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American Jazz Festiv’Halles at Sunside-Sunset

Patricia Myers By

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American Jazz Festiv'Halles at Sunside-Sunset
Sunside-Sunset Jazz Club
Paris, France
July-August 2014

The 23rd annual American Jazz Festiv'Halles at Sunside-Sunset in Paris had another long and strong lineup of concerts during two summer months of 2014. Sunside opened in 1983 on the Right Bank's narrow pedestrian street, rue des Lombards, expanding in 2001 by converting its underground restaurant Sunset into a second jazz venue, with jazz nightly in both venues since then.

American-French pianist Jacky Terrasson brought thrilling energy to Sunside from his New York City base. His sequential piano form often started simply, then moved with almost feral energy. His elastic style had him start a chart in the way an artist would sketch before approaching the canvas. Sometimes it sounded as if Terrasson was resetting his musical GPS to change course and direction, creating his own roundabouts and making U-turns at will along the way. The result was completely captivating.

Appearing younger than his 47 years, he demonstrated the fleet hands and mind of a Bud Powell, delivering vigorous bass-clef percussive attacks interspersed with brisk vaults to the treble range. But he also could be Ahmad Jamal-elegant, displaying elements of the early classical training he received before enrolling in the Berklee College of Music in Boston, soon winning the 1993 Thelonious Monk Award.

Terrasson's set was a Forrest Gump box of music, ranging from grand old evergreens such as to "My Funny Valentine" to music from Harry Potter films to Michael Jackson's "Beat It." "Valentine" was rejuvenated as he repeatedly injected the lead line of "Close Enough for Love," exuding a playful attitude as he executed swift, cat-like swipes onto the upper keys. Now and then, he rose from the bench to strike the inner soundboard of the baby grand with his fingers and the heels of his hands. As he created his one-man rhythm section, drummer Lukmil Perez watched with a smile. Perez later took a spotlight segment on the trio's thorough exposition of "Caravan," as the pianist inserted minor progressions. Stylish bassist Burniss Earl Travis was far beyond a rhythm sideman, a musician who knew when to interject and when to wait.

Another night, the two-level venue offered a jazz doubleheader for one set each. Clarinetist Evan Christopher's "Django a la Creole" quartet was in the subterranean Sunside, while Japanese pianist Yutaka Shiina performed on a baby grand in the street-level venue with his European quintet.

Christopher's two sets were joyful mergers of 1930s gypsy swing with a New Orleans groove. The combo featured New Orleans guitar-banjo virtuoso The Creole Jazz Serenaders with Don Vappie, adept rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie and indefatigable slap-bassist Sébastien Girardot. The result was solid swing fueled by incredible acoustic interplay. Christopher made full use of the clarinet's range, brightly colorful in treble, vibrantly mellow in the lower clef. Vappie's spirited solos and riffs added more New Orleans elements, most evident on the instrumental "Jubilee" written by trumpeter Louis Armstrong, and his vocal energy sparkled on a Crescent City favorite, "Salle Dames, Bon Jour."

Christopher's concept originated in August 2005 following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that flooded New Orleans. That's when he moved to Paris at the invitation of the French Embassy's Cultural Services division, and soon formed the new combo based on the sounds of gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. The repertoire also delivered standards, from the 1920s hit "I Know That You Know" to the slow swing of "One for the Duke" and Reinhardt's vigorous "Improvisation Number 3" for a vibrant and well-balanced program.

Shiiina, 50, opened with pianist Thelonious Monk's "Sphere," then moved into a series of originals, including two ethereal charts, "Walking in the Clouds" and "Snow in Summer," followed by a complex "Pharaohs." Toward the end of the first set, Shiina seemed to loosen more to deliver two-handed octave progressions on the closing chart. Shiina is well-known in Europe, having performed often with American stars. This night his ensemble featured alto saxophonist Gabriel Davit, tenor saxophonist Thomas Luthi, bassist Dominique Giroyd and drummer Lionel Boccara.

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