Live reviews

Gaume Jazz Festival 2023, Belgium

Gaume Jazz Festival
(Rossignol, Belgium. 11-13 August 2023. Round-up by Oliver Weindling)

Philipe Catherine (left) and his quartet. Photo by Oliver Weindling

Gaume Jazz Festival this year celebrated a full return to pre-pandemic sized programme, helped by extending the capacity of its second venue in the park. This is in addition to the village’s church and the small theatre, a small open air amphitheatre and the main marquee (chapiteau).

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The festival takes place in an arts centre in the small Belgian village of Rossignol, about 30 miles west of Luxembourg. Approaching through the forests of the Ardennes, and passing memorials and war cemeteries of the two world wars, it’s a beacon of imagination, fuelled by trappist Orval beer. Now running for over 30 years, always a great opportunity to be reminded as to the Belgian and French scenes, with a few bands from Hungary and the like to give a greater variety. Looking as much to the future as the present.

A particular focus this year was on the Belgian saxophonist Manu Hermia, whose curiosity is reflected in the broad range of music with which he is involved. There’s always a bit of surprise in any Hermia performance. He is nowadays quite an inspiration also to the new generation. But he is hardly known in the UK. He recorded ‘God at the Casino’ (Babel), but there have been no live performances here – as far as I am aware. It shows the extent to which European musicians can forge careers without the need to come to the UK…

Manu Hermia and Christine Ott (ondes martenot)

A different band was featured each day. They moved from the more expansive on the first night, as the highlight in the large chapiteau. An exceptionally dynamic supergroup of Belgian musicians, including trumpeter Jean-Paul Estiévenart and trombonist Samuel Blaser who were both outstanding. Then on subsequent days, the groups became more and more intimate.

So, on the next day, we had Orchestra Nazionale della Luna, with co-leader Kari Ikonen on piano, Sebastien Boisseau on bass and Teun Vebruggen on drums. They were in the smaller theatre, and made nearly as much impact as Hermia’s band from the first night.

The final day’s offering was in the church. Here he was in duo with Christine Ott on ondes martenot, the electronic instrument which has sonically great similarity to the theremin, but using a keyboard. It was a much more contemplative and intense show than his others. It gave the chance for Hermia to merge his curiosity for ragas, North African modalities and jazz, using flutes to complement his saxophones . The ondes martenot didn’t always seem to match Hermia’s flights of fancy.

A particular festival stand-out was a concert to celebrate the 80th birthday of Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine, who has been one of the leaders of the contemporary European jazz scene since the 1960s. A great groove with no wasted notes, he really seemed to inspire his band, of Nicola Andrioli on piano, Bart De Nolf on bass and Angelo Moustapha (orginally from Benin) on drums and percussion.

Michel Vrydag (centre of picture)

A joy of Gaume is the adventurous programming of Jean-Pierre Bissot which allows one to hear some of the new generation appearing across Europe. Such as the bassist Michel Vrydag’s trio project, “Mapping Roots”, full of imaginative interplay; the Hungarian duo of Tamara Mózes and Zsolt Kaltenecker, where Mózes’ characterful voice was given support by her own keyboard accompaniment as well as Kaltenecker’s, ending with an evocative cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’.

The piano trio of Daniel Garcia from Spain brought the house down, especially after one of the long bass solos of the Cuban Reinier Elizarde. It was a sunny programme of music infused by Spanish folk and one of the real successes of the festival.

Through the weekend, it was good to hear several more groups with bassist leaders. Such as the upbeat quartet of Gaëtan Casteels, which had an enjoyable contrapuntal interplay across the musicians. Or the duo of Renaud Garcia-Fons with luthenist Claire Antonini. Music ranging from renaissance through to oriental. Garcia-Fons is a master of the bowed bass, and his lyricism complemented the delicacy of Antonini.

Generally, Gaume picks at least one band of the French Jazz Migration scheme. This year it was Mamie Jotax. Two musicians playing various reed instruments, taking advantage of the resonance and location of the church. A performance of contrapuntal interplay and imagination.

The Brussels Jazz Orchestra showed off a new project of the music of Jacques Brel, with vocalist Camille Bertault (whose duo collaboration with David Helbock I had heard at Garana a few weeks earlier). Brel is of course one of the true international icons out of Belgium, and Bertault is an appropriate singer to show the twists and turns. Unfortunately, it felt a little bit too ‘straight’: the big band is really tight and navigates the complex charts with aplomb, but somehow lacks a bit of the looseness and emotion that might be required to communicate it effectively.

Another long-standing ‘friend’ of the festival was the pianist Elise Einarsdotter, performing at the festival for the first time since 1987! Her band included two musicians whom I know more from the folk-related Swedish scene: Lena Willemark, on voice and violin, and Jonas Knutsson on saxophone. It was great how they managed to bring some of this into a more ‘pop jazz’ show. Willemark’s version of ‘Skylark’ almost brought tears to one’s eyes.

The festival ended with Next.Ape, which showed drummer/bandleader Antoine Pierre in a different light to what we have often heard: techno beats from the drummer, mixed with trip hop, jazz and rock; Veronica Harcsa as the sultry vocalist over the highly energetic drumming of Pierre; synth effects of Jérôme Klein and guitar cutting through of Lorenzo di Maio. A great upbeat end to another fascinating festival.

It’s thrilling to hear how much interesting stuff is going on in Europe, which we don’t get to hear in the UK. But the links the other way seem to be getting sparser. Here we have a festival with imaginative artistic direction which looks hard to discover the new trends in European jazz, but somehow the scene in the UK is being increasingly left out of their search. Both sides are the losers! This is something that has really accelerated in the past 3 or 4 years. Some may blame the pandemic, but of course in part it’s a Brexit effect that needs to be addressed.

LINK: Gaume Jazz website

Categories: Live reviews, Reviews

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