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Golden and delicious: David Sanborn’s jazz under the apple trees

The sound at the 35th edition of the Jazz Sous Les Pommiers festival

Guillaume Schouker reports from the 35th edition of the Jazz Sous Les Pommiers festival, this year featuring a certain sax legend

The appearance of American alto saxophonist David Sanborn, whether in France or elsewhere in Europe, is such a rarity that there was no way PSNEurope would miss an evening in his presence. Sanborn – winner of six Grammys and an output of 24 albums in a 35-year career – starred with his Electric Band at the 35th edition of Jazz Sous Les Pommiers Festival (‘jazz under the apple trees’) in the Norman city of Coutances two months ago in May.

This well-established French festival has gained an international reputation, making this 2016 edition a real success: an audience of 80,000 gathered during the eight days of music (30 April to 7 May).

On the evening of the David Sanborn Electric Band show at Salle Marcel Hélie (a gymnasium converted into a 1,350-seat concert hall), the public was not only thrilled by the sublime saxophonist, but also by his four musicians : Andre Berry on bass guitar, Billy Kilson on drums, Nicky Moroch on electric guitar, and Ricky Peterson on keyboards and Hammond organ.

At the front-of-house position was engineer Steve Guest, an American who has worked on global tours for the likes of Bette Midler, Janet Jackson, Ricky Martin, The Backstreet Boys and David Bowie, as well as top Japanese artists such as Tomoyasu Hotei and Miki Imai. Guest has run Zenkai Audio Inc, a live sound reinforcement services, consulting, and education company since January 2006.

“Dave [Sanborn] was doing a show at the Sands Casino at Atlantic City in 1991 and his regular engineer couldn’t make it,” recalls Guest. “I was working at Maryland Sound and happened to be in the building when his tour manager called and asked for an engineer. I jumped at the chance because I knew his music and I was into mixing that style of music. I drove up there and covered the gig. I became his regular engineer shortly afterward.”

Dave has been using a Shure SM-98 mounted in an SD Systems clip since Guest met him, says the engineer. David Sanborn’s request is “primarily, that he doesn’t have to worry about what it sounds like out front so he can concentrate on playing”.

Guest adds: “The way he plays – he’d still sound like David Sanborn if he played through a [Shure] SM58. “Actually, he sounds pretty good through a 58!”

As with last year’s JSLP, Jean-Marie Roussel, high tech at ATECH rental company was officiating as sound and technical manager. He was not only keeping an eye on the front-of-house position, next to the Soundcraft Vi6 console, but also keeping an ear out if necessary too…

Guest mentions: “I love the sound of the Vi6 but I’m not as comfortable with its user interface as some other consoles.”

He adds, “Typically, I’d use an AVID Profile for [Sanborn’s] shows. But I also have good experiences with DiGiCo SD Series and Yamaha CL5 desks as they both have on-board dynamic EQ. I carry working showfiles for most of the major live digital consoles.”

At Sanborn’s show, the sound reinforcement system comprised 14 Nexo GEO D10s and six GEO D SUBs with Nexo NXAMP4x4 amps, plus six Nexo PS10-R2 for frontfills and sidefills and four Nexo ID24 as nearfields.

“That sound system and all its distributed zones was very well set up and balanced. Congratulations (and thanks) to the festival’s audio crew! I didn’t need to make very many adjustments,” states Guest.

“I can get most of the major systems to sound good if they’re set up well. The room has a lot to do with it, of course, in both choice of systems and acoustics. [But] the whole global live audio equipment industry has consolidated to the point where the gear here is pretty much the same as in the US.”

Guests says he doesn’t need anything “beyond what a good digital console provides”. Plus, carrying an external equipment rack has become cost prohibitive. “I carry some mics that I like, a laptop, and a digital interface to run [system set-up package] SMAART.”

Regarding microphones, Guest reveals, “I carry an E-V 868 for bass drum, a pair of KSM137s for snare, an AT4051 for high hat, and two Beta98s for rack toms.” Other mics came the festival’s inventory.

“We only had a certain amount of time to get set up and soundchecked in between the festival’s shows. There was not much room for error. Fortunately it was a good sound crew, a good system, and a good venue. It was great to get all three.”

Sanborn’s long-standing instruction to Guest is to mix him within the context of the band, as opposed to more ‘out front’ as one would for a lead vocalist. “He trusts me to see to that,” affirms Guest. “Since he uses in-ear monitors, his experience of the show is mostly of that. However, he did say after the show that it was one of the best sounds on the stage he’s had in a long time. So congratulations are also in order for our monitor engineer, Ferran Huijsmans [on a Yamaha PM5D RH].”

“Offering state-of-the art equipment where and when it’s needed is imperative,” mentions Denis Le Bas, managing director of Coutances city municipal theatre and director of the JSLP festival for over 30 years.

“Work on the sound and the technical environment in general is a huge component of the success of a festival.”

This year edition of Jazz Sous Les Pommiers Festival also featured Taj Mahal, Bettye LaVette, Christian Scott, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jason Moran, Charles Lloyd, Archie Shepp, René Urtreger and Nguyên Lê, to name but a few.

After their appearance in France, Sanborn and his band went on to play a few shows at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, before taking his magic back to the US.

Main picture: American alto saxophonist David Sanborn at Jazz Sous Les Pommiers Festival 2016 in Coutances on 5 may 2016 (credit: Pierre Yves Le Meur)

Second pic: This particular venue was a converted gymnasium

Third pic: Nexo GEO D system in the Salle Marcel Helie

Last pic: Steve Guest mixed the show from a Soundcraft Vi6