Jazz In Marciac Festival: Days 14-15 and "Best Of" Awards
L'Atelier cafe: I can't say I hear everything, nor the best acts on the best nights, but I tried to circle the blocks a couple of times every evening to at least get a sense of who was playing. The Cafe Maccintosh had a livelier party atmosphere, the Cafe De Sport better ambiance in the main town square and a number of others better menus. But the L'Atelier (translation: workshop) consistently had the most important thing from my possibly skewed perspective - talented groups of young hungry players going full-tilt at everything from traditional to funk to salsa. They didn't always draw huge or attentive crowds - many diners were on the separate garden patio courtyard - but it seldom seemed to affect happenings on stage.
Not being able to find Marsalis' The Marciac Suite. I know he originally didn't want it sold and gave away plenty of copies to locals, but Columbia's been selling it for years now. It's baffling if there's some kind of commercialism stigma about selling it here because there's no shortage of it from people selling everything else.
Best business makeover for one of the numerous fois gras shops
Internet cafe: OK, this comes from a guy writing for the Web and I realize it's an ancient historic village. But they do have the technology, with the press area and some private entities wired during the festival. But I found only one public possibility, a hard-to- find aging machine in a small hotel, and a lot of people were approaching me while I was working on my laptop wondering if I was wired and if there was any way to access e-mail and news from home. Heck, use spill-proof keyboards and an entrepreneur could still sell wine and duck liver on toast to patrons - it'd make a better "Hey, mom, guess what I'm doing now" message anyhow.
John Zorn: Calling Zorn disciplined is like calling the Iraq situation under control, but this show seemed dominated more by extra energy, tightness between his already exceedingly compatible Acoustic Masada quartet and a locking in with the crowd than by pure eclecticism. It wasn't safe - as I noted in my report from the day of the show, it just made it easier to appreciate what everybody was contributing individually and collectively. Trumpeter Dave Douglas was near perfect alternating in harmonic support and clashes, drummer Joey Barron's turbo engine in the perfect top-gear vehicle and bassist John Pattiticci showing flair on the wild as well as his better-known intellectual side. Zorn, of course, showed he can play pretty much anything anytime he wants - and there were some who found him too strange, for sure - but those knowing what to expect couldn't have hoped for much more.
Wynton Marsalis Quintet And Strings: Tougher call here, but the nod goes to the festival's "godfather" for a mostly intelligent, low-key and personable performance - the way Marsalis said things ought to be in Marciac. The eyes-locked exchange with local guest bassist Pierre Boussaget during his unaccompanied solo (described in my day six update) was the most intimate moment from an audience seat during the major performances. If the string section had taken a more active role, as an ensemble did during Phil Woods' tribute to Charlie Parker a couple of days later, this would be a clearer winner.
Also deserving mention: Ravi Coltrane, Stefano Di Battista, Monty Alexander
Randy Weston: This might be miscast, as his African Rhythm Trio has plenty of conventional presence, but the overall worldbeat flavor and reasons for standing out land it here. Chief among them was bassist Alex Blake's all-inclusive lead, rhythm and percussion solos on his upright, both during long unaccompanied stretches and getting an extra boost from Weston and drummer/percussionist Herlin Riley. Weston was more meditative than on fire, but pleasingly so, and Blake's work was an appreciation of his various instruments assembled progressively into a longer overall thesis. Few dull moments and a lot of outstanding ones.
Also deserving mention: Omar Sosa; Soul Bop Band (played only from their new CD and pitched it far too often, but no arguing it was a seasoned group of pros playing well).
Ibrahim Ferrer: A no-brainer special mention since the Cuban vocalist performed the last concert of his life here before dying of illness in Havana four days later. The concert wasn't great because he was in obviously poor heath, but numerous musicians paid various tributes to him during subsequent shows and the final performance ensures he will always have an extra connection to Marciac's colorful jazz history.