There is no good seat at a quality Afro/Cuban/Latin concert.
If the band's really on, people ought to be out of their chairs and in a space where they can jam with style. It's a mentality I've long held, not being schooled in appreciating the subtler nuances of the genre, and it puts me at odds with a crowd perfectly happy on their butts during day 12 of the 28th annual Jazz In Marciac festival.
This is confession of my failure, not theirs.
Two large all-star bands, the Afro Cuban All Stars and the Latin Giants of Jazz, were the featured events heading into the final weekend of the two-week festival in this 13th century southwest France village. But, as has happened on a couple of other days, they got surpassed by some regional acts - including an Afro/Cuban group - not necessarily superior artistically, but easier to connect with.
A late morning performance by musicians from the Maison Des Conservatories in Paris fell into the Art Jazz category, filtering known songs like "I Got Rhythm" to freeform cadence and eclectic sax work well beyond Bird bop, doing spoken-word-over-drums musical poetry, and collaborating on some lower-key ambient compositions largely focusing on group harmonics. Most was interesting; its value as great music probably varied by the piece in the ears of the beholder.
There were the usual repeat appearances by some groups - I'd swear the Alain Brunet Quintet played the same electric Miles set as day 11, in fact - but the Kaz Trio proved worthy among the newcomers. Pianst Siegfried Kessler's complex chording and drummer Jean Pierre Arnaud's drumming were ideally matched in their build-and-release tensions ("the piano is too full," a woman at one cafe table told her companion) on neotraditional compositions. A surprise was bassist Michel Zenio's plucking mostly high-end notes with horn-like phrasing - highly assertive despite a non-aggressive tone - and at the time I thought it likely was as much personality as I'd hear from an acoustic player during the festival (a hint, of course, I may have been wrong).
If that provided an intellectual surge of energy, then an early evening appearance by La Mecanica Loca charged the emotions. The 10-member Afro-Cuban group achieved something I haven't seen on the town square stage to date - it got a significant number of people in the crowd up front and on their feet. It wasn't breakthrough material - just an assembly of well-played stuff featuring, in particular, singers and drummers honing in and connecting with the audience vibes.
The Saturday evening energy thing continued to trend upward during a pre-headliner stop at the L'Atelier cafe, a place on the way to the main concert tent I'd bypassed on previous nights to get the main events on time. Today I was early, however, and the sounds coming out the doors previously were promising.
Sure enough, a young sax-led quartet was brewing up a loose and frenzied post-bop storm.
I dropped my pack at a table, took a few quick photos and got the computer out to take some notes all before really taking a look at the band, at which point my professional observer skills as a journalist for 15 years finally kicked in and I realized it's Benjamin Dousteyssier, a guy who's impressed me several times all week. Good grief. That's like blowing a Downbeat blindfold test with the CD case in front of you.
Anyhow, these guys are in their element in a small club setting.
The cafe owner, Patrick Bauzerand, said the name means "workshop" and it's a fitting name for a place where the stage talent has seemed mostly young and exploratory. His son, Peter, combined rapid left-hand chording with a mix of right-hand ones close and far on keyboards and piano, evolving with the rhythm section from disciplined to pleasingly discordant stuff that came close to rocker territory in volume and attitude. Dousteyssier was a pleasure to watch as well as hear, moving away from the mic and around the stage as needed to keep an eye on bandmates and feed them shots for solos.
If I wasn't doing a working gig (not to be mistaken for a paying one) I'd have stayed until closing. Unless a few area acts churn out killer material during the final few days Dousteyssier's band got some kind of medal among French bands locked up in the totally meaning awards coming in my final update (no appeals and no actual prize beyond World Wide Web immortality).
Besides, a couple of world music acts featuring all-star talent are a good bet to keep the mood going, right?
Well, in all fairness, the Afro Cuban All Stars and the Latin Giants Of Jazz delivered, both in their performances and among one of the biggest and most enthusiastic crowds of the festival. For that reason this is more explanation than assessment since I'm convinced that, like a Stephen King fan trying to appreciate Shakespeare, I just don't get it.