|Leïla Martial – “An uninhibited ball of energy”
Photo credit Christophe Charpenel
photo used at Jazz in Marciac with no indication of copyright restrictions
(Crazy Coqs, 10 November 2017. 2017 EFG LJF. Review by Gail Tasker)
Although Leïla Martial’s Crazy Coqs gig was under the ‘jazz’ banner, she proved to be beyond all genres: an essential improviser. The singer hails originally from the Pyrenees, and was supported by a French rhythm section. The performance was Martial’s first ever in the UK, as part of the London Jazz Festival. She sang a set of original compositions taken from her second album, Baabel. The band included strong instrumentalists who also vocalized: Éric Perez on drums and Pierre Teyregeol on guitar.
Despite being a trio, the band members filled out and manipulated the textural soundscape in curious ways. Martial had a looping machine, as well as various sound effect functions such as a distorter and a harmonizer. Although she did occasionally sing lyrics, both in English and French, it seems that she was more at home with scatting. With her high level of experimentation, no song sounded the same. Her voice was impressively capable of producing the most extraordinary sounds, ranging from breathy-like hissing to cartoonish mutters. With songs like Oh Papa there was a cinematic edge as she layered wordless melodies on top of each other. With Je bêle donc je suis (I bleat therefore I am, a deliberate misquotation of Descartes), spoken word was performed over the nostalgia-inducing sound samples of cicadas and cattle bells.
Perez and Teyregeol were both equally innovative in their playing. At one point, Perez indulged in a 10 minute-long drum solo accompanied by beatboxing. His ability to create cross-rhythms between pitched rhythms in his voice and constantly changing drum patterns drew cheers and shouts from the crowd. Teyregeol also played an adventurous solo guitar introduction using extended techniques. The band were extremely aware of each other, exchanging ideas in a lively fashion so that they were almost tangible.
The venue is the perfect setting for a small, intimate jazz performance. It’s dimly lit, with red curtains draped across the back of the stage. Martial didn’t allow the audience to relax, however, as she stared straight at us with a humorous glint in her eye. Between songs she created an easy-going rapport with the listeners, switching between English and French. At one point she began talking nonsensically in an American accent, which later transformed into a song complete with fast-talking gibberish and rock anthem-like chord progressions. She was an uninhibited ball of energy, laughing with her band mates and at herself.
As an introductory performance in the UK, the show was a success. Martial provides an improvised music with a French edge, something that is harder to find over here.