Nice Jazz Festival, Jardins de Cimiez, Nice, France

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The Independent Culture

The most noticeable thing about the Nice Jazz Festival is that it hardly features any jazz. What little there is revolves around the fusion axis, either with soul, funk or electronica influences.

The most noticeable thing about the Nice Jazz Festival is that it hardly features any jazz. What little there is revolves around the fusion axis, either with soul, funk or electronica influences. Most of its acts are from the left-hand side of pop, with a strong showing from blues, reggae and global music. The festival has a low attendance compared to most UK equivalents, allowing visitors the space to saunter its olive tree-dotted site with ease.

The festival's final night did indeed have a climactic air. Femi Kuti and his Positive Force wasted no time with steady building. The Lagos-based son of Fela Kuti was coiled with expressive tension, visibly shaking and quaking as his music's electricity surged. The newer songs continue to confront big business and political lies, starting in Nigeria, then spanning the entire globe. Kuti jumps between organ and saxophone, punctuating his lines with raging solo outbursts. His horn section rips with savage precision, helped along by the cranked-up, razor-clear speaker stacks.

But the real revelation was Stanley Beckford. He's a wizened Jamaican, strumming acoustic guitar and singing numbers that have varying degrees of Mento purity. This is the rootsy precursor to reggae, and Beckford isn't averse to dropping in the odd Desmond Dekker or Bob Marley song. Stanley is backed by a fellow acoustic guitarist, a banjo plucker, a singing tambourine shaker and a bass provider who straddles his giant box, thrumming its huge metal keys. It's a hand piano, not a thumb piano. Beckford soon wins over his growing crowd, playing an extended encore that he calls "part two".

Then, India Arie takes the mood right down to slinky, picking through her emotional life, using a band who know how to frame her low and fruity soulfulness. She writes songs that have a broad appeal, but doesn't let the quality slip on the lyrical front, keeping exposed sincerity while throwing out any unnecessary showbiz fakery.

Bryan Ferry cocks his head to one side, flicking his heel behind him. Maintaining suavity even in this balmy glade, Ferry chooses to play a hit-infested set, although most of the Roxy Music material comes from the band's second wind in their Manifesto period. Roxy's Paul Thompson remains on drums, Chris Spedding dominates on guitar, and the saxophone solos are flamed out by Iain Dixon, an established presence on the UK jazz scene. Ferry's obviously enjoying himself as he hammers several numbers out on the piano, but for the most part he's floating around at the front, occasionally blowing some particularly rugged harmonica. Ferry is working on an album for 2005, but he's holding back on the presentation of new material. Even the nineties are scarcely represented.

The Nice Jazz Festival runs for eight days, which doesn't make it ideal for visitors seeking a compressed experience. The concerts only take place in the evenings, but seven artists are divided between three stages and there is no compromise on volume levels, given its proximity to the upmarket Cimiez district. Nevertheless, it's still puzzling why they call it a jazz festival...

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