Review: Vienne Jazz Festival

Bob Weir finds that although jazz festivals may be cutting costs, Vienne's 16-night fiesta featuring Chick Corea and Marcus Miller still hit the mark

Despite the seemingly inexorable drift of many major European festivals towards more and more pop and jazz-fringe music, Vienne still balances the requirements of hardcore jazz fans with those of the wider public and in the process manages to fill, or nearly fill, their spectacular 7,000-seat Roman amphitheatre for 16 nights in a row. In fact, attendances were the highest for a dozen years. I was there for only the first seven days because of the overlap with the Perugia special 40th anniversary festival. But in that time there were outstanding appearances by Marcus Miller (in peak form and with an excellent band, pictured), Chick Corea with Tim Garland, Ibrahim Maalouf (winner of the prestigeous Victoires du Jazz musician of the year prize), and thrilling gypsy jazz from Trio Rosenberg, Roberto Fonsesca and Jacky Terrasson.

There were also the usual fulsome quantity and quality of free-admission concerts on daytime open-air stages (the weather was favourable after some early light rain) and post-midnight events in the theatre club and JazzMix marquee. These showcases for student groups from home and abroad, up-and-coming bands with a dash of esoteric music for the young and adventurous, have always been an important part of the Vienne festival mission.

The occasional themed evenings (Caribbean, Cuban, French jazz evolution etc), if sometimes light on serious jazz content, were generally highly entertaining. I found a lot to enjoy in the perfomances of Malavoi (French Antilles), Goran Bregovic (Serbia) and the constantly changing Buena Vista Social Club (this time featuring the 83-year-old Omara Portuondo still singing with great gusto).

The major attractions after I left included blues from Ben Harper, Charlie Musselwhite, Johnny Winter, Shemekia Copeland and Robert Cray, The Heliocentrics (from London), Charles Lloyd, Dee Dee Bridgewater with the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Chucho Valdes, Santana, Avashai Cohen and a particularly strong closing all-nighter on 13 July featuring George Benson, David Sanborn, Bob James & Steve Gadd and the Erik Truffaz Quartet. Ahmad Jamal and Archie Shepp were booked as late replacements for the ailing Sonny Rollins.

All the big festivals are cutting costs and this was noticeable at Vienne. But they still managed to offer a broad spectrum of satisfying music for 15 hours every day and night with enough of those special Vienne concerts (Miller, Corea, the Rosenbergs and Terrasson) to ensure that jazz fans in particular will be back for more.

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Photos by Tim Dickeson

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