Photo Credit: Alison Bentley
Gaume Jazz Festival
(Rossignol-Tintigny, Belgium. 10th-11th Aug 2013. Second/third day round-up by Alison Bentley)
At this festival nothing seems impersonal or over-commercial. Of course, it has sponsors: numerous regional council and arts groups, and private companies. But it's all about the music, and loyal festival-goers return again and again, trusting Jean-Pierre Bissot's thoughtful programming - 25 gigs on 5 stages, and a friendly atmosphere.
One of this year’s special themes was jazz from the Netherlands. The Nordanians are from Amsterdam and sounded a little like the Mahavishnu Orchestra- but they’re just a trio, with clever quicksilver arrangements. Oene van Geel’s violin and Mark Tuinstra’s guitar flanked Niti Ranjan Biswas’ table of mesmerising tablas. Some John McLaughlin-style Indian vocal scat mixed with beatbox; a violin palette from L. Shankar to bright gypsy colours; guitar from Egberto Gismonti to soukous; Americana meets raga with dazzling speeds. It was sunny outside but everyone was inside the big tent, not wanting to miss a moment- though many of the bands were on twice, so you got a second chance to hear them.
In the small outside tent, the Electric Miles Project (from Belgium) were playing Miles' 80s repertoire. As Miles played over Marcus Miller's backing tracks on those albums, it was good to hear Peer Baierlein's full-throated trumpet with a funky quartet. Hannibal was rephrased, a quieter version with interesting displaced beats from drummer Koen Mertens. The crowd loved Dries Verhulst’s Hendrix guitar screams.
There were lots of children around and events specially for them. In the open air amphitheatre, a trio led by fine Belgian saxophonist Toine Thys were dressed as sailors on a quest for the Mélodie Philosophale, a mythical tune than could save the world. An improvised piece emerged from the Morse code for SOS- the children were entranced.
In the Salle, the small indoor theatre, the Dutch experimental trio Tin Men and the Telephone were equal parts Bad Plus, Robert Glasper, Laurie Anderson and Dame Edna. Tony Roe's virtuosic piano skills were revealed in a funky version of a Messaien piece and a transcription of an Erroll Garner improvisation. And who knew there could be so many jazz-telephone jokes? The trio were on film projected behind the stage, dressed as bored (female) call-centre workers; the music followed their intonation patterns with exquisitely humorous free improv.
Meanwhile back in the big tent, the emphasis was back on youth with Frank Vaganée's Jazz World Orchestra, with 18 young musicians chosen from 'the four corners of the earth'. There was some lushly arranged Gershwin, a richly-textured piece by Vaganée, fine soloing and an talented young woman on flute and vocals. Next in the big tent was Music 4 a While, a quintet using classical pieces as a basis for improvisation, from Monteverdi to John Dowland to Catalan folk songs. There was a tarantella, some klezmer improv, gypsy violin, and pizzicato cello, fronted by the rich classical voice of Muriel Bruno.
2 minutes' walk through the village was the beautiful old church, the ideal venue for Lauren Blondiau and Yannick Peeters' debut free-ish duet, a festival highlight for me. As Blondiau raised his trumpet I noticed the angel sculpture on the wall brandishing his own trumpet in a matching gesture. And the music was angelic and eerie in turns. The trumpet's faint plaintive cry recalled Tomasz Stanko against the drumming bass. Into time no changes, Don Cherry flourishes and some sleight of hand with the mute: Blondiau waved it in the air to make subtle changes to the sound. Peeters’ Charlie Haden-esque resonance was the dark background to Blondiau 's flashes of colour, as he played trumpet and flugelhorn at the same time, harmonising with himself. It could've been the soundtrack to a Tarkovsky film.
In the small tent was the curiously-named Belgian band Too Much and the White Nots: 9 high-energy musicians playing 13 (approx) instruments melding folk, punk, free improv, gospel harmonies -oh, and a didgeridoo. Florence and the Machine meets the Incredible String Band.
The final big tent gig was from Belgian pianist and songwriter Eric Légnini, who first played at the Festival in 1988, aged 18. It's characteristic of the organisers to find talent in the young and just keep on nurturing it. Légnini is an expressive pianist, from Joe Sample-esque Fender Rhodes, to EST moments. His programme, named after his album Sing Twice, had two singers, taking half the gig each. From the UK, Hugh Coleman's ethereal Rufus Wainwright-to-Marvin Gaye vocals were inspiring, fragments of improvisation floating over the jazz-funk piano and punchy 3-horn backings. The hiphoppy 7/4 Snow Falls, was sublime, a deceptively simple melody over tricky chords. Mamani Keita sang in the second set with a sweet tone and traditional African melisma. The trance-like three chord grooves, with interlocking Afro beats, made you feel glad to be alive.
My Sunday began with 18 year old Belgian singer-pianist Sarina Cohn singing with an introspective, pure Joan Baez vibrato. The audience loved her songs in both English and Hebrew. In total contrast, out in the warm sun in the open-air tent were Belgian Old Jazzy Beat Mastazz, their two rappers fronting the band with a cool dance routine. (French rap rhythms are intriguingly different.) Think of Ian Dury with an Afro Brand New Heavies and double it.
Over in the big tent, the well-established Belgian duo Nathalie Loriers and bassist Philippe Aerts had been asked to choose a third musician from the Netherlands. The remarkable saxophonist Tineke Postma joined them. She's studied with Dave Liebman and has a wonderfully fluid style, with a little Jan Gabarek in her sound too. Aerts' strong, sympathetic pulse underpinned Lorier's Evans-influenced music beautifully. Her Romantic yet crisp style reminded me of the UK's Nikki Iles. Lorier's own writing seemed to have delicate Nordic colours, but she also played with strong swing on the cool bop of Tristano's Lennie Knows. They ended with Postma's Funk for Fun, and the title says it all. A gentle sunset stroll back to the church, where the sound of Marine Horbaczewski's solo cello blended with the light through the 19th Century windows to create a quiet space for a while.
'Carte Blanche' is the Festival's annual invitation to a musician to write new music to play with any musicians they like. Belgian pianist and composer Eve Beuvens was given the role this year. Taught by the UK's John Taylor, her playing had clearly been influenced by him- but her writing for three horns was spikier and dark at times. There were some wonderful brain-stretching free sections too, with Sonny Sharrock-ish guitar from Benjamin Sauzereu.
Still in the big tent, the final gig- we heard Pat Metheny's Minuano arranged for the Solis String Quartet (you could imagine the Kronos Quartet doing it). Israeli chanteuse Noa blazed on to the stage to join them, her red dress matching her incandescent voice. Its timbre recalled Sephardic singing, as she improvised with the String Quartet and guitar (and her own congas) with a wild, joyful energy.
It’s a beautiful festival. There’s such a variety of music, all organised with such dedication, and it’s impressive that the (all ages) audience is open to the different styles. And honestly, only a few hours away by train....