Jazz à Juan 2014

Jean-Pierre Goffin By

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54th Jazz à Juan
Juan-les-Pins, Antibes

On the sunny Côte d'Azur, Juan-les-Pins offers a jazz festival every year by mixing all-stars bands, and daring to take risks in offering new artists not exclusively from the jazz sphere. Jazz à Juan (Jazz in Juan) is first of all a wonderful site, the timeless decor of the Gould pine grove a unique place with the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop. As Booker T. Jones said after his concert, "It's quite difficult to stay focused on the music itself when you have such a beautiful view on your left side with these boats, the blue sea and the sun at dawn."

Juan-les-Pins is also a part of the history of jazz. As the longest running jazz festival in Europe, it has welcome all the legends of jazz since its first edition in 1960, among them Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sydney Bechet, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Rollins. Keith Jarrett has played 21 concerts in a row in Juan-les-Pins!

The place is also a wonderful starting point to discover the region, situated between Cannes and Nice. For modern art, two major sites are only a few minutes' ride from Juan: in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the exceptional Fondation Maeght, a magic place built by an art-collector for his collections in the 1960s; its gardens display a great collection of Joan Miro's sculptures as well as Giacometti's long and thin personages. Near the small village of Biot, the Musée Fernand Léger contains the largest exhibition and some masterpieces of the great French artist.

As in a lot of summer festivals, the program gave way over ten days to musical genres which were sometimes far from jazz, with moments of disappointment or discovery. In the latter category was the energetic concert of Imelda May. The fiery Irish woman with her glamorous look, red lips and glittering dress, delivered a crazy rockabilly concert with a mix of rock, pop and post punk, along with an extravaganza of the 1950s. After this warm and natural demonstration, Joss Stone's show looked a bit like a cold pizza. The pretty blonde from Dover, England, tried to take the audience on board from the first song. With quite an unusual nasal voice, constant public calls that broke the lyrics of each song, and a shadow of enthusiasm, surely the child prodigy of soul did not give her best concert that night .

Youn Sun Nah was the revelation of the Jazz à Juan festival in 2005, and this year she returned to the main stage with the repertoire of her recent album Lento (ACT Music / Challenge Records, 2013). She marked the festival this year with a five-star performance: her advanced technique level combined with an exceptional voice, free artistic expression, humanity and a well-balanced repertoire, she had everything for a magic night. "Lament" and "Ghost Riders in the Sky " were beautiful moments of intense music and "Momento Magico " (from her guitarist Ulf Wakenius, Oscar Peterson's former partner) was a vocal performance that took our breath away, as well as the humorous " Pancakes." Some jazz fans do not like Jamie Cullum's last recordings, but that night in Juan-les-Pins he was a true showman, sincere and humorous, twirling and using his piano or his chest for percussion, delivering the dizziest versions of his greatest hits during a two-hour-show.

The evening of July 14th would be one of contrasts, and fireworks. Romane gathered his sons, two guitarists, on a gypsy-inspired repertoire, incorporating pieces from Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington or even Jaco Pastorius. Jon Regen, the pianist/crooner from New York, had been there every night for the jam session on the beach, and on this day had the privilege of introducing his music on the main stage. Almost unknown on the European scene, Regen went through the underground scene of New York in the 1980s before becoming Jimmy Scott's pianist and more recently, Kyle Eastwood's. As a crooner, he found himself associated with Andy Summers (ex-Police) or Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers). In a sometimes close-to-Randy Newman spirit, with intonations of Sting, Regen's style developed a rather intimate personal style, with beautiful piano solos.

After the fireworks, we discovered the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, a band of enthusiasts who happen to play in New Orleans at the legendary Preservation Hall. Opening with "In the Streets of Antibes," the band delivered an enthusiastically-revisited Louisiana tradition. The next day, Stacey Kent performed intimate jazz, gently whispered but never boring: grace, style, sweet ballads that were mainly Brazilian tonight, with covers of her album Changing Lights (Parlophone, 2013). With Manu Katché, Richard Bona, Eric Legnini and Stefano di Battista, we saw a new lineup of great friends who gathered for a tour and had fun. One could not expect a perfect cohesion—the group was formed for a tour of two weeks. The quartet offered us some of their best compositions. "The Old and Grey," by a groovy Eric Legnini on Fender, opened the concert and Stefano di Battista (alto/soprano-sax) performed some fabulous solos. A vocal demonstration by bassist Richard Bona was one of the highlights of this highly recommended concert.

When Chick Corea founded the jazz-rock-fusion group Return To Forever in the 1970s, a joyful breeze of elation passed through the jazz world, and Return To Forever quickly established itself as the quintessential essence of fusion. This time, it was with Stanley Clarke, the only permanent member of the formation, that the pianist revisited the music of the 1970s as if it was a chamber music orchestra, a duet format that gave a new vision of standards like "Sometime Ago," "La Fiesta" or "Spain." Offstage, Stanley Clarke confessed: "Some time ago, we decided to rethink our history in a new way. We wanted to replay the songs written for an electric group and adapt them to a duet. Finally, it all came down to basic acoustics. "

And then came Stevie Wonder. In the Pine Grove, organizers reduced seating to cram as many people as possible standing along the barriers, in order to increase the capacity from 3,000 to 4,000 places. In the VIP section, many skipped over Gregory Porter's opening concert, and they were wrong! The baritone gave us a great time of music, real music: there was no question of attracting the audience to the front—it would have been frowned upon by the people in the first rows who had paid a lot for seeing Stevie!)—no easy calls , just music, a smart cross between jazz and soul. If you have not heard the album Liquid Spirit (Blue Note, 2013), here is one of the most beautiful male voice in the history of jazz. After a long interruption, Stevie Wonder finally came onto the stage, playing on the clavinet and singing Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is." Vocalizations in crescendo in the high notes (he would even use his magic potion for a few gargles with a very professional sense of humor!), long improvised codas , and a litany against war and terrorism (was there anyone out there who did not think the same?) Nothing could break the enthusiasm of an audience converted by the incredible flood of hits written by this genius! Once more the Gould Pine Grove, where you sit under 100-year-old pines, was again this year a place of memories and discoveries at the same time, and this has been lasting for 54 years!

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