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Jazz In Marciac Festival: Day 9

Mark Sabbatini By

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Plenty of people try convincing themselves an expensive, but ordinary, concert was special. Doing the reverse seems like the act of a complete idiot.

Then again, that's the opinion many have about journalists anyhow.

Trying to be an objective critic - an oxymoron if there is one - sometimes means overcompensating for personal biases, like making an extra effort to find something praiseworthy when auditioning the latest by perceived lightweights such as Spyro Gyra and Kenny G. During the years I spent covering politics the elected officials I respected most got the toughest questions. Many therefore had completely wrong impressions about what I thought of them and their proposals.

Which is why I'm trying to tell myself John Zorn wasn't that great.

Zorn and his Acoustic Masada quartet highlighted day nine of the 28th annual Jazz In Marciac Festival and, in my humbly ignorant opinion, played the best featured concert so far during the two-week event. Whereas I struggled the previous evening trying to link between Phil Woods and the constant anointment from critics as alto saxman on the planet, Zorn did nothing to endanger his battling-among-equals status among the few occupying that place in my cranium.

Not everyone agreed, as will be seen.

Maybe the rush came from something of a lackadaisical mindset on an exceptionally warm and muggy day where a number of the daytime shows were responsible for little of the heat.

One of the earliest was also one of the best, as the Sweet Mama Quartet did a little bit of everything qualifying as folk jazz from Reinhardt/Grappelli swing to blues to kazoo-led polka. Catherine Girard was the center of attention wearing accessories such as a harmonica and washboard, all while supplying vocals and keeping a drumbeat going on a minimal kit. It made a good show as well as good listening. They have a live album but, while pretty good, doesn't capture the same energy.

A few of the other groups were repeat acts and, maybe it was just the heat, but things definitely got sleepy at times. One of the few other moments I found truly interesting was the Barret-Lazarevitch Quintet's extended and rather intensely rumbling interpretation of "Suzanne," but it came at the end of a of so-so set - at one point I noted guitarist Serge Lazarevitch might draw comparisons to Frank Gambale if the Chick Corea sideman ended his solos halfway through before getting to the really rocking stage.

The Andre Villeger Trio offered something of an early evening wakeup call, playing gritty blues and quicker standards like "Duke's Choice" in a keyboard/sax/drums setup. It was solid - my notes contain the word "organic" - with a strong sense of cohesion, without a lot of individual landmarks. It was one of the few times during the day something not too subdued or intense (there was none of that) for the weather could be heard.

The first featured concert of the evening was saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, who no matter how far he goes in life will see the phrase "son of the legendary John Coltrane" in everything written or said about him. But he's handled it as well as possible, developing into a legitimate player without taking undue advantage of his name or trying to live up to the same standards.

The BBC's Peter Marsh has a good blurb about him in an album review, stating "Ravi's no Julian Lennon or Ziggy Marley opting for a safe career retreading dad's footsteps in the family business; he's found his own voice. There are traces of Coltrane senior, of course, but really no more than you'd find in the music of any other tenor player around in the last 40 years or so."

Bits of that connection could be heard on soprano during his original "Coincide" to open the quartet performance in Marciac, working notes quickly over a fairly even range, but with a clearly more contemporary tone. Drummer E.J. Strickland was also quick and broad, demonstrating technique over volume and raw flair to some vamping from others toward the end of the piece.

A nice early change of pace came on "One Wheeler Will," a piece written by Ralph Alessi for Ravi Coltrane's son with a "Song For Bilbao" cadence, with the more breaking rhythm lending itself to more variety and clearer definition of Coltrane's phrasing. Pianist Luis Perdomo kept his hands close and the right definitely busier than the left fingering out clean lines, doing a decent job of wringing variation out of maybe half the range of the keys. Less noteworthy was "Jagadishwar," the soprano over Perdomo's pedal-heavy dark chordings feeling a bit too much like contemporary smooth jazz for the setting, although Coltrane kept things respectable by not delving into over-the-top theatrics like crowd- oriented repetition or drawn-out high notes.


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