REPORT: Jazzèbre Festival in Perpignan, France

Jazzèbre's mascot
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans

Jazzèbre Festival
(Perpignan, France, 12-14 October 2018. Report and pictures by Tony Dudley-Evans)

I have come to regard the French jazz scene as one of the most interesting and varied in Europe, so I was delighted to receive an invitation to the Jazzèbre Festival in Perpignan, which is right down in the South East of France near the Spanish border. It's so close, in fact, that I flew into and was picked up in Girona in Catalunya.

Jazzèbre was this year celebrating its 30th anniversary; it runs for a whole month, this year from 22 September to 21 October with mostly weekend concerts all programmed by the festival's very astute artistic director Yann Causse. The name is taken from the zebra and the main stage has on it a model of a zebra. I did not find out why!

Artistic director Yann Causse
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans
My highlights were two bands with something of a regional focus. The Florent Pujuila Quartet is led by Florent Pujuila, mostly on bass clarinet, but also soprano saxophone and clarinet. He's from the region and is probably best known as a classical player, but he is also a fine jazz composer and soloist. The rest of the quartet has three members of the current Orchestre National de Jazz: trumpeter Fabrice Martinez, bass player Bruno Chevillon and drummer Eric Echampard. I enjoyed Pujuila's intricate and varied compositions, and, in particular, the interestingly complex writing for the rhythm instruments. Solos from Pujuila and Martinez were engaging, and this, plus the writing, made for an absorbing and stimulating set.

The second group to impress was the oddly named Ostaar Klake Quintet. Their set moved between atmospheric pieces full of interesting textures and more energetic tunes that seemed to draw inspiration from the work of Pharoah Sanders and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The players are all based in the South East, particularly in Toulouse, and are led by the bass player Lina Lamont, but the main inspiration seems to be baritone saxophonist Marc Demereau, a veteran of the Toulouse scene. I particularly enjoyed the passages with a double baritone sax frontline when Demereau was joined by fellow saxophonist Florian Nastorg (he also played alto); this resulted in a very special and distinctive sound. I was also impressed by the way the quintet was happy to focus in the quieter tunes on the sounds and textures of the music rather than having to build up to a climax. There were, however, plenty of climaxes on the full-on pieces and lots of drama.

Louis Sclavis played from his Characters On A Wall material, with each piece inspired by a particular artwork which Sclavis described in words before playing the piece. The writing is very beautiful, but somehow the quartet with Benjamin Moussay on piano, Sarah Murcia on bass and Christophe Lavergne on drums seemed rather subdued for much of the set, only coming to life on the last three numbers.

Papanosh were there with their project involving New Yorker Roy Nathanson and beat boxer Napoleon Maddox. There was lots of humour and fun in the music, but the set did not really cohere.  It moved constantly from one focus to another and never settled. I suspect the band found the formality of the large hall and the lack of response from the audience a bit daunting.

Artist-in-residence Christophe Monniot
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans
Alto saxophonist Christophe Monniot has been artist-in-residence this year, working on a repeat performance of his major commission, the Jericho Sinfonia. The piece is inspired by the Bible story of the collapse of the walls of Jericho as a result of the playing of trumpets round the walls, and the piece includes extensive use of recordings of experts and others discussing the story and the possibility that it could be true. I found this very difficult to follow in French and even those who could follow it agreed that these sections made the whole piece rather disjointed and certainly very long. Nonetheless, the writing for the 11-piece ensemble was strong and dramatic, and the integration of the very strong solos from most members of the group into the writing was very effective.  Monniot's own solos on alto sax were particularly strong and dramatic.

Monniot had also worked with a group of students from the jazz course in the city's conservatoire, and they played one of the sections of the commissioned piece. They did this with great conviction and impressive soloing.

André Invielle played a solo set based on song, percussion and a limited use of electronic sounds.  His performance is based largely on word play and from the reaction of the audience it is clearly very witty. I'm afraid my French again was not up to it.

Sadly the jazz picnic scheduled for the Sunday had to be cancelled because of heavy rain.

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