ParisJazz Festival 2006
Paris Jazz Festival 2006
When Ahmad Jamal walked on stage at the Paris Jazz Festival, a crowd of 15,000 stood to applaud and cheer even before the 76-year-old pianist played a note.
The concert was the best twin bill of the eight-weekend summer festival - Ahmad Jamal Trio preceded by the Yusef Lateef/Belmondo Sextet. The annual series is staged at the Parc Floral at the eastern edge of Paris, offering 1,500 coveted seats in a covered amphitheater, with thousands more listeners scattered across the park's lawns.
Jamal confirmed his continuing strength and creativity while exploring standards such as "Time on My Hands, "It's Magic and, of course, his 1963 megahit "Poinciana. But originals dominated the program, including "Spanish Interlude and "Lament for a Dying Boy. Whether or not the songs were recognizable to this mostly younger audience, Jamal's stop-tempo, Jackson Pollackesque splash-and-dash style commanded their attention. The incredible hour-plus set featured a dozen songs, each richly melodic and solidly swinging, including five encores after the trio's first group bow.
Throughout the exhilarating set, acoustic bassist James Cammack delivered several inventive solos, but it was his ability to catch Jamal's fast-pitch shifts in pulse that most impressed. Soul-jazz drummer Idris Muhammed skillfully punctuated the pianistic plunges, his own solos erupting into loose-feeling but well-controlled segments of funk-meets-New-Orleans-streetbeat. (At the concert's end, he handed a pair of his sticks to Hugh Masekela in the VIP-section.)
Yusef Lateef, at age 85 blowing like an eager 30-year-old, performed the first set with the Paris-based Belmondo brothers. The sextet configuration did not mean that the octogenarian legend intended to take it easy. On the contrary, his estimable force and versatility was evident throughout as he played tenor sax, alto flute, bamboo flute and oboe for what he has called "autophysiopsychic music, coming from one's spiritual, physical and emotional self.
The program sampled the trio's collaborative double-album of originals, Influence, recorded last year in Paris. The Belmondos, who were teenagers when they discovered Lateef's recordings, both soloed and supplemented Lateef's ork, Lionel on soprano and tenor saxophones and flute, Stephane on trumpet, flugelhorn and conch shells.
I like to describe this as a "BYOBx3 festival - Bring Your Own Bottle (du vin), Blanket and Baguette. On Saturdays and Sundays during June and July, the park's acreage is filled with sunning and lolling youth and families. Cost of the concert is four euros, the park's regular admission. Early arrivals gain amphitheater seats, but the well-balanced amplification system assures that any space on the grass provides good listenability.
In the weekends before my arrival in Paris, the festival had featured performances by Roy Hargrove's RH Factor, Stacey Kent, Charles Lloyd, Tuck and Patti, Kenny Garrett, Buddy Guy and a "Soul Survivors lineup of Les McCann, Cornell Dupree and Ronnie Cuber, as well as a strong roster of European-based musicians.
The latter included Sarah Morrow and The American All-Stars in Paris. Leader Morrow is a trombonist and vocalist who toured Europe and Japan at age 25 with Ray Charles and his orchestra before relocating to Paris.
Morrow is a first-rate musician and a charismatic entertainer, her plunger-mute "talking in the jubilant style of the late Al Grey. Her original tribute to Ray Charles, "Good Music Medicine, activated every jazz trombone element known to the experienced ear, from slowly searing to joyously rowdy. She left the stage to walk the aisles, improvising quotes from "Frere Jacques and other familiar melodies, soon earning a standing ovation.
Hal Singer, 86-year-old tenor saxophonist, delivered growly smears and throaty vocals, shifting fully into funkdom on the closing encore of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be. He and the all stars made it seem as if things were in the world of swinging jazz.
The ex-patriate aggregation recently released a CD, Sarah Morrow and The American All Stars in Paris featuring Rhoda Scott and Hal Singer (Loop Productions OP107, 2006). Organist Scott was on another tour, ably replaced by Paris organist Stefan Patry. He delivered dual-keyboard swipes that complemented the horns, solidly supported and fueled by bassist Peter Giron and drummer John Betsch. In a guest spot was Irish blues guitarist-vocalist Sean Carney, a nephew of Morrow's first trombone teacher, Gary Carney, who still writes arrangement for her.
Two other Paris jazz festivals sandwich this one: Jazz a la Villette in early September had the theme "Black Rebels for 12 days of ticketed events including concerts, films and discussions celebrating the Afro-American culture. Performers included Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Mingus Dynasty, Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra, Guru's Jazzmatazz and more, but my eagerly anticipated concert by Abbey Lincoln was cancelled. The smaller La Defense Jazz Festival on weekends in June and July featured mostly European musicians, plus David Murray and Madeleine Peyroux.