Dhafer Youssef and Get the Blessing get Gaume grooving



When Get the Blessing call for audience participation, they're startled almost to the point of incapacity by the reaction. British audiences can need cattle-prods to clap along, but around midnight in the Gaume festival's final minutes, its still packed big tent rallies together in collective, thunderous rhythm. With fellow Bristolian Matt Brown depping on drums – due to Clive Deamer's Radiohead job-share – the band's ability to play with placid melancholy like a pond's decreasing ripples then jolt into absurdist jazz-funk ends the weekend on a high.

Two-hundred kilometres south of Brussels, Belgium empties out. The Gaume region is a different, deeply rural world, with the vast Ardennes forest between it and the capital, and southern Europe's sense of time embraced amid the space. The village of Rossignol has little to recommend it except a beautiful church and chateau, and the dream of a fine jazz festival which Jean-Pierre Bissot has sustained for 33 years. It's homely in the very best sense, with fine local food and beer, a handpicked, high-quality, largely Belgian and Luxembourgian bill, and a tangible sense of community. The lifeblood of Europe's jazz and far corners flows in such gatherings.

Dhafer Youssef (pictured top), perhaps sensing this isn't the place for big gestures, headlines on Friday in exploratory, meditative mood. He's like a bluegrass picker, his oud locking in time with drummer Justin Faulkner till it perceptibly slows. When Faulkner finally explodes in a flurry of high-hats and rim-shots, he's hitting a different spot in the rhythm of an otherwise spare, skipping groove. Afrobeat, high-life and calypso flit through a single tune, yet there's so much hard bop to Youssef, elevated by his sense of understated ceremony.

This becomes literal with French saxophone quartet Quatuor Machaut, whose sets in the crepuscular village church freely improvise from the pioneering, polyphonic mass of 14th century composer Guillaume de Machaut. When they spread into its four corners, their giant shadows looming on the walls, a mantric, mind-loosening, quadrophonic hum surges heavenward to a single, sky-piercing note.


Korean singer Youn Sun Nah (above) is one of ACT's biggest names in France and the festival's largest draw. With a crack, swinging quartet, including Brad Jones on bass, she begins with a daring attempt on an Al Green Everest, 'Take Me To The River'. Her tiny voice and vanishing meekness between songs contrasts with her vocal persona's swaggering span. She paws the air as she scats with octave-spanning, leonine prowess, taking the storm-lashed prow of the Fairport Convention-popularised folk song 'A Sailor's Life' during its shivering crescendos, her throbbing baritone rising to high, fading cries. Peter, Paul and Mary's 'No Other Name' is sung in the richly emotional vein of 1960s folk divas such as Joan Baez then, on Tom Waits' 'Jockey Full Of Bourbon', Youn is all gravel and grit. Was it just mimicry, someone wonders afterwards. No – her pleasure in the voice was true.

The festival is still Mediterranean-sunny in early evening on the Sunday, but at its truest during Saturday's constant rain, when uncomplaining middle-aged Belgians in anoraks troop to more jazz in the gloom. Swiss Florian Favre's Trio play a tribute to John Taylor, 'Mr. Taylor', pinned by ice-pick piano stabs, and find elegiac, mysterious moments. French tenor man Sylvain Rifflet's Mechanics also climax on a potently strange wavelength. They seem to play in parallel unison, each musician separated in a misty space. Then a swirling repetition subtly builds in speed, gaining power with each pass, drummer Benjamin Flament pumping up the energy and wanting more. Just that tune was worth the trip.

– Nick Hasted
– Photos by Christian Deblanbc