FESTIVAL REVIEW: 30th Grenoble Jazz Festival


Encircled by a craggy crown of majestic mile-high mountains the French city of Grenoble—which hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1968—has annually presented a jazz festival featuring leading American and European improvisers since February 1973 when Ben Webster, in one of his last public appearances, headlined four days of music that also included performances by fellow expatriates Kenny Clarke and Johnny Griffin. The 30th Grenoble Jazz Festival took place March 8-24 and over time the event has expanded in size and in scope to a point where today it presents workshops, residencies and concerts in a dozen communities around the scenic Isère alpine region and not only showcases jazz artists but World Music and New Music ones as well. This anniversary edition’s final week of concerts included an eclectic assortment of French musicians performing in a series of free events in two alternative spaces at midday and dusk as well as evening concerts at the city’s municipal theater featuring Henri Texier, Richard Galliano, Steve Coleman, Marc Ribot and Elliot Sharp.

This line-up of headliners was a prime personification of the dichotomy that differentiates the European and American jazz scenes. Texier, a master bassist who has been a fixture of French creative music circles for decades, and Galliano, an accordionist whose fusion of “musette” (traditional French dance hall music), tango and jazz has attracted a global audience, are veritable stars at home yet they rarely if ever play the U.S. although Galliano is scheduled to appear at this year’s San Francisco Jazz Festival. Yet, Coleman, Ribot and Sharp, far from household names in the U.S., are quite popular in Europe where—like other American artists, be they mainstream or progressive – where they work more frequently than at home and earn the bulk of their income. Coleman’s, Ribot’s and Sharp’s French tours regularly visit provincial capitals like Grenoble in addition to musical Meccas like Paris but a reciprocal situation that would find Texier and Galliano appearing in, say, Denver should they succeed in playing New York doesn’t exist in America.

The regional and national artists that appeared at the two free daytime concert series – “Noontime Jazz” and “Jazz Without Frontiers” – covered a host of musical styles and attracted packed houses daily. Highlights included singer and hurdy-gurdy virtuoso Isabelle Pignol’s program “Mirrors” which celebrated the folk roots and explored modern applications of her quirky traditional instrument; a captivating solo concert by accordionist David Venitucci who modified one of his keyboards to enhance his ability to play dazzling solo runs with one hand while nimbly comping chords with the other; the punk polkas of the avant-klezmer quartet Zakarya; a reverent tribute to Charles Mingus by drummer Dennis Fournier’s trio augmented by trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo; and intense if cerebral sets of improvised music that transcended jazz’s blues boundaries by the trios of pianist François Raulin, bassist Bruno Chevillon and saxohonist François Corneloup and of pianist Stefano Battaglia, violinist Dominique Pifarely and percussionist Michele Rabbia making its French debut.

Texier’s concert was the first of five concerts in the Grenoble Theatre to follow the series of festival performances in outlying venues that concluded on March 18 with a delightful set by the PAF Trio (Sardinians Paolo Fresu ad Antonello Salis on trumpet and flugelhorn and accordion and piano, respectively, and bassist Furio di Castri). Joined by his son Sébastien on alto sax and clarinet and drummer Tony Rabeson, the veteran bassist drew a spectrum of sounds from his contrabass ranging from earthy bowed phrases to delicate pizzicato notes that recalled the timbre of the Japanese koto. Galliano presented the French premiere of his program “Piazzola Forever” dedicated to Astor Piazzola, the renowned Argentine accordionist and bandeonist who invented the

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