Last week, to start of the annual Nancy Jazz Pulsations Festival, I checked out France’s L’Orchestre National de Jazz and Austria’s Vienna Vegetable Orchestra in concert.  Held in the beautiful Salle Poirer music hall on rue Victor Poirer, this show was an open seating event so I got there extra early and had a great seat for this show.  I’ve been geographically challenged for the past few years when it comes to the rock, or, well, the sound in this case, so I was very excited about breaking my dry spell with this show.

France’s L’Orchestre National de Jazz played first.  The ONJ has been in existence since 1986, but recently has blossomed under the guidance of new artistic director Daniel Yvinec as well as the addition of new performers in the ensemble.  The last ONJ record “Around Robert Wyatt” was, as the name suggests, a tribute to the music of Robert Wyatt, one of my favorite artists.  This tribute project, which has received several awards, has now developed into an endorsement and vocal collaboration from Wyatt himself.

Most of the material the ONJ performed this night was taken from Wyatt’s Rock Bottom record, but a few songs performed were from Wyatt’s more recent records, notably his last album, Comicopera.  The sampled vocals were provided by either Wyatt himself or vocalists associated with the ONJ.  The ensemble played along with vocal samples and video projection which led to a cinematic interpretation of Wyatt’s music.  Highlights included two takes on Wyatt’s “anti”-love songs - “Just As You Are” from Comicopera and “Oh, Caroline” from the first Matching Mole record.  Another highlight was a rhythmic prepared piano improvisation from ensemble pianist Eve Risser that acted as an intermission piece.  The performance was fantastic and I’m really anxious to see what this impressive ensemble puts together in the future.

I’ve wanted to see the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra for about a decade now, so I was pretty psyched to see them take the stage tonight.  If you’ve never heard of this group, their basic premise is that they make instruments from vegetables and perform songs with these vegetable instruments on stage.  Here is a great mini-documentary from the Guardian Paper, and there are video performances of the VVO here and here and here and here and here, and here’s an image of some of the instruments they perform with, courtesy of their website:

There’s certainly an air of novelty here, but the group basically dissolves that concept when you see how tight and organic (literally and figuratively) their performance is.  As you can imagine, it’s hard to get a lot of melody out of a vegetable, so their music tends to be really rhythmic and minimal.  The ensemble doesn’t have its tongue lodged too far in its cheek, so while the performances are playful, they are equally serious and well planned out, perfectly balanced to make this show very rewarding.

They covered a series of songs by artists such as Kraftwerk (Radioactivity), Radian (Radian) and Igor Stravinsky (Le Sacre du Printemps).  They also performed songs resembling or inspired by minimal techno in the vein of music from the Raster-Norton or Kompakt record labels.  They also performed an awesome quartet for amplified cabbage called “Krautrock”:

At the end of the show, the group serves up soup made from the parts of the vegetables discarded in the making of the instruments.  One of the best veggie soups I’ve ever had complete with coriander and pieces of orange wedges.  I should have asked for the recipe for this one.