Jazz In Marciac Festival: Day 6
An early evening show by the Francois Chassagnite Quintet fell into the mediocre category, with their show of largely low-key fusion lacking depth. There were some interesting twists such as a slightly atonal "Take The A Train" with a waltz bridge thrown in, but others - one sounded like a derivative of the theme from "Taxi" - slipped out of consciousness as they were played.
The night's featured concerts under the big tent got off to a great start, as two young girls I encountered selling programs a few days earlier and tipped for their enthusiasm did a spontaneous a cappella "Lullaby of Birdland" after spotting me in my usual isolated seat in the back bleachers (a good place to be, thanks to massive video screens, until one needs to enter the melee to take pictures and such).
What followed was a disappointment.
The Sarah Lazarus Quartet performed a competent set of standards from the Billie Holliday to Sarah Vaughn eras, but nothing close to something deserving premier billing on a Saturday night at a festival with the magnitude of featured artists. Audience reaction, it should be noted, was considerably more enthusiastic than mine.
Lazarus is a pro and her mid-range vocals from the get-right-to-it opening of "Devil May Care" showcased dead-on lyrical precision mixed with frequent modest pitch jumps. There wasn't a wrong note, but the whole presentation was short in quality and soul compared to other popular singers of such material such as Madeleine Peyroux or even Diana Krall. The sterile quality carried over to her instrumental trio, with many solos predictably close to home and too short for real development. As a midday show it'd be competitive, but not as a prelude to perhaps the festival's biggest attraction.
Like I said, the crowd got into it.
Which brings things to Marsalis Twilight Time.
Seeing as how he's got a longtime spot somewhere on my top 20 "we're not worthy" list, it's possible he could have turned in a performance worthy of Chuck Magione and I'd have found something nice to say. But even turning the "ante-groupie" radar up a bit to compensate for possible bias, it proved worthy of the warm intimacy Marsalis said he appreciates about Marciac and the festival.
"It's always about swinging and quality, no matter what goes on in the world, because everything is just getting louder and louder anyway," he told the audience.
Just being backstage beforehand (gotta love those press passes) was intriguing, listening to individuals and subsections from the string ensemble going through warm-ups in the lawn area. It created a garden party atmosphere with a quaint dignity the rather well picked-over spread of wine and petit fours didn't. (By the way, lines for the porta-potties- to-the-stars may be considerably shorter than the proletariat endure in scores, but they didn't have any toilet paper, either. I like to think I did my daily bit for humanity by leaving behind the roll I tend to carry in my pack where supplies tend to be scarce.
A range of understated emotions - peaceful, melancholy, uplifting - characterized the set of standards, from Marsalis' whispering trills on "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry" to his old-school wah-wah cheerfulness on "Baby Won't You Please Come Home." But the strength the sparse canvases allowed the quintet came at the expense of the string ensemble (consisting of mostly, if not all, regional players if I understood the introductions properly). Some off-color work by them during the opening of the latter song, for instance, made me realize how little I'd heard their seamless blending in elsewhere.
Oddly, the best moment came on a song where Marsalis didn't play a note.
Local bassist and teacher Pierre Boussaget, who Marsalis composed "B is for Boussaget (and Bass)" for as part of the Marciac Suite album, came on stage near the end of the concert. During an unaccompanied upright acoustic solo to open the trumpeter's "Free To Be," he and Marsalis locked gazes from a few feet away and never broke eye contact. It's one thing to introduce someone with whom you claim to have a connection, another too see it so powerfully illustrated in such a large setting. Boussaget's swinging phrases were more easygoing than scholarly, but he went through an abundance of them as pianist Marcos Nimrichter and drummer Herlin Riley came in with some light support. Bassist Carlos Hernandez joined Boussaget and for the rest of the song they passed the bass between them, alternating phrases. Such moments aren't always successful, or take refuge in crowd-pleasing pandering, but their linkage stood out, sometimes continuing lines where they dropped off and sometimes starting others logically linked in the progression. While not as intimate as "the stare," it nonetheless imparted a message of two people with strong lines of communication.