Olivier Benoit - artistic direction, g
Orchestre National de Jazz, the pride of French jazz, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Since 1986, the orchestra has evolved through nine different projects under the leadership of a series of musical directors. During thirty years the ONJ’s creative flair has never vanished. It has built the reputation of a creative laboratory revisiting every genre of music.
When in 2014 guitarist and composer Olivier Benoit was appointed as the new artistic director of the ONJ, some local neo-cons expressed their worries that this orchestra may lose its jazzy touch. For at the time Benoit was exploring wider territories – experimental electronic, dance, video, as well as theatre and circus. Indeed, for the collective he picked musicians with rich, original backgrounds, all open to multiple stylistic registers, many leaders of their own outfits including saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, pianist Sophie Agnel, violinist Théo Ceccaldi, and drummer Eric Echampard.
The angst was dispersed when the ONJ quaked the music community with an ambitious project entitle Europa. It reveals a kaleidoscopic view of the contemporary musical landscape in the Old Continent. In 2014, they presented an impressive portrait of Paris, and now the ONJ tours the European scenes introducing musical portrayal of Berlin.
“Electric, energetic, vivant!” commented Jazz Magazine. “The individual talents on display are spectacular” wrote London Jazz News in astonishment.
In Berlin there are no characters of minor importance – the talented composer, arranger and guitarist Benoit reveals not only his special capabilities, but also those of other ten stage partners.
Project’s music plunges one in stormy jazz element. Though it owes little to swinging, blues-based jazz, it does offer an arresting amalgam of contrastive avant-garde jazz, minimalist and electronic music, and progressive rock.
Benoit like an adventurous alien travels through a strange cosmopolitan city, still cast down by tragic past, but daringly anticipating future, enchanting with its vital energy, openness to the world and an ability to rewrite history.
The project’s multi-faced protagonist allows the composer to juggle many musical forms and vocabularies.
The titles of 14 solid compositions relate to the book Berlin, L’effacement des traces (Berlin, Erasing Traces) by Sonia Combe, Thierry Dufrêne and Régine Robin.
Symbolically, the album recording marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
After taking up the oboe in childhood, the to be composer, arranger and innovatory guitarist Olivier Benoit later turned to the classical guitar and double bass. Whilst a student in musicology at Lille University (and taking jazz and composition classes at the Conservatoire), he met Jean-François Canape, Gérard Marais, Fred Van Hove and Annick Nozati, all of whom were decisive in opening the doors of improvised music to him.
In 1992, he formed his first quartet as a leader, Happy House, to play music that was firmly anchored in the jazz idiom while having a strong rock colouring. Settling in Paris in 1995 Benoit kept company with other young members of the experimental scene including Guillaume Orti, Bertrand Denzler, Thierry Madiot, Pascal Battus, Claude Tchamitchian and Philippe Deschepper, and then joined the Sextet and Quartet led by Christophe Marguet, which included such coryphées as Daunik Lazro and Bruno Chevillon.
He also worked in duos with pianist Sophie Agnel and saxophonist Jean-Luc Guionnet, and both pairings strengthened his commitment to improvisation.
In 2001, Paolo Damiani invited Benoit to join the ONJ, and he consequently played with jazz musicians in the new generation while multiplying other collaborations in all directions, working with Jacques Mahieux, Edward Perraud and Joëlle Léandre among other jazz masters. In parallel with his activities in Paris, Benoit continued his involvement with the music scene in Lille, actively participating in the creation of the Circum Collective and also the Regional Improvisation and Experimental Music Centre (CRIME).
For more than 15 years Benoit would remain one of the most active members of this alternative scene, notably demonstrating his singular talents as a writer and conductor with two large formations Circum Grand Orchestra and La Pieuvre, which he would finally combine in 2007 with the foundation of Feldspath, a vast ensemble of 32 musicians.
Furthering his taste for inter- and multi-disciplinary projects, Benoit also worked during this period with Ars Nova ensemble led by Philippe Nahon on the creation of a contemporary opera, and actively collaborated with choreographers David Flahaut and Karole Armitage, dancer and trapeze-artist Clémence Coconnier, and with stage-director Thierry Roisin, composing for the musical play La Vie dans les plis.