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After the terrible events on the Promenade des Anglais on the 14 July last year this year’s Nice and Jazz à Juan jazz festivals were bound to be tinged with more than a little sadness. As a mark of respect Jazz à Juan started its festival one day late on the 15 July.

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Featuring a mix of jazz and popular music the festival attracted a large audience (despite the drop in tourism on the French Riviera since the terrorist attacks) selling over 90% of the available tickets. Security was high but the atmosphere was as brilliant as ever in this wonderful concert bowl on the beach in Juan-les-Pins (above). Sting, Tom Jones, the Macy Gray/Gregory Porter double bill and Jamie Cullum were the top-selling concerts with Sting selling out well before the programme had even been fully announced.

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There is always plenty of pure jazz at Juan too., notably The Wayne Shorter Quartet (above) in a double bill with the Branford Marsalis Quartet featuring vocalist Kurt Elling. Shorter repeating his Umbria gig and playing very accessible music with his regular band of Danilo Pérez (piano), John Patitucci (bass) and the brilliant Brian Blade (drums), who were really buzzing throughout the set. Marsalis, with Joey Calderazzo on piano – surely one of the best supporting pianists on the scene today – was a great foil to the intensity of Shorter’s set with Elling (below) providing the focus of the band, and of course super-cool vocals.

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Another pure jazz night, featuring a triple bill of Shabaka & the Ancestors (below), Robert Glasper and Archie Shepp was also a great success. The variety of the music during the evening from Hutchings’ African rhythms (this gig also featuring terrific vocals from Cleveland Watkiss), to Glasper’s beat’n’groove-led electronica to Archie Shepp’s very cultured and beautifully played bebop was wonderful. There was a definite theme running throughout the three shows across a very cleverly programed evening.

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Once again Jamie Cullum proved that he is one of the best British festival acts. His high energy show galvanising the audience (and by no means a ‘young’ audience at that) to leave their seats and bounce up and down in front of the stage with Cullum leading them on like the pied piper of jazz. I had not seen Anoushka Shankar (below and top) before and her set before Jamie Cullum’s was one of the highlights of the festival.

Her brilliant mixing of Indian and jazz elements was a revelation and a really unique fusion of musical styles. Combining sitar, Hang drum and Shehnai was mesmerising and infectious. Hang drummer Manu Delago, who co-wrote Shankar’s recent Land of Gold CD and from which they played tonight, was brilliant, capturing the essence of Shankar’s heritage but adding another direction. The quartet was completed by Tom Farmer on bass and keyboards, who anchored the sound and drove it forward with great skill. The whole show, including very effective and dramatic lighting, was phenomenal.

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It was great to see piano star Hiromi (above) and Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda opening for Sting. Although their music is the other end of the musical spectrum to the pop rock of Sting, the sheer quality and energy of the music won them many new fans among the huge audience. Hiromi’s ‘Elements’ suite, composed for the duo, comprised of four movements (‘Earth’, ‘Air’, ‘Water’, ‘Fire’) was a tour de force. It was hard to remember that there are only two musicians on stage such was the intricacy of the harmonics between them.

Jazz á Juan is the longest continuously running festival in Europe with an enviable location in a small sheltered pine grove facing the beach and an fantastic reputation for bringing the best of jazz to the south of France. Over 23,000 tickets were sold this year and the ‘Jazz Off’ free program was watched by more than 5,000 people. Of course the festival has diluted its program, but not in a detrimental way – by means of clever programing and choosing the right non jazz acts Jazz á Juan promises to continue for many years to come. Next year you can enjoy the festival from the 14 -22 July.

Tim Dickeson – story and photos

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