The Gaume Jazz Festival in Rossignol, Belgium, celebrated a full return to its pre-pandemic program this year from 11-13 August 2023. The festival’s diverse lineup was complemented by an extended capacity for its second venue in the park, along with performances in the village church, the small theatre, an open-air amphitheatre, and the main marquee (chapiteau).
Manu Hermia: A Focus on Belgian Talent
A key highlight of this year’s festival was the focus on Belgian saxophonist Manu Hermia. Hermia’s curiosity and creativity span a broad range of musical genres, making each of his performances an exciting surprise. Although Hermia has recorded ‘God at the Casino’ (Babel) and is an inspiration for the new generation of musicians, his talent remains largely unknown in the UK.
Performances and Collaborations
Hermia played in different bands each day of the festival, moving from a more expansive performance on the first night to increasingly intimate groups on subsequent days. Collaborators included Belgian trumpeter Jean-Paul Estiévenart and trombonist Samuel Blaser, as well as the Orchestra Nazionale della Luna with co-leader Kari Ikonen on piano, Sebastien Boisseau on bass, and Teun Vebruggen on drums.
On the final day, Hermia performed in the church, collaborating with Christine Ott on ondes martenot, an electronic instrument similar to the theremin. The duo explored ragas, North African modalities, and jazz, with Hermia using flutes to complement his saxophone playing.
Celebrating Philip Catherine’s 80th Birthday
A standout performance at the festival celebrated the 80th birthday of Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine, a leader in the contemporary European jazz scene since the 1960s. Catherine’s band featured Nicola Andrioli on piano, Bart De Nolf on bass, and Angelo Moustapha (originally from Benin) on drums and percussion.
Discovering New Talent
Festival programmer Jean-Pierre Bissot showcased emerging musicians from across Europe, such as bassist Michel Vrydag’s trio project, “Mapping Roots,” and the Hungarian duo of Tamara Mózes and Zsolt Kaltenecker. Other notable performances included the piano trio of Daniel Garcia from Spain, as well as several groups led by bassists, such as the quartet of Gaëtan Casteels and the duo of Renaud Garcia-Fons with lutenist Claire Antonini.
French Jazz Migration and Mamie Jotax
This year’s French Jazz Migration selection was Mamie Jotax, a duo of reed instrument players who took advantage of the church’s acoustics and resonance for a performance filled with imagination and interplay.
Brussels Jazz Orchestra and Camille Bertault
The Brussels Jazz Orchestra presented a new project featuring the music of Jacques Brel, with vocalist Camille Bertault. While the band executed complex charts with precision, the performance lacked the looseness and emotion necessary for effective communication of Brel’s music.
Elise Einarsdotter Returns
Pianist Elise Einarsdotter returned to the festival for the first time since 1987, performing with musicians Lena Willemark on voice and violin, and Jonas Knutsson on saxophone. The ensemble blended elements of folk and pop jazz, with Willemark’s rendition of ‘Skylark’ proving particularly moving.
Festival Finale: Next.Ape
The festival concluded with an energetic performance by Next.Ape, featuring drummer/bandleader Antoine Pierre, sultry vocalist Veronica Harcsa, synth effects by Jérôme Klein, and guitarist Lorenzo di Maio. The band’s unique blend of techno beats, trip hop, jazz, and rock made for an unforgettable end to the festival.
The Importance of Cultural Exchange
The Gaume Jazz Festival demonstrates the wealth of exciting and innovative music being created in Europe. However, the connections between European and UK music scenes appear to be weakening, with both sides losing out on valuable cultural exchange. This trend has accelerated in recent years, due in part to the pandemic and Brexit, and it is vital that efforts are made to address and reverse this trend.