alex Hiele in particular contributing some colorfully off-kilter experimental thoughts.

Multiple acts started getting underway in the "off" venues around 8 pm, although I did little more than listen to Dixie and mainstream/funk groups competing for listening space in the main square for a few minutes before making the ten-minute walk to the main event tent (the quick-listen nod goes to the latter group, Batuque Usina, another group playing shows later during the festival that will hopefully get fuller assessments).

The night's featured concerts are what I reluctantly acknowledge as "I know jack" experiences, meaning zero previous exposure to well-known musicians. Assessment of such shows is pretty much limited to the basics of whether the virgin experience proves enjoyable.

After trying to adjust to rustic village life, the opening of Gilberto Gil's quintet was culture shock in reverse as flashing spotlights, massive video screens and a packed crowd of unknown thousands squeezed into the main stage tent. From start to finish Gil played to an audience well tuned into his wavelength, with consistent give-and-take chorus lyrics, hand-clapping and roars of approval for songs mellow and intense.

That said, what I heard was a polished 100-minute show tight in presentation, but lacking some of the innovative inspiration and individuality associated with the best of jazz. Talking with those seated near me, I got several "he put on a good show" comments, but no dazzling remarks that might accompany a landmark performance. Some of the loudest early applause, for instance, came on a light reggae/Brazilian rendition of "Imagine" which, while lacking the cheesy element such covers can possess, didn't offer much beyond familiarity to recommend the response. More deserving of some fun-if-not-overly-serious acclaim might be in order for their treatment of "Don't Worry 'Bout A Thing," giving it a near country-rock accent with Cicero Assis' contribution on accordion and Sergio Chiavazzoli on banjo. Closing numbers, seemingly familiar to the audience, if not to me - also featured some noteworthy solo moments as vehicles for the introducing the band's members.

The 11 pm performance by Jorge Ben Jor and his seven-member crew was similar in many ways - polished and well-done, but less intriguing overall with considerably less audience participation and a more even feel overall among songs. Fans no doubt got what they came for, but nothing stood out enough for me to considering joining the hardcore among their ranks. To say more feels unfair, given my acknowledged ignorance of his work.

That said, the evening didn't end on a downer note. Early days at festivals are largely about orientation and one of the things I discovered walking back to my car near the square - facing a 45-minute drive to my bed - was numerous small acts along the blocks. Many seemed to be wrapping up or between sets, but the idea of being able to seek out area talent playing stuff I might actually be able to relate to easier when the main fare wanders from my areas of interest was reassuring. Expect a look at some of them, in lieu of some "name" acts outside the jazz realm, as the festival progresses.

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