Photo: Marc Ducrest

Festivals

Mark Ronson closes out Montreux Jazz Festival with a bespoke show that echoes the spirit of a truly unique event

14th - 15th July 2023

Now in its 57th year, the Swiss soiree is still operating in a niche of its own.

Set against the glistening backdrop of Lake Geneva, it’s not hard to see why, for the best part of six decades, music’s great and good have been making the pilgrimage to Montreux Jazz Festival. First started in 1967 by Swiss legend Claude Nobs as a top tier showcase for the genre, over the years the festival has broadened its remit out far and wide; this year’s edition features everyone from Bob Dylan to Lil Nas X, with icons old and new stretching from the traditional to the thoroughly modern.

Uniting the shows, however, is a sense of occasion. All gigs in the two main spaces - the Auditorium Stravinski and the Montreux Jazz Lab - are meticulously recorded for posterity, with Nobs’ former high altitude HQ now acting as a comprehensive archive of the festival’s activities since Day One. Having produced legendary live albums by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Motorhead, playing Montreux isn’t just about the night itself but creating a document that will live on. And away from the party spirit that permeates through the festival’s lakeside strip of free stages and pop-up events, there’s an evident gravitas to everything happening in the main rooms that echoes the justifiably legendary status of the festival.

Montreux Jazz Festival 2023 Montreux Jazz Festival 2023 Montreux Jazz Festival 2023 Montreux Jazz Festival 2023

Which is not to say, of course, that these shows aren’t fun. Suggest that to the crowd
watching Overmono turn the Jazz Lab into a thumping club on the penultimate night of the
festival’s 16-day(!) run, and you’d be booted out of the room. But even though Welsh
brothers Tom and Ed Russell make the kind of beats that would be better suited to a ravey
basement in Berlin, they’ve upped the production to a level that makes the 2,000-capacity
space feel like an epic spaceship. There’s looping rows of blinding lights and a giant disco
ball looming down from the centre; when they bring out their remix of For Those I Love’s ‘I
Have A Love’, the whole thing feels like a wild night at Block 9 rather than a gig in a very
bougie European holiday destination.

At the other end of the spectrum, and emphasising the festival’s wildly diverse programming,
legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy brings his farewell tour to a climax in the Auditorium
Stravinski. Aged 86 and a veteran of the festival, the love in the room for the eight-time
Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is tangible. He’s a charming and twinkle-
eyed presence, peeling out impeccable fretwork between the slightly eyebrow-raising lyrics
of 1973 song ‘Cheaper to Keep Her’ before inviting stage headliner Joe Bonamassa out for a
blues-off duet. Bonamassa might be the more showy of the two, but Guy is the legend,
showing the roots of the genre in a way that doesn’t need any dressing up to impress.

Montreux Jazz Festival 2023

Then, closing out the festival’s final day as Nile Rogers and Chic party through a greatest
hits set in the main room, Mark Ronson has, as the saying goes, understood the
assignment. For weeks, the multi-hyphenate musician has been teasing this gig on his social
media and, as he enters following stellar support slots from collaborators Yebba and Lucky
Daye, it becomes obvious why he’s so excited. Billed as Ronson ‘& His Favourite Band
Ever’, he’s created a off-one performance for the event featuring the musicians he recorded
Amy Winehouse’s iconic ‘Back to Black’ alongside, with guest vocalists, live DJ and band collabs, and a disco dancefloor ceiling screen that projects images from the stage alongside
bespoke visuals above the crowd below.

Beginning with a portion in which Ronson DJs with the band playing live alongside him - his
2018 Dua Lipa/ Silk City team-up ‘Electricity’ providing an early highlight - he later tells the
crowd that it’s something he’s never done before. “There are many ways to fuck up and I
think I did a few of them,” he laughs. Next, out comes “[his] fucking best friend” and longterm
collaborator Andrew Wyatt to front a selection of tracks from 2010 album ‘Record Collection’.
But really, the night belongs to Yebba, who returns for a scene-stealing turn that shows
Ronson’s knack for discovering and highlighting new talent with an ear that most major label
A&R’s would envy.

The task of performing Winehouse’s vocals on the Montreux stage with her original band is
one that would put the fear in most people, but Yebba takes on ‘You Know I’m No Good’ like
a superstar before then switching it up for a version of Miley’s ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’.
Lucky Daye also returns for a brief vocal turn before - slightly bizarrely - leaving just ahead of
‘Uptown Funk’ instead of taking Bruno Mars’ part. But no matter: by the time they end in
sentimental fashion, playing Amy’s isolated vocals for ‘Valerie’ as her old friends play along
with her, Mark Ronson has already created a special performance more than worthy of a
place alongside the Montreux Jazz Festival greats.

Tags: Mark Ronson, Nile Rodgers, Montreux Jazz Festival, Festivals, Reviews, Live Reviews

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