SCENA Jazz

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Edmonton International Jazz Festival - 2012 Headliners Draw Crowds, but Club Acts the Real Thing

Kornél Zipernovszky

Like many people who attend jazz concerts year round, this reviewer found out that the Edmonton International Jazz Festival's small and medium size stages are really the places where the music is at.

Being from Hungary, I was fortunate enough to spend a year away from home in Edmonton. As a dedicated jazz journalist, I decided to go out and cover both the headliners and Canadian acts, taking a pass on some artists I had already seen. My greatest expectations, however, were on one specific concert from an artist I had already seen: Wayne Shorter.

Robi Botos Trio 24 June

Yet another reason for me was to head out to the elegant Winspear Centre that same night was the opening act of Canadian-Hungarian pianist Robi Botos. After his arrival at age 20, he quickly established himself in Toronto's jazz club circuit, winning plenty of praise along the way, even some international competitions, like the one held three weeks ago at Montreal's jazz festival. With help from the local jazz community, he worked through the red tape with immigration authorities and now has full legal status to stay here with his family. I presume Botos does not make it to Western Canada too often and due to the very limited time he had, enough only for four tunes, he could not show his full hand. Bassist Mike Downes and drummer Morgan Childs, both Torontonians, were his sidemen, though they are not the pianist's regular bandmates. However, both the leader's warm, positive and powerful personality and the way he told stories with his originals like Place to place, A People Uncounted were very well received, the listeners easily relating to them. Botos is not one to deconstruct everything, preferring to stay within a mainstream approach as a means to express his deep and sincere feelings with sincerity and clarity. I trust he will be invited back to Edmonton, either to the festival or to the Yardbird Suite.

Wayne Shorter Quartet 24 June

The Wayne Shorter Quartet has provided many listeners with the ultimate concert experience, including yours truly. The legendary saxophonist and composer has been fronting his current band for 11 years now, with the same sideman as ever: Danilo Perez (pno), John Patittucci (b) and Brian Blade (drs). The leader's playing attitude is as much dictated by his quirky personality as a clearly post-modern approach: He tends to muse on his own pieces (being the colossal composer he is, that is quite unavoidable), commenting on them, offering contrasts, while restraining himself from offering a full blown narrative. The first 15 minutes of the concert unfolded like a game of hide and seek: No member of the quartet took the spotlight. This seemingly cautious approach may well be due to the fact that no one wished to overstate something too early on, or maybe there was another reason for this… Yet, when the music would build up to a peak, it would not burn for too long. A month short of his 79th birthday, Shorter made a fragile impression on stage, spinning out longer statements on soprano than on tenor. During some long stretches, when the music would gain momentum, Perez was the effective leader, holding together those loose fragments, as beautiful as they are. Shorter certainly is a laissez-faire bandleader, clearly a disciple of Miles Davis in that regard. Nevertheless the intensity I witnessed in earlier concerts was missing. The pianist, for his part, seemed to play much more out the Schönberg bag and other twentieth century classical composers than usual, his latin chops pretty well kept at bay. Knowing that Shorter is working on new compositions for symphony orchestra, I suspect this stylistic shift comes from him rather than the piano player. Shorter, righteously so, was never one to make compromises with the agonizing recording industry, so there are very few recordings of his quartet on the market, the last dating from 2005. Fortunately, he has just signed a new deal with his former label Blue Note, and is probably releasing some long overdue quartet recordings soon, hopefully not just the new symphonic material. At this time, only those really serious music fans may still be in touch. With only a handful of videos available on the web, it is tough to decipher the unique approach of the quartet. The reception of the concert demonstrated to me what happens when there is not enough information available to the audience. While the Edmonton festival goers appreciated what they heard, no question about that, they weren't exactly enthralled by it either.

Eliane Elias 22 June

As a 17-year older, singer and pianist Eliane Elias once played in a bar in São Paolo with no less than Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius Moraes in attendance. Impressed by what he heard, the latter hired her on the spot. Could one think of a more auspicious way to kickstart a career? A turning point for sure, but not the only one for her. Having moved to New York in the early eighties and being married first to Randy Brecker, now to Marc Johnson, she seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to rubbing shoulders with great musicians. During her concert at the EIJF it became clear very soon that her blend of jazz and Brazilian music works just fine. The line-up of the Elias quartet facilitates that special blend. Guitarist Rubens de La Corte gave the necessary backing to her singing the verses of songs by Jobim and the like, with smooth chords beneath, being given two nice solos along the way. With bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Rafael Barata in tow, Elias stuck to a classic jazz trio concept. Both compelling and pervasive as a performer, Elias can bring about a flux of magic on the keys thanks to her hard-swinging left hand and tightly woven chords. Her very appealing set was at its best when doing more contemporary Brazilian tunes that comprise the majority of her new album, most notably Rosa Morena (the only tune she sung away from her piano, dancing instead on center stage). Still she tackled some Gershwin and a couple of Jobim evergreens like Desafinado and Chega de Saudade, much to the audience's delight.

Chris Botti 26 June

I was somewhat surprised to learn that trumpeter Chris Botti's performance was the highest priced item of the festival. I acted upon the recommendation of festival director Kent Sangster, who told me to check him out, saying not only did he have amazing chops, but his whole act was serious business. "Not just for the ladies?", I opined somewhat off the cuff. The handsome looks of the trumpeter cum bandleader are very much part of the act with which he has been touring the world for eight years, ever since Sting offered his session musician a spot as a warm-up band. Added to the bill was the amazing guest songstress, Lisa Fischer: When called on stage, she opened up by saying that "No one could say no to him, don't you think?" And that was not the only reference to his looks. Botti also shared the spotlight with classical violinist Caroline Campbell, and the two acted out the roles of a royal couple, while the vocalist played the part of a bad girl, flirting at times with the Brazilian guitarist. So when I say I probably saw the most elaborate, best-designed and most perfectly executed jazz show around these days, featuring such exquisite and exemplary musicians as Billy Childs on piano, it was serious business indeed. Nevertheless I had to conceal an occasional yawn; it was not always swinging, and only had the element of the blues when the vocalist was on stage. Though Chopin and Michael Jackson were as highly featured as composers as Miles Davis was, this should have been a jazz show, not a crossover or a pop act. The diverse material played should not sound all alike, but this is how it was. Botti for his part was playing very fast most of the time and always in the extremely high registers. True, we Europeans seem to be far more preoccupied with labels and boundaries than Botti is. I do respect Botti for the hard work, instrumental skills and a 110% professionally staged show, and I hope he gets many people interested in music, but ultimately I wish they will become more bitten by the jazz
bug in the process.

Tommy Smith June 29

Sax player Tommy Smith is as open about being Scottish as Elias is about being Brazilian; however, the ironic nature of Smith makes him put all of that in brackets right from the start. His quartet, Karma, has been hailed by critics as his most daring band in years, and that may well have to be true. Unfortunately for him, he lost his pianist on the long way to Western Canada, so a replacement had to be found: Local hero Chris Andrew stepped in and did an absolutely marvelous job with the material that was at once thoughtful, well-composed and far from easy to sightread. No wonder they only ventured to do a single set of music at the Yardbird, which was reprised in the second set of the evening. The audience was immediately taken by how the quartet was tilting Scottish and Irish, Japanese and mid-Eastern sounds to the rhythms of contemporary hard bop, all delivered in a very compelling and concise way. This group showed that once filled with meaning, the old pattern of melody-improvisation-melody still makes a lot of sense.

L'Orkestre des Pas Perdus 29 June

While the Elias concert was preferred by middle aged couples and Smith by the bearded Edmonton jazz fans (no kidding), Montreal's L'Orkestre de Pas Perdus attracted a young crowd, some of whom got up and danced away to their infectious beats. This was the most funky ensemble I heard at the fest, a fact not so obvious due to its instrumentation (trombone, trumpet, alto, tenor and baritone saxes, tuba, drums, percussion), but both the lower winds, reeds and twin drummers really provided a groove for the dancers, and me tapping my foot away. Credit must be given to bandleader Claude St-Jean (tb) for all compositions and arrangements. My only problem here was the volume: This concert should have been staged in a much bigger venue than the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Center, which is a very friendly location, but not nearly as big as its name suggests.

Tommy Banks and Peter Appleyard 28 June

The oldest – and probably most durable – patrons of the festival went to see the Appleyard-Banks concert in droves. When Tommy Banks cracked a joke in front of his piano trio, referring to the 14 missing players rounding up his trio to a big band, everyone in the hall knew what he was talking about. With the local big-band glory days now behind him, time (as in time spent in the Senate) has not diminished in any way his hard-swinging piano playing. Banks, however, was only guesting, as it was really Peter Appleyard's show. The veteran musician took the stage, most of the time with his quartet, and a few guests joining in. He personifies so much of that joyful, happy jazz experience that younger attendees seem to miss a lot of the times. Not only did the 84-year-old display immaculate and elegant performances on vibes, jesting here and there on piano and drums, but also showed that he too is a match for Banks in terms of on-stage showmanship.

Médéric Collignon 30 June

Not that I was in search for a sharp contrast to the Botti-show, but had I looked for one, Médéric Collignon from France would have been it, for he was the complete antithesis to the slick American star. His quartet Jus de Bocse, presented to the audience of the Yardbird, was high-tension punk jazz at its best, without an idle minute during the set. Collignon played a full sized cornet on that night, he often plays a pocket version, too, an instrument I presume he prefers for the bending of tones and melodies. Collignon in my eyes is an artist par excellence, a jester, who also sings on occasion, at a pitch that must be close to the upper frequency border of human hearing. The audience of the Yardbird took a real liking to this hyperactive, electrifying and seriously entertaining musician.

Terell Stafford Quintet 30 June

Also appearing at the Yardbird was trumpeter Terell Stafford and his quintet. But the group's opening number had me worried: The band launched into a Lee Morgan tune in a completely period manner. I was not at all keen on a late starter young lion group doing the music of their peers, but that was not the case, luckily. The smartly dressed band warmed up gradually in the hot surroundings (the Yardbird staff told me they would have full air-conditioning by next year). The Morgan composition was just supposed to loosen up the Billy Strayhorn material, to which their last CD is completely devoted. Orchestrated by the band's pianist, Bruce Barth, the standards associated to the Ellington canon sounded as contemporary as much as they should. Only Lush Life (a personal favourite) never took off in a paired-down piano-flugelhorn rendition. I decided to stay for the second set, to make sure I would head out like a die-hard Stafford-fan, having always respected him for his versatile recordings. Kudos to sax player Tim Warfield, he earned some good applause from me. This show probably best fulfilled the ideal of a grooving night at a jazz festival, with a straight-ahead hard bopping quintet, working on some well-known melodies. And yes, there were lots of blues. All those in attendance at the club, packed to capacity for both sets, were amazed because what they heard was just the way they expected it to be. Nothing wrong with that, and it was a kind of high resolution mainstream well presented and striking a nice balance, too.

Phil Dwyer 25 June

On the topic of trumpet players featured at the EIJF, I should not leave out a home-grown talent, Vince Mai, who was the sideman of the Phil Dwyer ensemble featuring Laila Biali. A frequent visitor to Edmonton, Dwyer orchestrated a program of Canadian singer-songwriter pop standards, commissionned by the CBC. These kinds of songs are a complete terra incognita for me, which somewhat lessened the appeal of the concert, but the featured guest was enchanting, her singing and piano playing a true novelty. By the way, she happens to have a program with the very same concept, also sponsored by the national radio. Otherwise the sextet did not go much further in its set than Herbie Hancock's New Standards project of yore, though the arrangements were colorful and thoughtful, the execution bordering on brilliant. Nevertheless I somehow had a suspicion that they have played this program for quite some time now. Maybe I had set my expectations a little too high as I was experiencing Dwyer live the first time. True, Dwyer is a great player with tremendous musical knowledge. But I could not help taking notice of each and every solo by trumpeter Mai, full of craftsmanship and shaped like little masterpieces. I will certainly stay on the lookout for Mai, too.

The Edmonton International Jazz Festival 2012 did a great job to justify one of its slogans: "There is a jazz for everyone", probably meaning to attract the largest possible crowds of the one-million strong metropolitan area. The living jazz tradition of the city was also well served by such aspects of the festival as the local big band performances and workshops relying on the first-rate jazz education of the city. This is not the festival to catch all the latest trends in music, but if you come with an open mind, it sure keeps your face smiling and your feet stomping.



At one of the outdoor shows on June 26, Mike Essoudry’s Mashed Potato Mashers from Ottawa really tried to do their best
 in uplifting the lunchtime crowd
 in the middle of Churchill Square, even dancing on the tables while playing their encore! 





Labels:

Toronto Jazz Festival - 2012

Alain Londes

Day 1: Friday, June 22, 2012

Brian Barlow brought his big band to open the 26th edition of the festival with a late Friday afternoon of Ellington swing under ideal Summer weather on the grounds of Nathan Phillips Square.

Over at Church of the Holy Trinity, Kurt Rosenwinkel delivered a solo guitar performance dominated by soft melodic compositions juxtaposed with his voice. A common element in his playing was the frequent use of extended bars for a real spiritual feel that was very fitting in the hallowed halls of the church. The audience listened with discreet attention. A few familiar surprises, played in the same mood, were added for variety including a light bossa nova as well as Jimmy Van Heusen's Darn That Dream

For a true opening night atmosphere, Janelle Monáe hit the Toronto Start Stage with a dazzling and energetic performance that kept the crowd on their feet throughout the well crafted show filled with R&B, soul, jazz and urban influences. The evening included Monáe's own compositions as well as classics such as the Jackson 5's I Want You Back and even Goldfinger for good measure. She had the crowd in her hand as they even helped support her when she leaned into them. At one point she drew an abstract painting on a sitting canvas which she offered as a gift to a very enthusiastic audience member for her birthday. This was truly a fun and positive kickoff night with lots of great music still waiting to be heard all around.


Day 2: Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tenor saxophonist extraordinaire Houston Person was one of the key performers to check out on Saturday afternoon. Starting off with a lunchtime conversation with Jim Galloway, Person later joined the Canadian Jazz Quartet at Quotes Bar & Grill. Person led the strong group with a straight-ahead blues with Ellington's Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me. Right off the bat he showed his complete command of the tenor sax with lovely accentuation and perfect tonality and timing. The appreciative audience heard exactly what they came to expect from a true natural. It must have been wonderful playing with the boss tenor over 3 sets. Other tunes included Ray Noble's I Hadn't Anyone Till You, Harold Arlen's Let's Fall In Love, as well as a funky rendition of Sunny for variety.

The Big Sound, a large Toronto formation opened the Mainstage lineup with a captivating collection of Motown glory. They made a great impression in preparation of true Motown royalty, singer Bettye LaVette. Since coming onto the scene in the 60s and 70s, LaVette had plenty of history to draw on when exuding genuine emotion, even pain, in her blues laments. This was an evening of storytelling with a strong and consistent voice that had the audience hanging on to her every word.


Day 3: Sunday, June 24, 2012

 Hiromi. Photo: Tom Rose. 

The Mainstage lineup this Sunday evening represented the new generation of jazz artists who have a deep understanding of the music, are excellent musicians, and have pushed the boundaries of the jazz idiom. Hiromi who last appeared at the festival with Stanley Clarke showcased her trio project with contrabass guitarist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips. The trio started with the classical and melodic opening to their cd's title track Voice before diving into a rich combination of jazz and rock elements. Now or Never also made use of some funky synthesizer lines. Her technical mastery and amazing phrasing were very obvious. As is usually the case, Hiromi showcased her bubbly personality and that youthful glee came across fully through her compositions. This project truly represented the voice of her heart. The audience loved it and were rewarded with a well received encore.

The second set saw The Bad Plus joined by Joshua Redman. The group went right into their brand of avant-garde that always seems to bring in originality and a listening ear's curiosity. Redman performed as if he had always been part of the group as opposed to a special guest just sitting in. He played with gusto in order to maintain the forward kinetic intensity while later on People Like You he made his tenor sound almost like a sweet soprano sax for a quiet reprieve. There were ventures into some deep Coltrane styled free jazz on tunes such as 2 PM. What was impressive to know was that these guys had not played together since last August. They played with impeccable tightness without charts with Redman using his timely musical instincts.

Fans at other locations had a variety of choices from the sweet voice of Karrin Allyson to the intense guitar playing of Mike Stern and his band.


Day 4: Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday was a particularly busy day with artists coming and going as well as performing of course. Some of the flights coming from the US were either delayed or canceled. One of the consequences was that Nathalie Cole's concert had to be canceled at the last minute due to these transportation issues beyond organizers' control. Nevertheless other shows dominated the schedule.

At the Enwave Theatre, Robert Glasper showcased his much talked about attempt at pushing jazz forward in the modern era. He was joined by singer Bilal who would later join Glasper's trio formation for a second show at the Wrongbar due to popular demand after the ealier performance had been sold out. A larger venue would have been more appropriate for Glasper since he had attracted a lot of attention in recent months and a lot has and continues to be written about him.

For the first part of the Mainstage performance, Roberta Gambarini was joined by a power rhythm section with Dave Restivo on piano, Neil Swainson on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. A bit of Jobim bossa nova was followed by On The Sunny Side Of The Street as a dedication to her longtime friend and supporter, the late James Moody. There were several song choices that moved away from traditional standards such as a heartbreaking Astor Piazzolla composition Oblivion (sung in French), and the relatively unknown Cy Coleman song With Every Breath I Take, all offered with the appropriate level of emotion. The repertoire for this evening lacked the originality that would be present with a new project yet it still satisfied devoted fans of the genre.

The second part of the evening was reserved for one of the festival's favourite musicians, Roy Hargrove. He had appeared previously as leader of his big band, a member of the Dizzy Gillespie all-star band or in this case, the RH Factor. With this group shifting from jazz to hip hop, the RH Factor reached the climactic edge of their show when they played Funkadelic's One Nation Under The Groove, with Hargrove contributing to vocal sections and Lenny Stallworth drawing positive attention with a mean slap bass intro. Renee Neufville provided the female vocals on selected pieces as well as handled one of the keyboards in the band. The groove was in full force tonight to the audience's delight while still not having the same buzz as was the case during the previous RH Factor performance in this festival. Even the crowd was distinctly smaller.


Day 5: Tuesday, June 26, 2012

For Tuesday, fans had choices ranging from Soul Rebels to the Canadian Jazz Quartet with Ian McDougall, to Peter Appleyard & The Sophisticated Ladies.

At the sold-out Enwave Theatre, celebrated guitarist Bill Frisell and his group focused on the music of John Lennon. Frisell admits the importance of The Beatles in his art. Most of the chosen deconstructed tunes for this show would start quietly, in an almost contemplative mood, rise to the climactic moment before returning to the original form. Come Together was the only song that really pushed the volume. Frisell reinterpretation of Lennon's tunes are a testament to the richness of the music as well as his foundational role that led to the legendary group's popularity.

George Benson. Photo: Tom Rose. 

Over at the Mainstage concert, the packed tent was really anticipating the guitar man himself: George Benson. The NEA Jazz Master definitely provided a great show that included the old time favourites such as Love X Love and Turn Your Love Around as well cuts from his recent cd Guitar Man. Such a combination allowed for a fresh experience of the performer. One particular highlight came right after Moody's Mood that ended with a cool fast blues swing. At The Mambo Inn, arranged from Tito Puente's song included a content-rich solo by keyboardist and musical director, David Garfield. The last piece of the main set had to be Gimme The Night which still sounded fresh, cool, and engaging. For the encore, Benson changed into a smoking white jacket for the other all-time favourite: On Broadway. This was classic Benson who is a showman and musician. The tune selection was well balanced so that time just flew by. He had positive things to say about Toronto and hoped to return soon. Let's hope so.

The festival was now moving into the second half with plenty of music and shows waiting to be enjoyed and discovered.


Day 6: Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Late Wednesday afternoon, the outside audience was treated to Don Thompson's George Shearing Tribute in his quintet formation with Bernie Senensky on piano, Reg Schwager on guitar, Neil Swainson on bass, and Terry Clarke on drums. It was absolutely fitting due to Thompson's years of performing and recording with the great piano player. The selection included an exotic rendition of Kurt Weil's classic Speak Low. Of course the key song closely associated with Shearing will always be Lullaby of Birdland, played with the utmost care and finesse.

Over at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Juneau award-winner Phil Dwyer led a sextet featuring pianist Laila Biali. Other members of the stellar group were Davide Direnzo (drums), Vince Mai (trumpet), Rob Piltch (guitar) and Jodi Proznick (bass). They all showcased Dwyer's Canadian songbook which includes a rich musical compendium with a canadian flavour. Some of the songs selected included Gordon Lightfoot's Beautiful, which Dwyer indicated was inspired from Miles Davis' In A Silent Way. Leonard Cohen's bluesy and catchy tune, Tower of Song, Joni Mitchell's Free Man In Paris sung by Laila Biali, and the Québecois group Karkwa's Moi-Léger.

The Mainstage was particularly boisterous in a good and fun way. Saidah Baba Talibah warmed up the audience with her energetic style together with an equally fervent band.

Trombone Shorty. Photo: Kris King. 

Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews) brought the house down after the intermission with a heavy dose of New Orleans funk with a dash of rock, jazz, hip-hop and soul. Hurricane Season is a perfect example of how Shorty gets to fire up the audience by drawing them into a sort of call and response during the chorus. It was nice to see Trombone Shorty and his energetic band include such as classic as On the Sunny Side of the Street as it also included Shorty showing his versatility by playing the trumpet and playing a long note beyond what any normal breath could handle. We had some Ray Charles with the signature I Got A Woman. For the supportive audience members and in remaining with the New Orleans theme, the band selected Do Watcha Wanna made famous by the Rebirth Brass Band (past festival performers). What made it relaxed and different was to have the musicians switch from the instruments that they normally play. In that respect, Trombone Shorty led the way by playing drums. It was a fun night indeed.


Day 7: Thursday, June 28, 2012

The great Benny Green appeared late Thursday afternoon in a relatively warm Church of the Holy Trinity. The last time that he appeared in Toronto was as part of the "Aspects of Oscar" series held at Koerner Hall. In 1993, Benny Green was named by Oscar Peterson himself as the inaugural recipient of the Glenn Gould International Protégé Prize in Music. On this particular occasion, Green presented a solo performance that included his own compositions as well as standards. One of those compositions was Golden Flamingo, a tune that he dedicated to beautiful women after a trip to Thailand. It was a slow, thoughtful, and lyrical pieces that could help you unwind late at night after a busy day. So deep it was in its pensive tone that at the end, there was a slight pause as if both the audience and pianist wanted to let the feeling of the moment sink in. A good example of Green's technical prowess, paralleled with full mastery of timing, melody, and harmonics was Coltrane's Moment's Notice made popular through the classic album Blue TrainBenny Green selected Frank Foster's Shiny Stockings for a well deserved encore in front of a full room of supportive fans.

Over at the packed Mainstage concert, two wonderful young female artists were a perfect pair for the double bill. Gretchen Parlato, with her unique whispery voice, opened the evening accompanied by her trio featuring Taylor Eigsti on piano, Kendrick Scott on drums, and Burniss Earl Travis II on acoustic and electric bass. One of the favorites has to be Butterfly made popular by Herbie Hancock and that took a life of its own thanks to Parlato's lyrics within the unusual tempo.

Esperanza Spalding. Photo: Kris King. 

Following the intermission, Esperanza Spalding, who has received may accolades recently, made her big Toronto debut as a band leader. Besides herself, she had 11 other musicians on the stage. She frequently switched from acoustic to electric bass throughout the evening. For her current tour, Spalding took the audience on dialog over fundamental everyday issues around relationships, friends, and love. For example, if you are alone you can still focus on what Spalding calls, your Cinnamon Tree. The whole show was essentially a discussion where one piece naturally flowed into the next and kept people's attention beyond 11pm. Saxophonist Tia Fuller thrilled the audience with her solo in dialog with Spalding's scat singing over Stevie Wonder's I Can't Help It. As an audience member put it, she owns it. Two other pieces that the whole band delivered to great enthusiasm were Black Gold and Smile Like ThatNear the end, Spalding even had a clear warning to us in that we should avoid becoming an Endangered Species ourselves. For a unique encore, Esperanza Spalding and Gretchen Parlato both combined their beautiful voices to sing in Portuguese and to also demonstrate the overall theme of the evening related to lasting friendships.


Day 8: Friday, June 29, 2012

The Toronto Jazz Festival entered the final stretch with the start of the long weekend. Patio lovers could enjoy the sunshine and the music in the Distillery District. Over at Nathan Phillips Square, the late afternoon outdoor show was led by Retrocity, a very talented Canadian a capella group that showcased 80s tunes with each voice replicating the lyrics, the music, and the rhythm to perfection.

The headliners on the Mainstage was the Tedeschi Trucks Band that always commands a strong following in the blues combined with a mix of southern soul, American roots music, and rock 'n' roll.

John Pizzarelli and his quartet brought the Radio Deluxe show on the stage of the pristine Koerner Hall for some relaxing music and conversation before a sold out show. Pizzarelli explained to the audience that they were about to see "a jazz concert disguised as a radio show." The main members of the quartet were Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Tony Tedesco on drums, and Larry Fuller on piano. The genuine comfortable, fun loving, and humorous personalities of both John Pizzarelli and his wife Jessica Molaskey was on full display this evening. It was a real family gathering as even their young daughter Madeleine made a brief appearance on stage. The upbeat opening tune with husband and wife was Donald Fagen's Walk Between The Raindrops and Thad Jones' Tiptoe. A few songs performed were juxtapositions of different ones yet arranged in such a way that they flow and interact quiet nicely. John Pizzarelli had picked some of his favourite tunes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s and pair them with jazz music from the 50s. Another perfect example of this technique was to bring the James Taylor lyrics to Traffic Jam and bring in the music of Joe Henderson's The KickerSinger Emilie Claire-Barlow, who met Pizzarelli at the Café Carlisle while visiting New York, made a guest appearance for a few songs such as Don't Think Twice, It's Alright by Bob Dylan and Sammy Cahn's Things We Did Last Summer which included brief references to Autumn in New York and April In Paris. Hopefully listeners will have a chance to relive this show through the Radio Deluxe program on either JazzFM or online.


Day 9: Saturday, June 30, 2012

On the eve of Canada Day, festival attendees were able to enjoy the lovely weather all afternoon at the Distillery District where several performers were lined up on both the Trinity Stage as well as the Pure Spirits Patio.

Gord Sheard brought his Brazilian Jazz Experience to Nathan Phillips Square's Outdoor stage for the late afternoon audience after being interviewed earlier around lunchtime for The Inside Track presented by the Ken Page Memorial Trust and hosted by Josh Grossman, the festival's Artistic Director. These interview sessions had been a daily event yet the challenge was to create an intimate setting with a good crowd though the location was a large outdoor stage. The festival used to have performances everyday at lunchtime to cater to downtown workers as well as visitors and tourists. 

The main evening shows had a predominantly blues theme. The small and intimate audience was very relaxed and clearly attentive to both performers of the double bill. It was as if the singers were either in their living room or around a fireplace surrounded by family and friends.

Joan Osborne, joined by pianist Keith Cotton, opened things up with a few of her songs reinterpreted from other well known singers such as Van Morrison. She relishes picking what works from Rock, Folk, Country rock, and Blues. For the second part of her show, she selected a few from her recent album Bring It On Home such as I'm Qualified and Champagne And Wine by Otis Redding. The most well known selection was One Of Us which had been a hit on her second album in '95: Relish. To describe the ambiance, all you had to do was witness Osborne's audience poll of what song to play next. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted first made popular by Jimmy Ruffin won out but Osborne also offered the other choice: God Bless The Child. It was our singer's first song that she used when first arriving in New York City.

Following a brief pause, it was Canadian blues guitarist Matt Andersen's turn to lead the audience in a solo performance. A first impression quickly demonstrates his great musicianship on the guitar by making the musical instrument provide all kinds of sounds and textures within the same piece. Andersen is from Perth-Andover, New Brunswick yet his lyrics reveal a deep understanding and appreciation for the whole of the Canadian east coast. He made several references for instance to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. For example, Coal Mining Blues describes the very difficult life of the local miners. His voice at times seemed to echo Bruce Springsteen from the early 80s on such records as Nebraska ('84). Other tunes performed included Devil's Bride and One Size Fits All. If Perth-Andover is a family-oriented community, this audience felt the same way and willingly and naturally participated in singing simple refrains at the guitarist's suggestion. Despite touring around the world, Matt Andersen remains a genuine and down-to-earth maritimer interested in exploring themes that have no national boundaries.



Day 10: Sunday, July 1, 2012

Tower of Power. Photo: Kris King. 

The much anticipated show for the final night of the festival was Tower Of Power. It was important to finish on a strong note and these horns delivered in their 44th year of existence. Stephen "Doc" Kupka maintained the steady anchor on baritone sax while Sal Cracchiolo didn't disappoint with his impressive and fiery solos that drew in the crowd. It was the first time that this group appeared on this festival stage and that helped bring in a large and enthusiastic crowd.

What was missing in this edition was a stronger Latin American representation. Luckily local fans could look forward to the first Pan American Latin Jazz Festival on July 14th. Lunchtime concerts and the celebrated late-nite jam session were also missing but perhaps that is directly related to funding constraints. Nevertheless this festival enjoyed high moments with 9 sold-out performances and a high participation rate by clubs offering jazz programming during the festival.

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Festival international de jazz de Montréal 2012 Grandeurs et misères de la note bleue

Marc Chénard

Compte tenu de son énormité, le Festival international de jazz de Montréal (FIJM) inclut dans sa programmation tous genres confondus (pour ne pas dire toute confusion des genres) une pincée de spectacles de jazz d'intérêt « possible », même si ceux-ci sont davantage le produit d'un coup de chance que d'un réel dessein artistique de ses programmateurs. Lassé de butiner les concerts, comme ce fut le cas lors du FIJM d'antan, ce chroniqueur fixe son regard sur un nombre limité de spectacles afin de les traiter en profondeur. De toute manière, la modération a bien meilleur goût, tant pour l'estomac que pour les oreilles.

Jeudi 28 juin, 18 h, L'Astral
Rafael Zaldivar

Parmi les nouveaux venus sur la scène montréalaise, le pianiste cubain Rafael Zaldivar fait beaucoup parler de lui. Armé d'un contrat de disques chez Effendi, et d'un appui promotionnel considérable de son label, il se produit sur une base régulière chez nous, réussissant aussi quelques percées ailleurs, par exemple au festival de jazz de Vancouver de 2011, dans la foulée d'une performance donnée à JazzAhead, l'importante vitrine internationale tenue annuellement à Brème, en Allemagne. Musicien de talent, Zaldivar ne colle pourtant pas aux stéréotypes habituels des musiciens afro-cubains, reconnus pour leurs feux d'artifices techniques et l'emploi abusif de formules rythmiques insistantes. Très peu de cela chez lui. Et tant mieux. D'une part, sa touche n'est en rien percussive, à l'instar de tout claviériste de ce pays, mais gracieuse et délicate, son jeu décidemment plus impressionniste qu'expressionniste; d'autre part, il évite généralement les tournures rythmiques d'usage, si bien qu'il réussit à déjouer les attentes des auditeurs en quittant les sentiers battus comme bon lui semble. De toute évidence, Zaldivar possède une solide culture musicale, mais ne sent nullement obligé à l'étaler à tout prix. Dans ses solos, il explore plusieurs avenues, sans toutefois atteindre une unité stylistique (du moins pas encore). Mais ce qui semblerait être une lacune ne l'est pas réellement, car il est un artiste en devenir, qualité qui le rend bien plus intéressant que bien de ses jeunes collègues qui nous arrivent avec un jeu bien ficelé, mais sans distinction aucune. Tel est le constat qui se dégage de sa performance au festival, laquelle se voulait un prolongement de son récent album Drawing, sorti le mois dernier. Plus que jamais, le disque fait office de carte de visite, voire d'outil de mise en marché, lequel annonce le début d'un nouveau projet d'artiste. Cette réalité diffère considérablement avec celle du passé, où le disque marquait plutôt la fin d'une étape. Jadis, les formations de jazz tournaient beaucoup plus qu'aujourd'hui, avec de longs périples sur la route, voire des semaines complètes passées dans un même club. Ce faisant, le groupe pouvait roder pleinement son répertoire pour le disque, couronnant ainsi ses labeurs. Nul n'a besoin de se demander pourquoi on peine à trouver des grands disques de nos jours, alors que le passé regorge d'autant de trésors discographiques, certains repiqués sans arrêt depuis leur parution. (En fait-on de même pour les parutions d'il y a 15 ou 20 ans ?...) De ce fait, la relation entre le disque et le concert a été inversée. Combien de fois arrive-t-il aux mélomanes de trouver le concert plus satisfaisant que du disque parce que le second n'a pas été réalisé en fin de parcours mais bien au début ? Ce constat s'applique ici aussi, car l'enregistrement du pianiste il est constitué essentiellement de pièces assez concises, son titre étant fort bien choisi vu le caractère d'ébauche de certains morceaux. À titre d'exemples, les deux premières plages de moins de quatre minutes chacune se terminent en fade-out (et la troisième, de huit minutes, commence en fade-in), celles-ci permettant de mouiller l'appétit de l'auditeur (comme le présentateur de concerts), le but de l'exercice étant d'obtenir des engagements ultérieurs. Le disque est donc l'instigateur d'une période créative, sa finalité étant le concert (au minimum) ou la tournée de spectacles (dans le meilleur des mondes). En ce qui concerne M. Zaldivar et son projet, l'écoute du concert, tout juste après l'audition du disque, s'accorde avec cette stratégie. À cette occasion, le concert lui a permis justement de développer la musique du disque, mais fort heureusement il ne s'est pas contenté de reprendre le seul répertoire de l'album mais de présenter d'autres pièces, dont deux thèmes plus obscurs de Monk : Bright Mississipi et Ask me Now. Dans la première partie de sa prestation, divisée par un entr'acte, le pianiste partagea la scène avec ses talentueux accompagnateurs Jean-Rémi Leblanc (cb.) et Philippe Melanson (btr.) pour les deux premiers numéros; ces derniers cèdent leur place à un compatriote du pianiste, le percussionniste Eugenio Osorio (congas, cajon) pour un duo (le seul vrai numéro latin de la soirée), revenant par après pour les deux derniers morceaux de cette première représentation. Après la pause, deux autres invités se sont joints à la partie, les deux entendus furtivement sur le disque : la violoniste Lisanne Tremblay et surtout le saxo alto de renom Greg Osby. Sans vraiment être mis à l'épreuve dans ce contexte, l'Américain a bien joué son rôle, y allant d'un solo bien tourné dans le second opus monkien. La surprise toutefois fut la violoniste qui dépassa son rôle de figurant du disque en offrant des solos bien jazzés, un peu prudents peut-être, mais dénués des raideurs rythmiques qui affligent souvent les musiciens classiques tentés par l'aventure de la note bleue. Particulièrement plaisant fut le mariage entre le violon et le saxophone, surtout dans les passages à l'unisson, les lignes mélodiques gagnant en rondeur timbrale en raison des tessitures comparables de ces deux instruments. Sans être enlevant, le spectacle donna l'occasion au pianiste de livrer non pas un produit fini, mais un en devenir, avec une part de subtilités et de détails qui laissent présager d'intéressantes pistes à suivre pour lui et ses comparses. Si seulement ces musiciens pouvaient partir en tournée, il ne ferait aucun doute qu'ils seraient en mesure de réaliser le plein potentiel de ce projet fort prometteur. Mais notre époque n'est pas la plus salutaire pour exaucer un tel vœu.

Terje Rypdal et le Big Band de Bergen : Crime Scene
Théâtre du Gesù, 30 juin

Si M. Zaldivar ne souhaiterait rien de plus que de pouvoir tourner avec tous les musiciens de son concert, cela est chose acquise pour la présente entreprise venue d'outre-Atlantique. Imaginez un grand orchestre de vingt musiciens européens avec un soliste de réputation internationale parcourant le pays entier, soit de Vancouver à Montréal, le tout chapeauté par un compositeur-instrumentiste ayant écrit un genre de concerto pour Miles Davis. Par le passé, le FIJM a toujours inclus au moins un événement de grand orchestre dans sa série « Jazz dans la nuit » – certains se rappelleront l'excellente prestation de Darcy James Argue et son Secret Society l'an dernier. Cette fois-ci, le flambeau était porté par le Big Band de Bergen avec le guitariste invité Terje Rypdal interprétant une longue suite en continu intitulée Crime Scene, écrite et arrangée par le trompettiste Palle Mikkelborg. Outre ce dernier, qui est Danois, le reste de la distribution provient de Norvège, sans doute le seul pays européen en mesure de payer la note pour une telle extravagance. Par-delà cette considération logistique d'importance, cet ensemble de haut calibre nous a offert a paquet très bien emballé, mais pas aussi emballant qu'on le souhaiterait. Après le concert, un collègue journaliste étranger me signalait que cette représentation était la meilleure des trois qu'il ait entendu en salle, suivant la première en Allemagne et une autre dans leur pays, et ce, lors de tournées différentes – je vous l'avais dit, ils ont des moyens ces vikings. Quant à la performance, d'aucuns ne peuvent nier le rendu, ce chroniqueur compris, mais d'importants problèmes d'ordre conceptuel entachent le tout. On veut bien, par exemple, construire l'œuvre en opposant la section rythmique (claviers, deux guitares, deux batteries et une basse) à la section élargie des vents (15 instrumentistes au total, les joueurs d'anches munis également de clarinettes et de flûtes), mais de réduire ces derniers à des rôles de figurants pendant près de 75 minutes relève d'un emploi peu probant des effectifs. Pendant la soirée, les interventions solistes des vents se résumaient à un court interlude de clarinette basse et un duel de saxos ténors englouti dans un passage orchestral dense. Plus actifs en seconde partie, les vents étaient passablement inactifs dans la première tranche du concert, la rythmique prenant ici toute la place, avec un solo de bidouillages électros assez lancinant (et fort trop long) de M. Rypdal. Et que dire d'un des batteurs de type de funk qui martelait sans cesse ses caisses ?... Passons. Premier responsable de ce salmigondis, Mikkelborg était à vrai dire le seul vent mis en évidence. (On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même, je suppose.) En début de spectacle, il fit son entrée en scène en jouant seul, sa trompette amplifiée, la section rythmique au poste, mais pas les autres, qui ont attendu une bonne dizaine de minutes avant de prendre place. Pour ceux qui ont peut-être oublié, c'est ce même M. Mikkelborg qui avait composé Aura en 1984, cette œuvre orchestrale ostentatoire pour Miles Davis, conspuée par une bonne partie de la gente critique. En 2012, le compositeur n'a pas encore expurgé son fantasme milesien, l'instrumentiste en lui affichant les mêmes maniérismes de son mentor : non seulement déambule-t-il sur la scène en jouant, mais il tourne le dos au public, dialoguant parfois avec le batteur tapocheur. Quant au titre Crime Scene, il était justifié par la diffusion en salle de bribes de dialogues de longs-métrages comme Le parrain et Taxi Driver, même des polars italiens, ces interventions utilisées comme traits d'unions entre les différentes sections. De cette prestation pourtant bien exécutée, on en sort perplexe, d'autant plus par un manque d'intégration entre ses deux parties constituantes (rythmique et souffleurs), trait pourtant fondamental de tout big band de jazz de premier ordre. Mais encore, s'agissait-il d'un tel orchestre ?... Avec le spectre de Miles planant sur le tout et l'instrumentation de l'ensemble, difficile de prétendre le contraire.

Ambrose Akinmusire
Théâtre du Gesù, 4 juillet

Pour avoir entendu le disque (et l'avoir chroniqué dans le numéro d'été de La Scena Musicale), ce chroniqueur peut une fois de plus se baser sur les observations émises sur le concert de M. Zaldivar. Comme le disque actuel est avant toute chose un outil de mise en marché d'artiste, bien que son avenir soit incertain en raison de la dématérialisation de l'objet par la numérisation, le disque est produit de plus en plus au début d'une période créative d'un artiste, qui l'utilise pour décrocher des spectacles. Vu ainsi, le disque crée une attente publique qui doit à tout le moins être rencontrée, sinon dépassée. Alors que le pianiste cubain a assez bien tiré son épingle du jeu à ce chapitre, on ne saurait en dire autant pour le trompettiste américain Ambrose Akinmusire. Bien que nombre de critiques aient salué sa maturité, certains allant jusqu'à le promouvoir au rang des grands espoirs du jazz, tout laisse à croire qu'ils n'ont jamais entendu ses pairs comme Peter Evans ou Nathan Wooley, voire des Européens comme Axel Dörner ou Médéric Collignon (qui s'est produit le lendemain soir, voir chronique suivante.) De son concert, on garde le souvenir d'un musicien très consciencieux de ses faits et gestes, trop même. D'une part, ses solos se déploient en petites phrases entrecoupées de silences (parfois assez longs); d'autre part, son répertoire oscille entre des morceaux à tempos lents (dont deux duos avec son pianiste) et d'autres beaucoup plus vifs, donnant la nette impression que lui et ses hommes ne fonctionnent qu'à deux vitesses. Tout le monde joue bien, soit, mais seul le batteur réussissait vraiment à produire des étincelles, n'arrivant pourtant pas à faire embraser les autres. Cela donne l'impression d'un musicien très conscient du fait qu'il soit titulaire d'un contrat de disques sur un grand label (Blue Note), d'où une nette tendance à jouer la carte sûre. De plus, on n'en a que faire des longues présentations verbeuses de ses musiciens et de leurs vertus. Ça nous rend nostalgiques de l'époque où Miles, Coltrane et Monk ne soufflaient mot devant leur public pour laisser leurs instruments parler tout haut et tout fort.

Médéric Collignon et Jus de Bocse
L'astral, 5 juillet

Trompettiste de la soirée (ou cornettiste pour être plus exact, la différence de timbre entre les deux étant à peine perceptible), le Français Médéric Collignon a bousculé les auditeurs du tout au tout, projetant celui-ci loin de l'univers contrôlé de la jeune recrue américaine. Avec micro portable épinglé sur son pavillon, Médéric Collignon (ou Médo pour les intimes) s'est dandiné sur la scène comme un possédé, modifiant la transmission amplifiée par une pédale wawa. Ça ne vous paraît pas familier ?... Si vous ne l'avez pas deviné, lui et son groupe Jus de Bocse se sont attaqué sans ambages aucuns au répertoire de maestro Miles, période électrique, le livrant avec toute la fougue et furie de l'original. Par moments, on se sentait en 1970, le psychédélisme ambiant des salles de concert d'antan en moins.) Bénéficiant d'une grande tournée canadienne, avec une incursion chez l'Oncle Sam à Rochester, ce quartette a certainement fait chauffer les planches, le chef aspergeant à volonté l'huile sur le feu, le pianiste électrique étant en fait le seul autre soliste de la soirée. Outre le batteur forcené, indispensable dans ce contexte, on applaudit le bassiste pour sa patience à vouloir répéter les mêmes riffs pendant de longs passages. Heureuse décision du reste d'avoir utilisé une basse acoustique plutôt qu'électrique, laquelle aurait alourdi la pâte sonore déjà assez épaisse. Collignon est un doué, sa plus belle qualité étant le sens d'urgence qu'il investit dans la musique, ingrédient qui manque très souvent dans les concoctions jazzistiques de notre temps. (Est-ce la faute des musiciens actuels – trop scolarisés – ou des paramètres intrinsèques au genre ?... Un sujet qui vaut le débat.) Ici, le cornettiste s'attaque à la musique d'une autre époque (précédemment, il avait repris Porgy and Bess, version Miles et Gil Evans). Toutefois, de tels retours au passé méritent un examen critique. En reprenant deux fois de suite la musique de son mentor, le musicien maquille-t-il sous le couvert de sa pétulance scénique une panne d'idées créatives ? Arrivera-t-il à larguer les amarres avec ces références pour trouver une musique qui lui soit vraiment propre – sans être trop propre, comme celle d'Akinmusire ? On ne peut que le souhaiter. À titre de comparaison, aurait-on imaginé, ou encore désiré, que Miles Davis rende tribut à Louis Armstrong en reprenant ses classiques ?... L'histoire du jazz compte des grands noms et ses chefs de file ont tous poussé la musique vers l'avant parce qu'ils ont tous compris que le meilleur moyen de rendre hommage à la tradition était de créer la leur et non de la réduire en exercices de style, si bien menés soit-ils. À voir ce spectacle, sans oublier un autre au programme du FIJM intitulé Miles Smiles (avec Joey de Francesco et Wallace Roney), on pourrait suggérer que les chances d'engagement à ce festival augmentent nettement en soumettant des propositions de concerts hommages au Prince de la Noirceur. Boutade peut-être, mais qu'on regarde ses éditions antérieures et la conclusion s'impose.

Renaud Garcia-Fons (solo) et avec le Free Flamenco Trio
Maison symphonique de Montréal (7 juillet)

Pour terminer cette ronde festivalière en beauté, le dernier rendez-vous se déroula dans la nouvelle Maison symphonique. Belle occasion donc pour finalement voir de ses yeux vus (et de ses oreilles entendues), la performance d'une petite formation sur une grande scène, destinée principalement à notre orchestre symphonique et son chef, Maestro Nagano. La tête d'affiche était donc le contrebassiste hexagonal Renaud Garcia-Fons, certainement un enfant chéri du festival pour l'avoir déjà fréquenté (un fait qu'il souligna dans une de ses présentations au micro). Pour marquer la publication récente de son tout nouveau disque solo sur le label Enja, trop peu distribué chez nous, mais dont on peut lire quand même la chronique en ligne dans la livraison actuelle de LSM), le musicien a donc rejoué ce programme en ouverture de la soirée. Même si cet observateur occupait un siège à l'arrière de cette grande enceinte, le son était clair et limpide dans ses moindres détails, aidé bien sûr d'un ampli d'instrument bien calibré. (Pourtant, en seconde partie, v. plus bas, son instrument passait mal, enterré par un piano puissant à l'avant-scène et une batterie un brin plus discret.) Bien qu'il se dise improvisateur, ce musicien suit des plans de match bien précis, chaque numéro reposant sur des musiques ethniques aux paramètres facilement reconnaissables. Il convia alors les auditeurs à un périple interculturel de bon ton passant par la péninsule Ibérique, l'Afrique, l'Inde ainsi que des détours vers les cultures celtique et amérindienne. Un joli voyage donc, durant lequel le bassiste fit usage d'échantillons instrumentaux préenregistrés en boucles pour ancrer ses envolées. Comme le disque, il a glissé le temps d'un morceau une feuille entre ses cordes pour mieux imiter le son étouffé d'un instrument traditionnel africain. Évaluer cette musique à la seule aune du jazz serait erroné, le bassiste ne se réclamant pas vraiment de cette tradition, bien qu'il en ait déjà fait dans ses jeunes années. Comme ses meilleurs compatriotes, Garcia-Fons est un très grand instrumentiste, un virtuose sans peur et sans reproche, ses coups d'archets étant d'une précision et d'une justesse irréprochables. Mais cette infaillibilité d'exécutant le range davantage dans le créneau des musiciens classiques que ceux du jazz, même des musiques folkloriques, ses artisans étant résolument moins complexés par les insuffisances techniques. Garcia-Fons est de ceux qui ont posé des choix précis et qui ne les remettent nullement en question. Mais la grandeur d'un artiste ne se situe pas dans le seul fait d'assumer ses acquis et de s'y contenter, mais bien les transcender, quitte à s'en défaire pour faire face au péril de l'inconnu. Après les derniers applaudissements (pourtant pas à tout rompre ou délirants comme on aurait pu s'y attendre) et suivant l'entr'acte obligatoire, la seconde tranche du concert s'ouvrit avec un piano solo de David Peña Dorantes, morceau conjuguant librement des tonalités de jazz, de musique flamenco et des harmonies très classiques, le tout habilement enfilé. Suivent alors un numéro en trio (le plus jazzé de la soirée) avec
le bassiste et un batteur (Tete Peña), un solo de flûte bulgare (le keval) de Teodossi Spassov (le moment fort de la soirée), le reste de la performance jouée par le quartette. En cours de route, le groupe tenta la rencontre des traditions, à mi-chemin entre les Balkans et l'Espagne, avec des résultats à tout le moins potables. Bien que la formation s'appelle le Free Flamenco Trio (le bassiste étant un invité ici), il n'y avait rien de particulièrement free dans cette prestation, ni flamenco à la lettre, mais une musique encadrée dans des paramètres stylistiques familiers. À leur décharge, ces musiciens ont su marier leurs forces pour créer un tout assez satisfaisant dans l'ensemble, rien qui réinventa la roue, mais la rechapant par moments à leur bon plaisir et celui du public aussi.

PS : Omis de ces critiques détaillées était le concert du saxo alto Pierrick Pédron le premier weekend du festival. Après quelques bonnes minutes en duo avec son pianiste acoustique Laurent Coq, le reste de la formation les rejoignit, soit un guitariste, un bassiste électrique et un batteur, le pianiste passant alors au Fender Rhodes. En un tournemain, le registre musical sombra dans une soupe fusion plutôt insipide, sans distinction aucune. Suivant la recommandation d'une connaissance, qui avait vu le saxo dans la capitale parisienne, mais en formation acoustique, j'ai tenté ma chance, bien qu'un collègue français m'ait mis la puce à l'oreille le matin même. Comme l'avait noté mon invité de la soirée, c'était le genre de jazz qu'on entendait dans la rue il y a une quinzaine d'années. Décidemment, il n'y a pas de pénurie de fruits périssables…

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Montreal International Jazz Festival

By Crystal Chan


June 27 – Jazz fests are diversifying their programs, and on opening night, Janelle Monáe was one of Montreal's not-really-jazz performers this year. But in some alternate universe, she's a jazz singer She has the voice, musicality, lack of shyness or hesitation about doing the new and unexpected. In any case, her chosen style, a blend of soul and funk sprinkled with influences from Debussy to Chaplin, allows her to showcase considerable dancing chops. Her ten-piece band played a mix of danceable hits from her 2010 debut album, The ArchAndroid. Covers included Smile, a Nat King Cole favourite, as well as a James Bond theme and songs by The Jackson Five and Prince. She also sang two yet-to-be released songs: "Electric Lady" and—introducing it as "a jazz song"—"Dorothy Dandridge Eyes," a ballad with bluesy lyrics that breaks out into infections, jazz drum shuffle driven sequences. After coming back on stage for her encore, she ended the night with a long, audience-participatory rendition of "Come Alive." A natural entertainer.


June 29 - The crowd was rowdy, excited. Wayne Shorter's appearance on stage set off seemingly unstoppable yells and whistles. Would we even let them get started? Then, we were off. Pianist Danilo Perez played a soft, lilting downward chromatic line and it was remarkable: the rest of the show, the audience was as if in a trance, mesmerized and hushed. This was a show with just a few interjections and little applause, a concentrated set of long pieces (the first was half an hour long) that flowed from one idea to the next so seamlessly that there was even scarce applause for solos. Anyway, it was hard to tell what was solo and what was not. The musicians shuffled through sheet music before each song, but they barely looked at the papers. It all seemed like free group improv. John Patitucci was never without a wide smile, half-dancing around his bass. Brian Blade is an energetic drummer who led the crescendos of upwards progressions that marked the climaxes of each piece. And Shorter is, as expected, a commanding leader. When the saxophonist played, his cutting sound always steered the music towards a different course. Still, he spent a lot of his time just leaning on the piano and carefully listening, signalling to the others with playful, elaborate hand gestures that often got appreciative chuckles. The audience also ate up to the musical comedy of some unusual sounds in "Plaza Real." Perez opens the tune by crunching his water bottle, then gargling. Shorter whistles the tune. He also loved the trick of taking a breath, putting his sax to his lips, and… putting it down, sending a sly grin to the audience. When you're the jazz world's most revered living bandleader, you can play music with a sense of childlike humour. The trick got us every time.

July 2 (runs until July 7) - Having portrayed Billie Holiday, Valaida Snow, and Ma Rainey on stage, Miche Braden's lead role in Angelo Parra's The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith: The Devil's Music sees her tackle "the empress of the blues." The cabaret musical also features Aaron Graves on piano, Jim Hankins on bass, and Keith Loftis on saxophone. Catapulting to fame in the 1920s, Smith was signed to Columbia and became the highest paid black entertainer. A hard drinker with an anger problem, she also suffered from abusive (often mutually so) romantic relationships and was not only a black woman in business but bisexual. Life wasn't easy. Braden tells her story through an unfortunately encyclopedic monologue written by Parra. It's the evening before her death by car accident, and Smith's tipsily telling her life story. The narrative is forced. Every time she refers to death, Smith dramatically suffers a premonitory headache. But Braden and her band make up for the script with ample showmanship. Braden has a big voice and spirit and is a wiz when it comes to getting the audience clapping and singing along.

July 2 – It's a big understatement to say that Miles Davis influenced a lot of people. But there are none more in debt today than musicians he fostered and mentored at the beginning of their careers. Miles Smiles showcased several of those in an electrifying jazz fusion set. As the concert mainly consisted of rotating solos, with little in the way of choruses, we got a taste of the individual styles of trumpet player Wallace Roney, a reincarnation of Davis himself complete with shades, saxophonist Bill Evans, a soloist great with unconventional scales and lines, fast-fingered organist Joey DeFrancesco, and hard-grooving guitarist Larry Coryell. Behind them was a solid rhythm duo with bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakim. No solos for them until the end. For those that missed Davis's appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival in the eighties, this was as good an approximation as we're bound to get.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

From “Ellingtime” to no time… and a few places in between

Suoni per il Popolo, June 6 to 23, 2012

Marc Chénard

Now firmly established as Montreal's showcase for all forms of non-conventional music making, the Suoni per il Popolo festival cut through a wide swath of genres in its 12th annual edition. From post-free jazz to live electronic improv and an added window to multi-media sound art, the festival has definitely created a niche for itself, a fact underscored by increased media support (as pointed out by one of its organizers), and good attendance (as witnessed by this writer in the shows seen). While it's never an easy proposition for an experimental music festival to secure sufficient funding and maintain audience numbers, the Suoni has ensured a pattern of sustainable growth from its inception in 2000. Not only is the festival well established locally but it also enjoys an enviable reputation elsewhere, as musicians from the rest of the country, Stateside and Europe find their way into the program. One invitee even mentioned that its name is so well known abroad that hosts of foreign artists are more than eager to get invited to it. Artistically this year's edition may well have been even broader in scope than previous ones, with enough acts to attract devotees to one or the other form of avant music. As this particular column is focused on all improvisational musics with a jazz bent, the coverage will therefore delve into that one area.

A pre-festival shot of Snakeoil

On the first day of the month, five days before the actual festival kickoff, Tim Berne whet all appetites with a generous two-set performance. A festival returnee, he was heard twice previously with his bassless trio Hard Cell, a memorable show in 2002, less so seven years later. While his brawny baritone was a definite asset, and is definitely missed, no one should blame him for putting it down in these days of never ending travel hassles. But its absence is made up for in his current band Snakeoil thanks to the presence of reedist Oscar Noriega, both on Bb and bass clarinets. Once again, Berne does away with the bass, relying instead on a rhythm section comprised of the very versatile drummer Ches Smith (who'd switch to vibes on occasion) and Matt Mitchell on both electric piano and an acoustic upright. As in past groups like Hard Cell and Blood Count, Berne's music thrives on extended forms where the lines between composition and improvisation are seamlessly blurred. The first set of over 50 minutes was divided in two long excursions, the second was a continuous flow of over an hour. As expected, his music thrives on a gradual spiral of inner tension, yet it is difficult for the listener to latch on to specifics, like a strong melodic line or an infectious groove, the end result being more an overall auditory experience than of particular highpoints. But then again, the band managed to hit a peak during the second half of the final set. For one, the quartet hit a groove and Berne's writing bore a stronger melodic contour than usual, all of which brought listeners to edge of their seats. In his wry New York manner, Berne confessed at the beginning of the set they were still hardly able play the piece, which was premiered that night. Given the results, this observer could only imagine how much greater it would have sounded had they been really on top of it (surely you jest…) Interestingly, none of the music they did that night was to be found on their ECM recording, which you could guess, would be markedly different in tone than this free-wheeling performance. A good omen for the weeks to come.

William Parker Orchestra: The Essence of Ellington (June 8)

Who could have imagined but a few years ago to have one of New York's leading figures of post-free jazz energy music tackling the work of the greatest of all African-American composers? But considering Parker's recent revisitation of Curtis Mayfield, it might not be that much of a quantum leap to take on Duke Ellington. The bassist honored the festival by presenting a North-American exclusive performance from his 15-piece orchestra, an event not even included in this year's Vision Festival. First premiered in Bologna last February, that concert is now packaged in a two-disc set, produced on Parker's own label and launched the evening of the Montreal concert. It goes without saying that the prospect of having some of Duke's beloved melodies fall into the hands of such forceful players like Sabir Mateen, Steve Swell, Rob Brown, Dave Sewelson, Lewis Barnes was sufficiently tantalizing (or hard to imagine) to warrant attendance. After the leader's long introduction of all band members, extolling all the virtues and what not, he launched his troops into a long original piece dedicated to our fair city. The relatively simple structure of alternating A and B sections was actually quite satisfying, the
ensemble writing definitely Ellingtonian in style, more reminiscent of his final period than his earlier ones. Small ensemble interludes were inserted between extended solos, sometimes by pairs, the horns often laying out for long stretches. Over two sets, the orchestra played relatively few numbers, choosing such staples as "Take the A Train", "Sophisticated Lady" (with a remarkably lyrical solo by Brown, more known to wail than cajole), "Jump for Joy" (sung by spirited vocalist Fay Victor) and, as pièce de résistance, the innocuous Cotton Tail, taken for a long-winded half-hour ride featuring a merry-go-round of soloists. This piece, like all others, were just jumping-off points for the musicians to follow their own whims, turning Ellingtonia more into an excuse than a focus of real attention. As pointed out by a fellow reviewer, this project may have flown better in, say, an octet than a full big band, all the more so considering the long periods of inactivity by the ensemble as a whole; and when there were backgrounds, they were pretty rudimentary at that. Given the leader and his charges, it would have been naïve to see them dealing with extensively written charts. Within those parameters, one set of this seemed to be enough, by the second one the group had pretty well worn out its welcome.

Darius Jones Quartet (Sun. 10)

Passing up on the sextet/quartet evening of Parker, I was eager to hear newcomer Darius Jones (apparently in his first performance out of the country). Having heard in months previous the final disc of his three set trilogy on Aum Fidelity Records (a label celebrated by the festival for its 15 years), this reviewer felt a bit short changed by the album, so the chance was there to find out what more he could offer live. Given his imposing build, the man can certainly pass a lot of air in his tube, and can certainly wail with the best of him. Indebted in no small way to early Ornette and to a greater degree to Jackie McLean, there's no doubting his New York school allegiance for his tone is edgy and acidic, even raw at times, and he can sure pack a few punches in his solos. A talk he gave the previous day during one the festival's meet the musician/workshop sessions was useful, in that he not only talked about his own development but also emphasized the importance of sound and his obsession on working with each and every one of them on his horn. While his tone may not be to everyone's liking (this writer among them), the man is still a commanding presence in his ability to project a very personal vision. Far more engaging than the record, Jones was ably supported by the same twin sidemen of Tim Berne (see above) plus the acoustic bass of Trevor Dunn, a personal standout for his solid accompaniments and nimble solos alike.

Ellery Eskelin New York Trio (June 17)

Tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin is clearly one of the most individualistic players on his chosen instrument. Not only has he developed a personal sound and vocabulary to match, but his choice of partners has also enabled him to find his way within a select club of American post-free jazz trailblazers. His lengthy association with Jim Black and Andrea Parkins (a trio dormant at this time) has contributed decisively to his musical identity, but even before that (most notably in the coop quartet Joint Venture), his voice was already there. By virtue of his dedication to a single horn, Eskelin has asserted his individuality, steering clear from the trappings of multi-instrumentalism (the 'jack of all horns, master of none' syndrome). For his first ever Montreal appearance (his closest visit being an invite to the Victoriaville festival in 2003), Eskelin is now embarked on a new trio venture, this time with B-3 player Gary Versace and the seemingly ubiquitous drummer Gerald Cleaver. The organ trio, of course, is one of the most typecast sounds in jazz, molded forever by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff, pursued nowadays by such keyboard wizards ranging from Joey de Francesco to Barbara Dennerlein. Never a fan of this instrument, this writer was still hopeful to get something more than the tried and true, based on Eskelin's musical path. While the opening set held promise, with a good balance struck between inside and outside playing, the trio nevertheless retreated to more conventional stylings as the night wore on. Even more so as the group contented itself to retread old standards like "After You've Gone", "How Deep is the Ocean", "Just one of Those Things", "Flamingo" and the like. Accordingly, the playing stuck close to the changes in the second set, hence a feeling of déja vu (or 'entendu' in this case). For those who may not know, Eskelin's mother
was a B-3 player, so having grown up with that sound surely explains his inclination towards it, but this excursion may well have been a nod to that (hopefully a passing one), though it comes across as a step
backwards.

Trio3 (June 19)

After a week devoted to other forms of musical experimentalism, the festival rounded itself off with a final stretch of jazz-improv evenings. And what an opener for that week than the well-heeled triumvirate of Oliver Lake (69), Andrew Cyrille (72) and Reggie Workman (a week shy of his 76th birthday). Veterans they are, but time has not caught up with them at all, for they still have the burning fire of their early days, burnished with experience and wisdom that enable them to build their musical program with intelligence and flair. In the opening set, comprised of pieces from the altoist and the drummer, they played what we know they can do; after the intermission, however, they came back and proceeded to play us what they can really do, to effectively go for it, and not hold back, getting the pot to boil over, as in the Workman piece "Summit Conference", the show stopper, followed by a graceful free form ballad that served as a perfect counterweight to the previous number. Another treat was Cyrille's tribute to Art Blakey, a staple in his repertoire. Not a mere exercise in style, but an authentic homage, this number only served to remind listeners of Cyrille's greatness, truly one the living masters of his instrument on the planet. Of all shows witnessed at this year's festival, this was a real standout, not for this listener alone but the couple of hundred on hand that cheered them to a short encore (a blues, what else?).

Bennink-Ex-Brodie: Let's Go! (June 20)

Another night, another drummer, but a whole other kettle of fish (or drums shall we say). Like the Americans, this unit was also a trio, comprised here of another crazy Dutchman, punk guitarist Terrie Ex, and an alto saxophonist, Torontonian Brodie West. The star attraction, of course, was Bennink, totally in his element in this all free improvised affair, whacking his cymbals at will, pummeling his skins with little respite, pushing one to twang his strings a little more and the other to squeal some more on that horn. Anyone familiar with the drummer would expect these shenanigans, and it differed little in intent from the recording issued on LP two years previously, now made available in a limited CD edition. This kind of music making is surely more fun to see than hear on an audio document. Paradoxically, though, this totally unpremeditated way of playing sounds strangely predictable, or simply invariable in terms of overall effect. Interestingly, in early July, during the Copenhagen jazz festival, Bennink will perform with the trio that actually goes under his own name (a first for him his long career). Not only will he perform with two musicians young enough to be his sons, but cut a second album for the independent indie of that city, Ilk records. Based on video clips, this trio plays much more tune oriented, with nods to the tradition, an area Bennink can handle just as deftly, when he puts his mind to it. (Somehow, I would have preferred catching that group than the one that stormed the
Suoni stage. Maybe for another day.) Having turned 70, and celebrated for a whole week in the jazz Mecca last April, Bennink is showing no signs of slowing down, and boy can he still beat the s*** out of those traps! As opening act, the Montreal trio Subtle Lip Can (Jessie Zubot, violin, Bernard Falaise, guitar/effects and Isaiah Ceccarelli, drums, bows, etc) played a sonically exploratory set, albeit definitely more subdued than the crash and splash main act. In passing too, Bennink that afternoon was
invited to a kind a workshop session, which however turned into a long monologue on his life's work, with no invitation to any of the aspiring musicians on hand to take out the horns from their cases and play along. Come to think of it, any non-professional may well be intimidated by such a prospect. Chutzpah definitely required.

Ig Henneman Sextet (June 21)

Haling also from the Netherlands, violist Ig Henneman and her sextet was the final act seen by this reviewer (a solo guitar show by Marc Ribot and a free jazz threesome with Chris Corsano were the festival's closers). Earlier the same day, both the leader and her bassist Wilbert de Joode gave their separate workshops, each of them allowing the attendees to play along. Particularly striking were the mindsets of these two musicians: for her part, Henneman clearly showed her classical bent by insisting on the importance of listening to the surroundings and being respectful of others; the bassist, in contrast, is more of a feisty individualist, like all jazzmen, and wasn't shy to encourage more initiatives for the participants, to step out more, even to provoke things. For the show, Henneman and consorts (Axel Dörner, trpt., Lori Freedman, clarinets, AbBaars, tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi and Marilyn Lerner, pno.) split the evening with budding local alto player Brahja Waldman and his quartet, the last few numbers augmented by his regular pianist, just back from a lengthy stay abroad. A melodicist first and foremost, Waldman and his tenor buddy Adam Kinner played a pleasant albeit uneventful set of jazz originals, a sort of 21st Century take on West Coast Cool, with vague echoes of early Ornette. Even cooler was Henneman's set, in part due to her astringent compositions (with a nudge to Monk's Raise Four in the set opener), and the lack of a drummer, which automatically lowers the dynamic level. While a lot of Dutch creative music has its whimsy if not a witty side to it, it can also have a certain amount to dryness to it, depending on the composers. Henneman clearly belongs on this side of the ledger, and save from Freedman and Baars occasional outbreaks, it was easy to make the connection between her own music and her attitude at the workshop that day. Of the musicians that night, pianist Lerner was definitely underused, in fact she was afforded only one solo spot in the last ten minutes of the hour plus set (but then again, the less than optimal sounding baby grand is not the best instrument for a pianist to shine on).

As is the case for all festivals that pride themselves on sticking their necks out for the music, the Suoni per il Popolo acquits itself admirably by letting the music do the talking rather than engaging in the numbers game for self-aggrandizement. And we, as committed music fans, can be more than thankful for that.

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