RDV De L'Erdre 2012
August 31-September 2, 2012
The Rendez-vous de l'Erdre might be one of Europe's lesser-known festivals, but it has grown up over 26 years and now involves what seems to be the entire city's populace. Spread over multiple, simultaneously programmed stages, its essential concept is that everything happens along the banks of the River Erdre. This is the less famous sibling of the Loire, and there are even satellite gigs organized further out along its course from Nantes, in smaller villages. For most folks, though, all energies were focused on the walkable stretch that makes up the festival's pulsating heart. Comparisons can be made with other jazz festivals, but RDV has its own distinctive character.
The way in which it draws in the general populace, taking over large chunks and stretches of town, is reminiscent of Brecon Jazz (in Wales) and the Detroit Jazz Festival. This happens because all of RDVs gigs are free of admission prices (as with Detroit), thereby encouraging its audience to take chances with music that's perhaps an unknown quantity. The comparison with Brecon is also apt because of RDVs broadness of scope, taking in the extremes from old school New Orleans-style trad to free improvisation and electronica. At least that used to be the way in the old days of Brecon.
The weather was bright and sunny on this last weekend of the summer, only days before the school kids returned to their prisons. The Friday opening night concentrated its performances into the evening, and Canadian singer Kinny opened with what was set to be the day's most compelling set. Living in Bergen, Norway, she now sounds like a Londoner, and her roots mash up native Canadian Indian, Jamaican, French and Swedish parental backgrounds. She's signed to the Brighton funky-electro label Tru Thoughts and her band is seemingly British. The resultant music wasn't as wildly mixed up as all this might suggest, but free-ranging roaming definitely informs her version of funk, soul and general skipping beat musics. On record she's usually impressive, but Kinny's live stage presence was formidable, completely relaxed and assured, ready to improvise (at one stage in a cappella avant gospel style) and mighty pushy with the crowd. Maybe she kept the pace too slow given the set's time limitations, but Kinny was aware of this, urging her combo to jump right into a faster beat-driven song whenever there'd been a moodier stretch. It was the up-tempo songs that best displayed her gutsy, soulful holler. This set was at the Scène Mix Jazz, at the northernmost river-zone of the festival. It was always worth the walk, and provided the home for beyond-jazz activities, these often ending up being festival highlights.
Another Canadian resident was Kenny "Blues Boss'" Wayne, backed up by his regular French band. Although rooted in boogie woogie, this keyboardist and singer was also steeped in the music of New Orleans, and particularly Fats Domino. The Blues Mix stage maintained a steady run of rocking combos, but these were mainly French, and the ones witnessed by this scribe tended to be uniformly disappointing. Functional, but lacking the gritty core that's necessary for this form. Mostly, they were quite pedestrian in their interpretations.
Across the river on Scène Sully (named after its location on Rue Sully) alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Dan Tepfer were engaging in their careful dialogue, the latter opening up with a flowery solo, during which the saxophonist could be heard starting up behind the stage. Konitz walked up to the twin microphones and seeped into the flow, afterwards complimenting the acoustics of this outdoor location. He'd feared that problems would arise, but was pleasantly surprised. Ever a perfectionist, Konitz has ears that are attuned to every minute quirk of a playing platform.
The German DJ collective Jazzanova also exists as a live band extension, usually fronted by Detroit singer/bassist Paul Randolph. Despite a few isolated highpoints, their core sound was funk-lite, with Randolph's shrill disco-castrato vocals lending a mainstream R&B tone. Following Kinny, these Berliners sounded kinda dilute. When a deep beat was locked onto and a harder dance motion sent underway, the Jazzanova band started to goad the crammed hilly slope inhabitants into a subtle dance motion. Sadly, these outbreaks were scarcely spaced.