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Live Reviews

Jazz In Marciac Festival: Day 3

By Published: August 6, 2005
The suite opened with Imbert doing some drawn-out, freeform-like tones to a not-quite predictable vamp, with pianist Yaron Herman bringing in ascending tension with head- down intensity. Imbert's opening solo was lengthy and mournful, repeating occasional phrases for the tension's sake, but taking mournful low wails and escalating their pitch and frequency in two-steps-forward-one-back fashion. A deaf person probably could have followed the general concept merely through his bend, twist and foot-in-the-air body English.

The composition visited everything from chamber jazz to post-bop, generally figuring out some way to evolve into dark postmodern lyricism. Herman worked his way between gallop-like hits, riffing and running-scale flurries during one swing passage, alternating sitting and standing while doing so. Bassist Simon Pailleux exchanged some heavy unaccompanied thudding for gentle sustained-note bending before Herman rejoined with a simple vamp that others gradually rejoined and vastly expanded in vocabulary. There were few dull moments and very little to fault other than lacking an overall roadmap to sense which climactic buildup was indeed the pinnacle.

They didn't lose anything during their evening show, which I took in at listening distance in a cafe while catching up on the day's writing. As such I can't say for certain if an encore of the suite was part of the set, but some evolving long-form work was definitely involved.

It set a high bar heading to the main stage. Adding to the pressure, the Owi Quintet, which lit things up impressively in the town square the afternoon of day two, was playing a pretty good fusion/funk jam that had a crowd forming a line outside a cafe on the way there.

One can't say they didn't come out with all guns firing.

The Soul Bop Band was in high-speed rock fusion mode from the opening beat and seldom let up for its nearly two-hour show. Brecker's debut was the kind of machine-gun stuff a transcriber would need a Maxtrix-like time freeze to capture. Evans on tenor spent his opening solo firing short bursts of notes that constructed their own separate line, adding further complexity by working different ones in the lower and higher registers. They then traded a bunch of shots, playing around visually as well as audibly, before guitarist Hirum Bullock came in with his classic rock-tinged note and chord crunching.

One got the feeling these guys didn't feel any need to make a statement. Someone could have plugged a drum machine doing a non-stop four-beat drone into the amplifier and they'd have jammed until somebody cut off the power.

And so it went for the entire show. It was unquestionably an "A" performance by an all- star cast in glitter wrapping. It was 45 minutes before they played anything resembling a ballad - "Let's Pretend" - with keyboardist Dave Kikoski enhancing some familiar-feeling lines with a bit of extra drama and tonal deviation, following it up in a similar but deeper vein a few songs later on "Soul Bop." Otherwise their overwhelming intent seemed to be sending the crowd home (or to the second concert) happy. Bullock, for instance, drew a roar for working a slightly warped James Bond theme into "Don't Tease Me" and an even louder one for his into-the-crowd solo on the finale, relying on sustain effects and some deft aerobic maneuvers to keep it going while dealing with the task of getting back on stage.

How could one possibly find fault?

Well there was, for instance, something vaguely off about their playing only tunes from their new live double CD and constantly referring to it being for sale. Granted, the line to get autographed copies afterward might have finally exceeded the ones for the too-scarce restrooms, but there was a nagging sense of being a cog on the tour stop more than a listener.

Also, while the Bond licks were anything but representative of the players' artistic scope, reliance on such tricks and easy-to-follow repeating licks are more fast-food satisfaction than meat-and-potatoes nourishment. It was easy to appreciate their professionalism, but hard to feel touched by it.

If they represented the fire portion of modern fusion, then Marcus Miller was the ice.

Much of the work was similar funk/fusion thinking, but with a more casual sense in their mannerisms and performance. It wasn't quite the adrenaline rush of the Soul Bop Band, but close in terms of overall quality in other ways. The commercial element mostly took a pass and there was an emphasis on compositional diversity - Miller noted they played Stevie Wonder, Beethoven and Jimmy Hendrix during the opening songs alone.

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