Jazz In Marciac Festival: Days 10 and 11

Mark Sabbatini By

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Public toilets are scarce, but a woman in one grape-strewn courtyard said it's probably the nicest place she's waited for one.

The vines overhead are supposed to be ripe in about three weeks for supposedly a pretty good vintage year in southwest France (it's possible locals wouldn't be eager to acknowledge a bad one). Even though every day of the two-week 28th annual Jazz In Marciac festival except the first has been pleasantly to overwhelmingly sunny, obviously something else makes all the greenery possible.

Day 10 was "something else."

A strong French-oriented lineup, rather than the usual famous imported talent, headlined the night's featured concerts. The triple billing of the Paris Jazz Big Band, African transplant Magic Malik leading a quintet on flute, and reedmen Michel Portal and Louis Sclavis offered diversity from old school to cutting edge.

Hopefully they delivered.

A torrential rainstorm, complete with gale winds and frequent lighting, knocked out power and flooded streets within minutes of starting around 6 p.m. Call me a coward, but I got the hell out of there.

I had it on pretty good authority shows wouldn't play if thunder and lightening were likely to interfere, and given that my tiny rented Fiat seemed in danger of leaving town via the narrow street it was parked on anyhow, I figured I might as well be in it. Considering I could see plenty of thunder and lightening from my place 30 miles away five hours later, I'd have offered bets at 20 to 1 the concerts took place - and lost. Kudos to everyone who pulled it together.

Which is why this piece lumps days 10 and 11 together; there's isn't much to say about the former.

Some repeat appearances were among the daytime shows - not that hearing the quirky folk of the Sweet Mama Quartet again was a bad thing - but the highlight had to be the first exposure to Jazz Quatre, led by vocalist Florance Grimal. Her fairly deep voice possessed considerable range, soul and spontaneity, and the set of standards (sung in French) were subject to fun yet skillful rearrangements such as an up-tempo Bossa Nova "Over The Rainbow." On a more recognizable "Afro Blue" she scatted and chanted rapidly over a narrow pitch range to drummer Philippe Haguenier, freeing him to supply the tonal range, with pianist Ludovic breaking up a series of straight-ahead builds with occasional return-to-ethnic counterattacks.

(Because of the abbreviated nature of the day 10 stuff, here's a preview of the downloadable songs from festival artists I try to present in separate articles afterward: Five MP3s are available free at the band's Web site.)

An early evening concert by the Tonton Salut Freedom Jazz Band got off to a good start, opening with an off-the-beat march/fusion hybrid topped with some eclectic intermingling by Richard Calleja on soprano sax and Laurent Fickelson on piano. It was an intriguing bit of instrumental soundscaping, followed up by vocalist Fredee A's mid-pitch romping modern swing and wordless harmonizing with Calleja on a couple of subsequent pieces. Normally I head backstage after shows to get the details, but never got the chance - the above mentioned Serious Rain arrived shortly afterward and wiped out the show and crowd in less than a minute.

Sticking around to swap stories about surviving the great flood of '05 might make for great reading, but when carrying a pack with a laptop and every other possession for a trip lasting several months a roof is a lot more appealing. For those dying for some kind of audio/video review, from the proper side of a window pane the lightning and thunder show was one of the most impressive I've seen - we're talking extended length strikes that light up the entire sky and rock the walls. Many sympathies to the campers and others stuck outside. One person said they basically spent the night floating in their tent.

Day 11

The early retreat wasn't a total loss - it helped ensure arriving for the 9:30 a.m. start of Stagiaires 2005, featuring a wide range of school and university groups from France and elsewhere in Europe, supposedly including Luxembourg.

The two to three hours of performances were much like the daylong series featuring students in the jazz program at Marciac's college on day five, with groups playing a few songs of varying quality, and individuals turning in noteworthy moments here and there. Jean Guyomarch, 17, of Chateaulin, France, threw an electric guitar solo with some funk attitude into a fairly pedestrian ensemble standard arrangement. Valentine Montalembert, 18, of Paris, was part of an eight-woman vocal group backed by a piano that engaged in rounds of scat, train noises, bird calls and the like, her first jazz encounter after studying classical music for 10 years.


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