by Ian Mann
August 23, 2022
Guest contributor Colin May reports from France on the 61st Jazz A Juan Jazz Festival which took place in July . Performers include Charles Lloyd, Tigran Hamasyan, Herbie Hancock, Cross Currents Trio
Photograph of Charles Lloyd sourced from http://www.jazzajuan.com
JAZZ A JUAN 2022
61st Jazz A Juan Festival and the Summer Jammin’ Sessions, July 2022.
Set among a sweet-smelling pine grove and with a view across the see-through stage (there’s no backdrop) to the bay, to the sea to the big skies, to the horizon and to the sunset, Jazz A Juan is one of the most beautiful settings for listening to jazz or any other music. The musicians often remark on its beauty and it enthrals me without fail every time I come here (if it didn’t I’d get my pulse checked).
The other part of the magic is that with 3,000 seats to fill in front of the single stage, commercial realities mean that most nights big names are on the bill, not only from the world of jazz but from other genres like Van Morrison this year and Sting and Tom Jones in previous years. This year there are new artistic directors, three of them, and interestingly more names on the programme who play some form of pure jazz compared to recent editions.
The CHARLES LLOYD QUINTET is one of the bands I enjoyed during my 4 ½ nights at the festival. It’s 56 years since jazz legend Lloyd first played at Juan with Keith Jarrett in his band. He remains at the top of his game. His playing is still mellifluous, at times gritty and always searching, plus his use of space continues to be exemplary. His multiple textures are well matched by renowned guitarist Bill Frisell’s harmonies and Americana, and with Kenrick Scott excellent on drums this isn’t a sentimental occasion but jazz of now, with the masterful 84 year old Lloyd leading from the front.
Making a great double bill with Lloyd is fellow veterans CHUCHO VALDES’ AND PACQUITO D’RIVERA’S RE-UNION QUARTET. They first met 60 years ago even before founding path breaking Grammy award winning Cuban folkloric and jazz band Irakere. They have only recently started to play together again releasing an album “I Missed You Too”. D’Rivera particularly is in top form, his fine clarinet playing ranging from the sonorous to the ethereal as he compliments the many moods of Valdes’ piano. They clearly enjoy being back together and let’s hope they continue to do so.
The CROSS CURRENTS TRIO of virtuosos Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain and Dave Potter was a joy. There are sparkling solos of course and outstanding duo playing, Holland and Hussain have a telepathic understanding. But they don’t take their egos on stage, every touch is in service of the music which was drawn entirely from the trio’s “Good Hope” album. Potter is much more confident with the north Indian rhythms and when his sax is in dialogue with Hussain’s table than when previously I heard the trio at the London Jazz Festival. Now he’s on equal footing with the other two in playing this style of music. “Good Hope” is an appropriately upbeat, energetic and even funky finish to the set, with the trio making it dance before Holland and Potter chase Hussain in a race to the finish.
The Cross Currents Trio are paired with GILBERTO GIL in what turns out to be a smart piece of programming, as the many Brazilians in the audience get, appreciate, and applaud the trio’s Indo-Jazz. Hence there’s a buzz even before Gil comes on. He’s touring Europe with his “family” including 8 children and plus grandchildren, so the stage is crowded with the age range stretching from an 8 year old boy to the 80 year old god of Brazilian music. The still incredibly active Gil isn’t presenting his latest work, rather it’s a joyous warm-hearted tour through his back catalogue. The Brazilians in the audience are thrilled to hear the many tunes well-known to them and to sing along to “Toda menina baiana” (Every girl from Bahia) with Gil is joined by his grand-daughter Flor for “The Girl From Ipanema”. With many of the audience dancing their way through the set and waves of love flowing towards the Brazilian icon it’s party time.
The other non-jazz big name I saw was VAN MORRISON surprisingly making his first ever appearance at Juan. He shows he still has a great blues voice, and he mixes classic blues, “Baby Please Don’t Go”, and classic Van “Moondance”, throwing in an occasional burst of his jazz influenced sax. He starts with ”Somebody said I was dangerous..”, but while the 1.5 hour flows there wasn’t much hint of danger with the 77 year old understandably pacing himself until the finale, a splendid full-throated version of “Gloria”.
Pianist TIGRAN HAMASYAN’s technique is astounding and it is fully employed in presenting his latest project, his deconstruction and re-imagining of tunes from the Great American Songbook. If you shut your eyes you might think there are two pianos on stage. While full of admiration for his technical ability, somehow it is too many notes for me, a case of getting lost among the trees and not seeing the wood (maybe my problem). I prefer a more meditative Tigran as when playing music inspired by his Armenian homeland.
Tigran is paired with one of his biggest fans, HERBIE HANCOCK. Hancock says that playing Juan, which he has done several times, is as special as “the first time in Europe when I came right here” (with Miles Davis in 1963). His stellar band are Terence Blanchard’s life affirming trumpet and also keys (and busy on the tour bus writing another film score ), Lionel Loueke guitars and scat singing including in Xhosa, James Gaines anchoring on bass along with Justin Tyson’s subtle drums. They’re totally at home in giving pieces from Hancock’s vast body of work a contemporary make-over, (he says he’s working on new material but “it’s not ready yet”). Hancock himself swivels rapidly between keys and piano throughout.
The long opener “Overture”, an amalgam of extracts of several Hancock tunes, begins eerily with the man himself conjuring keyboard sounds that seem to come from outer space. In contrast the conclusion is the instantly recognisable “Watermelon Man” with Hancock and Lionel Loueke imperious. A pity though that he loves the vocoder so much. After the inevitable standing ovation, the encore is “Chameleon” with Hancock now playing keytar striding about the stage finishing with a rock star’s leap, and not leaving till he’s waved and blown kisses to all parts of the arena.
On French National Day or Bastille Day, 14th July, sandwiched between the famous names but not outshone by them are two French bands new to me led by Sébastian Farge and by Thomas de Pourquery. You could see water-skiers carrying the French flag and the concert is followed by a spectacular firework display over the bay.
It is particularly appropriate for Bastille Day that the Sébastian Farge Quartet is on the bill for Farge plays that most Gallic of jazz instruments, the accordion. He’s surrounded himself with terrific players. Pianist Amaury Faye is inventive and with a lovely touch and Farge wisely gives him plenty of space, and drummer Jean-Marc Robin’s work with the brushes which including sticking with them for his solo impressed along with double bassist Gautier Laurent. They work as a team listening closely to one another playing high quality mainstream jazz that’s given a twist by Farge’s expressive accordion. A highlight is the ominous “Waltz-Non Waltz” reminiscent of the atmosphere of Ravel’s “La Valse,” which they follow with an uplifting finale more typical of their very enjoyable set.
Thomas de Pourquery and Supersonic were formed about ten years ago by alto and soprano saxophonist and singer de Pourquery as a French jazz super group to play the music of Sun Ra and music influenced by his spirit. De Pourquery is involved in genres from rock, beats, electronic, to free jazz and he pulls elements of these genres into Supersonic’s glorious mash-up. The mash- up is underpinned by solid jazz roots with the relationship between the leader and the drummer being the touchstone for the rest of the band. It’s topped off by Du Pourquery’s high pitched vocals that are in a similar range as those of Rufus Wainwright. The big bushy bearded De Pourquery is a charismatic figure on stage who persuades the audience to do what he calls “a gym session” to one of the numbers. For the finale he brings on the 20 plus members of Brass Band Méditerranée including 4 tubas to join his band. If there had been a roof they’d have blown it off. It’s exhilarating and fantastic Bastille Day fun, and they’d be a great band for the UK summer festival season (promoters please note).
This concert is free courtesy of Antibes/Juan-les-Pins as are Jammin’ Summer Sessions next to the main arena featuring up and coming bands. Most have earned their place through a two-stage selection process, first by gaining a slot for the previous autumn’s Jammin’ Juan Jazz market place and from there being chosen for a Summer Session. Certainly the three very different bands I see are a great advert for the Jammin’ Juan project.
The Nathan Mollet Trio is the most conventional playing tunes which are contemporary mainstream jazz written by talented pianist Nathan. The double bassist is his father, which perhaps is one reason for their fine ensemble playing.
The Gabriel Gosse Trio straddles the boundaries between pop, rock, and jazz. The leader who plays an electric guitar throughout mixes powerful jazz rock with more nuanced jazz. He has presence and talent but I am not sure about his singing.
The trio Akagera are the most original of the three with an atypical line-up of bass trombone, marimba/vibraphone and drums and that creates unusual sounds and textures both when performing jazz classics such as Mingus’ “ Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” or tunes from Columbia or from East
So should you be going to a Jazz A Juan concert, I’d suggest taking in that evening’s Summer Jammin’ session as well.
As for the 61st Jazz A Juan, this review might give the misleading impression that it’s dominated by veteran jazz legends. But the programme also had Céline McLorin Salvant, Snarky Puppy, Roberto Fonseca and the Joey Alexander Trio, it was just that for one reason and another I didn’t see them.
With more pure jazz being programmed, it may be that this year marks the start of a period of
careful incremental change for the historic festival under its new directorship. Only time will tell. Whatever happens the setting, the history and the big names make it a must visit at least once if possible for the jazzophile.
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