Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blue Note Jazz Fest at the Theatre du Chatelet

The 2009 Blue Note Jazz Festival opened in Paris this week with Jazz giant, Ron Carter, joining his Quartet and the Blue Note All-Stars at the lovely Théâtre du Chatelet.

The Uber-Mensch and I were there for the opening Gala Soirée. We came for a taste of hometown New York as well as to celebrate our shared birthday. Yet another birthday celebrated in Paris this past week!

I had never been to the Théâtre du Chatelet before, but I’d always admired it. Hard not to. It’s located right in the center of Right Bank Paris, just across the Seine from the Ile de la Cité at the meeting of the 1st and 4th arrondissments. Architecturally, it’s a grand Palladian structure, mirrored just opposite an open public square, called the Place du Chatelet, by its twin, the Théâtre de la Ville.

The area now occupied by the place and two theatres was once the site of a 12th century medieval fortress-turned- prison. The Chatelet prison witnessed some of the most heinous acts of torture ever committed in human history. Horrors such as these were likely invented at the Chatelet:

The Boot: a wooden instrument used to squeeze the foot beyond repair
The Wheel: where a prisoner was stretched and tied and whipped mercilessly
Water Torture: engorging the stomach to bursting by force-feeding water
Drawing and Quartering: pulling a body apart by four horses
Burning at the Stake

No wonder the French people hated the fortress and wanted it torn down. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the horror chamber destroyed in 1808, ostensibly to clear crime from the area. He intended to construct a pair of theatres in its place. But like many of the building projects dreamed up by Napoleon, this one was not realized before his exile first to Elba (1814) and then to St. Helena (1815). He did manage, however, to clear space for a public square in which he erected a monument, the Palmier Fountain, to lionize his tragic Egyptian campaign.

Fifty-two years later (1860-62), the second French Emperor, Napoleon III, made good on the plans of his infamous uncle. Following designs by French architect, Jean-Antoine-Gabriel Davioud, he saw to it his civic engineer, Baron Haussmann, build the two theatres on either side of the square, the Place du Chatelet.

The Théâtre du Chatelet showcases music and dance while its twin spotlights dramatic performances. Both theatres attract artists ranging in style from classical to cutting-edge. On March 30, 2009, the Ron Carter Quartet stepped onto the Chatelet stage to assuage yesteryear’s tortured souls in a tribute to Miles Davis.

With Stephen Scott on piano, Payton Crossley on drums, and Rolando Morales-Matos on percussions, Mr. Carter honored his mentor, who died in 1991, with a new interpretation of many formerly trumpet-led ballads that are now part of the “classic” Jazz repertoire. A 30-minute closing rendition of "My Funny Valentine" brought Carter’s bass front and center, while Morales-Matos’ often humorous percussion added a fantastic new texture to the traditional trio arrangement.

Carter played with Miles from 1963-68, an experience he likened to “going into a laboratory like chemists” to mix with a variety of musical ingredients. Many of the group’s formulations from that period have since become standards for future generations. Carter stood out as a new-style bassist even then, going beyond the traditional role of rhythm-keeper. By changing beats, creating harmonies and embellishing his accompaniment with melodic lines, he prodded soloists to new heights. Since leaving Davis, Carter’s mission has been to take the double-bass out of the rhythm section and prove that it can stand on its own as a lead instrument. With more than 2000 recordings to his name, it would appear that Carter, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, has proven his point.

Also on stage last Monday night was the latest line-up of Blue Note All-Stars: Joe Lovano and Stefano DiBattisto on saxophone, Flavio Boltro on trumpet, Jacky Terrasson on piano, Carter, and Crossley. They treated us to raucous evening of swinging Jazz standards that had me bouncing in my front-row, Mezzanine seat. All in all, it was a spectacular evening.

From a "Dear Miles" concert in Tel Aviv, May 2008, here’s a taste of what we heard:

My recently discovered high school friend, Nashville-Guy-'n-Edinburgh, is a true jazz aficionado. He writes, “When you look at the span, product, and quality of music across Ron Carter's career...well, impressive isn't praise enough. I was thinking about him the other day. Astonishing. To have seen his 4tet and the Blue Note All-Stars both -- in Paris, no less! -- that's good living. Drink it in.”

We did, man. We did!



Photo of Ron Carter, courtesy of Mind meal and Wikimedia Commons. Theatre du Chatelet, Chatelet Fortress, and Napoleon Bonaparte all courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Photo of Ron Carter, courtesy of Kku and Wikimedia Commons.