08/18/11

Jazz in Marciac: Attractive Sounds in an Attractive Place

Emilie Pons reports from jazz festival in the south of France

Marciac is a very small and picturesque village in Gers, in the South of France. Jazz exists in Marciac all year long with a special middle and high school jazz program but it becomes even more intense during the two week jazz festival, in August, when it gets absolutely packed with jazz aficionados. The audience in Marciac is a group of connoisseurs most dedicated to jazz. Marciac Jazz Festival director Jean-Louis Guilhaumon speaks of an “educated and generous audience.”

It may be surprising that Marciac Jazz Festival has been functioning for so long, given its most remote location; but many important musicians have played in Marciac, at least once, and they often come back. Many shows have been recorded in Marciac. Marciac means Maceo Parker, it means Hiromi, and this year, one more time, a lot of great concerts were planned – Richard Galliano, Roy Hargrove or Roberta Gambarini, for instance.

Last week, on Monday night, world pianist Tigran Hamasyan captivated an entire audience, under the stage called “the Chapiteau,” with his extremely melodic pieces, his traditional Armenian songs as well as his vocal accompaniments, reminiscent of Indian singers; Hamasyan, a humble, charming and most creative artist, proved very, very generous with the audience. He was followed by Ahmad Jamal and his quartet. Yusef Lateef had been invited on stage, and this was a remarkable idea. At age 91, Lateef has a lot of things to express and share with the audience. He was completely welcome, supported and accompanied by the 81-year-old Jamal, who respected the spirit of Lateef. Lateef’s melodies were melancholy and lyrical; they were sad but beautiful. The audience, most enthusiastic, was absolutely captivated by the musicians. Yusef Lateef proved very surprising not only melodically, but also rhythmically. He played a series of instruments (various types of flutes, the saxophone) and he sang, too: it was about brothers and sisters, it was about soul, it was about love, with lyrics such as "Hold your light my friend, I'll get to the other side of the river..." or "You know, the sun will light my back door again...."

The respect each musician gave to the other was more flagrant during that show than during Al Di Meola’s show, the week before; Di Meola’s concert featured Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano. Of course Gonzalo Rubalcaba had gorgeous and original musical propositions. His solo, “Faith,” a song from his new “piano solo disc,” was a special moment of peace. It was the 3rd time Rubalcaba played with Al Di Meola. “When you play with two, three or four people, you have to know how to listen (….) it’s a democratic game.” And sharing, as Rubalcaba explained, is a trait of Cuban music. Cuba was always very open and able to relate to other types of musics. It is a shame Rubalcaba’s musicality and poetry did not really fit in with Di Meola’s sensibility. Perhaps Di Meola should accept that he is not the only one on stage?

The unusual duo of Chucho Valdes and Michel Camilo followed Al Di Meola’s show. Difficult not to be charmed and impressed altogether by those two incredible virtuosos. However, a slightly more intimate experience might have been pleasant also. Both masters would have probably benefited from being on stage on their own only. And Marciac may not need to try and create duos that do not work that well. After all, Marciac is already a wonderful and extremely pleasant festival, where everybody eats very well—and it might be because the ducks and cattle, after sensing jazz all around, end up tasting very, very good.

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