Festival Round-up: Jazz Sous Les Pommiers 2014, Coutances, Normandy

Mathias Eick at Jazz Sous Les Pommiers 2014
Photo credit: Pierre-Yves Lemeur

Oliver Weindling reports from closing sessions of the2014 Jazz Sous Les Pommiers festival ( 29-31 May 2014)

The Jazz sous les Pommiers Festival - jazz under the apple trees - in Coutances in Normandy has a name which evokes blossoming of creativity. It is a festival that has everything, from great music and great location through to succulent oysters and shellfish via the local cider. Every bar seems to have its own band. The only caveat: this year many shows had sold out early.

For 10 days, with a climax around Ascension weekend, the town can be thought of a "jazz central". Every shop window seems to have a jazz theme, small speakers around the town during the day play samples of music from the festival. Bars book blues bands and African groups so that the music and public spill into the streets until nearly dawn.

It is a chance to hear a full range of the music, more focussed on the lyrical but with many bands who pick and mix styles from all sources along the spectrum from jazz/improvised to world music. This is now the seventh time that I have attended the festival and am there more to look for inspiration and innovative new connections. Nevertheless when a gig is big, it is really big: these are the gigs in the Salle Marcel Helie, a sports hall converted for the occasion into a venue for 1200, with excellent acoustics and good sight-lines for the likes of Dianne Reeves.

Theo Ceccaldi at Jazz Sous Les Pommiers 2014
Photo credit: Isabelle Laurence


The Théo Ceccaldi Trio started my time at the festival with a bang. Théo plays violin the trio includes brother Valentin, already seen in UK with Sonsale, on cello. Lines get passed imaginatively between them and Guillaume Aknine guitar. Worth looking out for!

Another major concert was then to be heard in the project with Bill Carrothers. Dedicated to D-Day, with the full 70th anniversary just a week away. An American choir was especially brought in to join with local amateurs resulting in 120 singers on stage. Carrothers himself led from piano and vocals. To hear his arrangements of many of the songs of the era sung by Peg Carrothers and by children hardly in their teens was moving: it gave hope for the future as well as reminding us of what happened all those years. Coutances itself had been very badly bombarded in early July 1944 and, apart from the churches which seemed to survive, the rest of the town had to be nearly rebuilt.

John Taylor and Emile Parisien at Jazz SousLes Pommiers 2014
Photo credit: Pierre-Yves Lemeur


Part of the aim of being in Coutances was to continue the work of the Anglo-French project Jazz Shuttle. We have seen several fruits of this over recent years, frequently reviewed here, such as Barbacana, Sonsale, Tweedle Dee and Rich Tailors to name but 4. This festival included a new commission which is within the scheme. Bassist Stephane Kerecki has built a near all-star line-up around him with John Taylor on piano, Emile Parisien on saxophone and Fabrice Moreau on drums, as well as Jeanne Added guesting on vocals. The music is based on French new wave cinema. So we heard many of the "classics" by Michel Legrand, Georges Delerue and Miles Davis to name but three. Still a bit of a way to go live, but every time that the musicians had the chance to open out, it showed the shape of exciting things to come. It was marvellous to hear John impose his impish imagination on the band and, afterwards, a privilege to talk with him about the legacy of his generation and the all-pervading influence of Kenny Wheeler.

Later in the day, we had the chance to experience Dianne Reeves, Mathias Eick and Snarky Puppy. Here the difficulties of the right venue were apparent for Snarky Puppy, which seemed a bit constrained by a seated venue, though this had worked well for Eick's group. Maybe the whole gig had been set up before the recent success of the band, as it would clearly have been better in a venue such as the main sports hall or Magic Mirrors.


The next day started with the Thomas Ehnco Trio. With justification, he showed why he won the "Revelation" award at the recent French Grammies (the Victoires du Jazz). Classical influences were high on the agenda, including a reworking of Schumann's Arabesque. He has taken many of the best influences such as Joachim Kühn, the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio and, looking back over jazz history, Herbie Nicholls and Bill Evans. A most enjoyable lead into lunchtime.

The evening's shows kicked off with a show of the multi-faceted talent of Emile Parisien. First with accordionist-of-the-moment Vincent Peirani. Within minutes their empathy showed, and how, in a short space of time they could move from musette to a full-blooded "argument" to North African-inflected sounds. He then continued as a member of the trio of Jean Celea plying their Ornette Coleman-inspired set and the band of Daniel Humair, already justifiably feted in Londonjazz.

The Magic Miroirs tent has often been a focus of some exciting horn section-led groups over recent years. This year was no exception. On Saturday evening there was the chance to hear BIXIGA 70, showing the new sounds of Sao Paolo. Tight horn riffs over Afro-Samba percussion, giving a great energy, which more than compensated for occasional weaker soloing.

There is an impressive scene in Israel: The Apples matched drums with two turntablists was equally enthralling and raised the roof, without quite smashing the mirrors!

Friday was a night of high energy also in the main Salle. The Battle Royal of Ellington and Basie was re-created by the Laurent Mignard Duke Orchestra and the Michel Pastre Orchestra. The stage was full and, while the arrangements and riffs reflected the originals, it certainly brought the thrill of the event to life. Is there anything to match the sound of a big band?

In the same vein on the Saturday was the James Carter Organ Trio. Here all that was required was three musicians to impart energy and joy to the audience. There was a great awareness of matching the sonorities particularly of saxophone and Hammond Organ (Gerry Gibbs).

Thomas de Pourquery ended his 3 year period as artist in residence with a rousing show called Beautiful Freaks. Looking a bit like George V, he oozed charisma and sang as well as he played the soprano saxophone. Built up from his regular band DPZ, he had two incredible vocalists joining him, in Elise Caron and a return of the charismatic Jeanne Added.

Anoushka Shankar at Jazz Sous Les Pommiers 2014
Photo credit: Melanie Delaville

The festival has no problem in mixing purer jazz with world music. So we had Anouar Brahem in an intense trio with Klaus Gesing on bass clarinet, Björn Meyer (bass) and Khaled Yassine (percussion). They sucked us in, to make a huge sports hall seem like the most intimate space. Anoushka Shankar, dubbed the "Queen of the sitar", performed with an intriguing and enthralling line-up: two cellos, hang, shehnai and dhol drum. She showed how natural it can be to fuse classical Indian raags with Western music. A most moving dedication evoking the needlessness and disgust at the gang rape in India a couple of years ago. and the title track of her recent album, Traces of You, brought the audience to its feet.

Tin Men and the Telephone unfortunately didn't manage to get their interactive app working properly. But we must have high hopes of that in Manchester in July. Nevertheless, they proved their technical prowess as a piano trio. By playing to spoken word, the choice of a movement of Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time was a totally appropriate choice as a first extended song with its linear momentum. But they are equally at home with Tony Roe's originals and a standard by Jaki Byard. So they are certainly a band that proved through this performance that their visuals and technology should be viewed as an add-on to an imaginative band.

Tin Men and The Telephone will play Manchester Jazz Festival on 24 July
Emile Parisien Quartet will play the Vortex on 19 November. 
John Taylor will appear at the Vortex in the KW Collective on 13 July.

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