Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Spotlight on French Jazz 2012 by Ken Pickering

Spotlight on French Jazz 2012
By Ken Pickering / Artistic Director

This collaboration between the Vancouver and Ottawa Jazz Festivals, the French Cultural Services in Canada and Institut Français is a fabulous initiative that serves to focus our attention on the contemporary jazz scene in France. Debut Vancouver performances, special collaborations and more will take place in ticketed and free venues during our opening and closing weekend programs.

The work ensued last year with a dialogue initiated between the French Services in Canada; Julie Gallo (French Embassy in Ottawa) and Raynald Belay (French Consulate in Vancouver) with festival directors Catherine O’Grady in Ottawa and myself on the home front here in YVR. There was a thought that this project would be well suited for our events in 2013 (giving us plenty of time to develop a great program), but then it was fast tracked for 2012!

In order to put together a program of the most interesting and diverse music on the French scene on a short time line, we had to quickly establish a strong list of bands and artists that would be a good fit with our festivals. Catherine and myself have similar taste and aesthetic perspectives, so it wasn’t difficult to come up with a strong list, however the challenge can be convincing the artists to undertake international flights without a major tour.

Both of us are big time fans of bassist Hélène Labarriére, so she was close to the top of our list! I first heard her music around twenty years ago in Paris and have been following her music since those days. It’s strange that it can take so darn long to get someone that you really dig to the festival, but such are the realities of programming. Extreme patience can be a prerequisite when dealing with what are ultimately long- term projects! Hélène finally appeared at our festival in 2009 with Sylvain Kassap and at that point we understood that the next logical move would be to invite her own band. Over the years her credits including Marc Ducret, Michel Portal, Robert Wyatt and in her younger days she backed up jazz greats Lee Konitz, Johnny Griffin and Slide Hampton. Her music is intense, yet relaxed, seemingly an accessible and infectious sort of free jazz. Her album Les Temps Changent features her quartet with the fantastic Danish guitarist Hasse Poulsen, François Corneloup (bari sax) and Christophe Marguet (drums). Innovation Series at Ironworks – June 22nd Here’s a live video.

Hélène Labarriére Quartet

Médéric Collignon’s  Jus de Bocse was invited last year, but he bowed out with a serious back issue that unfortunately prevented him from traveling. (With back issues of my own I can relate!) So it was obvious that we had to extend Médèric’s invitation to this year’s festival, which he of course was happy to accept.  Collignon was last in Vancouver (the only time) in 2005 with Collectif Slang. A highly energetic performer on trumpet and vocals (a kind of speaking in tongues) his recent music has focused on re-imaginings of Miles’ electric period with Zawinul, Hermeto and Led Zeppelin thrown in for good measure.  Check out Médèric's version of Miles Davis' – Gone (video). Here's a review of Shangri-Takashi-La by John Kelman "All About Jazz"

Saxophonist Pierrick Pédron was a new discovery for us – although not a band either of us (Catherine or myself) had heard live, they do come highly recommended by colleagues that we trust. Recording for the prestigious German label “Act Music” (EST, Youn Sun Nah, Vijay Iyer etc) his most recent disc “Cheerleaders” is a mix of prog rock, lyrical saxophone and world grooves that can be spellbinding. His band (along with Médèric’s) performs on the open air “Downtown Jazz” stages opening weekend.  Check out this happening you tube video.

Marc Ducret has been on the scene for decades and is well established on the French and European scenes, though not as well known in North America. His highly original and idiosyncratic approach to guitar attracted Tim Berne – (a key figure on the downtown and Brooklyn scenes for decades) to his sound, the result, he’s been working with various Berne led groups (Big Satan, Science Friction etc) for over 20 years! To be truthful, we’ve been trying to get Marc’s trio here for a few years now, but there’s always a scheduling conflict and this year is no different. So rather than miss the opportunity to invite Marc we worked out a couple of interesting musical scenarios and went for it.

Marc Ducret

Benoit Delbecq and Marc have an ongoing duo  and of course we know that Benoit and Francois Houle also have their long time duo (from the 90’s) with three albums on the Songlines imprint; the latest release is “Because She Hoped” a triumphant piece of work. Have at look at this captivating film documentary. There's also a couple of good reviews - Misterioso / Laurence Svirchev review and another by NPR's Kevin Whitehead here.

There’s also a lovely trio disc "La Lumière de Pierres" from 2007 that Benoit and Francois (review by Misterioso) recorded with Evan Parker on his psi imprint. Since the late Steve Lacy first hipped me (in the early 90’s) to the great talent of Benoit Delbecq, this wonderful pianist has become a regular visitor to the festival with various projects (Recyclers, Kartet etc) but most often to collaborate with his musical brother Francois Houle. So the idea here is to revisit the trio constellation with component parts that are made up of these two very different duos. We’ll hear various formations; solos, duos and trios and can expect the unexpected. 
Innovation Series Roundhouse – June 30th

 Benoit Delbecq

The other duo project with Marc Ducret involves Swiss born, Berlin based trombonist Samuel Blaser, a young musician who is rapidly establishing his credentials on the international scene and is one of the most important new voices on the instrument. With great taste in drummers, Samuel has recorded with legends; a beautiful duo with the Swiss percussionist Pierre Favre (Intakt) and also with the late great Paul Motian (his last recorded date was Blaser’s beautiful “Consort in Motion”).  Gerald Cleaver (along with Ducret and Banz Oester) is in Blaser’s recording and touring quartet (video) and he’s also touring with Gerry Hemingway. Samuel Blaser will be a real discovery for fans of creative improvised music. Innovation Series Roundhouse - July 1st

Samuel Blaser

Although not officially part of our Spotlight program, there is a connection to our final project – Francois Houle 5 + 1 because of Parisian pianist Benoit Delbecq. A couple of years ago Francois came to me with a simple idea - to develop a new international jazz ensemble with American trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum (Sonic Genome 2010, Anthony Braxton etc). We jammed up ideas at Milano Coffee over numerous espressos in an attempt to come up with the perfect rhythm section. I suggested a couple of Canadian expats in Brooklyn: Michael Bates (bass) and Harris Eisenstadt (drums). From the basic quartet Bates brought Swiss born, Berlin based trombonist Samuel Blaser on board and finally Parisian pianist Benoit Delbecq (how could he not be when they will be touring the duo and ensemble in tandem) was invited by FH and it’s now a sextet. Francois has told me that he can’t hear this music without the piano now – and clearly Delbecq’s playing has the magic (I can hear the Mal Waldron) and is the glue that fuses and lights up this band. Each of these guys is a close personal friend, plus they’re all leaders in their own right, so it’s been a thrill to be part of their process. Long story short – major Canadian tour, Songlines recording “Genera” will be available any minute now and voila – one of the best new jazz ensembles on the scene! Check this earlier quartet - first meeting demo recorded/filmed in NYC with Taylor Ho Bynum, Michael Bates and Harris Eisenstadt. Innovation Series at Ironworks – July 1st 

 Francois Houle

Thanks to: Institut Français & the French Cultural Services in Canada (the French Consulate in Vancouver and the French Embassy in Ottawa)
For supporting "Spotlight on French Jazz"

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