Jazz In Marciac Festival: Days 14-15 and "Best Of" Awards

Mark Sabbatini By

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It turns out the "bodily death" of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, has never been "dogmatically defined...and accordingly it is not a theological error to hold that...she did not die at all."

This explains why they're playing one last day of jazz on Monday in Marciac.

The Feast Of The Assumption, based on theologies Mary either died and went to Heaven or simply made it there unscathed, is a national holiday in many countries on August 15, including France. Thus a final round of concerts by regional artists on what normally would be a back-to-work day for those attending some or all of the two weeks of concerts in this small 700-year-old village.

The concerts Sunday and Monday came after the big-name acts left town, and there was a sense of winding down, especially with Monday's shows ending early in the evening. There weren't any remarkable debuts from new artists, but a couple of popular bands proved capable of sustaining enthusiasm for several performances and one secured a spot in the totally meaningless "best and worst" festival awards below.

By the time I figured the significance of Monday's holiday out I missed what logically may have been the day's main event, a morning trio concert led by gospel singer Janice Harrington at the Eglise De Marciac. The day's other performances were much like a similar "wrap-up" day on Sunday, a mixed bag in both type and quality.

Among the new acts the Paul Cheron Sextet did a decent series of classic Dixie performances, more substance than shiny, although lacking some of the vocal and percussion touches from the best festival bands playing similar music. Another new Dixie act, the Tommy Sancton Quartet, took things a bit higher thanks to Sancton's husky mid- to low-range vocals on blue-collar songs like "Honky Tonk Town" and clarinet that often hit bop pacing on solos. Pianist David Paquette backed things with thicker chords than typical for such pieces and drummer Jean-Luc Guiraud threw in just enough extra sounds to keep the beat from monotony.

The most intriguing of the new acts was the Patrick Artero Quartet, performing ballads, bop and post-bop with a bit of modern attitude. Artero's trumpet featured a mellow Tomasz Stanko-like tone with a melodic singing presence, although he proved capable of going farther on more upbeat pieces. Drummer Mourad Benamou's tone matched the old- school era, but with plenty of stick-clicking and contemporary phrasing keeping things feeling fresh.

Most of the other acts were repeats from previous days, although the Pierre Christophe Trio proved consistently adept at its Jacqui Byrd-influenced sets and festival planners wisely closed Sunday and Monday with the La Mecanica Loca Afro/Cuban ensemble, the one act that consistently generated a crowd of dancers in front of the stage.

Best And Worst Of Festival Awards

Overall the festival offered two weeks of solid, sometimes stellar, performances without major hitches despite one day of heavy storms that knocked out power and had the potential to disrupt the night's concerts. Most coming to hear the major players seemed to come away satisfied, even during less than remarkable shows, although my personal preference for hearing and discovering regional acts with talent will likely remember most a few performances falling into that category.

As a prelude to a roundup of French jazz musicians offering free songs for downloading over the Internet, the following looks back at high and low festival moments among both regional and imported feature performers. It's all subjective, vulnerable to my oft- admitted musical ignorance and there are no prizes - just a possible starting-out guide for listeners interested in artists from the country. Also, I've acknowledged missing a few featured concerts - those by Monty Alexander, Michael Portal and Louis Sclavis, the Kenny Barron-Mulgrew Miller duo, and Wynton Marsalis' "My Brazilian Heart" seem to be among the best of those according to people I spoke to afterward.

Regional performers

Best mainstream

Emile Parisien Quartet: The young group led by this Paris saxophonist, a former music student at Marciac's college, was simply awesome every time they took the stage during their several appearances at the festival's midpoint. Actually, "simply" isn't really the right word for their extended post-bop compositions seamlessly interacting personalities from Monk mellow to Coltrane chaos, all with the modernistic attitude forward-thinking playing requires. Parisien in particular was dominant and I heard more post-show and next-day "did you hear that guy" comments about him than anyone else. Not surprisingly, he snags a second mention for individual honors below.

Also deserving mention: Kaz Trio


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