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Live Reviews

Montreux Jazz Festival 2010: Grand Geneva Finales

By Published: August 12, 2010
"Sultans of Swing," done virtually note for note as a quartet, might as well have been Dire Straits over twenty five years ago. Knopfler nailed the now standard solo with precision that made it seem new, not like something he's done a million times. Judging from the jungle land reaction, that blazing interlude was the point of the whole exercise for some customers anyway, and why not? If you've got a proven body of work like Knopfler's, flaunt it.

The key to Knopfler's success tonight was not straying too much from the soul of his source song pool. Nothing helps a show keep crucial momentum like an audience consistently cheering the opening chords of song after song. Brief introductory passages on familiar themes that could be termed industrial folk were preludes for some pieces, but such flute or keyboard solos soon led to heartily recognized refrains.

Knopfler featured four fine tunes from Sailing to Philadelphia (Mercury 2000) , "What It Is," "Prairie Wedding" and the title track, which highlighted Knopfler's ability to create life like characters. Tonight on "Speedway at Nazareth," a proven crowd favorite and concert fixture, the band probably hit at least a 9 on the 10 scale performance wise.

One of the only instances when the spell was briefly broken came during "So Far Away," which plodded predictably in comparison to the rest of the set list. The assembled swarm was oblivious to any letdown, if indeed there was one. Even a cynic would have to admit that Knopfler's efforts were highly agreeable to a broad public, while many spectators acted like it was the show of the year. When Knopfler and crew basked in the cliché-proof, heartfelt standing ovation then toasted the audience, fans literally bolted for the bar to return the favor.

Knopfler broke from the last harness with a lit up thumb and index finger, then came out of his chair with serious intentions for the climactic jams of "Telegraph Road." Get a close up of the hundred fevered faces in the stage left standing area forty feet from Knopfler's reverbing amps, and put this one in the Montreux time capsule.

A sterling version of "Done With Bonaparte" had the simmering crowd swaying across Stratocaster waves to a shore of bliss. The roaring response verified that while Knopfler isn't the most dynamic front man, he remains one of the most powerful. Tonight was a clinic on how Knopfler possesses one of the most popularly recognizable voices and equally identifiable guitar tone signatures on the planet. The set was a triumph of both intellect and riffs.

There were plenty of pleasures to be had outside the primary walls of sound, a proverbial feast for the senses. Anyone strolling along the lake path could stop for either basic or exotic refreshment as a Swiss sky of soundtrack music seemed to blend forever along the flowered trail.

Phoenix headed a tastefully fashionable night of lean machine rock in Miles Davis Hall, which included brief freeze frame opening sets of early 21st century style avant-garde by Solange La Frange and Yacht. Touring off the success of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2/Universal2009), the six shooters had to extend some catchy drones to stretch their heavy strobe hour and fifteen minute set, but most of their effects-based presentation was enjoyable, and they did indeed rock. If none of it was pre-recorded (and that's a technical question, not a negative insinuation) then it was a very commendable little concert, and marks Phoenix as one of the better new French outfits.

Contrary to guidelines for the Knopfler show, cell phone photos or filming were de rigueur for the crowd of around 500, and the dozens of constant small screen counterpoints actually enhanced the pop-rock-trance club type setting. This year organizers relocated the entrance and widened sight lines of the Miles Davis Hall, which usually holds an evening's secondary price level shows. Judging from tonight, it was an excellent move in regard to customer considerations like overall viewpoints, stage accessibility, and access to restrooms or vendors.

Friday, July 16: Prodigious Vibes of Planetary Peace : Quincy Jones and the Global Gumbo All Stars

This conglomerate of global masters had reportedly never been convened in tonight's quintet form, though various projects had intersected most players in trios or pairs on recent recordings, tour support, or Berklee academics. Whatever prior experiences each man had or shared, the communication and interaction personified by each artist proved music is a universal language, as advertised.

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