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“Can I suggest filets de perches?” I said it like it came out. They stopped talking and looked at me strangely, implying “who is this guy and what he is talking about”. Then Malcolm Braff turned to Kanye West and Troy Andrews, known as Trombone Shorty. He briefly tried to explain to them the concept of „filet de perches“ or “perch fillets”, the highly sought-after freshwater fish that inhabits Lake Geneva; they seemed to think it was cool. We had just a few hours to go before the opening concert of the 2020 Montreux Festival, and I had come to the Palace bar this morning for a few minutes to interview Trombone Shorty in my capacity as a reporter. I love his power, his groove, his New Orleans jazz-funk fanfare. I also like the character, the look, his dark glasses and brazen celebrity ways.
“But the giant of the festival, this year’s headliner, the one making all the hype, the opening act, is Kanye West, naturally. So, when he popped his head into the bar, Trombone Shorty greeted him with respect, but also almost like a mate.”
But the giant of the festival, this year’s headliner, the one making all the hype, the opening act, is Kanye West, naturally. So, when he popped his head into the bar, Trombone Shorty greeted him with respect, but also almost like a mate. As for Braff, he was there for the Sunday Service Choir, the band of gospel singers who now accompany West everywhere. Malcolm, local resident for this leg, is scheduled to play the organ with them tonight. He is wonderful in the gospel blues, his music originates there. The programme for the first night of the MJF 2020 promised to be amazing: Kanye and his God-soaked hip-hop in the Stravinsky, Trombone Shorty and the blues from Gary Clark, Jr. on the Miles Davis Hall stage.
But in the meantime, in this bar, they were talking about going for a bite to eat. That’s when I mentioned the fish. Moments later, they wanted them badly, those perch fillets. They even called Gary Clark, Jr., in his room, like, “Come on over, brother, let’s go get some fish”. I called the little bistro in Noville where Claude Nobs had once taken me a lifetime ago, to taste those famous fillets. I warned them it was big, disruptive, huge, heavy-duty.
A guy stuck me next to the driver of the first car, to show the way. We were off to lunch in the sunshine with Malcolm, Troy, Gary, Kanye and also Mrs. Kim K., yes, the one and only, who thought it was awesome. Plus, a squad of suit-wearing thugs who looked worried and worrying.
„They loved the little perch fillets; in fact it was the only time they ever turned my way. Kim K. smiled at me, actually.“
At the table, I inevitably found myself in the corner. I listened, I watched, and lived it just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming it. I tried to grasp their laughter, the jokes on the fly amidst the incredible incongruity of these guys talking about music and America over paper placemats. They loved the little perch fillets; in fact it was the only time they ever turned my way. Kim K. smiled at me, actually. Malcolm Braff, with his bearded wizard face, was as stunned as I was, but he looked as though he was getting used to it. I got a text message from Mathieu Jaton: “Is everything okay?”
Then they went up to the chalet in Caux, happy and a little tipsy. Up there they ate salmon, drank champagne, probably decided that this was going to be an unusual evening, even for them. Mathieu explained to them bits of the history of the festival, they watched the ghost of Nina Simone in 1976, in the projection room. This concert always impresses the newcomers. It worked again with Kanye West, for it is pure genius, from the first to the last note, from Miss Simone’s first to last glance.
„On the stroke of 10:00 p.m., West walked onto the stage. Within minutes he transformed the Auditorium into a rap and gospel basilica“
Night then descended on the mountain and the city. It was crowded, with the sound of partying. The people were drunk, happy, in love, hip-hop fans wearing baseball caps. On the stroke of 10:00 p.m., West walked onto the stage. Within minutes he transformed the Auditorium into a rap and gospel basilica, a kind of collective trance took over. He never relented, focused and driven, always making it seem as if he was literally improvising. Kanye West is the greatest rapper in the world precisely because he is unpredictable, undoubtedly crazy, on the pulse. He can talk nonsense, he can fool around, he can leave too. But above all, he often manages to walk a tightrope between his instincts and the desire to share. “Speak your word and break!” Nietzsche said, and that sounds like him. When he launched into “Fade”, a dazzling track and final single from the album The Life of Pablo, the ovation was unprecedented.
And then suddenly they emerged from the side of the stage: Braff, Trombone Shorty with his instrument in the air, Gary Clark and his guitar. Kanye West laughed, regal MC, quietly majestic on his aristocratic throne of rap, yet prodigiously controlling, and the scene, in this room resembling a cauldron of exploding popcorn, clawed at my heart. “Fade” lasted half an hour, Mr Andrews’ trombone solo was delirious and virtuoso, a condensed version of James Brown and Louisiana. Clarke took off, intense like Hendrix, making his strings and the crowd scream. Kanye shouted into the microphone, “Great black music, great black music…” He repeated this in the manner of a whirling dervish, like a happy prayer, a mantra, a moment of their history to be celebrated, there, in Montreux. Can I suggest that that’s when the tears of joy spilled from my eyes?
Christophe Passer, Le Matin Dimanche