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Laura Mvula │© Josh Shinner, Courtesy of Jazz à la Villette
Laura Mvula │© Josh Shinner, Courtesy of Jazz à la Villette
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10 Highlights From The Jazz À La Villette Festival 2016

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 26 October 2016
Few art forms exist without fear of their own mortality: painting, photography, the novel, the comic book, and even DJ’ing have all recently had their vitality subjected to bouts of torturous public examination. This week in Paris, the spotlight is firmly fixed on the Jazz à la Villette festival. Thirteen days, eight venues and more than 50 performances should be enough to decide whether the event’s slogan (a line borrowed from the legendary Frank Zappa) rings true for another year, ‘Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny’. Here we look back at some of the best live music so far and ahead to the most vibrant acts still to come.

Nas Kicking Things Off In Style

📅 Tuesday, August 30th

If you want to get a party off to a good start, there aren’t many safer hands to place it in than one of the greatest MCs of all time. The son of Olu Dara, a jazz and blues musician from Mississippi, Nas has released eight consecutive, platinum or multi-platinum albums since his 1994 debut, Illmatic, and sold more than 25 million records worldwide. He has since parlayed that success into a record label, magazine, footwear, tech startups and even documentary filmmaking, co-producing Fresh Dressed last year. This giant from the U.S. hip-hop scene most definitely got the house shaking with his groundbreaking lyricism in Paris last Tuesday night.

Ernest Ranglin & Friends Reliving The Past

📅 Wednesday, August 31st

He might be the oldest artist to perform at this year’s festival but Ernest Ranglin still has the exuberance of youth. At 84, his career as a guitarist spans seven decades, during which he helped form the rhythmic style of the ska movement and played alongside all of the most famous musical exports from his native Jamaica, including Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley. In this special concert, he was reunited with collaborators from throughout his illustrious career and together they played music so chilled it seemed to make time stand still.

Snarky Puppy Praising The Power Of Music

📅 Thursday, September 1st

It’s not unusual for Snarky Puppy’s videos to exceed six million views on YouTube. But that level of popularity is undoubtedly unusual for an instrumental jazz group. In reality, the band indulges in a smorgasbord of musical genres – funk, soul, pop, electro, hip hop, world music – and it’s perhaps this eclecticism that has such widespread appeal. Formed in 2004, the two-time Grammy winners are now based in Brooklyn and count some 20 musicians. The band performed tracks off their latest album Culcha Vulcha, which is more electrifying and genre-bending than ever, and took the opportunity to deliver a message of unity between the U.S. and France in these troubled times.

Archie Shepp Paying Homage To His Mentor

📅 Saturday, September 3rd

In 1960, Archie Shepp was in the audience of a John Coltrane performance at the fabled Five Spot jazz club on the Lower East Side. Five years later, he was in the studio with his idol and helping him to record his 1966 watershed album, Ascension. This record transformed the way jazz records were made, splitting with conventional structures and moving towards free improvisation. From that point on, Shepp has enjoyed an incredible career of his own. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the album’s release, he and an all-star cast of Franco-American musicians came together in the Grande Halle de la Villette to honor a true jazz god.

Chick Corea Celebrating His 75th Birthday (Twice)

📅 Sunday, September 4th and Monday, September 5th

A heavyweight of jazz and fusion piano, many of Chick Corea’s compositions are now considered standards of the genre. He played with Miles Davis in the 1960s, formed the Return to Forever fusion group in the 1970s and has pursued numerous influential partnerships over the intervening decades, all of which have explored new styles with the goal of bringing them to a wide audience. This year, the Jazz à la Villette Festival coincides with his 75th birthday and he has chosen to celebrate with two concerts supported by some of his finest collaborators.

Chucho Valdés Playing The Best Of Irakere

📅 Tuesday, September 6th at 8:00pm.

This performance from pianist Chucho Valdés sees him showcase the oeuvre of the Irakere band he formed with Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Rivera in the 1970s. The final member of this Latin jazz band from Cuba, which was a global phenomenon in its heyday and continues to attract young musicians today, is joined by the saxophonist Kenny Garrett, famed for his adaptability. Irakere was known as a musical laboratory, where both innovative and popular sounds were created using a dazzling array of instruments such as batá, abakuá and arará drums, chequerés, erikundis, maracas, claves, cencerros, bongó, tumbadoras (congas), and güiro.

📍 Espace Charlie Parker, Grande Halle de la Villette, 211 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris, France

GoGo Penguin and Erik Truffaz Quartet Performing Back-to-Back

📅 Wednesday, September 7th at 8:00pm

In one of the most lauded double bills of the festival, Wednesday night sees the GoGo Penguin and the Erik Truffaz Quartet take to the stage at the Grande Halle de la Villette. The former is a trio from Manchester in the United Kingdom who blend jazz with pop and electro. The latter is led by the Swiss trumpet superstar who has made European jazz history with his two albums, The Dawn and Bending New Corners. Of late, he has been looking towards Africa for musical inspiration and will be joined on stage by the Malian singer Rokia Traoré, who will lend her voice to this stylistically liberated evening.

📍 Espace Charlie Parker, Grande Halle de la Villette, 211 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris, France

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 Honouring Fela Kuti

📅 Thursday, September 8th at 8:00pm

On Thursday night in the Grande Halle, Seun Kuti, the youngest son of the founder and undisputed king of Afrobeat, will pay homage to the work of his father Fela Kuti who died almost twenty years ago. Kuti has been the leader of the Egypt80 group since 1997 as both its singer and saxophonist. They will be joined in celebration by such varied acts as the Franco-Cuban twin sisters Ibeyi, who maximize harmonies and minimize instrumentation; the Malian vocalist Cheick Tidiane Seck and the Brooklyn rapper and sidekick to Mos Def, Talib Kweli.

📍 Nef Nord, Grande Halle de la Villette, 211 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris, France

Laura Mvula Showcasing Her New Album

📅 Saturday, September 10th at 8:00pm

Laura Mvula’s star rose quickly with the release of her debut album Sing to the Moon in 2013, with the single Green Garden picked by many as the breakout sound of that year. Overnight, she went from undiscovered talent to the new Queen of British soul music. Now, after three years, which have seen the singer collaborate with the Metropole Orkest and Snarky Puppy, Mvula is back and ready to show off tracks from her new album The Dreaming Room, which sees her move in a more electro-pop direction.

📍 Salle des Concerts, Cité de la Musique, 221 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris, France

McCoy Tyner Trio Closing Out The Festival

📅 Sunday, September 11th at 5:00pm

Another graduate of the Coltrane school of jazz, McCoy Tyner has enjoyed a phenomenal career as a pianist, gaining a reputation as one of the greatest stylists in musical history. There are few who haven’t been influenced by this forever youthful 77-year-old. The great man from Philadelphia, who rarely travels outside of the United States, will be joined on the stage of the Philharmonie de Paris by Geri Allen and Craig Taborn in a show that is sure to demonstrate once and for all that jazz is still very much alive and kicking.

📍 Philharmonie de Paris, 221 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris, France