FESTIVAL REVIEW: 6th Printemps du Jazz in Nimes, France

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The Romans, who established Nimes as one of their key outposts in Gaul, probably celebrated the vernal equinox by holding gladiator contests in the multi-tiered coliseum or praying to various deities in the Corinthian columned temple that have both been preserved in the city’s historic center. Since 1997, however, this ancient town in the Midi region of Southern France has greeted the end of winter with Printemps du Jazz, a heady musical rite of spring whose 6th edition took place March 22-30.

Two clarinetists—Don Byron, presenting his “Music for Six Musicians” program, and Michel Portal, who appeared as a guest soloist with an “American” trio the German pianist Joachim Kühn recently formed with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Heracio “El Negro” Hernandez—opened and closed the festivities. In between, audiences were treated to a cornucopia of contemporary improvisational styles by a potpourri of instrumentalists and composers.

As seems to be the custom at French jazz festivals, concerts were presented daily at noon, dusk and at night. Most of the midday concerts were held at the Carré d’Art, a sleek glass and steel building that houses an impressive art collection, a visual and performing arts library and a multimedia center built across the street from the Roman Maison de Carré built in 4 A.D. This architectural juxtaposition of the modern and the classic was replicated musically throughout Printemps du Jazz and nowhere more authoritatively than in the concert presented by the duo of violinist Dominique Pifarély and contrabassist Jean Paul Celea. These two virtuoso string players, equally comfortable playing free jazz, New Music or French folk melodies, treated an enthusiastic lunch-time crowd to a fascinating set that paid tribute to such diverse influences as Ornette Coleman, the romantic musette dance hall tradition to 20th-century composers like Luciano Berio.

Highlights of the series of evening concerts included nights at the Nîmes Municipal Theatre devoted to two World Music projects influenced by jazz and by the myriad of styles that have developed in the Mediterranean region—Renaud Garcia-Fons’ program “Oriental Bass,” which took his audience on a musical odyssey from the Iberian peninsula to the Middle East and served up a sonic couscous flavored by Oriental percussion, Western reeds, and the superb accordion playing of jean Louis Matinier and the uncommon quintet oud master Rabih Abou-Khalil leads with Michel Godard on tuba and Gabriele Mirabassi on clarinet—and another showcasing two of trumpeter Hugh Ragin’s current projects, Open Systems, a powerful, freewheeling quartet he co-leads with bassist Peter Kowald, saxophonist Assif Tsahar and drummer Hamid Drake, and his Great Black Music program “Fanfare & Fiesta” featuring his Trumpet Ensemble.

Earlier in the week a concert at the Odéon Theatre featuring the Strasbourg-based quartet Da-Go-Bert featuring vocalist Géraldine Keller and the New York-based trio of saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, Andrea Parkins on accordion and electronic keyboards and drummer Jim Black was particularly provocative as both bands challenged their audiences to keep up with highly original programs that explored the outer limits of progressive instrumental music be it improvised or composed.

By Mitchell Feldman



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