Review: Jazz Sous Les Pommiers 2011

Ahead of this year’s Jazz sous les pommiers festival in Normandy (4-11 May) we republish Derek Ansell’s report of the 2011 event

28 May-4 June 2011, Coutances

The 30th edition of the Jazz sous les pommiers festival was one of the best yet, with weather and the god of logistics smiling on the event and the punters present in big numbers.

Early morning concerts by Britain's Kit Downes Trio and the Rosenberg Trio pulled in a good crowd, underlining the excellent degree of support enjoyed by the festival in general. Saxophonist / bass clarinettist Michel Portal filled the 1400-seat Salle Marcel Hélie venue no trouble and the municipal theatre had all 600 seats sold out in advance for most of the concerts.

Early performers were the Laurent De Wilde Sextet and the Duke Orchestra, a big band playing Ellington compositions under the direction of Laurent Mignard. French organist and pianist Eddy Louiss had a lively seven-piece band and a 40-musician 'Fanfare'. The blues were represented by the Eric Bibb duo, with Staffan Astner on guitar and Charlie Musselwhite and trio, both leaders from the USA.

At the theatre the Marcin Wasilewski Trio with the leader on piano and close integration from bassist Slawomir Kirkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewicz played a strong set of originals. The leader's style was light, lyrical and with more than a touch of the Bill Evans influence but the music was original and fresh.

Michel Portal's sextet with US players Scott Colley on bass and drummer Nasheet Waits played hard free music, the leader in post Dolphy and late Coltrane mode on bass clarinet, soprano and alto. Churning rhythm throughout added spice and there were tart, fragmented trumpet solos from the acclaimed new trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire.

Das Kapital provided loud, no-holds-barred free jazz excursions with Daniel Erdman, a percussive tenor player offering lots of short, sharp strident tones, Hasse Poulsen, a wild free player one minute and a Wes Montgomery disciple the next, and Edward Perraud, a hard-hitting, thrusting percussionist with a very showy presentation. They were raw and loud during many sections but managed to communicate well with the full theatre. Either that or the entire audience were in festive mood and ready for anything. But could it happen in the UK? Perhaps not.

Anyone thinking that the 10-piece Shut Up And Dance might be a dance or mainstream jazz band was in for a shock. The combo played fierce free jazz with commitment and energy, the compositions well structured to feature piccolo, flute, bass clarinets, trumpet, flugel and bass flute, all spiced up by hard rocking rhythms from acoustic and electric pianos, bass guitar, guitar (doubling banjo) and drums. John Hollenbeck's compositions were impressive and gave form to the free-ranging solos that followed his ensembles. At one point there were four sets of hands at the piano keyboard as Antonin Tri Hoang and Remi Dumoulin played bass clarinets riffs and Jose Mienniel played a piccolo solo on top. With the furious rhythm accompaniment it set up a churning, wild passage of contemporary jazz.

Bassist Ron Carter filled the 1400 seats of Salle Marcel Hélie and had many more standing round the sides and back of the great hall. The Golden Striker Trio featured closely integrated lines from Mulgrew Miller on piano, Russell Malone on guitar and the leader's probing, driving bass. Sometimes they played duos, piano and bass, sometimes bass and guitar but mostly the three wove complex lines around the each other. Carter chose to play My Funny Valentine and it was the first standard I heard at this festival. He is a virtuoso soloist on bass but his lines are always musical first and designed solely to fit each composition. Technical dexterity is there in abundance but is never flaunted for its own sake.

This was though, a festival of all straight-ahead jazz of an advanced, exploratory nature. Whereas in the UK jazz festivals tend to revolve around mainstream combos, fusion, girl vocalists and popular names in the tradition, the Coutances style focuses on modern, contemporary and avant-garde jazz with a splash of major popular names such as Ron Carter and Jamie Cullum.

Jamie was whooping it up at two concerts on two separate days and was constantly pursued by French journalists. There were many more bands featuring musicians such as Joachim Kuhn, Benjamin Moussay, Martial Solal and saxophonist Andy Sheppard playing in an Anglo-French six-piece line up. Big bands, professional and amateur played in the square and there were marching bands and a real festive atmosphere on the final day.

Good music, good weather, good organisation, a typical French city setting with a cathedral on top of a hill and all within easy striking distance of southern England. Who could ask for more?

Derek Ansell

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