Review: Vienne and San Sebastian festivals

Bob Weir reviews and recommends two expertly organised and highly enjoyable festivals in beautiful European locations

I attended Vienne (26 June-11 July) for the last five days thereby missing performances by Lillian Boutte, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Allen Toussaint, Dhafer Youssef & Ibrahim Maalouf, Marcus Miller, Maceo Parker, Soweto Kinch, Tigran, Melody Gardot, Chucho Valdes, Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil, Salif Keita, the Golden Gate Quartet, the Gil Evans Paris Workshop and the Philip Catherine-Richard Galliano-Didier Lockwood super trio. I managed to catch some of them later in Spain. What I did see was as stimulating and enjoyable as it always is at this most hospitable festival.

My first concert was by bassist Avishai Cohen's New York Division (Cohen pictured right) - a top flight sextet playing inspirational jazz (the only vocal was on his encore), sharing the bill with George Benson's (pictured below, left) tribute to Nat King Cole (pleasant and hugely popular). The midnight club featured Manchester's GoGo Penguin trio (pictured below, right) with great energy and stylistic diversity.

Next came Sting, full-bearded, playing his familiar hits with no jazz pretensions but giving a strong performance to satisfy the packed crowd in the atmospheric Roman amphitheatre. The jazz came later at the midnight Jazz Mix marquee from Erik Truffaz playing Daniel Yvinec's Space Is The Place long composition.

Thursday's events could have been an exercise in nostalgia but for the sheer quality, commitment and relevance of the veterans on stage. The Messengers Legacy (Brian Lynch, Craig Handy, Billy Pierce, Donald Brown, Essiet Essiet, Ralph Peterson with Benny Golson guesting) delivered Art Blakey standards with the vivacity and drive of men half their age. The same applied to The Cookers (Eddie Henderson, David Weiss, Donald Harrison, Billy Harper, George Cables, Cecil McBee, Billy Hart with Chico Freeman as guest) on a programme of stimulating originals, mostly by McBee. Chico appeared again at the midnight club in a quartet to fiery effect. Jon Faddis fronting the Stamford (California) Jazz Orchestra of students and tutors are always popular - it was their fifth time here - delighting the early evening crowd in Dizzy big band style. They returned two days later with more of the same. The Jazz Mix Hommage To Moondog by Cabaret Contemporain was strange and fascinating.

The regular Blues Night this year was by all-French bands of moderate appeal. Only Eric Bibb rose to the occasion with some enjoyable folk and blues.

The final concert is always an all-nighter (8pm to 6am with free coffee and croissants for the diehards who stay to the end). Six groups appeared in an appropriately good-time, end-of-festival atmosphere. Two of them were exotic singers - Ayo of German, Nigerian and gypsy origins and Ester Rada of Israeli/Ethiopian heritage. Both had strong v