SCENA Jazz

Monday, July 13, 2009

Anat Cohen Quartet: Revisionist Post Modern Jazz from the Big Apple

By Paul Serralheiro


The sound of the clarinet is not one associates with Modern Jazz, but Anat Cohen proved it is still a relevant instrument in her show Monday night at L’Astral (July 6, 9 PM) at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

The main appeal of her playing was the fluidity of her ideas which was facilitated by an excellent technical command. At times, the technical display took the upper hand, and she would run rote patterns with little musical interest, but these were luckily infrequent, as her lyrical talents dominated.

The music making was aided by some excellent work by guitarist Gilad Hekselman. With a clear presence and a strong voice, Hekselman displayed some original thinking, especially in his percussive concepts. Despite some gratuitous over-reliance on showy playing at times--like the leader--his technical facility mainly served musical ends.

Likewise, bassist Joe Morris had a nice big sound, although his articulation was too heavy at times, where implied notes and rhythms would have been more efficient and effective.

Drummer Daniel Freedman, for his part, showed lots of energy and heart, although his articulation was rather sluggish in spots, missing spryness in his ride cymbal swing figures, for example.

The band purveyed some satisfying music--despite some reservations for this listener--bringing to life an interestingly conceived Jitterbug Waltz, to open the evening. Also memorable were the originals Jay’s Blues, and The Bucket Kicker, as well as a convincing version of Body and Soul, (despite the unimaginative arrangement), and a choro by Pixinguinha to close the show which lasted about 70 minutes, with no encore.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Félix Stüssi 5 & Ray Anderson

par Monique Poirier

Le 8 juillet dernier, le quintette de Félix Stüssi et Ray Anderson a capté l'attention de l'auditoire venu les entendre au Upstairs de Montréal. À cette occasion, le quintette présentait plusieurs nouvelles pièces qui feront partie d'un prochain CD. Dès les premières minutes, on a vite senti l'énergie de ce groupe en grande forme. Le tromboniste Ray Anderson s'ajoutait aux saxophonistes Bruno Lamarche et Alexandre Côté, assurant une section de vents très solide et homogène. Clinton Ryder à la contrebasse et Isaiah Ceccarelli à la batterie complétaient le groupe dirigé par le pianiste Félix Stüssi.

Ce qui m'a fascinée c'est la façon avec laquelle les compositions nous ont fait voyager, passant d'un inconnu un peu exploratoire vers un thème qui se développe soudain tout naturellement. Par exemple, cette pièce qui commence par un solo d'archet à la contrebasse avant d'émerger dans un thème où tout le groupe se joint. Parfois, c'est le thème de départ qui est bien établi, mais qui prend tout à coup une tournure inattendue. Comme dans cette pièce où le tromboniste est laissé seul dans une improvisation qui permet au trombone de parler, chanter, pleurer, chuchoter s'esclaffer dans des registres parfois insoupçonnés! D'ailleurs, les moments d'improvisation que nous a offert chacun des musiciens étaient des moments de liberté pleinement sentis qui s'intégraient fort bien dans les compositions de Félix Stüssi. Et comme pianiste, même s'il se faisait discret à certains moments, il a pu s'exprimer avec verve à d'autres moments dans un discours souvent monodique, mais jamais banal.

Il m'est resté de cette musique une impression d'équilibre entre structure et liberté, de plaisir de sortir des sentiers battus tout naturellement… Pas tellement pour l'exploration pure, mais parce que l'expression l'impose…

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ottawa International Jazz Festival 2009

By Ron Sweetman

The Ottawa International Jazz Festival for 2009 ran from Thursday June 25 to Sunday July 5 . There are four main series of concerts, the Connoisseur Series at Library and Archives Canada, Great Canadian Jazz at Confederation Park, Concert Under the Stars at Confederation Park, and Improv International at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage. In addition, there were free concerts in various locations around town and on the OLG Stage, plus two panel discussions organized by the Jazz Journalists Association and nightly jam sessions. I'll take you through each major series chronologically, but I should explain that I did not attend every concert of every series.

At the Connoisseur Series, which featured pianists, I particularly enjoyed four pianists whose styles could hardly have been more varied - Toshiko Akiyoshi, Amina Claudine Myers, Patricia Barber and Lenore Raphael.


Toshiko Akiyoshi endeared herself to the audience with autobiographical anecdotes which served to introduce each piece she played. Bud Powell loomed large in the anecdotes and in her playing. Amina Claudine Myers demonstrated her strengths in gospel, jazz, blues and standards on piano and organ. Patricia Barber was the epitome of chic; the musical equivalent of New Yorker magazine. Lenore Raphael chose a selection of standards and elaborated on each one most skillfully.


Because of time conflicts, I attended few of the Great Canadian Series concerts, but one concert I particularly enjoyed featured the gutsy tenor saxophone of Andre Leroux, who was there with his Quartet.


The Concerts Under the Stars came on to the Main Stage after the Great Canadian Series each evening. What little I caught of Dave Douglas' Brass Ecstasy was very impressive. Dave's solos were inspired, and the concert was my first opportunity to hear the great French horn player Vincent Chancey in person. Singer Roberta Gambarini lived up to her reputation as one of the foremost jazz singers of our day. The few tunes I heard from Jimmy Cobbs' So What Band were delightful; I particularly liked the way in which the two saxophonists (Vincent Herring on alto and Javon Jackson on tenor) worked together. Soul singer Al Green put on a polished show to an adoring audience.


The Gary Burton Quartet Revisited kept the audience's attention, despite heavy rain. Both Gary and Pat Metheny soloed most effectively. Always a treat, the Maria Schneider Orchestra played beautifully, the arrangements being particularly effective. The same material played by an inferior orchestra might be dismissed as purely pretty, but the quality of the arrangements and the players would stifle any such assessment of this orchestra. Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes and his quintet did a strong set and were enthusiastically received by the audience.


The Concerts Under the Stars series ended with Brian Blade and Charles Lloyd. Brian Blade is that rare item; a drummer without ego. His excellent Fellowship Band was a model of restrained power and Brian limited himself to one short solo. Charles Lloyd performed remarkably well on tenor sax and flute for a man of his age, backed by an excellent quartet.


The Improv International series was the reason I missed so much of what went on elsewhere. This excellent series brings in improvisational talent from around the world, starting things off with the brilliant Monk's Casino from Germany, led by pianist Alex von Schlippenbach. Both trumpeter Axel Dorner on trumpet and Rudi Marshall on bass clarinet were outstanding, and von Schlippenbach demonstrated a rare understanding of Monk's music.


The high quality continued the next evening with Switzerland's Zoom. While all three musicians were excellent, trombonist Nils Wogram stood out as a world-class player. French pianist Baptiste Trotignon brought in four Americans to play with him. His playing was very sophisticated, and excellent solos were heard from Mark Turner on alto sax and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and flugelhorn. Crystal Magnets was the disguise behind which French pianist Benoit Delbecq and Canadian pianist Andy Milne hid their piano duets. Music of a very high quality.


Some people found the Finish group Ilmiliekki unsatisfying, but I found that what they lacked in fire they made up in subtlety. Perhaps they suffered from comparison with the enormously dynamic and enjoyable Trio M (Myra Melford, Mark Dresser and Matt Wilson). It was obvious from the start that this trio just loves playing together, which they demonstrated by great musical empathy and supportive laughter. The series ended with another dynamic trio; Dutch pianist Michiel Braam, Dutch bassist Wilbert De Joode and American percussionist Mike Vatcher. This trio has played together for a long time, and their musical empathy was evident throughout their energetic and energizing performance. This series adds a fresh and vital dimension to the whole festival.


In conclusion, the 2009 Ottawa International Jazz Festival was one of the best ever. Come and join us next year!

_______________________________________________________________


--
Ron Sweetman
Tel: 613-730-2083 | Fax: 613-730-1818
Email: ronsweetman@kalixo.com <-- NEW!
http://www.inamellowtone.com

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Toronto Jazz Festival 2009

By Alain Londes

The TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival enjoyed its 23rd edition this year with a similar structure to recent years. The Mainstage concerts in front of City Hall were nightly focal point as well as key locations such as the Grandmasters series at the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts for Sonny Rollins and Gary Burton Quartet, the Canon Theater for Tony Bennett, and two theater locations at Harbourfront. Toronto might not benefit from the same financial support as exists for Montreal but it attracts a solid programme of international musicians to complement the vibrant local jazz scene that operates throughout the year.


June 26: Sonny Rollins

On opening night, Mr. Tenor Madness himself, Sonny Rollins, kicked off the festival with an extended outpouring solo on Sonny, Please that probably lasted about 15 minutes. Sporting a white jacket and cool shades, some members of the audience stood up as soon as he appeared on
stage. Approaching the age of 79, he still exhibits an inspiring vitality.

He was joined by Clifton Anderson (his nephew) on trombone, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums, Victor Y. See Yuen with his Trinidadian influence on percussion and Bobby Broom on the far right side to provide a certain balance on guitar. He plays with sustained creativity and aesthetic balance. Being in his late seventies, Sonny is still a working musician, practicing every day, looking for that new feeling and inspiration, as well as capable of playing for hours.

On Irving Berlin's They Say It's Wonderful, Clifton Anderson and Bobby Broom were featured soloists followed by Rollins trading with the percussionist while Watkins and Cranshaw quietly sustained the foundation over the swinging rhythm. The audience enjoyed a quieter moment with the emotional In A Sentimental Mood with Anderson contributing the appropriate tone in his solo with references to melodies such as That's All by Brandt and Haymes. The ninety-minute show closed with a very short rendition of the calypso tune, Nice Lady and Global Warming.

June 27: Charlie Hunter

In addition to headliner concerts, one can easily identify certain gems at a number of venues. One such place is The Pilot Tavern which hosted Charlie Hunter on Saturday night. He was joined by Brooklyn based versatile drummer, Eric Kalb. Hunter already appeared at the festival
on the Mainstage yet the quieter and more intimate settings of The Pilot offers a closer taste of his talent in this duo setting. What made the evening fresh and relaxing was that the musicians did not have a set list of tunes that were pre-selected. Charlie Hunter started off by digging right into a blues that he felt like playing at that moment and even jocularly said to Kalb: "I don't know if I remember this one; we'll find out soon enough!" Of course he did and that was the pattern for the evening without ever being lost as these two musicians are talented professionals who have known each other for years. Charlie would set the foundation and Eric would join in. The evening was filled with rich bluesy grooves, sometimes heavy but never long and repetitive. Other pieces included some R&B as well as some funky head boppin' fast play with Kalb discreetly throwing his personal improvised part. His 8-string guitar, which is acts as a bass and as a guitar on the same instrument, is a very expressive instrument. Charlie Hunter is able to play both parts clearly that you stop to see where are they hiding the actual bass player. The duo closed the first set with a Michael Jackson tune, I can't help it as well as the humorously titled Every morning you wake up, New York says no.

June 28: Maria Schneider Orchestra

While BeauSoleil and Buckwheat Zydeco brought a bit of Louisiana up to a brisk Summer evening, Maria Schneider and her 18-piece orchestra enveloped the lucky audience to true musical poetry on Sunday night at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront. In the Grammy award winning opening track, Concert in The Garden, you get the full flavor of the orchestra with a cinematic crescendo build followed by a relaxing guitar solo. The piece features a musical conversation between the piano and the accordion before the rest of the group slowly eases in. Some parts of the piece almost remind us of Wayne Shorter's approach to some of his compositions and orchestrations on certain projects. The versatile Scott Robinson moved to a beautiful soft solo on Evanescence. Many if not most of Schneider's compositions are very personal. In The Pretty Road, she described it as driving to a spot overlooking Windom, Minnesota, where she was born and to recreate memory glimpses when she reaches that observation post. The images included church hymns, Chopin, and her parents' favourite song As Time Goes By. Canadian born Ingrid Jensen highlighted the dream sequences by combining the trumpet, fluegelhorn, and a few discreet electronic sound effects such as birds and echoes. Tenor saxophonist Richard Perry soared in Rich's Piece, where he played with plenty of space for an unconstrained yet balanced sound. Final selections included Journey Home, Coming About, and Sky Blue featuring Steve Wilson on soprano sax for the welcomed encore. The band is like a family off stage and that cohesion was in full display adding to the sincerity behind the sound.


June 29: Gary Burton Quartet Revisited

The Botos brothers kicked of the opening of Monday night's Grandmasters evening before a packed and enthusiastic house. Louie Botos came all the way from Hungary to play bass with Frank Botos sitting on drums. Robi Botos was clearly thrilled to be part of the evening and called it "a special night, a special place, and a special audience." He selected a few melodic pieces including Gershwin's Someone To Watch Over Me. Later Attila came on stage on electric guitar and we even got to see Louie sing Reveries of Love even though he apparently speaks little to no English.

The main part of the highly anticipated evening was devoted to the recreation of Gary Burton's Quartet, a band he formed in the 60s. Pat Metheny joined that group in the 70s and then, as Burton pointed out, Antonio Sanchez was born. The first part of the program featured selections written by other composers. Chick Corea's Sea Journey was the perfect lyrical and flowing tune that showed the whole band as a unit. Burton led the way with his famous 4 mallets playing the vibes with deliberate precision and purpose. Steve Swallow provided the solid ground base throughout the show while standing and facing mainly Metheny and Sanchez. The drummer, who is also a member of the Pat Metheny Group, showed some of his dexterity during a solo without the need to go over the top. Following Carla Bley's Olhos de Gato, Swallow kicked off quickly into soloing at the beginning of his own composition, a tribute to Bill Evans, Falling Grace before being joined by Burton and the rest of the band in the groove. The performance took on a second level of energy as soon as the group dove into Metheny's Question and Answer with the growing intensity amplified by the guitarist's electric guitar. Such a rush naturally led to a rousing standing ovation by some fired up audience members.

Metheny used his custom made 42-string Pikasso guitar (created by Torontonian Linda Manzer) on The Sound of Water starting unaccompanied as the mystical notes enveloped the hall with Burton eventually completing the duo. We would also be treated to Summertime and the easy brazilian tune O Grande Amor before the band would come out for 2 encores. The overall sound of the evening was fresh and contemporary. Toronto was the final stop of the "Quartet Live" tour with many selections of she show available on the recent cd by that name (Concord Jazz, 2009). The Pat Metheny Group will hopefully be recording during the second part of next year.

June 30: Chris Potter Underground

Chris Potter's Underground finished off the second night at the Pilot Tavern to another sellout and enthusiastic crowd. A large number of music students were on hand to experience the talent up close of Chris Potter. The great saxophonist was surrounded by Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, Adam Rogers on guitar, and Nate Smith on drums. Potter kicked things off with an easy and short melody borrowing similar notes to the start of Coltrane's Love Supreme with a funky African beat supplied by the rhythm section. Rogers continued into an extended solo with heavy drum work by Smith before Potter would take charge with his improvisational ideas. This tune was called Facing East from Chris Potter's new CD Ultrahang (Artistshare, 2009) that came out on July 1st . During an interview earlier in the day conducted by Ted O'Reilly at the Ken Page Memorial Trust workshop, Potter talked about the rich polyphony that his Underground group provides. With fewer people you have more freedom and responsibility at the same time and it feels like jumping off a cliff. He clearly landed on this particular night as he
showcased his great talent and versatility by conducting improvisational investigations to his written pieces using a variety of idioms from his textural capabilities. To the listener, all of these musical ideas seem to flow seamlessly from one to the other under various rhythmic styles. The Underground band chose older selections as well such as Viva Las Vilnius. On Lotus Blossom by Billy Strayhorn, we heard the lighter side of Potter as he brought out the beautiful sounding bass clarinet with the Fender Rhodes adding to the mood of the quiet tune. The vibe that night was such that most attendees chose to stay for the second set and were even treated to an encore. Dave Holland will be bringing Chris Potter back again for his quintet on Friday night together with Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson, and Nate Smith.

July 1: Chucho Valdés and Dave Brubeck

On Canada Day, music revelers were treated to different styles throughout the day. Rob McConnell led for the last time as a leader his famed Boss Brass at lunchtime on the square. Later in the afternoon, a large number of saxophonists filled the spaces in an attempt to break the world record of having the largest number of players performing a tune. Though the effort came short, it was a rare but invigorating experience for all attendees.

Cuba's greatest jazz pianist, Chucho Valdés, played 2 shows at Harbourfront in the evening. He was joined by Yaroldi Abreu on percussion, Lazaro Alarcon on bass, and Juan Rojas on drums. The opening Ellington medley including such pieces as In a Sentimental Mood, and Caravan, indicated the theme of the evening where Valdés and his musicians would approach a piece by eventually blending in a Latin touch. It is a beauty to watch our pianist play a fluttering of notes with his right hand while using his left for melodic ideas. One of the highlights during the first show was the group's rendition of Birdland with afro-cuban elements providing a rich appeal. Valdés played the melody with a deliberate sound with the other band members amplifying the intensity of the piece. At one point, an energetic exchange took place between Abreu and Rojas as the percussionist would be hitting the sides of his congas while the drummer went into his fast solo. Mayra Caridad Valdés, who fans will remember from her appearances in her brother's band Irakere, emerged for a couple of spirited songs. Her onstage presence and soulful voice offered a sincere dose of positive energy as audience members joined in to clap when prompted. In fact, the audience was very knowledgeable judging by their ability to quickly jump into the right rhythmic clapping pattern of the Clave. For the anticipated encore, they even yelled out requests such as Besame Mucho.

In the marquis tent at Nathan Phillips Square, the audience welcomed back the famed Dave Brubeck Quartet. The living legend kicked things off with a medley starting off with C-jam blues and including other Ellington pieces such as Take the A-train. This was a night of pure musical enjoyment on a national holiday and to watch true professionals at work. Bobby Militello demonstrated his full panoply of abilities on alto sax and flute as well as Michael Moore on bass. Brubeck's son, Matthew Brubeck, came as a special guest on cello by first playing Sermon on the Mountain and staying on until the end of the concert. The final part of the evening was devoted to commemorate a "little" recording called Time Out that emerged 50 years ago this year. From the ¾ waltz, Three To Get Ready, the night closed with the famous Take Five that to this day still sounds fresh and fun to play and hear.

July 2: Al Di Meola World Sinfonia

Al Di Meola showcased his World Sinfonia after previous appearances in the Trio formation. Enthusiastic fans were on hand to absorb every note from the international musicians representing Italy, Cuba, and Hungary. Arranged in a tight formation on stage, Di Meola sat right next to guitarist Peo Alfonsi. Fausto Beccalossi drew a lot of attention on the accordion and vocals, playing at different tempos and at times going head to head with Di Meola while complementing the same fast notes. The rhythm section included Victor Miranda on electric bass as well as the youngest member of the formation, Peter Kaszas on drums and longtime associate "Gumbi" Ortiz on percussion. The band showed much cohesion with perfect timing and musical balance when shifting between urgent lines and more relaxed rhythms. No evening would be complete without reference to a great inspiration in Di Meola's musical career, Astor Piazzolla, the Argentinian tango and bandoneon master. Double Concerto was the chosen piece on this night with the spirit of Piazzolla echoing throughout and ending on a spirited finish. Ortiz and Di Meola showed their personal connection during a fun trade in the middle of Bugliero. The international appeal of the World Sinfonia could be found in Siberiana, a piece inspired while touring around Siberia. Latin rhythms, jazz, and rock elements are all fused together. The double encore closed the show with the anticipated classic Land of the Midnight Sun.

July 3: Dave Holland Quintet and the Branford Marsalis Quartet

Jazz fans were in for an exciting double-bill on Friday night for the Mainstage concert. Chris Potter who enjoyed 2 sold out performances earlier in the week flew back to Toronto in order to join the Dave Holland Quintet together with Robin Eubanks on trombone, Nate Smith on drums, and Steve Nelson on vibes and marimba. These musicians have played together for such a long time that Dave Holland didn't need to direct anyone and therefore he could focus on his musical contribution. He presented a combination of past and current tunes. Step To It was a
new piece and really captures the style of this band today. Following the melody, Potter's energetic development on his solo seemed effortless even with a couple of feverish arpeggios. Holland followed with the perfect counterpoint with a careful hint of Miles Davis during the
bassist's tenure with the legend. On Last Minute Man, Steve Nelson starts off with careful marimba notes before switching to the vibes for the better part of the piece. Eubanks' solo included what sounds like an added voice to the natural trombone sound. The quintet played two tracks from the Critical Mass cd (Sunny Side, 2006) with Lucky Seven and Full Circle with Potter even outdoing himself.

The Marsalis name conjures up immediately a contemporary jazz brand. What is remarkable is how each musician of the well known family has developed into a musician in his own right. Luckily for us, Branford Marsalis, who at one point in his career was the leader of the first
Tonight Show band when Jay Leno took over, came back to jazz. The BMQ has just celebrated its 10 years as a solid unit and came to Toronto with Joey Calderazzo on piano and Eric Revis on bass. The only missing member of the band was Jeff "Tain" Watts who was currently working on
other projects. Justin Faulkner took his spot and made quite a splash. The Return of the Jitney Man kicked things off with Marsalis leading the tune off the downbeat and later featuring a feverish buildup between Calderazzo and Faulkner. This was just one of the tracks played from the group's recent CD, Metamorphosen (Marsalis Music, 2009). The bluesy Teo by Thelonious Monk kept the pianist involved with his melodic lyricism while the band leader observed with enjoyment. Branford Marsalis revealed his quieter side while playing soprano on The Blossom of Parting. Another soft tune, this time on the tenor, was You Don't Know What Love Is. At the end of the lovely evening, Chris Potter and Robin Eubanks surprised everyone when they returned to the stage to join Marsalis with Jumpin' At The Woodside as the encore. That's what a
festival should be beyond the scripted programming.


July 4: Kenny Werner Quintet and Eliane Elias

Two distinct styles were on full display this Saturday evening at the jazz fest. Over at Harbourfront, Kenny Werner brought with him major players to represent his quintet. Accompanying him on piano were his "band of brothers", none other than Randy Brecker on trumpet, David Sanchez on tenor sax, Antonio Sanchez on drums, and Scott Colley on bass. The quintet played mainly pieces from the CD released two years ago called Lawn Chair Society (Blue Note, 2007) that included Dave Douglas, Chris Potter, and Brian Blade. Blending straight-ahead jazz, R&B and funk under an accessible avant-gardist cloak, each musician showing his chops without the need to go over the top. For example, during the opening track, the tempo picked up during Werner's solo with Colley supplying a heavy bass hand with one brief insert of rumbling sounds before returning to the melody. Uncovered Heart is a tune that originally appeared on an album by the same title (Sunny Side, 1990) with Randy Brecker playing on that recording. Starting off with a melancholic piano solo, David Sanchez and Randy Brecker using a mute, join in this quiet musical interlude before being joined by Colley. A fun highlight was the satirical Inaugural Balls written following the 2004 US presidential election. Werner quipped about being inspired to "do something" and write a piece that would be played at the inaugural ball with all the tuxedos present. Harry Potter's fans will instantly recognize the main Hedwig's Theme, performed here in a jazz setting with David Sanchez playing deep tones in his solo and later Antonio Sanchez showcasing his tenacious drum play.

"From the groovin' to the groovacious," as Werner put it, the welcomed encore was a lovely reworked Work Song by Nat Adderley that had the same swing as the piece made popular by Cannonball Adderley but with a couple of flattened notes in the melody.

A bit of Brazil landed in the Mainstage concert following the swinging Curtis Stigers. Just like a few days ago Dave Brubeck noted the 50 year anniversary of the classic Time Out release, Eliane Elias was on hand to commemorate the new wave, the Bossa Nova, with Chega De Saudade. Written by none other than Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes, this '58 tune put the brazilian style on the map and would inspire a great many artists such as Stan Getz who put out classic recordings such as Getz/Gilberto (Verve/MGM Records, 1963). A very talented piano player who was greatly inspired by Bill Evans, Sao Paolo-born Eliane Elias brought a genuine and sophisticated voice to the lyrics heard this night. She would do the same on The Way You Look Tonight by Cole Porter, someone who influenced the new wave. Besides her long time bassist Marc Johnson, Rubens de la Corte played guitar with Rafael Barate on drums. Elias later introduced us to João Donato from the pre-Bossa phase and described his piano style in which his left hand would play latin/caribean while his right hand would handle the samba style. Donato co-wrote A Rã (The Frog) with Caetano Veloso who wrote the lyrics. Following a lovely ballad under the blue lights, Elias continued with other selections such as So Danço Samba and False Baiana. The concert drew to a close with the classics Desafinado and The Girl From Ipanema. One of her recent albums Bossa Nova Stories (Blue Note, 2009) is a rich homage to the genre with a fuller orchestra. Jazz fans should not miss her other successful album Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans (Blue Note, 2008).

July 5: Alain Caron Band, Kenny Garrett Quartet, and Sadao Watanabe

On this final day of the festival, the Mainstage concerts shifted towards fusion sounds with a smaller crowd that made the end almost anti-climatic despite the inviting sounds. Alain Caron and Le Band returned to Toronto to kick off the triple-bill. He opened up with P.A.C. Man and the jazzier Pole Position from Play (Norac Records, 1997). John Roney who moved to Montreal from Toronto was on the piano together with David Bellemare on tenor and soprano saxes. Philippe Melanson, a very young drummer would would probably be asked for ID everywhere in Toronto, played with youthful enthusiasm. The funky Freedom Jazz Dance let Caron really get heavy on the slap bass.

Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, who brought the house down a few years ago when opening up for Joshua Redman, was next on tap kicking things up with the catchy beat of Wayne's Thang. Garrett would show his command by pointing to the next person to offer a short solo. He showed his Miles Davis allegiance by throwing in a quick reference to Jean-Pierre. African rhythms were amplified by Justin Brown on drums and Kona Khasu on bass on Charlie Brown Goes To South Africa. Following a slow blues introduced by Corey Henry on the Fender Rhodes and another piece with a subtle Latin flavour featuring Garrett playing a few notes on the keyboard, the audience needed a pick-me-up of the musical kind. It came under the guise of a lengthy rendition of Happy People, where everyone would be invited to sing along and clap. It would restart as soon as the audience expected the end with Garrett urging on more cheers.

The evening ended with Sadao Watanabe and his 6-piece band who showcased various styles from funk to Latin together with his talented band of musicians from Japan. N'diasse Niang, originally from Senegal but now a Japanese citizen, showcased his decorated percussion instrument to provide the appropriate rhythmic touch on pieces such as Alalake-Lopin'. Following a light bossa, Watanabe introduced a tune that he tried to build as a samba but it didn't meet his own expectations, hence the name Not Quiet Samba. It had more of a smooth jazz feel to it. Watanabe eventually closed the show after midnight on an intimate note accompanied only by Akira Onozuka on acoustic piano with a fitting Jobim ballad.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Joshua Redman Quartet Plus Joe Lovano - July 5, 2009

By Mark Chodan

Startling realization: I haven't really listened to any mainstream jazz in (gasp) 15 years. This was my first thought as the Redman quartet (+1) were into the first notes of the head of the first piece of the show at Salle Gésu. While I had listened to my share of Redman and especially Lovano in the early 90s, this was sure to be an interesting re-visiting of a genre I had slowly drifted away from over the years.

Not only was the style very much mainstream, so was the program. Starting out with Booker Little and ending with a Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons tune, they covered Shorter, Coleman, Tristano, as well as one original piece each, Redman's "Mantra #5" and Lovano's "Blackwell's Message".

Lovano's prowess on tenor was certainly as powerful as I remembered. A truly unique voice on the instrument, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that a lot of classic Lovano licks had been parsed from his playing as I remembered it from years back. This is certainly an attestation to Lovano's power as an improviser. On an instrument on which there is no lack of verbose players, I found Lovano's playing to be mainly in the service of the music, despite his astounding technical abilities.

Redman surprised me within the first minutes of his solo on "Rounder's Mood" of how much he sounded like Sonny Rollins (or was that a visual cue due to his haircut?). His playing has really opened up over the years, sounding very confident and clean, perhaps even cautious. There was a refinement in his playing (and crystalline tone) that made me question "at what expense?" Redman was obviously humbled by Lovano's playing, made clear by Redman's self-effacing comments between the pieces. I guess it is a bit tough to be faulting Redman for maybe holding back a bit given his sharing of the stage with a contemporary tenor monster.

The rhythm section provided the necessary support for the tenor-fest as one would expect, although with only with few solo spots for the musicians. Bassist Reuben Rogers laid down the bottom end with very much the same level of perfection as Redman's own playing (is there such a thing as too much perfection?) I got the feeling that opening up the role of the bass in this context would have brought the music in some different and stimulating directions. Pianist Sam Yahel suffered from amplification problems both in the hall as well as, apparently, from his monitors. Once the problem resolved half way through the performance, it became apparent that his playing is very minimalist, offering interesting colouring but rarely asserting himself within the ensemble. I must say that when given some space, Yahel's playing was among the most harmonically interesting of the concert. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson's performance was very strong in the mold of the great percussion masters, including a great deal of surprise and wit given the context.

Overall, a very strong performance, but one ultimately locked into the roughly 60 year-old tradition. While not necessarily merely creating embellishments on an established music, Redman's quartet and guest were certainly not questioning too many known musical parameters which are currently under investigation by others in other areas of the art.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Saxophonist André Leroux is almost “there”

By Paul Serralheiro

Montreal saxophonist André Leroux is an excellent player whose technique is impressive and articulate. This he made abundantly clear to a standing-room only audience at L’Astral on Saturday July 4, 2009 at 18:00 during the 30th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Accompanied by some sympathetic, equally accomplished musicians - Norman Devault on piano, Christian Lajoie on drums and Frederic Alarie on bass - Leroux started out with a tune whose motives and cadences echoed the mannerisms of one of his obvious influences, the late John Coltrane. He went on to perform on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute for nearly 90 minutes, presenting mostly originals from his recent (and only) album as leader, Corpus Callosum. The only standard was Pensativa, by Clare Fisher, after which he joked how “there isn’t only Summertime that’s worth reprising.” The set ended with a François Bourassa tune, Offertoire.

Leroux’s playing was sure and masterly, the result of over two decades in the business, mostly as a session player, although he did present a tribute project to John Coltrane a couple of years ago at the Off Festival in Montreal and has been an important voice in Vic Vogel’s big band. His admiration and respect for Coltrane’s music is both the source of his strength and, ironically, the road block to a more original concept. While he has integrated aspects of Coltrane’s sound (an ample, velvety tone; ease with the altissimo register; and familiarity with multiphonics) his compositional ideas echo the master rather than allow for a more original voice. Leroux, for all his talent, maintains some of the mannerisms of the master without the depth and authority Coltrane achieved...mainly because Coltrane was expressing himself in a language he himself forged, while Leroux has not quite arrived there...yet. But there is still lots of promise and with time and perhaps less reverence for his model, Leroux may well get there.

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Sensitive-Lee: Lee Konitz with Minsarah trio at FIJM play very, very subtle music

By Paul Serralheiro

He once admitted to being a “living adverb” due to titles such as Subconscious-Lee, Tender-Lee and his recent Deep Lee, so it was no surprise that alto saxophone legend Lee Konitz was an excellent conduit for some fine improvisation at the Gesu theatre Friday, July 3, 10:30 PM.

Starting off by saying “I’m glad to be here,” to which he added in a manner reminiscent of a stand-up comic, “I’m glad to be anywhere,” Konitz then announced that he was going to play “God knows what.” What followed in the next hour was some exceptionally fine interpretations of well-worn standards.

Accompanied by the young trio known as Minsarah (pianist Florian Weber, bassist Jeff Denson, and drummer Ziv Ravitz), Konitz launched into a very elastic version of Solar. This was followed by a tune that referenced a number of standards, among them Let’s Get Lost and Nature Boy. This was followed by a version of Cherokee which, again, referenced other tunes, among them Charlie Parker’s Constellation.

Next came You Don’t Know what love is and something Konitz announced as Play Fiddle Play, but ended up being a creative take on Kary’s Trance. After the curtain call the quartet returned for a short encore.

The music presented was conceived very spontaneously, with lots of space and freedom in the interpretation of form and harmonic structure. The younger musicians responded sensitively to the leader’s playing, and contributed their own more contemporary feelings for rhythm and melody in a refreshing, creative fashion.

A seminal figure in the post-bop era, beginning with his work with pianist Lennie Tristano and including his contributions to the Miles Davis-led Birth of the Cool sessions in the late 1940s, Konitz is no spring chicken. Yet, he has lost little of his beautiful tone and maintains an expressive technique.

The personality of his playing was matched by some idiosyncratic stage manners. He wore finger-less gloves. He stuck what looked like a handkerchief into his bell from time to time for a muted sound and he shrugged in a kind of jocular, dismissive way at the end of some tunes, as if to say “it’s not perfect, but so what.”

The show, although relatively poorly attended, just over half full, attracted a number of stars of the local scene, among them alto saxophonist Jean Derome and trumpeter Ivanhoe Jolicoeur who could be heard discussing the show in passionate tones outside at Midnight, while some non-jazz music blared from the festival area, bringing the fourth day of the 30th FIJM to a close.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Chamber "Jazz" in Montreal

by Marc Chénard

* Les tourneurs and Steppe: June 20, Off Festival de Jazz
* Quartetski does Satie: June 16, Suoni per il Popolo
* Quartetski does Purcell: June 28, Montreal Baroque Music Festival

No other musical genre in history has been so prone to be compounded with other terms than jazz. In the past, you had Hot Jazz and Cool Jazz, then Classic Jazz and Mainstream Jazz, followed by Soul Jazz, Free Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Punk Jazz, even Smooth Jazz. But there many more qualifiers for a music about which no two people seem to agree on as to what it is… or not. Of the other labels affixed to that four-letter word of uncertain origins, the word 'chamber' has surfaced from time to time. Implied, of course, is a quieter variant of its customary boisterous sound, what with its drums pounding out the beat, the brass blaring and saxes wailing. Essentially performed in small instrumental combos, and not infrequently with no drums, its dynamic is much closer to that of classical music, with greater emphasis on subtle nuances in musical gestures and attention to instrumental timbres. All of the preceding characteristics apply to four performances caught at three recent Montreal festivals. In fact, the links to the jazz idiom were tenuous at best, hence the quotation marks around that word in the title of this survey.

On June 20, a double bill presentation included in the program of the 10th edition of the Off Festival de Jazz exemplified this chamber jazz aesthetic, best described by the late Jimmy Giuffre as one of "quiet intensity." Opening the evening was a trio called Les tourneurs. Comprised of violist Jean René, reedist Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet, alto and soprano saxes) and drummer/percussionist Thom Gossage, this unit performed four pieces in its three quarter hour set. First developed during a residency in France last Febuary, the music was conceived as part of a program for a contemporary dance company. While there were compositional elements, they were weaved into a fabric of non-idiomatic improvisation, avoiding the habitual discursive soloistic strategies for a more klangfarben-like development of sound textures. Performing at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, a pristine sounding concert hall operated by the city, this trio played with finesse for the most part, although the drummer had to pull back on more than one occasion, at times threatening the fine balancing act of dynamic interplay. Both Lauzier and René are attentive and introspective players, the reedist more strongly influenced nowadays by such avant improvisers as John Butcher and Frank Gratkowski. At times, though, he would tend to milk an effect a little too much for the music's own good, i.e. extensive slap tonguing on the bass clarinet, or gurgling water in its mouthpiece. The violist, for his part, is a model of conciseness, and remains attentive to the music at all times, even when not playing. Overall, this excursion was very much a work in progress, requiring more focus and a greater sense of internal development, including a little more drama. That said, it will be interesting to see how and where they take this from there.

More conventional in instrumentation, but by no means run-of-the-mill in approach, was the following act of that evening. Spearheaded by its pianist and composer, Alexandre Grogg, Steppe is quartet whose name is well chosen. Indeed, its musical domain is like an open expanse, at times an almost barren one in its delicate shimmerings of cymbals reminiscent of tumbleweeds across an endless prairie. Behind his kit, Isaiah Ceccarelli is all texture whereas bassist Clinton Ryder assures a deep warm hum at the bottom end of the sound spectrum. Josée Lalonde delivers lyrics penned by the pianist in an art song style that harkens back to the Second Viennese School, with distant echoes of Steve Lacy. No attempt is made here to emulate jazz songstress mannerisms, instead, she stands back after delivering her lines and lets the trio explore. This is not a singer's group with a backup trio, as one would think when simply reading the personnel found on its debut recording "Sidereus Nuncius", but an instrumental group with a vocal adjunct. Some of its repertoire is actually purely instrumental, at times conjuring the ECM aesthetic but with an increased degree of harmonic abstractness more germane to contemporary classical music than experimental jazz. Worth nothing here is the fact that Grogg was awarded the François Marcaurelle Prize (named after one the event's founding fathers, who passed away three years ago). Selected by the festival's all-musician organizing committee, this most individualistic pianist was a deserving choice given his musical approach that is unlike any other of his colleagues on the Montreal scene. Apart from a monetary stipend for the mastering of a recording, he is invited back next year, something he foresees as a great challenge, even more so because of the musical demands he sets on himself. The Off Festival de Jazz de Montreal must also be commended for this bill, not only because of the pairing, but also for the setting that could not have been more perfect for an evening of thoughtful and heady music making. The one disappointment, however, was the rather thin crowd on hand that evening, in an established concert space in the community. For 2010, it would be most welcome that this venue be used again, with maybe a bigger attraction on the bill.

On June 16, another chamber-like quartet turned in an equally intriguing, albeit uneven performance at the city's prime experimental music fest, the Suoni per il Popolo. Hampered this year by permit problems in their original venue, the Casa del Popolo, festival organizers had to shuffle around several of their acts to other venues, one of these being the Centro Gallego, a block down the street from the aforementioned venue and its main concert hall across the street, the Sala Rossa. Attendance was also thin that evening, probably due to the facts that the room is unknown to the music public and is also hidden away on the third floor of a building serving as a social club for the Hispanic community. After an opening act of minimalist improv performed by Norwegian table top guitarist Håvard Volden and tubist Martin Taxt (drones from one, sound effects from other and basically few actual musical notes… you get the picture) the Montreal unit Quartetski took to the scene to do its take on the music of Érik Satie (more specifically his set of pieces Sports et divertissements) and the second of the quixotic Frenchman's Préludes flasques. Founded in 2005 by double bassist Pierre-Yves Martel (who has now forsaken the big fiddle for the viola de Gamba and treble viola), this ensemble found its name in conjunction with its initial repertoire project, heavily re-arranged covers of the piano pieces Visions Fugitives (the recording Quartetski does Prokoviev issued on Montreal's Ambiances Magnétiques label). While that original project had jazzy inclinations given its instrumentation of bass, drums (Isaiah Ceccarelli), reeds (Philippe Lauzier) and trumpet (Gordon Allen), this second project (premiered last year at the Off Festival) has drifted away considerably from its initial course. The absence of the bass clearly rids the group of its center of gravity, which does not mean that there is none left. Actually, the bass clarinet of Lauzier often grounds the group, especially in his prevalent use of slap tonguing and tenutos, whereas the bowed work of the leader and Allen often mesh in the treble register, leaving the drummer to his own means of rustling out sounds from his kit with sticks and chains, and violin bows on the cymbals and drum rims. Satie, as is well known, was a master of musical iconoclasm, and Quartetski does exactly that with his music, to the point of even casting off the compositions rather quickly to wander at will. Yet lengthy passages of collective improv ensue, which make the listener wonder if the chosen musical materials were necessary in the first place. Only the aforementioned Prélude (played at the end of the set), was more anchored into the composition, and offered a good change to the predominantly random musings of the performance. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with the fact that improvisation ought not necessarily have to be contingent to composition, but it's still slippery terrain to follow this course. And one good way to do this is with a measure of caution and especially with greater concision.

Hardly a fortnight after this performance, Quartetski was at it again, this time premiering their third such 'improv meets the classics" project. Their musical time travel brought them back a couple of centuries, more precisely to the times and work of Henry Purcell. A surprising choice, given the greater historical gap, it was nevertheless understandable in light of the context it was presented in. Including a group such as this one in this year's Montreal Baroque Music Festival could certainly be considered a daring, but Martel as a viola de Gamba player with credentials in both classical and ancient music makes the link here, even more so because he studied with one of the festival's chief organizers. That said this opportunity for these young musicians to perform here would present them with a set of problems, not only for themselves, but for their audience as well. For the musicians, of course, the question was how to go about employing contemporary extended techniques within this music and to 'reach' an audience with a very specific scope and understanding of musical history. Also for the audience was the issue of how willing were they to go down a path basically foreign to the their musical knowledge and taste.

By and large, it was obvious that the musicians had their hands on the breaks at all times, reading the pieces fairly respectfully and cautiously doing their own thing after. To Martel's credit, he provided narration for the audience, introducing the pieces and their basic approach to them. Although this particular listener was sitting in the back row, there was some puzzlement amongst the attendees in the room (more on that below) and generally polite applause at the end of each piece. As with the Satie project, improvisation and composition ran on parallel tracks, save for the last piece, the ever famous Dido's Lament, where Martel provided a bass line that give a nice lope to the piece. The musicians still have their work cut out here, and given their occupations at this time of year, they had to hastily put this program together in only a couple of rehearsals. As an aside, the setting of the concert was one of the most original ones seen by his writer: held in an a low-ceiling wooden attic atop of one of the city's oldest buildings in its historic quarter, there was a great big wheel in the room, used at one time to lift cargos into a stock room from the accosting ships in the neighouring port. A nice touch, too, was a post-concert offering of small cups of chocolate ice-cream, as this concert was subtitled Gelato Chocolato, as per the chocolate sub-theme of the festival, a food substance on which Purcell apparently 'overdosed' on at age 35. Just goes to show you that substance abuse among musicians ain't nothin' new!

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Suoni 2009: Monk au casino et l'Année du Trio

par Félix-Antoine Hamel

Photo : Monk's Casino en action: Alexander von Schlippenbach, Rudi Mahall, Axel Dörner, Jan Roder, Uli Jennessen.

Pour sa neuvième édition, le Suoni Per Il Popolo de Montréal a encore une fois su présenter une sélection éclectique de jazz contemporain, de diverses tendances et divers horizons, de quoi satisfaire l'amateur le plus intransigeant. Outre la magistrale apparition du quintette Monk's Casino (notre photo), on pourrait aussi dire que 2009 aura été l'année du trio sous toutes ses formes, avec les groupes de Dave Burrell, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Michiel Braam, Nicole Mitchell, Lucas Niggli et Jean Derome.

6 juin, Sala Rossa (trio #1) : C'est donc au vétéran pianiste Dave Burrell que revint l'honneur d'ouvrir le volet jazz du Suoni de cette année, avec un trio énergique complété par l'incontournable William Parker à la contrebasse (un habitué du festival) et l'imposant Michael Wimberly à la batterie (que les amateurs connaissent peut-être pour ses enregistrements auprès de Charles Gayle). Nous étions donc, on l'aura deviné, devant un groupe d'une force de frappe potentiellement explosive, et en effet les premières mesures de la soirée annonçaient une sorte de Money Jungle version XXIe siècle. Cependant, cette rencontre de trois fortes personnalités, si elle devait donner lieu à quelques moments où le jeu des trois musiciens coïncidait parfaitement, ne fut peut-être pas à la hauteur du talent déployé. Par exemple, au cours de la performance, Burrell allait souvent se cantonner dans une sorte de répétition de motifs très ludiques, voire simplistes, rapellant quelque peu les thèmes vaguement enfantins qu'affectionne Misha Mengelberg, mais sans les géniales divagations de ce dernier. Comme si au lieu de ramasser son jeu (comme dans l'excellent disque Momentum, par exemple), il tentait de donner une performance déconstruite à partir d'un matériau déjà fragmentaire, squelettique. Dans ce contexte, son style semblait assez statique, et outre quelques envolées, clusters et phrases tourbillonantes évoquant l'un de ses contemporains - le regretté Don Pullen - le pianiste laissait souvent toute la tâche de propulser la performance à ses acolytes. Toujours solide accompagnateur, Parker a aussi livré quelques bons solos, alors que le jeu robuste de Wimberly, malgré un certain manque de nuances, assurait un bon niveau dynamique. Bref, une soirée quelque peu décevante par un certain manque de cohérence, même si Burrell et compagnie semblaient tout à fait heureux de leur présence et de celle de la foule, effectivement nombreuse ce soir-là à la Sala Rossa.

10 juin, Divan Orange (trio #2) : S'il y a toujours peu de violoncellistes que l'on peut associer au jazz et aux musiques improvisées, il semble pourtant qu'un certain renouveau de l'instrument se soit produit ces dernières années, et le responsable pourrait bien en être le versatile chicagoan Fred Lonberg-Holm. Projet initialement formé pour rendre hommage à Fred Katz, l'un des pionniers de son instrument dans le jazz, le Valentine Trio (avec Jason Roebke, contrebasse et Frank Rosaly, batterie) a aussi permis à Lonberg-Holm de livrer ses versions de pièces de Sun Ra, Gil Scott-Heron et Syd Barrett, tout comme ses propres compositions. Ce sont surtout ces dernières, tirées de son album Terminal Valentine, que le violoncelliste devait livrer ce soir-là, dans la petite salle du Divan Orange, devant trois ou quatre douzaines d'enthousiastes. Brillamment éclectique (il est capable, au sein du Vandermark 5, par exemple, des interventions les plus débridées), Lonberg-Holm utilise plutôt cet ensemble pour mettre l'accent sur le côté lyrique et mélodique de son jeu, remplissant en fait dans un tel ensemble le rôle qu'aurait un instrument plus conventionnel comme le piano ou le saxophone, par exemple. Utilisant quelquefois la manipulation électronique (toute une partie d'un de ses solos était basée sur des extraits de son jeu, enregistrés, dont il manipulait la texture au fur et à mesure), le violoncelliste est aussi possesseur d'une technique remarquablement variée et étendue. Le contrebassiste, Roebke, s'il a été surtout accompagnateur efficace et attentif, a su aussi prendre quelques solos où sa belle sonorité et son phrasé solide faisaient quelquefois penser à un jeune Charlie Haden. Mais c'est le jeu de Rosaly, percussionniste à l'imagination exceptionnelle, qui fut peut-être le clou de cette soirée. Avec un équipement plutôt minimal (grosse caisse, caisse claire, cymbale ride et hi-hat), le batteur devait faire preuve d'une invention peu commune, utilisant des petits objets pour varier les sonorités, et allant jusqu'à tirer des sons de trompette d'une petite cymbale posée sur la peau de sa caisse claire! Bien qu'il ait été peu couru des amateurs, ce concert a sûrement été l'un des points forts du Suoni de cette année.

15 juin, Sala Rossa (trio #3) : Outre l'instrumentation, on pourrait dire qu'il y a peu de ressemblances entre le trio de Dave Burrell et celui du pianiste néérlandais Michiel Braam, avec Wilbert De Joode (contrebasse) et Michael Vatcher (batterie). Groupe bien établi (ils ont réalisé trois disques ensemble et collaborent depuis une décennie), le trio est un lieu idéal pour développer les concepts du pianiste. Au cours de la performance, les musiciens semblaient choisir parmi les compositions du leader les thèmes qu'ils souhaitent interpréter, la performance d'un pièce consistant souvent en une juxtaposition de deux compositions. Beaucoup plus symbiotique que le trio de Burrell, le groupe semblait cependant quelquefois (surtout dans la première partie) succomber aux dangers d'un ensemble bien rodé, c'est à dire se laisser quelque peu porter par la musique. Braam, pianiste à la technique assurée, est un interprète particulièrement volubile, et semble toujours avoir quelque chose à ajouter à la discussion musicale, ce qui donne parfois une texture très dense. Si le côté vaguement humoristique et "deuxième degré" typique du jazz hollandais est plus présent chez son remarquable big band (Bik Bent Braam), il a aussi pointé son nez ce soir-là, avec une pièce basée sur un motif de piano western! La deuxième partie, plus ramassée, avec de longues références au R&B et au blues, devait s'avérer plus solide. Ah, maintenant, si le festival avait les moyens d'inviter le Bik Bent Braam l'année prochaine!

20 juin, Centro Gallego (un déluge de percussions et trio #4) : Comme j'avais découvert l'an dernier une remarquable musicienne de Chicago (la saxophoniste Matana Roberts), j'attendais avec une certaine fébrilité la prestation de sa compatriote Nicole Mitchell, flûtiste, avec son trio Truth or Dare. Mais d'abord, selon la formule des concerts se déroulant cette année au Centro Gallego, une première partie, assurée par l'ensemble de percussionnistes Speed River Squids, un projet réunissant le vétéran improvisateur John Heward, le batteur Jessie Stewart et les percussionistes Michel Bonneau (surtout aux congas) et Rob Wallace (divers "petits instruments"). À eux se sont joints en cours de performance les trompettistes Gordon Allen et Eric Lewis. Le pari d'une telle formation est de maintenir l'attention du public, et il a été largement tenu ce soir-là, grâce à la diversité de la palette sonore de l'ensemble. Même si les contributions de Wallace furent quelquefois inaudibles et souvent plus agaçantes qu'autre chose, la variété de ce déluge de percussions et les contributions de deux des trompettistes les plus aventureux de la scène locale devaient convertir les plus difficiles. Après cette solide entrée en matière, le trio de Mitchell devait prendre possession de la scène (imposant le silence par un petit rituel). Présentant une série de ses propres compositions, Nicole Mitchell (flûte, piccolo, flûte alto) a réuni un trio des plus originaux, avec Renee Baker (violon, alto) et Shirazette Tinnin (batterie). Ce contexte dépouillé convenait à merveille aux thèmes de Mitchell, parfois dansants, parfois chantants. Son jeu de flûte, parfois ponctué d'interjections vocales, n'utilise que rarement les clichés associés à son instrument, son phrasé rappelant celui, très naturel, d'un Sam Rivers, plutôt que les styles plus imités de Eric Dolphy ou Roland Kirk. Baker est une interlocutrice sympathique, au jeu tantôt rythmique tantôt lyrique. Tinnin est une percussioniste très physique, préférant souvent aux baguettes ses mains nues, utilisées soit sur l'instrument, soit sur son banc même, une caisse en bois. Ce contexte très intimiste a donc été parfait pour découvrir ces trois musiciennes de grand talent.

22 juin, Sala Rossa (le casino!) : Une salle bien pleine finalement, pour ce qui s'annonçait comme l'événement majeur du Suoni 2009. Beau coup pour le festival que cette prestation de Monk's Casino, groupe né de la rencontre entre le légendaire pianiste allemand Alexander von Schlippenbach, vétéran du free jazz européen, et le quartette Die Enttäuschung (Rudi Mahall, clarinette basse, Axel Dörner, trompette, Jan Roder, contrebasse et Uli Jennessen, batterie). Ces cinq musiciens, réunis par l'amour de la musique de Thelonious Monk, ont donc bricolé une façon de jouer dans son intégralité le répertoire monkien, et, lorsque faire se peut, dans la même soirée! En deux sets, c'est donc à peu près aux deux-tiers de l'oeuvre que le public montréalais a eu droit. De Little Rootie Tootie à Monk's Dream, de San Francisco Holiday à Skippy, le quintette, avec sa manière à la fois affectueuse et impertinente, a su renouveler une bonne fois pour toutes ce répertoire si fascinant qu'un musicien de l'envergure de Steve Lacy, par exemple, y a passé une bonne partie de sa vie. Si Schlippenbach s'est montré plutôt discret durant cette soirée (malgré quelques solos efficaces), ce sont surtout les souffleurs qui ont accaparé (littéralement) le devant de la scène. Vaguement cabotin, Mahall n'avait cesse de faire des blagues, jouant avec le rideau, entraînant les musiciens à sortir de scène pour le solo de contrebasse, faisant souvent réagir le public. Tout cela ne saurait nous distraire de son jeu de clarinette basse : avec une sonorité exceptionnellement puissante (même perçante), un phrasé agressif et un contrôle remarquable, Mahall compte certainement parmi les plus grands solistes de son instrument. Également technicien exceptionnel, Dörner s'est livré en solo à une démonstration mémorable de ses capacités, donnant à son instrument les sonorités les plus inouïes! En plus de ses capacités inégalées de bruitiste, Dörner a aussi su démontrer une bonne maîtrise du langage du jazz plus standard. Ce qui rend remarquable les interprétations de ce groupe, c'est cet effet que dans chacun de ces thèmes que nous connaissons, il y a "quelque chose qui cloche", toujours un élément perturbateur (changements de tempo, passages free, coupures, superpositions) qui rend la pièce familière curieusement déphasée, comme si sa substance s'était modifiée avec le temps, quelquefois imperceptiblement. Cette célébration de la musique de Monk, contrairement à certaines performances fossilisées d'une musique qui semble morte, n'aurait pu être plus vivante que lorsque, laissant Schlippenbach seul sur scène, les quatre autres, entonnant un riff monkien, vinrent se promener parmi le public, laissant le pianiste entamer, doucement, 'Round Midnight.

25 juin, Centro Gallego (trio #5 et... trio #6!) : Cette deuxième soirée au Centro Gallego devait être ma soirée de fermeture du festival. D'abord, l'un de nos plus distingués improvisateurs, Jean Derome (saxophoniste alto, flûtiste et grand joueur de bébelles devant l'éternel!) devait faire la pluie et le beau temps, accompagné de Nicolas Caloia à la contrebasse et de Isiah Ceccarelli à la batterie. Littéralement déchaîné comme il m'a rarement été donné de l'entendre (lendemain de la Saint-Jean oblige?), Derome a livré deux longs solos d'alto mémorables, entrecoupés de passages où, muni d'appeaux divers, et utilisant sa flûte en coloriste, il a su perpétuer la tradition des "petits instruments" chère aux improvisateurs post-free. Toute une ouverture, donc, pour le trio Zoom, du batteur helvétique Lucas Niggli. Travaillant depuis 10 ans avec le guitariste Philipp Schauffelberger et le virtuose tromboniste Nils Wogram, Niggli a trouvé avec ces deux musiciens un groupe idéal (quelquefois augmenté) pour ses compositions aux concepts rythmiques souvent complexes (comme il sied à un batteur). Contrairement à Frank Rosaly, Niggli avait à sa disposition un instrument imposant (incluant quatre ou cinq cymbales superposées) et un impressionant assortiment de baguettes de toutes tailles! Livrant avec ce trio plusieurs pièces tirées de ses albums Intakt (notemment Celebrate Diversity, Brain Ballad et Rough Ride, part 2), le batteur a su inspirer à son ensemble une interprétation dynamique et énergique. Schauffelberger, tenant le rôle quelque peu ingrat de liant entre le trombone et la batterie, a su s'acquitter de sa tâche avec brio, et ses quelques interventions ont été très justes et sans excès guitaristiques. Wogram, pour sa part, est assurément l'un des grands trombonistes de sa génération; son passage en solo absolu aurait pu être inventé par le Albert Mangelsdorff des grandes années. Une autre belle découverte au sein d'un des rares festivals où l'on peut encore en faire...

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

FIJM 2009 - Baptiste Trotignon Quintet at Gésu

by David Ryshpan

French pianist-composer Baptiste Trotignon played to a small yet receptive crowd at Gésu on Canada Night. Commencing the evening in trio with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, Trotignon's aptly titled First Song (which also kicks off his album, Share) displayed his delicate touch and lush harmonies underneath a diatonic melody. Trotignon got a round sound out of the instrument, and he has a vocabulary in line with what has been termed the "modern mainstream," with bursts of ragged bluesy trills, like Don Pullen polished smooth.

Tenor saxophonist Mark Turner joined the group for the second piece, Flow. Seemingly unhindered by his power-saw injury of November, his opening cadenza displayed his characteristic motivic development, delivered with an earnest sense of emotion. The head was a looping ostinato underneath a busy melody harmonized by Turner and Trotignon. Hutchinson proved to be a tremendous colourist - an underrated pioneer of the contemporary mainstream drum vocabulary alongside Brian Blade. Augmenting his kit with bells, shakers and tambourine, switching seamlessly between brushes, sticks and mallets, Hutchinson was the driving force of the group, along with Penman's woody bass sound. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt completed the quintet, playing mostly flugelhorn with a warm, airy tone.

The centrepiece of the set was an untitled five-part suite, featuring all the group members at length. Throughout the course of this suite, Trotignon's playing seemed to match the level of intensity of the rest of the band. The hook-up between Hutchinson and Turner was especially strong, as was Pelt's energy on anything swinging. Trotignon's vocabulary is wide and versatile but he never really dug into his bluesy phrases with the attack and intention they needed. Hutchinson's broken straight eighth note feel was so potent, it rendered the transitions into swing anti-climactic. Pelt's trumpet was unfortunately overmiked in the house, and he sounded best when he backed off the mic and ate the swing feel for breakfast. The transitions between the movements of the suite were smooth and well-executed, blending into each other with the requisite amount of space. Hutchinson's samba feel of the fourth movement was highly enjoyable, and it was here that Trotignon's improvising hit its apex, digging into his phrases the way Penman had on his preceding solo.

There are many great moments in Trotignon's playing and writing. It seems that touring with such estimable company will only further his craftsmanship.
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