le 20 juillet, 1997
by "Toomey" Bonardelli
AVANT-GARDE AND TRADITIONAL MEET AT MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL
Montreux, Switzerland (APS): Whether you pursue the energy of jazz, blues, rock, house music, or seek the serenity of the lake and mountains, all can be found in this resort area. For two weeks in July, music combines with the scenery to swell the boardwalk and streets with visitors from all over the world. As the Montreux Jazz Festival celebrated its 31st year, there are no indications of wear. From its 3-day inception in 1967 to its present size and variety of music, it has become a mecca for performers and fans alike.
This year’s festival provided a collage of concerts for a variety of tastes. The first weekend showcased one of rock’s superstars. Eric Clapton teamed up with Marcus Miller and David Sanborn, among others in an instrumental concert at Stravinski Auditorium. Later shows featured classic rock, with Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and Supertramp reliving past glories. While Supertramp provided fresh material, ELP disappointed the crowd. The consensus was that the band could not hit the notes anymore and appeared to go through the motions.
Blues night, however, surpassed everyone’s expectations, lasting until 3:15 am, including an impromptu jam session. Ronnie Earl opened the evening with his guitar blues. Jeff Healey was the hit of the evening with his unique playing style. The stars kept coming as Robert Cray performed next. The show’s headliner, B.B. King began his set after 1 am. With his expressive facial contortions and guitar prowess, he kept the audience going despite the hour. The finale showcased all the evenings’ stars for another classic Montreux event.
The next couple of nights showcased blues and rock with Gary Moore, Jimmy Vaughan, Chris Rea, and the Blues Traveler. Funk fans were treated with Earth, Wind, & Fire, while in the festival’s other hall Grand Mother’s Funck and Keziah Jones performed.
Music ran the gamut from folk to rock like the sold-out performance of Sherryl Crow to the Irish music of the Chieftans and McGregor to the harder-to-classify Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Sherryl Crow performed with both electric and acoustic guitar and held the attention of the audience which included an encore with just her and her guitar. Meanwhile, Bela Fleck, opening for Crow, stunned the crowd with the funky drum beat and non-traditional banjo playing.
Gospel Dixie Hummingbirds and the rocking Canton Spirituals mesmerised the audience who may not have been familiar with the "witnessing" and "testimonials" that gospel music provides in America’s Negro churches. The Dixie Hummingbirds’ inspirational set would melt a heart of stone. Solo female singer, Madeleine Peyroux, titillated listeners with her laid-back opening slot. Her obvious nervousness did not diminish from her outstanding vocal ability, reminiscent of Billie Holiday.
Two Brazilian nights featured several bands from Northeast Brazil while a separate Latin night featured Roy Hargrove’s Crisol, a new endeavour for him. People expecting a dance band were somewhat disappointed since Hargrove’s band stressed technical abilities. However, when Irakere hit the stage, any urge to dance was satisfied.
African Night, including Papa Wemba and Angelique Kidjo revved the crowd. Reggae night, highlighting Jazz Jamaica and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, had everyone dancing the night away.
But what about jazz? Jazz came in all packages from the trios of Monty Alexander to the be-bop and avant-garde sounds of Herbie Hancock. It was there too with Kenny Garrett, Ahmed Jamal, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, and George Duke, among the many stars. The free-form style of Hancock, with a cacophony of solos, appeared to tax the audience’s remaining energy at the late hour.
Outstanding jazz vocalists like Patti Austin, who performed with several bands including the Jazz Crusaders and George Duke, stood the audience on its ear. Rachelle Ferrell, an American singer, who is well-known in Europe, stupefied the audience with her vocal range and "scat" singing. The manipulation of sounds and notes occasionally detracted from the song’s melody. The consensus, however, is that this performer is definitely on the rise.
Anything can happen at Montreux, and Bobby McFerrin’s appearance was the "anything" of this year’s festival. McFerrin entered the stage and "scatted" back and forth to several men and women standing in a semi-circle around him. No instruments but the naked voice. A stunning performance; but the hour-long exhibition more than demonstrated his vocal talents.
Every year there is a main event, the "piece de resistance", that is televised live to the world. This year’s was a tribute to Charles Aznavour’s fifty years as an entertainer. Many Americans are not familiar with his work, although he has had several hits with songs in English. One might compare him to Tony Bennett in singing style, but Aznavour’s original songs have more of a cynical touch. George Duke organised the show, which included a variety of performers interpreting Aznavour’s songs. In the well-done show, it was obvious that some of the performers were new fans of Aznavour. The tele-prompter use revealed a couple of tense moments as performers became comfortable with their songs. Aznavour left his front-row seat at the end of the evening and sang two songs, one in French and one in English. Hardly enough for the sold-out crowd.
One obvious problem with the otherwise spectacular jazz festival was the mismatching of acts on occasion. Putting a Latin-beat rock band, such as Japan’s popular The Boom, on the bill with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and Sherryl Crow caused some disappointments. Furthermore, the Flecktones’ sound with electric banjo and the drumitar electronic drums contrasted with Crow’s straight-ahead style. Another obvious mismatch featured the Swiss traditional jazz trio, Thierry Lang with rocker Chris Rea and Blues Travelers. The Lang-oriented audience listened to rocker Rea, but left in droves when the Blues Travelers hit the stage and the sound technician turned up the volume.
Other events also permeated the Montreux Jazz Festival site. The "off" festival provided two stages along the lakefront showcasing big bands and college jazz bands. All afternoon and evening, lakeside strollers listened to music along the almost mile-long walk.
The Jazz Café, an eclectically-designed bistro, was the meeting place of almost everyone at some time during the festival. While a hang-out for teenagers, it also attracted the post-concert crowd to the music. Events in the café included videos of past Jazz Festival performances, concerts showcasing all types of music, and jam sessions, which included Supertramp and Jeff Healey. If that were not enough, the DJ played records until 5 am.
Two weeks of music, music education, and pleasant diversions occurred at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
le 12 juillet, 1997
by "Toomey" Bonardelli
MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS NORTH AMERICAN BLUESMAN
Montreux, Switzerland (APS): Jeff Healey, a blues guitarist from Toronto, stunned a packed Stravinski Hall in a star-studded line-up at last Tuesday’s Montreux Jazz Festival. Not as familiar as B.B. King and Robert Cray, who also appeared on the bill, Healey’s performance paralleled those of his blues colleagues. While his unorthodox playing style grabbed the audience’s attention, his fine guitar solos kept them "his" for the duration of the set.
Blind from age one, Jeff picked up the guitar at the encouragement of his father and taught himself the unique method of playing which has become his trademark. Healey sits in a chair with a guitar on his lap and his fingers make chords or solos from above. Periodically, the energy gets too high and Jeff is on his feet, playing and dancing. One wonders how he plays those chords upside-down as he does.
Healey performed his set energetically sitting, standing, dancing while his band looked on. To end the set, he played the Beatles’ "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", a mellow yet powerful guitar tune.
Jeff Healey has worked to get to this point at Montreux. After receiving Canadian accolades, the trio landed a deal with Arista in 1988, when Jeff was 19 years old. Moviegoers saw the band perform in "The Roadhouse" with Patrick Swayze just before the release of their first Arista album "See the Light". The single, "Angel Eyes", hit the top five in the U.S. Healey performed this and other songs from subsequent albums, "Hell to Pay" and their soon-to-be-released "Feel This", which includes some keyboard pieces from TV’s Paul Shaffer.
Contrasting Healey’s performance, was the almost laid-back approach of Robert Cray. His subdued performance did not deter from his excellence on the guitar nor the passion he maintains in his songs. Since his debut album in 1980, Cray has produced 10 albums, but his latest was recorded in Memphis, away from his home-base in the Bay area. Recruiting the Memphis Horns for the album, Cray attempted to recreate the southern Rhythm & Blues sound of the 60s and 70s.
Robert Cray and the band ran through their set in a precise yet entertaining fashion. In spite of the shrill of the house EQ, Cray came through as a good singer and player.
The show was running late, but no one seemed to mind. B.B. King’s band entered the stage after 1 am and performed some warm-up tunes, before the master walked on the stage. B.B. King now commands a 9-piece band complete with two trumpets and a saxophone. King’s list of accolades and honoraria run for pages and seeing his performance justifies those awards. And the performance was a visual one since King was continually grimacing. Every time he stressed a guitar note or constructed a solo, King had a facial contortion to match the type of note or the difficulty of the solo.
As much of an excellent performer that he is, it was annoying for the audience to hear his requests for applause after many of his solos. Continually throughout his set, he cupped his hand to his ear and waited for the cheers. Somewhat uncool!
The show concluded with a half-hour jam session that brought Jeff Healey, Robert Cray, and Ronnie Earl (the opening act) on stage to perform with B.B. King. In addition, Claude Nobs, the jazz festival’s omnipresent organiser, got into the act with his blues harp. Under King’s guidance each star had their turn to show-off their style. Jam sessions can become technical hell, but this one managed to avoid the potential problems. The finale was the Dixieland standard "When the Saints Go Marching In". It was after 3:15 am when the auditorium was cleared.
Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters opened the show several hours earlier. The Hammond B-3 organ added a great touch to this band which performied an amalgam of blues, rock, and R&B. However, Earl’s playing did not have feeling, although he is technically good. Nevertheless, the crowd’s response was positive.
Earl has recently released "Colour of Love" on Verve Records which includes guests such as Gregg Allman and other Allman Brothers members. Ronnie Earl’s popularity is expected to grow in the next while since he surrounds himself with such luminaries.
The blues night at Montreux was definitely the longest this year, but it was also the most exciting one of the festival.
Web Master an article of Toomey's
August 24, 2003