Sunday, June 09, 2024

Tribeca ’24: They All Came Out to Montreux

It hardly seems fair. The biggest jazz fests regularly invite non-jazz artists, but how many jazz musicians get the same hospitality from rock and pop fests, like Lollapalooza? The Montreux Jazz Festival is a prime example. Over the years, it has regularly hosted big name stars from a host of genres. That is not necessarily good or bad, but it something jazz fans are keenly aware of. They still programmed a lot of amazing jazz sets, including many that were immortalized as absolutely classic live albums recorded by the likes of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Oliver Murray profiles the fest from all musical perspectives in the feature-documentary cut of They All Came Out to Montreux, which screens at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Montreux was (and largely remains) a wealthy, but largely sleepy Swiss town perched on the shore of Lake Geneva. Lifelong festival director Claude Nobs founded the festival as a project of the municipal tourism office—and it worked. Under Nobs’ leadership, often in close, unofficial consultation with Nesuhi Ertegun of Atlantic Records, Montreux grew into the pre-eminent European music festival, encompassing just about every musical style (but there was always a solid helping of jazz on the program).

Thanks in part to Ertegun’s help, Montreux’s international reputation spread through the live albums recorded at the festival, including Bill Evans’ Grammy-winning
Live at Montreux. Arguably, the most important might have been Les McCann and Eddie Harris’s Swiss Movement. Appropriately, Murray incorporates considerable live footage of their classic performance of “Compared to What,” but does not fully explain what a popular crossover hit it became in 1969 (at the time, Swiss Movement was like Kind of Blue—one of the few jazz records non-jazz fans might own).

Murray obviously has a thorough grounding in jazz (he previously helmed
Ronnie’s, a documentary about the legendary London jazz club) and he secured interviews with real deal jazz authorities, like the late George Wein (founder of the Newport Jazz Festival), the late Michael Cuscuna (producer for Blue Note and Mosaic Records), and Quincy Jones, who needs no introduction.

Of course, there are a lot of styles of music documented in Murray’s doc, which accurately reflects the character of the festival. Some of it was also pretty significant too. For instance, Queen and David Bowie recorded “Under Pressure” at the Montreux studio while they were both appearing at the festival. Nevertheless, the lengths he takes to de-center jazz might just start to vex some jazz supporters.

Yet, there is no denying the value of the archive Nobs created by videotaping every performance (just look at Nina Simone, Wayne Shorter, David Sanborn, Weather Report, Ray Charles, and Quincy Jones, all “Live at Montreux”). It also left a wealth of material for Murray to excerpt. Almost every image in the film either came from the Montreux library or Swiss television.

In fact, Murray follows the approach of docs like
Billie, which eschew talking head interviews in favor of marrying audio interviews with archival video. It mostly makes sense, but there might be some value to fans in seeing someone of Quincy Jones’s stature discussing his friend, Nobs.

Honestly, you cannot argue with the music Nobs and his Montreux colleagues made possible. Murray assembled (with editors Janka Troeber and Tim Thompsett) a highly accessible survey of the fest. Like the festival itself, it is consistently enjoyable, even when it strays from its jazz roots. Recommended for fans of the famous “Live at Montreux” recordings,
They All Came Out to Montreux screens again this Wednesday (6/12), as part of this year’s Tribeca.