Jammin’ Juan at Juan-les-Pins

Colin May enjoys three days at a talent-spotting festival in the south of France

The charismatic Célia Kameni fronts big band Bigre! Photo by Jeff van Straelen

Now in its third year, the three days of Jammin’ Juan (this year 23-26 October) is part festival, part market place for emerging bands. Both the public and programmers from some of France’s hundreds of jazz festivals and from festivals further afield including two from Canada and one from Russia, come to hear 10 bands a day, eight playing showcases and two in concert. Also, new this year was a fourth day devoted to big bands, with four playing.

Nearly all the bands selected from 125 applications for the 24 showcase slots played a form of contemporary mainstream jazz; the exceptions included a couple of bands who didn’t play jazz at all.

Overall the standard was noticeably higher than last year making it harder for bands to stand out. Among those that did were three trios. EYM Trio emphasised ensemble playing rather than soloing. Their angular style had similarities to that of Phronesis though perhaps with a greater stress on swing and they enriched their music with some non-European references. For example, their barn-storming finale was a homage to Bangalore. With an international profile already (next stop Indonesia) and a London-based drummer, it’s strange that not one of this excellent trio’s 600+ gigs has been in the UK.

While Dock in Absolute has a group ethic too, pianist-composer Jean-Philippe Koch is the star. He’s an active classical performer and used his prodigious technique and love of playing loud to probe where jazz and classical might intersect while keeping the trio’s music accessible throughout. This is a band that could go down well with fans of E.S.T.

Alex Monfort’s appearance suggests urban electro sounds but his was a classic piano trio with a contemporary twist that impressed whether playing a gentle ballad or an upbeat number. Monfort said they were tired, so if you catch them when they’re not they could be even better.

Two other young band leaders also displayed great potential. American Josiah Woodson’s quintet Quintessential had a blast playing his compositions with Woodson’s rich bell-like tone on trumpet leading the way after earlier he’d shown flair as guitarist in Daniel Gassin’s Crossover Band.

Israeli saxophonist Shauli Einav’s quintet had a trombone and vibraphone, helping create his band’s satisfyingly warm sound. Einav not only has the talent to have played at Ronnie Scott’s alongside Ivo Neame, but the band’s vivid version of an old Israeli song indicated he’s a gifted arranger.

The electronic sounds, loops and vocalese of Croatian drummer Lada Obradovic and Frenchman David Tixier on keys and electronics weren’t mainstream and the duo would be at home on the club scene. But jazz was part of their exciting late-night performance, and though not everything worked, it was compelling and kept me from my bed.

Trumpet and piano duos are rare but there were two on the bill. Neve-Nobel created a very intimate atmosphere. Nicholas Gardel and Rémi Panossian, who are close friends (latest album Mirror), were more rumbustious in recreating the sounds of carnival, including an echo of the pathos of Stravinsky’s Petrushka. Their audacious rendition of Caravan segued in and out of their take on an electro-dance number and brought the house down.

The edgy Serket & the Cicadas, the House Of Echo oscillating between meditative soundscapes and almost frantic speed, Cascino Trio interleaving Mediterranean rhythms with Latin and African ones, Out/line’s broad palette stemming from them being a sextet and having a mix of relatively young and more experienced players, Theo Girard’s Quartet with sax and trumpet, Jon Scott on drums and no piano – all were among the other bands who had something musically interesting to say. So did Saràb, who merged Middle-Eastern traditions and rock music; what they did wasn’t jazz but it was good.

Of the big bands, Les Rugissants tentet was a fascinating combination of chamber jazz and more conventional big band riffs. Bigre! were twice as large, having four percussionists and a charismatic singer with a flowing voice. They skilfully transformed everything, whatever its origin, into upbeat Latin jazz. They created a party vibe that by the finale had almost everyone up from their seats and moving. It was a great way of celebrating the best Jammin’ Juan so far.

Jammin’ Juan, Palais Des Congrès, Juan-les-Pins, 23-26 October