Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland 2011: Days 1-3
April 29: Orchestre National de Jazz
Originally scheduled to appear at the 2010 JazzFest, Orchestre National de Jazz had to cancel owing to visa problems. This time around they had problems getting out of New York and had to catch a bus to Cleveland after their flight was cancelled. Once they arrived, however, and squeezed onto a small stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the ten-piece ONJ was unstoppable. In an interview with The Plain Dealer's John Soeder, the group's artistic director Daniel Yvinec had said that he "always thought jazz could be more open" in the music it interprets, and, appropriately, ONJ's gig was scheduled against Dee Dee Bridgewater's tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, taking place across town with The Cleveland Orchestra. Yet ONJ, a project-based unit that has fashioned programs based on the music of Billie Holiday and John Hollenbeck, among others, was pulling off something of tribute of its own in this performance of its Around Robert Wyatt (Bee Jazz, 2009) program.
Storied prog-rocker Wyatt collaborated with the orchestra in the construction of this program, and lent his voice to it. But here, Wyatt and the other male and female vocalists existed only in a recorded context, which gave them both a more pronounced presence and an ethereal distance. (Why, perhaps, in his introduction, Yvinec termed these "ghost voices.") Yvinec spoke also of cinema, of restoring the voice to its primal, lead-actor role in the recording process. And, indeed, many of the arrangements rose and fell with a lush, cinematic sweep, creeping even into Hitchcock terrain on "Kew Rhone" with a repeated horn arrangement that might have set Bernard Herrmann on edge.
Elsewhere, the group employed various scrapes, clanks, bleeps and other clattering percussive devices that recalled latter-day Tom Waits (especially when guitarist Pierre Perchaud switched to banjo). "Rangers In the Night" lifted from solo drum rim taps into a full, percussive composition made of fluttering saxophone keys and horn-filtered human breath. Wyatt's voice, when it arose, repeated the lyric over and over as if in warning: "Strangers in the night. Strangers in the night." With flute and trumpet solos, came more crashes and electronic noise, including something of a siren that fed into a pounding piano solo from Eve Risser that saw the piece into a rollicking climaxthe end to an amicable sexual encounter or something more sinister and violent, the terror of a world of passing strangers on darkened streets.
Risser later fashioned layered constructions of her own, reaching into the bowels of her instrument to scrape, pluck and knock out enchanting, enthralling stretches of percussion piano music. Her intro on "Just As You Are" even included strains of a wind-up music box. But her several-minute solo piece, built entirely of these piano manipulations and including vibrant string swipes, sustained ringing, rhythmic knocking of blocks, sounds of a clanking harbor bell, the whir of finger-traced glass, plus traditionally struck keys, was the marvel of the night. Yet through a set that could have easily (in lesser hands) deteriorated into nothing but abrasive clanking and electronic whining, ONJ kept matters wonderfully musical, even melodic. Unlike many a music show, there was a fully formed and fully realized musical vision that, to Yvinec's undoubted pleasure, operated in multilayered, cinematic fashion, telling a complex, often illusive, but fully satisfying story.
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