East Neuk Festival review: Renaud Garcia-Fons/Julian Bliss Sextet

Julian Bliss Sextet
Julian Bliss Sextet
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IF EVER there was a case of a score looking for a film, it must surely be Renaud Garcia-Fons’s Revoir Paris.

Renaud Garcia-Fons/Julian Bliss Sextet - East Neuk Festival, Crail Community Hall

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Any perceived incongruities in the virtuosic bassist premiering this paean to his cosmopolitan native city in a former church in the East Neuk of Fife were dispelled spectacularly by a superb performance, accompanied with complimentary panache by accordionist David Venitucci and Stephan Caracci on drums and vibraphone.

Caracci and Venitucci brought additional rhythmic drive, textural colour and some deft duetting with Garcia-Fons as the bassist switched from singing arco bowing to percussive staccato or dazzlingly fast plucking. Switching from magically atmospheric interludes to pulsating high drama, with influences ranging from Montmartre to North Africa, the music included a sublime stroll by the Seine and a sultry flamenco prelude which nodded, perhaps, to Fons’s own Spanish ancestry, while a sequence based on street songs evoked the capering children of a Doisneau photograph.

the award-winning young Scots pianist Euan Stevenson also proved in Gallic mode, in an eloquent solo opening spot that saw his own compositions, an appealing setting of Loch Lomond and even a Duke Ellington medley emerge couched in the impressionist harmonic sensibilities of Debussy or Ravel, while a concluding, ambulatory tribute to Erik Satie came over as just right.

If Garcia-Fons generated nostalgia for a city, the previous evening of this jazz-orientated opening weekend of the East Neuk Festival saw clarinettist Julian Bliss’s outfit look fondly back to the golden age of the big band. Billed as a sextet, it proved to be a tightly rigged septet, echoing a similar personnel miscalculation by the great Benny Goodman, whose music they celebrated, and placed the youthful looking but formidably capable clarinettist alongside trumpet, vibes, piano, guitar, bass and drums.

Building up a head of steam, they romped through such favourites as Stomping at the Savoy and Up the Lazy River. A brief excursion into the realms of Latin jazz was perhaps less convincing, but things were at their exhilarating best when cutting loose, with notable contributions from Jim Hart on vibes and Martin Shaw on trumpet.

A show-stopper saw Bliss wander through the hall, letting rip on his conveniently wireless-amped clarinet while drummer Matt Skelton thundered from the stage. It was Goodman’s famous 1938 Sing, Sing, Sing, although “Stompin’ at the East Neuk” was the phrase which came to mind.

Seen on 27/28.06.14