Jazz In Marciac Festival: Day 4
The walk to the main concert tent unearthed the usual diverse lineup of scattered small acts at various cafes (all unnamed here since I was running late): intriguing Klezmer and similar ethnic jazz by a young group featuring players often working out the roots of the compositions to scant accompaniment; an acoustic quartet doing it's part to discover complex possibilities within the simple framework of "All Blues;" a guitar-led set by older players doing something from the Django Reinhardt era; a guy sitting in a narrow street off the main drag playing a thumb piano nested in a wooden bowl (seeking a reverb effect, I guess) for pocket change.
For The Blind Boys Of Alabama, perhaps the most fitting phrase is redemption.
An impatient crowd awaited the seven-member R&B gospel group as they started 20 minutes late and, while they warmed a bit to some early numbers like "The Spirit In The Sky" and "Down By The Riverside" that were short and straightforward, it was a show that built momentum as it progressed.
Vocalist Jimmy Carter got the first above-and-beyond reaction from the crowd doing some howling, heying and hahing on the group's popular "Way Down In The Hole" and they got another roar for doing "Amazing Grace" to the cadence of "House Of The Rising Sun" (gotta love the versatility of the latter - it's also a good anchor for "O Little Town Of Bethlehem"). But the real energy came next on a lengthy and loose "Look Where You Brought Me From," with Carter wandering among the audience with the assistance of a guide, singing, scatting and shaking hands as he went. It got the crowd on their feet, clapping and trading shouted "heys." If the goal was a large-scale revival feeling, it was accomplished during those 20 minutes.
It provided enough energy to keep the crowd enthusiastic through two not-quite-as-high encores, although it's worth noting that even with them the 75-minute concert was a bit short compared to featured acts on previous nights.
Similarly, the night's second featured concert by the Taj Mahal Trio occupied "mixed positive" territory.
A need to make deadline for articles related to earlier stuff forced me to "subcontract" assessment to a couple of pros taking part in a Brickhouse Productions tour. Law Hamilton, a Rockport, Mass., photographer whose pictures of the featured concerts are seen here, offered the more positive assessment, calling the guitarist and pianist "flirtatious," and the mix of old and new material generally an audience hit.
"The benches were moving, everybody was just leaning back and getting into the blues," she said. "I think his band with three pieces was much richer than I expected it. No grand things like going into the crowd, but still he was charismatic."
Eric Jackson, a radio producer and announcer for WGBH radio in Boston, said "he did an exciting show, but I've seen him more exciting." In Marciac, Mahal didn't quite bring the spark and fire of his best work.
"That was the only group that didn't get a rousing ovation," Jackson said. "He seemed like he was looking at his watch. I didn't catch it, but somebody else said he did."
Both Hamilton and Jackson said the 11 p.m. concert was shorter than expected.
"We were out of there earlier than any other night," Jackson said. "We were in the bus by 12:30 p.m. and most nights we weren't in there until quarter after one."
But if day four fell a bit short on quality and quantity, the chance to head home early and catch up on rest before a packed weekend slate probably was at least timely for many. Like most extended works of jazz, breathing space between highlights is frequently essential for appreciating them.
Coming up on day five: The students of Marciac's notorious jazz education program take the stage.