An occasion that is not to be missed, the annual La Défense Jazz Festival has been gaining more and more traction year on year.
Right in the heart of Paris’ business quarter, the free, open-air festival’s 42nd edition offered a line-up that proved experimental, while remaining broad enough to please all who were in attendance. As events go, they get the mix spot on. 2019’s programming showcased leading lights from the London scene, like Theon Cross and Cykada, before hopping over to the other side of the Atlantic via the American rapper Raashan Ahmad. Israeli stalwarts Avishai Cohen and Adam Ben Ezra were on display as well as the spiritual jazz stylings of groups such as the Melbourne-based 30/70 collective. In the final summation, this was a program that skipped across borders in favor of an open and inclusive creative environment.
Click and scroll below for a tailored Qwest TV playlist that showcases artists featured at the festival:
Qwest TV got the chance to sit down with Avishai Cohen, an artist whose recent album, Arvoles, marked a return to the instrumental trio jazz that he made his name through. His story is well known: in the 90’s Cohen received a phone call out of the blue from a bonafide jazz luminary: Chick Corea. When he put down the receiver he not only had a deal on Corea’s label, but he also had a place in the pianist’s own acoustic trio as well.
Now, he stands before us as one of the most commanding and versatile practitioners of his instrument, and as a composer with newfound popularity beyond jazz circles (his 2017 album 1970 was his most successful to date, also giving him the chance to reveal his vocal prowess). While Arvoles could be seen as a return to his formative style, Cohen remained ambiguous on notions of looking back, and on his new music’s relationship to what’s gone before.
Yet Arvoles – meaning ‘trees’ in the ancient Ladino language – is an album that evokes a sense of nostalgia from the very beginning. Cohen describes having had the happiest of childhoods, and he chose a painting by his mother for the album’s sleeve. It depicts a soft and pensive landscape, full of flecked color that blurs like the remnants of a deep memory.
On Arvoles, Cohen is joined by drummer Noam David (Israel) and pianist Elchin Shirinov (Azerbaijan) for the most part, and delivers tracks including “Childhood,” “Nostalgia” and “New York in the 90s.” Yet, while the songwriting may be inspired by a fleeting memory from youth, a past relationship, or a musing on the passage of time, the body of work itself sees Cohen reaching forward rather than back.
For the artist, the album marks his best work to date because the sense of feeling it transmits is stronger, on every count, than in his previous work. The down moments are more tranquil; the bittersweetness is sweeter and sharper; the space is more effective. At the end of a day of erratic and violent rainstorms at La Défense, the sky finally cleared and Cohen was able to exercise his many facets under the stage lights.
Adam Ben Ezra
Intricate, energetic and constantly producing riveting performances, Adam Ben Ezra was another double bassist to perform on the La Défense stage this summer. In a set that finished with around double the amount of spectators who were there at the start, Ezra’s presence felt magnetic. He was all alone for the most part, manipulating his instrument through percussive and melodic techniques that rippled through the crowd and into the night.
There is a good chance that many people in the audience would have first been exposed to Adam Ben Ezra via his online success. As a result, seeing him perform live would have proven, happily, to be an equally dynamic experience, despite the lack of quick-cut editing as a tool. Indeed, the double-bassist is ceaseless in the energy he brings, combining it with a touch, a poise and character that sets him apart.
Snarky Puppy & Gnawa
Michael League’s soon-to-be legendary collective were one of the highlights at 2019’s La Défense Jazz Festival. But they didn’t perform alone. Instead, they were joined by Maalem Hamid El Kasri, a master of Gnawa rhythms and ceremonies, who came on stage with his four Koyous (backing vocals and percussive section) and the drummer Karim Ziad.
Snarky Puppy are a collective who have carried their philosophy of inclusiveness from the beginning. Their setup, their genre-defying GroundUP Music Festival, and their most recent album Immigrance, all serve to highlight and promote ideas of multiculturalism, of conceptual nomadism, and of beauty in diversity. La Défense Jazz Festival provided a platform for their expanding movement.
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