Gaume Jazz Festival

Various venues, Rossignol, Belgium
12 to 14-08-2016

One of the joys of the many invitations I have received to European jazz festivals this year is that I get to see how different festivals work, what their priorities are and what are their audiences are like. There is no doubt that the jazz festival scene in Europe is healthy and there is a huge variety of event from the major festivals such as the North Sea Festival to a small festival such as Gaume that takes place in a village and has something of a village fete feel as well as that of a music festival.

Incidentally I am not making a contrast here with the festival scene here; jazz festivals also seem to be thriving in the UK.

gaume jazzThe Gaume Jazz Festival is a three-day event in the Gaume Ardennes area of Belgium, the French-speaking south of the country, very near the border with Luxembourg. This was the 32nd Edition of the festival which has been programmed throughout its history by Jean-Pierre Bissot of the Jeunesses Musicales Luxembourg Belge organisation. It is based in the village of Rossignol and has five venues all in close proximity to each other, a large marquee holding about 1000, a medium-sized auditorium that is the cultural centre for the village, the church and two open-air spaces.  The timing of the events is carefully coordinated to avoid clashes and so that one can attend the vast majority of the events.

The main philosophy of the festival seems to be to attract a broad audience including young families, and to create a very open, welcoming and fun atmosphere. So there are excellent food and drink stalls, bouncy castles and other activities for young children, and it was great to see them enjoying the music and dancing in front of one of the open-air stages.

The main theme this year was a largely unstated celebration of Europe and the European jazz scene with a programme of bands from Hungary, France, Spain and Luxembourg as well as top Belgian bands.  The only non-Europeans, as far as I could tell, were pianist Jackie Terrasson and guitarist Lionel Loueke, who is now based in Belgium and collaborates with Belgian saxophonist Nicolas Kummert. These two performed together in a quartet on the Saturday and as a duo on the Sunday; they have only just started to collaborate and I found both sets rather tentative with Kummert rather too restrained and respectful of Loueke. But there is potential in the mixing of Loueke’s African sounds with Kummert’s contemporary style on the saxophone.

Santa Diver

Santa Diver

The Hungarian trio Santa Diver with violin, electric bass and drums played an attractive and varied set that was perfect for an early evening in the open air. One could either engage with it fully sitting in front of the stage or let it waft pleasantly over one sitting in the sun with a glass of Belgian beer in one’s hand. Similarly, the French quartet Electric Vocuhila played a strong groove-based set with subtly shifting rhythms that got the audience up dancing in front of the stage. In the church the Galician group Camino Ialma sang songs inspired by the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

Another theme of the festival is a celebration and an acceptance of different styles of jazz and indeed different genres of music. Camino Ialma is essentially a folk group and Electric Vocuhila a kind of jazzy rock group. Of the many excellent Belgian groups, Aka Moon’s interpretation of the music of Scarlatti impressed. The Jeremy Dupont Trio was a good young piano bass drums trio that had lots of energy, but didn’t really bring anything fresh to the jazz piano trio canon. I was, however, impressed by JF Foliez’s Playground; Jean-Francois Foliez is a clarinettist in the swing tradition, but in this project he plays largely in that style over a much more contemporary piano bass drums trio. It worked very well. The Brums (I had to go and hear this band!) played a very enjoyable mix of free jazz and hip hop with a line up of three horns and drums.

Caecilia Wind Orchestra

Caecilia Wind Orchestra

The Caecilia Wind Orchestra led by saxophonist Bernard Crucifix typified the festival’s philosophy. It’s an orchestra with 80 players from the region that meets regularly throughout the year to work on a range of jazz inspired material. Their set featured tunes by Dave Brubeck, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and even included the theme tune for Desert Island Discs, Eric Coates’ Sleepy Lagoon and was perfect for a sunny afternoon set.

Gaume Jazz Festival is a small jazz festival, but it delights with its setting in a park in an attractive village attracting a broad audience of many ages many of whom are probably not confirmed jazz fans. It impresses with its openness to different styles of jazz and other musics and provides an excellent showcase for the Belgian jazz scene, which is undoubtedly one of the stronger European scenes.

Categories: Live review

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