No sax, but rousing jazz

It's a pity only some 50 Bangaloreans turned out on Tuesday, August 16, to listen to Marc Thomas and his quintet from France in a rousing performance of jazz standards at Chowdiah Memorial Hall. Thomas, curiously described in the publicity as a "vocal saxophonist"' but just a pure jazz singer as far as one could make out, was supported by Olivier Savariau on electric guitar, Sebastien Wacheux on drums, Cuban-born Felipe Cabrera on electric bass (guitar), and Johan Renard on violin.

What the audience lacked in numbers, they partly made up for by their enthusiastic response to some 90 minutes of music.

Thomas and his men went through 12 jazz and pop standards, including one bossa nova or Brazilian number, in mainstream jazz style, from Miles Davis's "All Blues" to the final encore, fittingly, Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing"'.

Renard took the theme on the two numbers Thomas sat out, "All Blues" and John Coltrane's "Giant Steps", while both he and Savariau took the bulk of the instrumental solo improvisations. Both of them showed a fluency in their phrasing and a pleasant, full tone. Renard in particular had a remarkably consistent sound as he switched from electric violin at the start to the acoustic instrument for the bulk of the numbers.

Wacheux was swinging right through, his unerring rhythm neither too loud nor too quiet but assertive all the time, on cymbals or drums, with sticks or brushes, qualities the occasional drum solo brought out more fully.

For my taste, schooled in modern jazz in which the bass has a major part to play in improvisation, Cabrera's solos — I counted four in all, besides an intro to the last number — were too sparse, especially since he proved himself just as proficient a soloist when he did come in. One should however note that his solos were in a fairly high register, almost trespassing on guitar territory instead of the deep end that jazz bassists, even electric bass guitarists, generally cover.

Apart from that, the only minor criticism of Cabrera, Renard and Savariau could be that in accompaniment they were far too quiet, barely audible behind whoever was soloing.

The star of the evening was Thomas. Endowed with a pretty authentic American accent when singing in contrast to his noticeable French accent when emceeing the show, he belted out or crooned 10 numbers in classic jazz style. One would've thought he'd have sat out Sonny Rollins's "Oleo", which like the two he did sit out has no lyrics, but he scatted his way through it, sharing the theme in this way with Renard and of course improvising a solo on the melody.

Particularly exciting were the interludes in which Thomas and Renard, sometimes roping in Savariau and Wacheux, went through a few rounds of short solo exchanges.

Apart from the hoary ballad "Body and Soul", his scat solos were an essential part of every other number, complete with actions mimicking a saxophonist's hands. Maybe that's what the term "vocal saxophonist" is meant to convey!

More likely it's the (somewhat pedantic) French equivalent of scat singer. For the record, Thomas's voice is in the same range as a tenor sax.