by Colin May
December 11, 2023
Guest contributor Colin May enjoys performances by eighteen different up and coming acts at this year's showcase event, among them the UK's own Fergus McCreadie Trio.
Palais Des Congress
8th to 10th November 2023
The line -up for the sixth Jammin’ Juan jazz market place had a preponderance of reasonably well established artists looking to give their career a further boost. Most of the groups were from France two or three of which drew on French Caribbean culture. Also there were four very different groups from Spain so there was the opportunity to gain a little insight into the jazz scene in that country. This year too there was only the second ever British act in the event’s six year history to play at Jammin’.
There were six showcases each afternoon. This momentary caused confusion for one or two groups who introduced themselves to the audience by saying “Bon Soir”. With over 150 applications for the 18 showcase slots just being selected was quite an achievement, and those selected had 35 minutes to impress.
Each evening there was a concert as well. I heard all the showcases but was unable to stay for any of the concerts. What follows are short descriptions of each showcase plus a link, if available, for each group.
CATHY HEITING QUINTET
All the five songs in vocalist Cathy Heiting’s showcase were about the pleasure or the pain of love. She composes songs that say something and sings with feeling. Microphone technique is not often mentioned, but her excellent technique with the mic was a feature of her performance. When she sang with a quiet but intense intimacy she was especially impressive. Plus she has stage presence and when singing quiet intimate songs she was impressive.
The arrangements were sophisticated and their was a strong synergy between her and her quintet’s members, with fine contributions from Sylvain Treminello on double bass, and Ugo Lemarchand who doubled on piano and tenor sax.
Having given us a couple of sad songs one about a false lover (‘Beloved’) and one about the end of an affair (‘I Have Nothing’), Cathy and her quintet made sure they lifted the audience by ending with a positive love song with a cheerful groove.
Having experienced her voice and stage presence, it wasn’t much of a surprise to learn as well as singing at jazz festivals she’s also sung opera. Her showcase made me think that perhaps the best milieux to hear her and her excellent quintet would be an intimate jazz club late at night.
MARCO POINGT TRIO
Young pianist and composer Marco Poingt is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and an award winner who mixes classical, jazz, rock, and latin. These diverse influences were reflected in his trio’ s instrumental line-up which was completed by an American bass guitarist and a Brazilian drummer/percussionist. Four days after Jammin’ they were due to play in London as part of the London Jazz Festival programme.
This trio’s style was thoroughly contemporary with piano, bass guitar and drums often playing their own lines but which hung together. They ranged from a big sound to an introspective one, deconstructed tunes and put them back together, were very fluid and had a strong groove even when playing a laid back melody. They were a band whom I can admire while at the same time sometimes finding them dizzying to listen to, as they were so quickly onto the next idea before I had grasped onto the last one.
Four of their seven tunes had some Latin or Flamenco influence. Poingt’s soloing was very fluent , combining latin verve with a delightful lightness of touch in places. Dynamic variation was a feature of his and his trio’s playing,. The one number definitely not a Poingt composition, his trio’s re-imaging of “Some day My Prince Will Come” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had bursts of high speed inter-woven with emergency stops, particularly by the drummer.
Unexpectedly for the last two numbers a singer joined them. Unfortunately I didn’t think her singing gelled with the trio but her surprise presence could be regarded as being at one with the exploratory spirit with which Marco Poingt and his trio played.
ElliAViR is a quartet led by singer, composer , arranger Lou Rivaille who are on the verge of releasing their first album. Trumpeter Rémi Flambard fronts the group alongside Rivaille and his trumpet was in frequent dialogue with her voice. They were supported by a fine rhythm section led by pianist Christophe Waldner.
The group are influenced by jazz, world music and Nordic song and played what can be broadly described as chamber jazz while in places coming up with a big sound. Lou Rivaille’s high pitched singing voice was attractive and had an immediate impact. The first number started with her vocalese and Flambard’s trumpet creating an Arabic vibe and ended with her voice soaring over some energetic playing from the rhythm section.
The combination of Rivaille’s voice and Flambard’s trumpet created some dreamlike soundscapes with her vocalese at times carrying echoes of Sami joiking, and Flambard’s long notes reminiscent of Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen.
For their last number ElliAViR played a version of ‘Walking in the Air’ from ‘The Snowman.’ It began with Rivaille accompanying herself on a kalimba thumb piano until joined by Flambard’s equally delicate trumpet. In what was an extended number, Rivaille’s voice and the group were in close harmony, with Rivaille’s singing going from the gentle to the ecstatic, and Flambard’s trumpet at one point seeming echo a Mexican brass riff. It ended rather beautifully with all five of ElliAViR singing the chorus accapella.
Lou Rivaille (@lourivaille) Instagram
JEANNE MICHARD’S LATIN QUINTET
Both Jeanne Michard’s showcase and the one album she’s released so far, ‘Songes transatlantiques’ were inspired by the young saxophonist’s trips to Latin America, Cuba, and New York and by an interest in bebop and players influenced by it.
Her quintet not only had a conga player but a drummer who also played some Afro Cuban and Latin percussion.. Michard herself was a fluid player with a nice rounded saxophone sound and in Clément Simon her quartet had a pianist who played two or three ear catching solos.
As one might have anticipated this was a very lively set in which upbeat latin rhythms predominated, and it had some catchy melodies. However there was dynamic variation. One number began as a slowish, earthy ballad with a cinematic feel before a hypnotic Latin melody and a chorus chanted by the group took over.
Their finale was entirely in keeping with much of what had gone before as it was a Cuban carnival number that had the audience clapping along.
Jeanne Michard (@jeannemichard.music) Instagram
ALBA CARETA GROUP
Alba Careta is a Catalonian composer, trumpeter and singer with three albums and a Masters in Jazz Trumpet from the Amsterdam Conservatory to her name. It was, she said, her first time in France. A diminutive figure, she introduced herself with a powerful burst of trumpet in the first number.
Her singing was sweet though not exceptional, and was on the borderline of jazz and pop. One number began with her singing accompanied only by the double bassist which was an atmospheric combination, and then she switched to playing meditative Spanish phrased trumpet.
She gave space both for ensemble playing and for others to solo, and there were a couple of scene stealing fierce cameos from tenor saxophonist Lucas Martinez that matched the title of the group’s third album ‘Teia’ which means fire in Catalan.
Having had moments when they came close to crossing the jazz/pop borderline, the final number ‘Oceans’ had a free jazz / improv vibe with all five members seeming to head off in different directions while soloing simultaneously, ending what was an engaging and diverse set in a sea storm of free jazz style turbulence.
Vladimir Torres is a French based self taught double bassist and composer of Uruguayan origin. His trio’s set was based on the latest of several albums ‘Brujos’ which translates as witches, and perhaps there was an element of sorcery in the sounds his sparse, elegant , precise playing created along with that his fellow trio members.
After an opening Spanish flavoured number, Torres made his double bass sound like a West African kora. This was my favourite moment of the whole afternoon as I am a fan both of the sound of the kora and of double bass players like Torres who play sparsely and make the space between the notes carry as much weight as the notes themselves. This number also featured a lovely lyrical piano solo from Martin Schiffmann . His playing also put an emphasis on the space between the notes so was an excellent match for Torres’ double bass.
A quiet and engrossing piano solo introduced the next number’ Leaving’ before first Torres bass took over and then surprisingly there was a passage of beautiful vocalese harmony in which all three trio members participated.
In places also the trio also played with considerable energy, especially drummer Tom Moretti. His powerhouse style contrasted strongly with much of Torres and Schiffmann’s playing. His style could be experienced as enriching the trio’s sound or as rather intrusive and jarring or as a bit of both.
Overall it was classy set with lots to enjoy especially for fans of elegant, precise and inventive double bass playing
JAD SALAMEH TRIO
Lebanese-Canadian pianist and composer Jad Salameh grew up in Beirut, found jazz after moving to Montreal and now is based in Paris. His first trio album,‘We Lunatics Run the Asylum’, has a post apocalyptic theme and was released this year.
There was a striking dynamic contrast in the first number that began with Salameh quietly tinkling on the piano, a sound rather like a kalimba thumb piano with the other two members of his trio then making a thunderous entry which Salameh joined with with his left hand while sustaining the kalimba like ripples in his right.
The second number started with a rhythm that hovered between soul and R n’ B, followed by a lyrical passage which the trio then deconstructed and explored from different angles a bit like a Picasso painting.
The set included a tune that began close to a waltz, but a waltz that was disturbing, so more in the spirit of Ravel’s ‘La Valse’ than a waltz by Strauss, and also featured a fine double bass solo and powerful ensemble playing.
There was also another ominous tune, with low register arco bass and ominously rumbling drums, plus some more powerful, driving ensemble playing.
Overall it was an impressive start to day two.
The French Moroccan trumpeter, composer and producer daoud ( he spells his name with lower case lettering) is not to be confused with the long lived electronic and oud duo DuOud. After several years as a sideman, he’s leading his own quintet of talented musicians, the other members of which play keyboards,vibraphone, double bass and drums.
He and his group had a lot of energy not only in how they played but in their on-stage body language. They mixed jazz, hip hop, and R n’ B, while blues and soul came through too in places particularly in slower passages.
Daoud had a strong stage presence and talked a lot to the audience. He was something of a comedian and used deadpan humour to engage with them. At one point he left the stage in the middle of a number and joined an audience member who was sitting on the floor for a quiet chat.
His rich trumpet sound gelled very harmoniously with the keys and vibraphone, both when the group hurtled along at high velocity or when playing elegaically led by beautifully shaped long notes from daoud’s trumpet.
A terrific vibraphone solo from the impressive Félix Robin was the launch pad for a full-on rip roaring finale from daoud and his group. He and his group would fit right in with the high energy new London jazz scene.
Straight after one trumpeter another came along. Ludovic Louis has played with some big names including ten years’ collaboration with Lenny Kravitz and has Kanye West and Black Eyed Peas on his c.v.
He’s now leading a sextet of which guitarist Anthony Jambon, who is a leader himself, is a key member. Louis’ first album, ‘Rebirth’ has been released and this summer he played the prestigious Nice Jazz Festival.
Louis’s trumpet playing had impressive range and control, a full rounded sound and an ability to hit very high notes clearly. He’s strongly influenced by soul and by funk and to a lesser extent by rock and pop, and put an emphasis on melody.
Also he drew on rhythms from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, with which he has a personal connection. Indeed the most fascinating number of the showcase started with Louis and his drummer playing a distinctive rhythm from there.
He started by telling the audience “Let’s have some fun”, and led his group into a strongly upbeat number. This was followed by a touching tribute to his parents with solos from guitarist Jambon and himself.
Next a short gospel and New Orleans influenced number had the crowd clapping along. There was both a rock and a soul influence in what followed. For the finale number Louis went back to where he started his showcase but this time singing, “Come on everybody take my beat so we can party all day…”. It was a refrain that had many in the audience dancing in their seats.
HIP HORNS BRASS COLLECTIVE
The next showcase was another group aiming to have some fun. The collective from Barcelona came on stage to a pre-recorded chant and almost immediately were making choreographed moves which they continued to do throughout their set.
Six of the eight instrumentalists were brass players, and playing in what was quite a small room they had a very big sound and with a two trombones and a sousaphone plenty of bottom end heft.
They mixed the New Orleans tradition with hip hop, and were fronted for three or four numbers by a female rapper. While I didn’t understand the language the phonetic sound of her Spanish rap was great and gelled organically with the sound of the band.
The ensemble playing was strong, lively and appealing with the pace never less than mid range on the speedometer and they’d probably go down very well at festivals.
ANTONIO LIZANA QUINTET
Antonio Lizana, alto saxophonist, singer and composer, is a well established artist who has made four albums, and toured in several countries including an appearance at the London Flamenco Festival.
He is from near Cadiz and grew up surrounded by flamenco. While I have experienced groups mixing flamenco and jazz before these have usually been piano led, and this was only the second time I’d heard a saxophone led flamenco jazz group. Also there was a male flamenco dancer who was part of the group. The sound of his footwear striking the stage was integrated into the music as was the palmas, the flamenco hand clapping.
What was a dramatic set began with Lizana’s voice crying out, much foot stamping and clapping, and a fine jazz solo from the group’s pianist Daniel Garcia Diego over a throbbing bass guitar pulse before Lizana concluded the first number with a fierce sinuous alto sax and a kind of flamenco rap.
The second number started very introspectively with an achingly sad sax solo from Lizana the tension of which I felt in the pit of my stomach, while simultaneously the dancer’s body language conveyed despair. Strangely this turned into what sounded like a flamenco pop song until displaced by some more fine jazz piano playing.
The final number of the three the group played was based on flamenco from Cadiz and Lizana duetted with dancer El Mawi de Cadiz, first on his sax and then with his voice.
It was an exciting set that showed it was possible to bring flamenco and jazz together via the saxophone. The audience loved it and responded not only with applause but with cheers and bravos.
The JF Trio, the third of three very different Spanish groups to play on day two, have recorded two albums and currently are working on their third. Led by Jofre Fité, piano and keyboards, they blended jazz and electronica with their drummer making a lot of use of a drum pad and the double bassist also playing synthesiser. Also they incorporated slivers of pop and rock into their music which was often underpinned by a pulse or by a sharper clubland beat .
They seemed to be exploring what different textures they could come up with, at one point Fité reached inside the piano to pluck the strings, and they made more use of arco bass than almost any other group playing a showcase. It was a complete surprise when after a frantic passage the trio suddenly broke into some stunningly beautiful vocalese. They could have been singing in a church choir.
In the JF Trio’s final tune a slow haunting arco double bass contrasted with energetic piano and drums with all three then subsiding to what was a quiet conclusion to their showcase.
LéNoDuo are a pianist, Leonardo Montana and drummer Arnaud Dolmen who also played a miniature xylophone.
Dolmen was born in Guadeloupe and Montana partially grew up there, and they first got together when invited to perform Caribbean Francophile music by the French Institute in London. They each have albums out, one of Montana’s is solo piano, and their first album together is due to be released in March 2024.
Their music was characterised by a strong symbiosis, and gave the impression they were doing a lot of improvising. There was frequent eye contact and a lot of smiles between them and they seemed to really enjoy playing together.
A highlight of their set was a wide ranging number which began like a ballad but this was quickly displaced by a rhythm and an earthy chant from Guadeloupe. This in turn gave way to a lyrical melody and vocalese followed by fine mazy pianism from Montana. He then took over playing the bass line giving Dolmen extra space to express himself through his drumming.
Their showcase also included a slow lyrical Argentinian tune which the duo unfolded very beautifully and again displaying their talent for vocalese.
Their first number had had a sharp staccato rhythm and they were in similar territory with their final number. It was a bright end to what had been a very attractive and enjoyable set of acoustic jazz.
This was guitarist Anthony Jambon’s second appearance in two days. He’d been part of Ludovic Louis’ band the day before, and also his own group had had a showcase in 2018. This however was truly something completely different, a collaboration between Jambon on guitar, loops and vocals and sound engineer Simon Marais who used ten speakers to surround the audience to create an immersive sound experience.
It was in effect one thirty five minute piece with multi layered swathes of different sounds following one after the other, over which Jambon laid down a variety of often delicate guitar lines. For example at one point there was a pulse that sounded as if it might come from deep in the earth or ocean over which Jambon played fragile Spanish sounding guitar.
Towards the end there were sounds like an organ and it became very cinematic. The finale end was rather moving, a tribal beat circulated the room and then seemed to exit the room leaving behind a gentle guitar melody.
Arguably this showcase was more sound art than jazz though Jambon and the sound engineer were probably improvising in the moment. But more important was it was a fascinating experience with a memorable ending.
CLÉLYA ABRAHAM QUARTET
Pianist, vocalist, composer Clélya Abraham is from Guadeloupe, and in 2022 released her first, and so far only, album ‘La Source’. In it she merged her Guadeloupe/creole roots with jazz, and she took a similar approach in her showcase.
Her voice was pleasant though not exceptional, with enough power for it to able to rise above the sound of her band in full flight, and she had a good touch on the piano keys. She’d surrounded herself with a strong set of players two of whom also are members DAÏDA who were one of the hits of last year’s Jammin.
Abraham the composer wisely allowed space for each of her quartet to contribute at least one solo, with the excellent double bassist Samuel F’hima contributing three or four.
The tunes ranged from an ethereal opener, to a lilting blues with double bass, guitar and piano each soloing, to one rooted in Guadeloupe culture. The centrepiece though was ‘Hurricane’, not a version the Bob Dylan song with the same title about the imprisonment of boxer Reuban ‘Hurricane’ Carter but the story a storm vividly told in music. This began with moments of calm interspersed with swirling sounds of the storm gathering and had a passage of sustained ferocity which then subsided as the storm moved on or died away.
Guitarist Antonin Fresson had been prominent in ‘Hurricane’ and the final number featured his electric guitar in a delightful conversation with Clélya Abraham’s vocalese and piano playing. It was showcase that was earthy in places, joyous overall and easy on the ear.
The Aleph Quintet are based in Brussels and are a relatively new collaboration between musicians from Belgium, France and Tunisia, They released their first album together, ‘Shapes of Silence’, this year.
Their line-up included an oud and a violin, and they combined jazz, groove, North African music, Gnawa trance rhythms and more. I knew that the group’s pianist Wadji Riahi was a fine player as his trio had been one of the best groups at last year’s Jammin’.
The opening number was an energetic merging of jazz and different traditions that began and ended with the same catchy melody that sandwiched some virtuosic violin and piano playing. This was followed by a multi-layered contemplative composition with the drummer using pom poms to create waves of drum washes.
Next was a lively tune which the quintet played with great vigour and that sounded as if it had been influenced by Celtic reels as well as North African rhythms.
Their final rather hypnotic number had a mysterious ethereal atmosphere starting with an extended oud solo from Akram Ben Romdhane. The oud then combined with exquisitely beautiful whistling that seemed to came out of nowhere but was from Wadji Riahi, and the tune the title of which was ‘Morning Mist,’ finished with choral vocalese.
It wasn’t the jazziest number but it held everyone spellbound, and overall it was an intriguing and high quality showcase.
FERGUS McCREADIE TRIO
Fergus McCreadie’s Trio was only the second group from the UK to play a Jammin’ showcase, the only other being Binker and Moses who played at the inaugural event.
The Mercury Prize nominated Scottish pianist and composer’s trio’s third album ‘Forest Floor’ not only received a nomination for the 2022 Mercury prize but was Jazz FM’s album of the year and the first jazz album ever to be awarded Scottish album of the year. Currently McCreadie is a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist.
He began by saying “ I’ve written some tunes, let’s see what happens”. What happened was a gripping 35 minutes of jazz with bursts of Scottish folk music played without any break so that the set in effect was a single extended number. The importance to the trio of their Scottish roots was signalled by the emergence of an attractive Scottish folk tune early on and was reinforced latter when another traditional tune came to the fore.
While McCreadie’s mercurial and nuanced pianism was pre-eminent, in Stephen Henderson, drums, and David Bowden, double bass he had two colleagues who had a great rapport with him, and who each had moments in the spotlight.
There were some more tranquil passages but fluent high speed instinctual playing dominated. At one point McCreadie’s quicksilver right hand phrases were anchored by his left hand playing a repeated pulse.
Overall there was a strong forward momentum to the trio’s music, and the 35 minute listen was an intense and rewarding experience.
BENJAMIN ASNAR TRIO
The music of electric bass guitarist and composer Benjamin Asnar from Nice infuses the cultures of the Mediterranean with influences from Latin America and the American jazz tradition. He has one album out ‘K’ that was recorded in 2021.
Unfortunately I only caught the latter part of this showcase but it was enough to learn that Asner’s trio, while they had power, also played with a touching delicacy in places.
His compositions had attractive melodies, and this combined with the zest with which the trio played them, with pianist Lucas Belkhiri jumping up from his piano stool, made the set an enjoyable conclusion to this year’s Jammin’ Juan showcases
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