Jazz à Vienne Blends Music Past and Present
Nestled in the timeless setting of a Roman amphitheater, Jazz à Vienne spun its summer charms from June 28–July 13, blending music past and present: heirs of Miles Davis’ post-bop and Django Reinhardt’s gypsy swing (Trio Rosenberg, Les Doigts de l’Homme), Francophone Caribbeans (Kassav, Malavoi), Cubans (Buena Vista Social Club, Chucho Valdés, Roberto Fonseca) and nights of Chicago blues, French heroes, gospel and funk.
Pianists ruled during this writer’s five-day visit to the 33-year-old French festival. Chick Corea, a 13-time Vienne performer, led The Vigil (with Tim Garland launching soprano flights, guest Christian McBride anchoring bass and Luis Quintero inserting zesty congas) through breezy tributes to Bud Powell and Roy Haynes.
Classically trained Cubans excelled: Fonseca’s myriad keyboards were in simpatico alignment with Malian kora and Senegalese drums, and Rolando Luna’s alert montunos spurred on his noble elders in Buena Vista Social Club.
Trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, a precocious entertainer, played a four-valve horn on his amiable Miles Davis tribute. Céline Bonacina wailed on baritone and soprano saxophones but seemed to favor electronic hip-hop. French reed wizards Louis Sclavis and Michel Portal teamed with bassist Henri Texier and drummer Christophe Marguet in a brilliantly executed “live soundtrack,” playing animated charts peppered with solos as band and audience watched a slide show of gritty black-and-white images by French photographer and filmmaker Guy Le Querrec.
A happy surprise was Goran Bregovic, Sarajevo-born plectrist impresario and clown prince, who gleefully masterminded a marathon Balkan extravaganza with his sonorous Wedding and Funeral Orchestra. They rode a roller-coaster of giddy Balkan-tinged swing, with breath-holding stop-time vocals and mash-ups of klezmer swagger and bouzouki strut.
Artist-in-residence Cécile McLorin Salvant voice-printed the Tin Pan Alley jazz canon with agile pianist Fred Nardin at workshops in Saint-Romain-en-Gal’s marvelous Roman museum and with a midnight septet. Her white horn-rimmed glasses and wide smile echoed the festival’s logo; Salvant makes you cry at “Gentleman Is A Dope” and laugh at “Honeysuckle Rose.”
Intriguing venues inspired exciting performances. Cybele’s garden limestone ramparts and tents made shade for the Agathe Jazz Quartet, Rémi Collin Trio and Jazz Juvenocracy (Sarasota, Fla. high schoolers). Club à Minuit, a baroque bandbox boîte, hosted edgy ensembles like Equilibre de Nash’s ripe bop and pianist Roberto Negro’s airy chamber fantasias with string trio for Elise Caron’s aquatint voice, and Pierrick Pédron’s post-Steve Lacy explorations of Thelonious Monk’s more obscure ditties.