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Live Reviews

Jazz In Marciac Festival: Days 14-15 and "Best Of" Awards

By Published: August 26, 2005
Best fusion

Newtopia Quintet: This wasn't even close and even on day three of 14 I didn't think it would be. The group led by saxophonist Raphael Imbert, who recruited students from the conservatory where he teaches as fellow players, played some of the most passionate and interactive contemporary fusion I've heard in years. Many groups stand out playing experimental and uber varieties, but being accomplished at something aimed at a large audience is a rare gift. Imbert's long-form compositions cover everything in the range of his influences from Duke Ellington to Albert Ayler, yet somehow always retain a lyrical quality. Alas, no recordings from the group yet.

Also deserving mention: Newtone, Owi Quintet, Alain Brunet Quintet

Best vocalist

Florance Grimal: Her wide-ranging and spontaneous deep voice, possessing that soulfulness making the difference between performing a song instead of just singing it, would be solid on any set of standards. But the enjoyment was racked up a notch by skillful rearranging of some well-known pieces, coming off as genuinely creative efforts than smoltz. I'm still not sure how this is possible with something like an up-tempo "Suicide Is Painless" but, yes, she actually pulled it off.

Fredee A (yes, just one letter); Sandy Patton (might have won for several days of consistent excellence, but she's from Switzerland)

Best individual player

Emile Parisien: In my day seven assessment of his band, I described the saxophonist's work as a mix of both intellectual post-bop and freeform intensity, punctuated by tension-inducing notes as much as space to break things up - yet somehow without overwhelming the senses. The effort was there for every show of his I heard and he seldom seemed short of ideas.

Benjamin Dousteyssier, Michel Zenio

Best student/youth performance

Combo De 3eme 2005: Maybe it's a family thing, even if I don't normally put much stock in such things. This quartet includes clarinetist Jean Dousteyssier - presumably the younger brother of the above-mentioned Benjamin, proved capable of deep and still enjoyable original long-form fusion, while still pulling off credible modern- style takes of classics, during a day featuring performances from the music program at Marciac's college.

Also deserving mention: La Bande A Petri, Ainama Sextet

Best crowd pleaser

La Mecanica Loca: This 10-member Afro/Cuban ensemble stole the award during the final days by being the only band to get a significant number of people out of their chairs and up front dancing - and for multiple shows, no less. With all the big names gone for the final two days of the festival, scheduling them as the wrap-up act on the last day of late-night shows (the second to last overall) meant sending things out with a strong street-party flavor.

Also deserving mention: Batuque Usina's African percussion processions around the square during the first week; the Sweet Mama Quartet.

Lesser moments

The Mathieu Bore Quartet's tepid Elvis and rockabiliy; Sophie Sorman's Latin-accented pop-jazz; the Francois Chassagnite Quintet's Bob James-like smooth fusion.

Favorite album

Christian Ton-Ton Salut, Ali-Aba

Note the slight hitch in wording - other albums may be superior in terms of artistry and originality, with Salut's 2001 Be Hip Be Bop possibly among them. But this 1986 release is the one from Marciac I'm likely to listen to most because of the character the drummer achieves doing something that seldom works: Taking kids songs like "Chim Chim Cheree" (Salut says John Coltrane's rendition is one of his favorites and global folk like "Risantirti" (from the high Nepalese mountains) and making true jazz out of them. "Pinnocchio" is a freeform drums/sax/vocal experimentation of the more straight-ahead "When You Wish Upon A Star" also featured here. Great stuff for thinking listeners and still recognizable enough they can play it for their kids and use it as an entry point for the genre.

Album needing improvement

College De Marciac, Lile Au Jazz

I'm sorry - I know this is a student recording and my natural bias is to root for it, but there's too much quality on other albums of this sort - as well as a few songs on this one - to feel good about this unremarkably arranged and inconsistent effort. When players are allowed to stand out in solos or small subsections they succeed more often than not, but most of the songs possess too much of an ensemble characteristic associated with marching bands. Hardest words for me to write in this roundup and it's a great souvenir, but unlike to get much play beyond letting others hear the handful of decent moments as a sampling of the esteemed school's achievements.

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