Review: Antibes/Juan-Les-Pins Festival




Bob Weir finds that after 53 years, Jazz Juan in Antibes is still among the best summer jazz fests, with top-notch performances from Avishai Cohen, Diana Krall and more

This has to be the most spectacular setting for a jazz festival. The main open-air arena has tiered seating with the stage backing on to the beautiful bay of Juan-Les-Pins. The concerts start in the cool of the evening and from the higher seats the changing light of the setting sun and the boats bobbing in the bay produce an enchanting effect. Audiences are knowledgeable and appreciative - they expect and get top quality jazz on most nights - and musicians seem to enjoy playing there.

There were several outstanding performances. Avishai Cohen (the bassist) played a straight jazz set delightfully with only one vocal as his encore - a very moving Israeli folk song. The pianists Keith Jarrett, Roberto Fonseca and Hiromi were all in great form as were the singers Melody Gardot, Diana Krall (pictured below right) and talented South African Melanie Scholtz. The Igor Butman Big Band from Russia and the extraordinary trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf (pictured below left) brought exotic flavours to their solid and exciting jazz performances.

The fringe attractions included a night of soul music by Charles Bradley, Tower Of Power and The Temptations (with a couple of ex-Supremes). Sting was the big pop attraction and a guaranteed sell-out. I enjoyed his highly professional show. The London Community Gospel Choir closed the festival in great spirit.

Best of all was the interesting pairing of the Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis ensembles. Wayne's regular quartet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, when on song as they were this night, must be the best outfits of their kind on today's jazz scene. Total free expression with Wayne fully committed and a rebooting of the classic big band tradition suggested thought-provoking ideas on where jazz is going as well as producing lots of very satisfying music. Wynton had a different programme to the one I heard in Vienne with less Duke and more modern arrangements from within the band of classy originals by Kenny Dorham, Chick Corea, Monk and Joe Henderson.

The Marcus Miller concert (pictured above right) was nearly as good. After an opening set of formulaic funk from legendary bassist Larry Graham (which admittedly improved as it went along) Marcus came on with his very tight jazz-funk sextet and blew him away. I have never heard Marcus play with such breathtaking virtuosity and creativity on both electric bass and bass clarinet. His saxist Alex Han and trumpeter Sean Jones also impressed. Highlights included a ravishing Goree, Miller's lament for slavery, and a prolonged encore jam with Graham guesting.

More music was available every evening on two free open-air stages in Antibes and Juan by mostly French Dixie and good-time groups. Rather better were young US, French and German big bands, lively gypsy jazz and the Juvenocracy septet of students from Florida with a very promising girl trumpeter/vocalist. The beach bar midnight jam sessions were not so appealing this year, mainly because drinks were prohibitively expensive. Several local cafés and clubs with music of variable quality were a better bet for night owls.

So Jazz Juan after 53 successful years is still up there with the very best summer festivals and is well worth a visit. www.jazzajuan.com is the site for regular updates.

Photos by Tim Dickeson


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