Jazz a Luz
(Round-up review of festival. 12-15 July. Various locations in 65120 Luz Saint Sauveur, France. Review by Oliver Weindling)
The folk of Luz St-Sauveur are stubborn and determined – just like many jazz musicians. The great challenge this year for the 23rd Jazz à Luz festival was that a flash flood just 3 weeks earlier had wreaked havoc in the town, with houses uprooted, roads caved in and more. Yet their determination not to be beaten by this disaster added a frisson to the festival.
The great strength of this four-day festival is its focus on free improvised music in particular. It takes advantage of the beautiful location in the Pyrenees, and of the strong music scene in Toulouse (just a couple of hours away). So the main highlights (in terms of “name recognition” for a Londoner) were few and far between. Such as Craig Taborn playing a rare solo concert, mesmerising in his range and understanding of the range of timbres and harmonics available on a piano; and pianist Sophie Agnel, with John Edwards and Steve Noble, producing a thrilling, but at times bewildering range of music from her instrument.
The festival’s attention-grabber for Bastille Day was Tweedledee, the Coax Collectif-Loop Collective seven-piece, set up by Robin Fincker – himself now a Toulouse resident – including Dave Kane and Alex Bonney. There were several other musicians whom we have seen in a few contexts already in the UK, such as Julien Desprez (of Q and Retroviseur). The band has developed a long way since its first rehearsals at the Vortex just over a year ago, and was launching its new album (likewise a Loop-Coax co-production). It’s one of the many successful developments in the Jazz Shuttle scheme where bands and collaborations have started courtesy of the French SACEM and festival network Afijma (now renamed AJC).
Sylvain Darrifourcq, the drummer of Barbacana, another beneficiary of the scheme, was to be heard the following evening with Sylvain Kassap on clarinets and electronics and singer Emilie Lesbros declaimed and sang in a manner which reminded me of Maggie Nichols. A performance of The Man I Love still haunts me, as it really brought out a darkness and brooding of the lyrics which are often overlooked.
Meanwhile there were also concerts in the local bars, and it was a thrill to see a packed audience happily sharing their early evening pastis with a prog-improv trio. Amongst the many other exciting experiences: Stine Janvin Motland, singing solo, seemed to connect with history: it gave a frisson to imagine that the voice could also have been used like this thousands of years ago, though still seeming totally contemporary.
Hearing improvised music in itself can be a marvellous adventure with the musicians themselves as guides. At this festival they took it one stage further by organising a series of themed “mystery tours”. On the Saturday, we were led on a guided walk around the town, where we would walk into a courtyard to be confronted by a trio of two trumpets and trombone (involving Alex Bonney), or a drums-baritone saxophone duo against the backdrop of the majestic mountains. Part of the thrill was that we only knew what we were going to hear was when the musicians walked out of the front rooms!
On the Sunday, having heard a morning concert in the car park of the local hydro-electric power station by vocalist Catherine Jauniaux and saxophonist Marc Démereau themed around the relationship of nature and man, we were led up the valley. Ostensibly we were taught how to forage for wild leaves and herbs, but this was only to be confronted again by impromptu collaborations, such as bass and cajon (using a picnic table as stage!) or a trio accompanying us while we banquetted on leaf fritters….
The most dramatic of the these walks was on the first night, where, as a reaction to excessive light pollution, the town’s street lights were switched off. We were then led in a torchlight procession up the mountain to a small chapel where we listened to a most delicate duo of double bass and acoustic guitar. David Chiesa, a bass player from Bordeaux, showed in this, as in a number of contexts through the weekend, how the bass should be regarded as much as a magnificent wooden sound box as much as a pure ‘stringed’ instrument.
|Tony Dudley-Evans (left) photographing Les Chiens Huilés|
Overall an amazing experience of a weekend. Musically it much reminded me of the Mopomoso nights that John Russell organises monthly at the Vortex, through its highlighting of the intense, ethereal and delicate. But it was presented with a joie de vivre and a pride of the town that meant that the audiences were more than just the cognoscenti.
And all the better for that.