Jazz In Marciac Festival: Day 7
Pianists leading a trio of featured concerts, rather than usual two, plus another rare night featuring major acts on a second stage were in the spotlight on day seven of the 28th annual Jazz In Marciac Festival. But the highlight might have been one of the daytime regional performers securing a solid nomination for top honors among those heard during the two-week event.
Paris saxophonist Emile Parisien, who grew up in southern France and studied jazz at the college in Marciac, performed a seven-part original suite with his quartet on the village square stage. His playing was wickedly demonstrative, playing loose Coltrane-, Shorter- and freeform-style flurries on alto and soprano, with high notes and off-kilter ones frequently substituting for space. In the wrong hands this can be overwhelming; here the overall sense of tension and release was preserved well enough for listener inclusiveness.
The interaction between players might not have been gold medal stuff, but it ranked among the contenders as Parisien's intensity was generally matched through a variety of backdrops from swing to modernistic. But they also proved adept during the gentler moments one expects with this type of long-form composition, with pianist Julien Touery on one unaccompanied transition mixing Monk-like air with deft coloring from the McCoy Tyner era. Little of the performance felt simple, especially with drummer Sylvain Darrifourc's heavy textures adding tension nearly always hovering between moderate and severe.
Parisien said the composition is untitled (something I've encountered with several artists here) and didn't have a description for its theme beyond "spirituality." It wasn't his first acclaimed work of the festival - his alto playing as part of Wynton Marsalis' 13-member "My Brazilian Heart" ensemble was cited as a highlight of that day five show.
A subsequent concert by the Golden Groupe, the second band of the weekend featuring saxophonist and Marciac college graduate Benjamin Dousteyssier, was tighter on group collaboration - some of the best of week - if less mind-blowing individually during a performance I started to describe in my notes as "loose modern mainstream with just a hint of contemporary fusion." Not to cheat the band of further assessment, but I was starting to jot down details about them halfway through the show when I heard about the death of Cuban vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, who died in Havana during the weekend after performing his final concert in Marciac four days earlier, which sent me scrambling for details (as noted in a previous report, some attending the concert noted he was struggling and obviously in poor health).
I'm not sure why the death of someone I'd never heard perform threw me off - beyond the regret of bypassing his final show to hear locals playing on the "off" stages that night - but I took in the late afternoon and early evening stuff pretty casually while throwing together some quick notes about Ferrer.
The Karl Jannuska Quintet did a nice splicing of low rumbling thinking-man's blues and mainstream, much of which brought thoughts of David Sanborn's unconventional Another Hand album to mind, plus some modernist swing-pace pieces where mostly smooth lead lines and solos got spice from Jannuska's constant mix-it-up drum work.
Some subtle blues and soul came from an electric guitar/keyboard/drum trio (didn't catch their name) at the Cafe De Sports across from the village center square stage, only to get drowned out from where I was sitting by Madau Djembe's solo street performance on (what else) a djembe. It was interesting enough I contributed to both the hat for his CD and the one for spare change (admittedly, I'll buy almost any street musician album, especially those with no chance of being sold in stores).
The night concerts offered a chance to get a newbie's exposure to two acclaimed pianist- led trios, Omar Sosa and Abdullah Ibrahim (hey, everybody's a new listener at some point). Since I didn't try translating the French descriptions in the program I didn't know if I was in for Bill Evans or The Bad Plus. But it also means potentially being impressed or disappointed by things the experienced might see as old hat or different, so take my impressions as such.
As for Sosa, call me intrigued.
Maybe I was more susceptible to his showmanship than critics more familiar with him. The trio consisting of Sosa, bassist Childo Tomas and percussionist Miguel "Anga" Diaz walked onto the stage doing a moderately paced chant with something of a dark overtone, continuing it as they took their places and Sosa began out what I call (probably too often) "colorfully lyricism" - complex without jarring - on his "Intro To Elegua." Transitioning into "Mulaton," the opener stretched through 15 minutes of intense-to-delicate-and-back worldbeat exchanges, each player getting frequent turns at the audio forefront. It earned resounding applause from a concert tent perhaps three-fourths full.
Sosa, after paying tribute to Ferrer as "one of the greatest, one of the pioneers of ourmusic," played unaccompanied on "Breeze," with some barely audible texture-like vocals supplementing a ballad possessing what I noted as "soundtrack-like drama combined with classical depth." Diaz and Tomas joined in lightly, adding bird-like calls, percussion and vocal flourishes - maybe a mixed blessing as it made for a pleasing listen, but Sosa on his own was more appreciable.
The conclusion was also a bit of a drop-off, with Diaz doing a lively and long opening solo on the Cuban-laced "Tori Danzon," but it was a short rendition that ended before the trio established the momentum of most of the earlier songs. Sosa got the crowd doing the lyrics during an encore of the gentle Latin-paced "Iyawo," but it was a rather sedate ending to the 75-minute performance.
My musical intellect tells me Ibrahim probably played the better show, but there were problems affecting its heart.
The main one was the competing concert by bluesman Popa Chubby - and in this case I do mean competing. Even though his band was playing six blocks away, they were going at a full-tilt volume that noticeably invaded the audio space of Ibrahim's tranquility. Workers compensated somewhat by closing the tent entrances, but it earned Chubby scathing criticism for his inconsideration in a French newspaper review. They were also less than kind to the opening show on that stage by Albert Cummings, stating "Like the Fabulous Thunderbirds , Cummings plays basic rock that's a little demagogic." Thanks are owned to Paul De Barros of Downbeat and The Seattle Times for the translation, as well as other insight he's offered.
I mentioned Evans jokingly, but Ibrahim's trio was in the same league, although profiles comparing him to Ellington and Monk are doubtless more appropriate. His meditative opening "Blue Bolero" featured lots of space without feeling intellectually empty. The mood continued on a transition without pause (as he did all night) to "Duke 88" before at least a bit of mid-tempo heat entered on "Whoza Mtwana." Drummer George Gray settled into a fairly low volume galloping gait, and Ibrahim threw in a few thick and playful chording stabbings, but within a few minutes transitioned to the dark and moody drama of "The Call."
I'm throwing out the names of the songs like I know them, which I didn't - I looked them up from a setlist in the press office the next day. But they frequently felt familiar, or at least possessed that comfortingly reassuring quality. I felt like things might be getting a little syrupy, however, when I swore he was doing a variation on the Terms Of Endearment theme (I'm not risking further revelations of my ignorance by trying to match it with the actual title).
Maybe I'd have gone home more charged up sticking around for the third concert, a duet by pianists Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller, but there's something that drains willpower about an "around 1 a.m." listed starting time when the 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. concerts often start late. Sorry to cheat family, friends and the few readers stumbling upon these reports by accident, but it's going to happen again during the triple-feature Charlie Parker tribute on day eight. As Clint Eastwood puts it, "a man's got to know his limitations."
Coming up on day eight: Tributes to Charlie Parker by Stefano Battista and Phil Woods,