On September 2, 2016 France’s National Jazz Orchestra – the Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ) – celebrated its thirty anniversary at the Cité de la musique – Philharmonie de Paris, during the festival Jazz à la Villette. ONJ and its current artistic director Olivier Benoit invited for this historic occasion ONJ’s previous artistic directors – Arnaud Merlin, François Jeanneau, Antoine Hervé, Claude Barthélemy (who has led the ONJ twice); Denis Badault, Laurent Cugny, Didier Levallet, Paolo Damiani, Franck Tortiller and Daniel Yvinec – and asked each one to choose an emblematic piece of ONJ during their mandates (usually spans over three to four years).
The box «Concert Anniversaire 30 Ans» – a disc with live performances of the 11 pieces chosen by ONJ’s artistic directors, with many guests from ONJ history and students from CNSM of Paris and the Norway’s Academy of Music in Oslo (Norges Musikkhøgskole); A DVD of the concert plus short interviews with the artistic directors; and a generous booklet that documents ONJ history, its discography, all the musicians that took part in its projects and tours, short essays by each of the artistic directors on his own experience, memories and some anecdotes while leading the ONJ and many photos from the historic concert.
The eleven retrospective pieces were arranged as a suite, maintaining their chronological order. This suite stressed the continuity of ONJ’s musical language and the evolution of this rich language in all its distinct projects. This panoramic suite also offers a view of influential trends in the European modern jazz during the last decades. Some of these pieces suggest a nostalgic view on jazz big bands legacy, its sound and arrangement strategies throughout jazz evolution, as Barthélemy’s fusionist «Real Politik» from his first term as artistic director of ONJ (1989-1991).
But few of these pieces still sound fresh and relevant today. Badault’s «À plus tard» from 1992, with him on Fender Rhodes, vocalist Élise Caron and Benoit on electric guitar, flirts with contemporary music, blurs the distinction between compositional ideas and spontaneous improvisation and sounds as corresponding with another seminal orchestra from that era, Mathias Rüegg’s Vienna Art Orchestra. Barthélemy’s «Oud-Oud» from 2004, with him playing the oud, and soloists trumpeter Fabrice Martinez and sax player Hugues Mayot and Alexandra Grimal, is one of the most playful pieces here and incorporates organically Mediterranean rhythmic patterns into ONJ aesthetics. Elvis Costello’s anti-war song «Shipbuilding» from ONJ’s tribute, «Around Robert Wyatt» (Bee Jazz, 2009) under the leadership of Yvinec, with vocalist Yael Naim, is still actual, more than 35 years after Wyatt sang it, and the the touching, vulnerable delivery of Naim emphasizes beautifully its message.
L’Orchestre National de Jazz Olivier Benoit: Olivier Benoit (art.dir, g), Jean Dousteyssier (cl), Alexandra Grimal (ss, sopraninos, ts), Hugues Mayot (as, ss), Fabrice Martinez (tp, flh), Fidel Fourneyron (tb), Théo Ceccaldi (vio), Sophie Angel (p), Paul Brousseau (Fender Rhodes), Sylvain Daniel (b), Éric Échampard (dr), Maxine Morel (contrabass tb, tuba), Denis Badault (Fender Rhodes), Claude Barthélemy (g, oud), Élise Caron (v, fl), Laurent Cugny (acc), Jules Jassef (tp). Raphael Olivier Beuf (g), Kristoffer Alberts (ts), Paolo Damiani (b), Franck Tortiller (vib), Luca Spiler (tb), Yael Naim (v), Pascal Mabit (as), Simon Corneille (bs), Timothée Quost (tp, Hugues Morisset (tp), Magnus Murphy Joelson (tb)