Lucia Cadotsch and Kyle Eastwood among the corking capers at Cully Jazz

 Cully1

"There will never be peace until God is seated at the conference table", sang the Blind Boys of Alabama. Given our proximity to Geneva and the backlog of international conflicts that need resolving, the lyrics seemed particularly prescient.

Cully Jazz's two-week programme is an eclectic mix of jazz, rock and funk. So exploratory and progressive that the Blind Boys' gospel and blues came over as refreshingly traditional – a group that will always be true to its genre and history; not a sudden time-signature switch, weird effects pedal, or dissonant chord to be heard. Led by founder member (incredibly since 1939) Jimmy Carter, this was a moving and beautifully performed embodiment of the strength of those oppressed for so long in the US South, the rich vocals lit by shafts of instrumental brilliance from guitarist Joey Williams and Trae Pierce on bass.

Set in a venerable wine-makers' village on the shores of Lake Geneva with distant Alpine views, amid tumbling terraces of ancient vineyards, there can be few festivals as scenically awe-inspiring as this. Even noisy neighbour Montreaux (no relation, apparently), at the end of the lake can't really improve on the aesthetics. The four main venues are close together and right at the village's heart, and include the sweaty, ramshackle Caveau pub, which was home to fired-up jazz groovers Kuma, led by Matthieu Llodra on keys and Arthur Donnot on tenor, who propelled an after-show party each night with plenty of guests – mostly young Swiss players like Leon Phal (sax) and Gauthier Toux (piano, next month coming to the UK), all with real chops and depth. Some of these were playing other gigs at the event, such as tasteful trumpeter Zacharie Ksyk, also appearing with interesting improvisational group Francesco Geminiani Electro 6tet.

Back on the main stage, Le Chapiteau, Omer Avital Quintet played a breathtaking set. At times, Avital's double-bass seemed to take the role of dance partner as the expressive Israeli/US bandleader swayed and shimmied along with his own grooves. Particularly impressive was the way traditional Middle Eastern music, samba and Abdullah Ibrahim-style moods were incorporated in a seamless fashion; nothing seemed forced or artificial as is sometimes the case with composers described as 'genre defying'. Powerful melodies, powerful grooves, this was exultant jazz in which super soprano/tenor player Asaf Yuria and explosive drummer Ofri Nehemya shone brightly.

Canadian singer songwriter Mélissa Laveaux brought her riff-oriented, sparse sounds to the medium-sized Next Step venue. Her lush vocals, distinctive finger-picking guitar, and Haitian-heritage tinged compositions were as striking as her onstage aura. The jazz purists may have given her trio a miss but few could deny her strong identity and sheer talent. As with many 'jazz' festivals, an open mind was required – it was never likely we'd be hearing 'All The Things You Are' on a regular basis. But the audience accepted the challenge of clashing genres with a happy heart with the banjo-thrashing Cyril Cyril playing 100 metres from inventive, reflective Shai Maestro, who drew a crowd at the Temple that could barely be accommodated.

Also stretching boundaries were the truly impressive quartet SHIJIN, definitely worth looking out for if they appear in the UK anytime soon. Appearing like a jazz ZZ Top with ample facial hair, their set veered from lyrical to angular with plenty of unexpected twists. A multinational group, Swiss keyboardist Malcolm Braff (pcitured, top) boasted a Darwinesque beard and a delightfully rambling cross-rhythmic soloing approach, somehow with echoes of Zawinul. US saxist Jacques Schwarz-Bart's rich tone and careful solo construction provided the melodic glue for the unit, before he too happily took to the stratosphere.

Cully2

A more edgy approach was taken by Swiss singer Lucia Cadotsch, whose Berlin-based Swing Low trio played the main Le Chapiteau venue, a bold move by the programmers considering the subtlety and nuances of Cadotsch's performance. A few audience members took to their heels during the show, which for some may have been challenging. Cadotsch's ethereal but strong and clear voice was accompanied by Swede Otis Sandsjö on tenor sax, a master of harmonics and split tones, and superb bassist Petter Eldh, also Swedish. The sax provided an all-pervasive soundscape behind the vocal, one that the split tones ensured remained dark and foreboding, imbuing the reworked folk tunes, standards and originals with emotional resonance, but not one that was always comfortable. It was an impressive piece of playing by Sandsjö, not only for the false fingerings but the sheer stamina required.

In great contrast, this set was followed with a performance by the rather more crowd-pleasing Lisa Simone whose dynamic vocal and languid, elegant movement was superbly supported by Reggie Washington (bass), Hervé Samb (guitar, later seen jamming with the funksters at Caveau) and the classy drummer Sonny Troupé who played a lovely, lyrical solo. There were plenty of references to her mother Nina and their difficult relationship, but Simone's tunes proved uplifting, finishing with an ecstatically received foray into the crowd and a rousing rendition of Cannonball's 'Worksong'.

Cully4

Jean-Luc Ponty, Kyle Eastwood and Biréli Lagrène's trio were recently at London's Barbican and last year at Ronnie's. Here they delighted Le Chapiteau with their verve, Lagrène's brilliance giving Eastwood a real test in terms of anchoring the standards ('Blue Trane', 'Mercy Mercy Mercy', 'Oleo', etc) and originals ('Stretch', 'Andalucia', 'To and Fro'). Lagrène this time was relatively sparing with his Django flourishes, deploying Metheny-esque chord substitutions and a wide range of gizmos to great effect. At times, he and Ponty reduced the audience to laughter with their off-hand virtuosity.

This is a forward-looking, diverse festival with helpful staff in an utterly beguiling setting. No wonder this is the area people look to for world peace!

– Adam McCulloch
– Photos by Michel Bertholet (Malcolm Braff); Jean-Marc Guélat (Lucia Cadotsch) and loOrent.com (Jean-Luc Ponty)

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