Monday, December 28, 2009

Time management (part I)

2010 is set to start off with a bang.

Wednesday, January 6 will witness the premiere of Mandigone, a mashup of Indigone and Mandala, at Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent). Saxophonist/composer Joel Miller is an artist I've admired for a long time, whose writing has been highly influential on my own. Since we did a gig together with drummer Karl Schwonik a while ago, the idea of Joel and I sharing a band and playing each other's music was planted in my head. With bassist Seb Pellerin (Indigone) and drummer Martin Auguste (Mandala), we'll split the repertoire exactly in half.

Saturday, January 9 I get my infrequent accordion practice in with singer-songwriter-guitarist Michael Reinhart and bassist Jeremi Roy at The Yellow Door (3625 Aylmer).

Friday January 15 & Saturday January 16 is the premiere of another very exciting project. Guitarist Gary Schwartz has spearheaded a project called LettingO, revisiting the music of Ornette Coleman. An outgrowth of repertoire for his Concordia University combo, it's become a fierce little big band (or big small group) with some very heavy players. The arrangements are courtesy of Gary, Alex Cote, Christopher Smith and yours truly. We invade the Theatre La Chapelle (3700 Ste-Dominique) for a week of rehearsals leading up to the shows.

LettingO: Ron DiLauro - trumpet; Alex Cote - soprano & tenor saxes; Erik Hove - alto sax; Frank Lozano - tenor sax & bass clarinet; Josh Zubot - violin; Joe Grass - pedal steel; DRR - keyboards; Gary Schwartz - guitar; Nicolas Caloia - bass; Thom Gossage & Claude Lavergne - drums.

From January 25-February 6 I have the privilege of returning to the Banff Centre for the Arts for the inaugural TD Winter Jazz Residency. It's a miniature (and much colder!) of the Jazz and Creative Music Workshop, with Uri Caine, Peter Apfelbaum, Dafnis Prieto and Phil Dwyer on faculty. What's most thrilling is that it coincides with the three-month winter residency, which means all sorts of artists will be in residence at that time. I look forward to interdisciplinary collaborations.

The other TD Jazz Fellows are no slouches either: the Montreal Jazz Fest Grand Prix laureates in the Amanda Tosoff Quartet will be out there, as well as my boys of the Parc-X Trio. Bloggers Curtis Macdonald and Jon McCaslin will be there, as well as saxophonist Greg Sinibaldi, trumpeter Patrick Boyle, and bassist Chris Jennings. I'm excited to be working with all of them - I haven't seen Chris in probably close to a decade, since he moved to Paris and I moved to Montreal.

2009 in review

2009 has been my least-blogged year. Certainly not for lack of events, although the death of my computer at the beginning of December didn't help matters either. I don't feel qualified this year to do a Top Whatever of the Year post because there were so many big releases I haven't yet heard. Nate Chinen's roundtable at The Gig and Patrick J's link dumps at A Blog Supreme should more than pick up my slack.

The progress (or lack thereof) of the decade is interesting to reflect upon. At its opening, artists like Dave Douglas and Kurt Rosenwinkel were on major labels. By its close, both of them had taken the distribution of their music into their own hands. The majority of Warner Bros. jazz arm moved to Nonesuch, and Maria Schneider's releases on ArtistShare announced a paradigm shift for much of the creative music industry. Who knows what the next decade will hold in terms of distribution and dissemination of music. Vinyl sales are up and have been since 2007, and small record stores seem to be thriving (at least in Montreal) while the big chain stores have either folded or increased drastically in their suckitude.

So farewell to 2009, and may the onset of 2010 be filled with health, happiness and creativity.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Atomic 5 + Jon Irabagon - Upstairs, Nov 22, 2009

Atomic 5, like many younger bands on the Montreal scene, has its roots in university. Made up of McGill students and an outgrowth of a for-credit student combo that enjoyed playing together, the quintet played at this past summer's Montreal Jazz Festival. Last night, they invited Monk competition winner, iconoclastic alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon. There were some really special moments last night that I could relate to - Indigone is an extension of my own McGill combos, and playing with older players that I admire have led to some fantastic growth in my own playing.

The band is definitely under the influence of a certain section of mainstream jazz that holds sway over many musicians in the Jazz Now set - Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, David Binney, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Aaron Parks come to mind. The sound of the group is surprisingly dry - guitarist Nicolas Godmaire's jazz tone (he would switch to a Telecaster for the more rock or ambient sections) was completely clean; Aaron Landsberg's cymbals were of that gasping, choking quality that I love; bassist Kathryn Palumbo, referred to as the anchor, solidly held down the bottom; and pianist Beavan Flanagan's lines had fluidity without being flowing. Tenor saxophonist Steven Salcedo is a confident band leader, at ease on the mic and cueing sections with clarity. His bright, pop-influenced sound blended well with Irabagon and cut over the rest of the band.

Many alto saxophonists have a characteristic honk that appears in the more aggressive manner of playing. Irabagon has that edge, but the squawk is an affectation that he can add or remove at will. Throughout the two sets, he was the catalyst for the best playing from the group and amply proved why a vocabulary that is all-encompassing is important. His control of tone and timbre obviously comes from working with extended techniques in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, while his intervallic language and keen sense of motivic development gave his solos a highly cohesive logic. The combination of all these elements was riveting.

The majority of the tunes were by Atomic 5 band members, with one by Irabagon and an arrangement of Wayne Shorter's "Mahjongg." Most were done in varied straight-eighth feels. Salcedo's tunes, in particular, had a distinct Latin undertone recalling his experience in salsa bands both in NYC and Montreal. The attention to sound was surprising - Godmaire, as mentioned, switched between a semi-hollow Ibanez for the jazz sound and an effected Tele for the rocking and atmospheric sections. He and Flanagan avoided stepping on each other's toes, but there were a few parts where the layering of guitar and piano would have been more effective than one of them just laying out. Some tunes featured more free sections, and the improvised solo guitar interlude by Godmaire was a highlight of the first set. The most revealing moment of the evening was during "Mahjongg," which vaccillated between medium swing and blistering freebop. It took a while for the faster tempo to settle in behind Flanagan, but Irabagon set it up clearly for his solo and locked the entire rhythm section behind him.

The best way to learn is on the bandstand, and Atomic 5 lived up to the challenge the presented to themselves. If they can take the lessons learned this weekend with them, they will surely be a band to watch.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Expozine 2009 DJ set

Unfortunately, there was a funeral being held upstairs during my set so I had to keep the volume low. For the 20 people in earshot, or those who couldn't hear what I was doing behind the CD players, this is the playlist:

Geoff Keezer - "Fractured"
The Cheebacabra - "The Annunciation"
Erik Deutsch - "Get Out"
Fresh Sound New Talent Jazz Orchestra - "Nannou"
Amy Cervini - "Enjoy the Silence"
Donny McCaslin - "Tanya"
Azymuth - "Os Cara La"
Airto Moreira - "Tombo in 7/4"
Gilberto Gil - "Cada macaco no seu galho"
Curumin - "Mal estar card"
A Filial - "Brown Sueter"
*Moonstarr - "Gonna Break it Down"
Bombay Sapphire & Elektro4 - "Elektro4 for President"
Q-Tip f/ Raphael Saadiq - "Wefightwelove"
Woon & Subeena - "Solidify"
*Think Twice & David Ryshpan - "It's About Time"
*Jon Day - "Spanish Sun"
Piper Davis & Natalia Lafourcade - "Young Professionals"
*GrooveAttic - "Like a Tree"
Eddie Bo - "Check Your Bucket"
Fitz & the Tantrums - "Breakin' the Chains of Love"
Michael Jackson - "P.Y.T (instrumental)"

Monday, November 09, 2009

Weekend Update

I attended three very different shows this weekend, and all of them were highly inspiring.

Friday was the fourth edition of Jahnice's showcase Fanmi se fanmi (family is family). As part of the Ville-Marie borough's cultural activities, the night took place in the St-James Church on Ste-Catherine near Bishop. I've walked by this church many times, but had never been inside. For that matter, I'd never seen anyone come in or out of it. It felt more like a converted house than a church, with hardwood floors and fairly low ceilings. It was a great gathering of artists from across the spectrum of Montreal life: catering from Ital Livity food, Monk.e painting live on the side, DJ Yéza warming up the crowd, and three bands representing the umbrella of "world music."

The night started with Maloukai in their first of two mini-sets. Led by Anne-Marie Kirouac, they're an all-female percussion troupe, somewhere between a traditional batucada and theatrical percussion pieces like Stomp. Their work is truly captivating, with tight breaks and fierce grooves. It's always inspiring to see their rapport with each other and with the audience. Socalled took the stage with a mixed-up crew of Patrice Agbokou (Islands/Jahnice) on bass, Kim Ho (Creature) on guitar and Damian Nisenson on saxophones, with Socalled moving between MPC and accordion. His music is an irreverent party-starter mixing klezmer and hip-hop, references to Jewish prayers and culture mixed with a meditation on Kim's breakfast. Another Maloukai interlude followed before Wes'Li hit the crowd with some truly solid Afrobeat.

As it was sponsored by the city, it was an all-ages event and it was so beautiful to see kids running around enjoying the music and banging on Maloukai's surdos sitting in the corner. I wonder at what age we lose that constant attraction to music. At the weddings I've played over the past year, most of the adults don't really pay attention but there's always one or two young kids drawn to the piano.

On Saturday, I played a house concert in Sherbrooke with Isaac Lima at his brother-in-law/producer's home, on a double bill with Mike Evin & Andrew Creeggan. It was a cozy, informal setting for relatively acoustic music. Andrew lives in Sherbrooke and most of the audience knows him as a neighbour, not as an ex-Barenaked Lady; it was almost like an extended family gathering rather than a concert. People were highly attentive, probably discovering our covers of Gilberto Gil, Lenine and João Bosco for the first time. Mike and Andrew were a great duo, playing catchy folk-pop songs. Mike probably gets the Ben Folds comparison a lot but it makes sense: a solid pianist with a straight, reedy tenor, and witty songs. Mike and Andrew switched between piano and Rhodes, with Andrew also playing cajon, guitar and accordion. I really enjoyed playing in that atmosphere, and the relaxed conversational nature of the singer-songwriter aesthetic might well be adopted in certain measures to jazz.

Sunday night was a massive Brazilian blowout with Rael da Rima, up visiting from Sao Paulo. Les Bobards was as packed as I've ever seen it, and Rael ignited the place with his first set of reggae and MPB-influenced hip-hop. He was rapping over tracks and it would have had even more impact if he had been able to deliver those tunes with a live band. The second set was live, with percussionists from Bloco Afro Malungos, Wes'Li on guitar and the entire Nomadic Massive crew invading for a track based on Tim Maia's "Que Beleza." Rael played funky MPB from the 70s - the same well of repertoire that Trio Bruxo draws from: Djavan's "Avião," Jorge Ben's "Umbabarauma (Ponta de lanço africano)" and more. A truly frenetic and crazy party to end the weekend.

Blogroll Update - McGill edition

Taking care of some things over in the sidebar. Speaking of the sidebar, you can follow me in all sorts of locations in the social media jungle if you aren't already. Three new additions to the blogosphere to mention, all of them fellow McGill alumni.

Pianist and educator Earl MacDonald is keeping a blog over at Ever Up and Onward. Now the head of the UConn jazz program, I attended the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop with Earl. The pieces he brought in were consistently gorgeous and inspiring. Read his essay about his prodigious student, Alma Macbride, the winner of the Mary Lou Williams contest.

Another pianist and educator, Josh Rager, can be found at XYJazz. Josh was just completing his master's while I was in undergrad, and he was a great mentor to me. A fantastic composer and arranger, he's put up some thought-provoking posts on the state of jazz audiences and students, as well as some great resources on voicings and lines.

Canadian nomad Jon McCaslin is blogging over here. A tremendous drummer, Jon was a fixture around McGill while I was there, before stints in Toronto and now Calgary. I remember playing on Christine Jensen's master's audition at McGill with Miles Perkin and Jon, and wondering whose audition, exactly, it was.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Better halves

Darcy, in a post-CMJ hangover, comments on the lack of double-bills in jazz and why that is problematic for our continuous quest to rope in younger listeners. It's an issue I've run into in the past as well.

A group of like-minded Montreal musicians have attempted to stage double bills over the past few years: Miles Perkin and Sage Reynolds briefly helmed the Mont-Royal Composers Forum, which would showcase new works and bands; Jon Lindhorst of Turtleboy, Alex Lefaivre of Parc-X and yours truly have all organized multi-band shows to varying degrees of success. I like double-bills for a number of reasons. From an artist's perspective, it's always a great hang and I enjoy seeing what my colleagues are doing. I tailor my setlist based on my knowledge of the other band's music, and I find sets from both bands are generally stronger because we can deliver a set full of solid tunes instead of having to fill two or three sets of older tunes or covers or what have you. Obviously, as we all mature as musicians and write more music, both the "strong" pile and the "reject" pile will grow. As an audience member, everything that makes the double-bill enjoyable from an artist's perspective is shared with the audience. If the band is playing stronger material in a concise setting, then it's a better presentation all around. If non-jazz fans happen to stumble in, the commonalities and differences between the two bands might serve as a tutorial to the breadth of modern jazz.

Attracting non-jazz fans is another benefit of double-bills. I can only speak from experience in Montreal, but most of these double-bills have occurred in decidedly non-jazz venues. As much as I love playing at the bona fide jazz rooms, the walk-in traffic that some indie venues (like Casa del Popolo or Green Room) have is truly special and one of the only ways jazz can grow its audience. As Darcy mentions in his CMJ postscript, venues have their own reputation and their own following. If two people walk into one of my shows at Casa del Popolo, people that would never set foot in Upstairs, and they enjoy my music, then it's a victory. We find ourselves staging double-bills in these non-jazz venues because jazz clubs operate in a very specific manner; their clientele has come to expect a night at Jazz Club X to unfold in a certain way. It's difficult to break that mould, especially for a one-night-only affair.

The other benefit, if all goes as planned, is introducing one band's audience to the other band. Sometimes, if both bands are local and of similar aesthetic, the audiences overlap anyway. But if not, then so much the better for everyone involved.

Friday, October 09, 2009

He's fair and he's true and he's boring as hell

Via Lucas Gillan, here is a guest post on Casa Valdez from Manhattan School of Music student Aaron Johnson, adding some contrarian commentary to the "Jazz Now" discussion. The "jazz problem" as Johnson calls it, or the state of jazz as it exists at the close of the first decade of the 21st century, is a topic that seems to come up frequently.

Johnson seems to take issue with every kind of jazz that isn't spang-a-langin'. I guess someone didn't tell him that the Jazz Wars are over. Fine. But both sides of the modern jazz coin that Johnson presents - suit-wearing, tradition-honouring, standards-learning young lions vs. skinny-jeans-clad, odd-meter obsessed Brooklynites - can exhibit all the same promise and all the same falsehoods. I love listening to tunes that swing hard delivered by a band that understands their history and that really gets inside the song - Amy Cervini's quartet was the most recent example of this, for me. On Cole Porter's "No Moon at All," Amy sang the song with her own interpretation of the story, spurred on and supported by a swinging and empathetic crew. By the same token, I love so many other kinds of music, and I truly appreciate artists that seamlessly integrate external influences into jazz. Musicians that have such a deep rhythmic understanding of hip-hop, for example, that it informs their phrasing throughout their entire repertoire, without having to resort to inviting freestyling MCs or having a boom-bap drum beat. Lionel Loueke fascinates me, for having integrated various African musics so seamlessly into his own work that it doesn't sound like forced, hybridized "world-jazz."

A lot of students and musicians become disenchanted with standards because we've played them, and heard them played, so many times without any underlying meaning attached to them. In essence, it's about playing the song - any tune, whether it's a standard, a pop tune, or a through-composed modern piece, has its own atmosphere and its own world that it occupies. To reduce it to a series of chord changes is to ignore the entirety of the music, and to invalidate its performance. Falsehoods can permeate all kinds of jazz - odd-metered tunes that are self-consciously "hipper-than-thou"; standards played by rote; or feeling obligated to transmogrify a standard with all sorts of metric and harmonic modulations because playing the tune straight-up might damage some ill-conceived notion of "modern jazz cred." Peter Hum sums up my sentiment quite well: "I'm not saying that it's all good, but it all can be good -- if it's personal, fully realized, and real."

I'm a totalist; an omnivore. That doesn't mean I've listened to everything, or listened to certain things as much as I probably should have, as Ethan Iverson's in-depth profiles of James P. Johnson, Keith Jarrett and Lester Young have reminded me. But when Jason Moran mentioned at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Jazz Piano panel that he has some students that haven't ever listened to Monk, I was shocked. There's certain major figures in music that necessarily have to be addressed and absorbed, whether they're integral to one's personal playing or not. I think some musicians tend to only listen to what they like or what they plan on emulating, and not checking out either a) the lineage of where that player comes from, something easy enough to glean from interviews, liner notes and track lists; or b) music totally outside their realm. I can't play stride to save my life - I admit it, I accept it, and I deal with it. But I've still checked out some Fats Waller, James P. as well as the boogie-woogie greats Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. I even used to be able to play a passable "Bluebird Boogie Woogie" when I was younger. I truly appreciate a lot of music that comes out of the AACM; it doesn't necessarily manifest itself in my playing or writing, and it doesn't really matter. But I think we owe it to ourselves, as eternal students, to search out music, past and present, related directly, tangentially or perhaps not at all, to what we do. If we are educators, we owe it to our own students to pass on as much history as we can, and be open to the new variations on it that they present to us. As Don Byron said, "There is a lesson in everything. It's our job to find that lesson."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Playlists, October 4, 2009

Dobbin's Den #738 - The Final Salute
*Oliver Jones
- "Len's Den" (From Lush to Lively)
Kate McGarry - "Blue in Green" (The Target)
Amy Cervini - "Bye Bye Country Boy" (Lovefool)
Gretchen Parlato - "Doralice" (In a Dream)
Keith Jarrett - "Bop-be" (Bop-be)
Art Blakey - "Afrique" (The Witch Doctor)
Charles Tolliver - "Spur" (The Ringer)
Kurt Rosenwinkel - "The Cross" (Deep Song)
*ByProduct - "81" (Le mur)
*Joel Miller - "Big Tiny" (Tantramar)
Joe Lovano - "On a Misty Night" (52nd Street Themes)
Fresh Sound New Talent Orchestra - "Witch Hunt" (The Sound of NY Jazz Underground)
Sound Assembly - "Chuck 'n' Jinx" (Edge of the Mind)
Matt Wilson Quartet - "Two Bass Hit" (That's Gonna Leave a Mark)
JFJO - "Four in One" (One Day in Brooklyn)
*Tim Posgate Hornband - "Banjo Z" (Banjo Hockey)
Donny McCaslin - "Second Line Sally" (Seen From Above)
Freddie Hubbard - "A Night in Tunisia" (Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969)

The Goods
Herbie Hancock
- "Palm Grease"
Robert Glasper - "Butterfly"
*Rinsethealgorithm - "Hibiscus"
*Jon Day - "Spanish Sun"
Eddie Bo - "Check Your Bucket"
Roy Ayers - "Liquid Love"
Johnnie Taylor - "Who's Making Love"
Mark Ronson f/ Phantom Planet - "Just"
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - "Ballicki Bone"
Juba Dance - "Cachaca"
The Roots - "Long Time"
*AOT - "Work it Out"
G&D - "One"
illyB f/ Jennifer Charles & Miho Hatori - "Double Game"
Airto - "Xibaba"
Azymuth (Jazzanova rmx) - "Amazon Adventure"
Ed Motta - "Que bom voltar"
Curumin - "Caixa Preta"
Ocote Soul Sounds & Adrian Quesada
- "Vendede saude e fé"
Mercedes Sosa - "Gracias a la vida" [RIP]
Sir Shina Peters & his International Stars - "Yabis"
Lekan Babalola - "Ide Osun"

Friday, October 02, 2009

Autumn announcements

So I've broken out my gloves, and Pop Montreal has invaded. I guess it's really Fall!

On Sunday, October 4, I have the deep honour of hosting the absolutely final edition of Dobbin's Den on CKUT. This will be one final salute to the late Len Dobbin, his radio legacy, and the music he championed for so long. After many months of discussion among CKUT's jazz programmers and the CKUT Programming Committee, the Sunday morning 11 am-1 pm timeslot will be turned over to Swan Kennedy and Dave Macaulay of Freekick. Swan and Dave are good friends and colleagues in both the Jazz Euphorium and World Skip the Beat collectives; their show runs the gamut from jazz to hip-hop, afrobeat to tropicalia. I wish the Freekick crew the best of luck in their new timeslot, starting next Sunday.

On Tuesday, October 6, 2009, Indigone Trio will be playing at La Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent, between Villeneuve & St-Joseph). We are pleased to be the first half of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's Montreal EP launch for their new release, One Day in Brooklyn. I've been a fan of JFJO for years, back in their trio days. Their album The Sameness of Difference (Hyena) is a brilliant modern piano trio record, and their new EP with the new lineup of Chris Combs on lap steel, Josh Raymer on drums and Matt Hayes on bass, with founding pianist Brian Haas, is stellar as well. We are thrilled to be sharing the stage with them. Thanks to Ropeadope's David Chaitt for hooking us up. For those of you not in Montreal, we are working on webcasting this event. It will also be recorded, and tracks will go up on my MySpace in the near future.

TUESDAY October 6, 2009
JFJO lancement One Day In Brooklyn + INDIGONE TRIO
(4848 St-Laurent)
10$ - 8:00 pm

Indigone Trio: David Ryshpan - piano; Sébastien Pellerin - bass; Philippe Melanson - drums
JFJO: Brian Haas - piano; Chris Combs - lap steel guitar; Matt Hayes - bass; Josh Raymer - drums

A reminder that CKUT's Funding Drive runs from October 15-25. We are aiming for a goal of $50,000 - money that goes towards the maintenance and development of our station. Programmers are volunteers, and the staff are paid very little considering the immense amounts of amazing work that they do. Your pledges keep jazz, improvised music, and independent music of all kinds on Montreal's airwaves. You can find pledge information on the CKUT website. I've been a member, programmer and volunteer at CKUT for 6 years - it was a fundamental part of my musical education and it continues to be an anchor of the musical, cultural and social community of Montreal. Please tune in and pledge!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trio Bruxo on the 401

Trio Bruxo concluded our first "tour," playing Toronto and Ottawa last week. Just before we hit the road, Peter Hum conducted an interview with yours truly on the great riches of Brazilian music.

I tend to have bad luck with car rentals, but drummer Mark Nelson's Maori lucky charm worked in our favour, scoring an upgrade to a Ferrari-red Dodge Avenger for no extra charge. We went to pick up Nic Bédard and his gear, and swung back to my place for all my stuff before getting on the road. Over the three days we got the packing down to a science.

Mark and I swapped iPods into the auxiliary jack of the car for most of the trip. I must admit, because Mark was doing all the driving, I was doing the selecting. Lots of Brazilian music to get in the mood, as well as forward-looking jazz (Krantz/Carlock/Lefebvre, Rich Brown & rinsethealgorithm, Jason Lindner's big band arrangement of "Giant Steps") and old soul (Stax 50th anniversary compilation).

We met up with Brownman around 6 pm and ran through a couple of tunes. On his recommendation, we went for some killing Vietnamese food in the Junction, and then headed over to Trane Studio. It was apparently Brazilian week in Toronto - a host of local talent performed on Sunday's Brazil fest, Carlinhos Brown and Elba Ramalho played during Brazil Day festivities on Labour Day Monday in Yonge/Dundas Square, and then the night after us, Cajamarca was playing at Trane, Luanda Jones was at the Distillery and Salviano Pessoa was at Lula Lounge. The Trane crew of Frank, Kris and Tai were considerate and helpful in changing over between an earlier benefit concert and our show. We got on around 11, and played a solid 75-minute set for old and new friends, eager to continue their Brazilian fix. Cuban conguero Alberto Suarez sat in on pandeiro on a tune, leading to a five-man percussion break: Alberto, Brown on his hybrid percussion kit, Mark on drums, Nic on shaker and me on tamborim.

Us night owls went out in search of food after the gig, forgetting that Toronto isn't as quite the late-night grub-friendly city as is Montreal. We wound up at a grocery store, took some bizarrely funny photos of us in a shopping cart (at least, before the security guard confiscated it), bought some late-night snacks and breakfast food and headed back to Brown's place. We fueled up in the morning on some amazing coffee courtesy of Crema Coffee on Dundas, and hit the road for Ottawa.

I had just played Mercury Lounge with Isaac Neto a week and a half prior, so I knew the soundguy, DJ Lance Baptiste, and the layout of the room. Set-up went off without a hitch, and we headed off for Indian food in the Byward Market. We had a decent yet intimate crowd for our first show in Ottawa. Mercury is set up as a dance club, and the music we play is ostensibly dance music (even though no one is singing). The audience was more inclined to show their appreciation sitting down, which was fine, but I couldn't see them with the bright lights in my face. Towards the end, some ex-Montrealers living in Ottawa got the party started with us.

It was a total blast to bring this music to new cities, and I can't think of two better people for a roadtrip than Mark and Nic. Thanks to everyone who came out in Toronto and Ottawa, and we hope to do it again soon.

Now's the time

EDIT: Er, in my haste to respond, I neglected that this meme was "five modern jazz records that might grab those that aren't interested in jazz." I still stand by most of my selections, because a lot of these records came into my life when I wasn't super well-versed in modern jazz, or because I saw them act as entry points for other people I know.

I'm so happy to see that there's a bounty of twenty-something active musician-journalist-bloggers out here on the jazzy section of the internet. One of them, Patrick Jarenwattananon of NPR's A Blog Supreme, has instigated a "Jazz Now" series, inviting fellow Montrealers Nextbop and AccuJazz's Lucas Gillan, among others, to post about their top five jazz records of the past decade.

Having been in and around jazz school for most of this decade, it's quite telling to see what records and artists have made waves among my fellow students and musicians. I'm not going to limit myself to five records (because, honestly, neither did PJ), but reflect more generally on records that affected me and my friends.

When I was in high school, I was still building my vocabulary of the tradition. My method of buying jazz records was looking for albums by artists I had heard of, playing tunes I had heard of or wanted to learn. The recommendations of my teachers were also immensely helpful. One day I hung out with pianist Gordon Webster, who played me Chris Potter's Gratitude (Verve, 2000). It may have been the first time I had heard any of those players - Potter, Kevin Hays, Scott Colley and Brian Blade. The odd-metered tunes didn't feel choppy but had a natural groove to them, and the flow of tunes like "Sun King" and "High Noon" bowled me over. I remember saxophonist Evan Smith transcribed "Sun King" at McGill, and some of my compatriots were experimenting with fitting standards in odd meters in the vein of Potter's arrangement of "Star Eyes." Related obsessions included Joshua Redman's Timeless Tales (for Changing Times) (Verve, 1998), and anything Dave Holland put out with the Quintet or the big band. Recently, the saxophone hero du jour around McGill (and rightfully so, I might add) is Donny McCaslin, a regular collaborator with the Altsys Jazz Orchestra, not to mention his phenomenal turn on Dave Douglas' Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf, 2006), Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004) and his own outstanding records on Sunnyside. I'm partial to Soar (Sunnyside, 2006).

The '00s brought new directions in what was possible in a piano trio. Obviously, it seemed like everyone but me had imbibed the Brad Mehldau kool-aid - it took me seeing him live at The Spectrum in 2004, days after Elliott Smith's death, with the tunes that would comprise Anything Goes (Warner Bros., 2004), to really appreciate what was going on with his playing and with that trio. Similarly, The Bad Plus' These Are the Vistas (Columbia, 2003), and mainly Dave King's drumming, made waves with my circle, though it took my discovery of Ethan's blog to understand and re-contextualize the music. Jason Moran's work with the Bandwagon is what spurred me in the direction of Andrew Hill and the late-'60s Blue Note "New Thing." Facing Left (Blue Note, 2000) is my favourite, with Björk sitting beside Ellington, but the live record from the Vanguard (Blue Note, 2003) really seemed to affect others I knew. And when Robert Glasper exploded on the scene with Canvas (Blue Note, 2005), it was the most elegant fusion of hip-hop with jazz that I had yet heard. He wasn't forcing the two together, as so many '90s experiments seemed to, but the rhythmic cadence and sensibility of an MC's flow seeped into his lines.

This is shaping up to be an entirely rambling and far-too-long post, so I'll just list records that attained cult-classic status among my immediate circle of colleagues and friends:
- Kurt Rosenwinkel, The Next Step (Verve, 2001) & Deep Song (Verve, 2005)
- Fly, Fly (Savoy Jazz, 2004)
- Maria Schneider, Allegresse (enja, 2000) & Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, 2004)
- Brian Blade Fellowship, Season of Changes (Verve, 2008)
- Reid Anderson, Abolish Bad Architecture (Fresh Sound/New Talent, 1999) & The Vastness of Space (Fresh Sound/New Talent, 2000)
- John Hollenbeck: Claudia Quintet, I Claudia (Cuneiform, 2004) & Large Ensemble, A Blessing (Omnitone, 2005)
- Guillermo Klein y los Guachos, Live in Barcelona 2005 (Fresh Sound/New Talent, 2005) - okay, so maybe this one hasn't made the rounds at McGill, in Montreal or in Canada yet, but I fell in love with Guillermo's music the first time I heard "El espejo" and everyone I've played this for has been amazed by it, as well.

Locally, people like Joel Miller, Christine Jensen, Frank Lozano and the whole crew of Effendi artists and alumni have been greatly influential on the writing and playing of my peers. Key albums: Miller's Mandala (Effendi, 2004) and Jensen's Look Left (Effendi, 2006).

Monday, September 07, 2009

Silence is the question

My friend, bassist/composer Patrick Reid of Fieldtrip just sent out this disconcerting e-mail. Canada's "Heritage Minister" James Moore is planning on restructuring the Canada Music Fund, a major part of which goes towards financing the Canada Council for the Arts' recording grants. Pat writes in his e-mail:

This is incredibly saddening and disheartening news for the creative arts in Canada and its supporters. The majority of Canada's library of creative music was made possible by this program and the future of its production of new creative music is uncertain at best. Small record labels and non-profits that work relentlessly to distribute our creative outputs will have an incredibly difficult time surviving without it.

This program was the main way that artistically motivated/non-commercial recordings were possible in Canada. Recordings are the only way for musicians to document their work and now this will no longer be supported by the only federal organization that promotes art for art's sake in Canada. This is by far the largest blow to music that has taken place since the Conservative regime started their crusade against Canadian culture. This news went completely under the radar mid-summer and I only began to hear about it asa scary rumor last week.

On the heels of last year's massive arts cuts, and the discussion of the importance of grants for non-classical music, this is a deep and dangerous move. Much of the creative Canadian music scene relies on grants financed by the Canada Music Fund, under the auspices of the Canada Council and FACTOR. To list the amount of great recordings over the past few years that have received such aid would take way too long. I'm not even sure what the next step would be in combatting this (and I've written about my ambivalence over the protests of last year's cuts), but this cannot go through.

Of course, more cuts to arts means that PM Stephen Harper is sending signals to his base, warning of an impending federal election that, once again, no one seems to actually want. Most likely it will result in another Harper minority due to our fragmented and ineptly-helmed left-learning parties.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

See you in September

It's September and the newest batch of freshmen are discovering the city. I overheard one American student ask what the equivalent of CVS is here. With this influx of new blood comes a lot of music-making.

Wednesday September 2 (tomorrow) I'll be a featured guest with Athésia & The Gentlemen at La Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent). Athésia is the recipient of a grant to take her and her core trio of guitarist Jim Bland and percussionist Daniel Emden to Brazil. This is her send-off show with an expanded band. If you stick around, I might even be spinning tunes after. Facebook event here.

Athésia - vocals; Jim Bland - guitars; Daniel Emden - percussion; with Kweku Kwofie - vocals; DRR - keyboards; Paul Johnston - bass; André Martin - percussion.

Friday & Saturday September 4 & 5 guitarist Stephen Johnston is kicking off Labour Day weekend at Upstairs (1254 rue Mackay). We'll be playing his original, groove-focused compositions in a quartet setting. It's a similar repertoire to the SJProject6 show from this summer's OFF Festival de Jazz, but just a tad more subdued. Facebook event here.

Stephen Johnston - guitar; DRR - piano & keys; Fraser Hollins - bass; Evens Baptiste - percussion.

Thursday & Friday September 10 & 11 Trio Bruxo hits the road for the first time. The 10th will see us at Toronto's Trane Studio (964 Bathurst St.) at 10:30 pm, joined once again by my old buddy Brownman. After our sold-out shows at Upstairs, Brown said, "We must unleash this on Toronto!" The following evening we'll be at Ottawa's Mercury Lounge (56 Byward Market) at 8 pm. My friend Rommel Ribeiro, a former resident of Ottawa, will join us on a few tunes. Facebook events are here (Toronto) and here (Ottawa).

DRR - keys; Nicolas Bédard - bass; Mark Nelson - drums; with guests Brownman - trumpet (Toronto) and Rommel Ribeiro - vocals (Ottawa).

Saturday September 12 is Michael Reinhart's return to The Yellow Door (3625 Aylmer). After a summer of global travel, Michael is back with new tunes. He'll be performing two sets: one of instrumentals, and one of his urban-fingerstyle-folk songs. As always with Michael, I'll be getting my sporadic accordion practice. The wonderful Katie Sevigny opens. Facebook event here.

Michael Reinhart - guitar/vocals; DRR - keys/accordion; Jérémi Roy - bass.

Sunday September 13 marks the end of the craziness with the return of OthnielBand, singer-songwriter Othniel Petit-Frère's original, bilingual soul project. We're playing as part of the Apollo Nights series at Le Tapis Rouge (1252 Bleury). In addition to Othniel's tunes, some co-written with guitarist Dave Goulet and vocalist Nanny Roy, we'll toss a few covers into the mix. Facebook event here.

Othniel Petit-Frère - vocals; DRR - keys; Dave Goulet - guitar; Martin Letendre - bass; Seb Fauvelle - drums.

See you on the other side!

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I'm not going to attempt to link to all the back and forth on jazz and youth, and whether or not it needs to be saved. Kelly Fenton's already done an admirable job of that. I'm just throwing my hat into the ring because my most recent shows at Upstairs have brought an interesting perspective to the topic.

It was Trio Bruxo's first time playing at Upstairs, our first time playing with special guest Brownman, and my first time playing with Brownman since 2003. I'm also willing to bet it's the first time a whole night of MPB, with electric trumpet, has ever been played at Upstairs. On Wednesday night especially, the crowd response was fantastic. They were really into the music, and commented to Joel (manager/owner of Upstairs) that "the band looks like they're having a lot of fun." And whether or not musicians talk to the audience, that visible sense of enjoyment does a lot to engage the audience. In a smaller club, it actually seems to give cues to the not-really-jazz fans as to how to behave: yes, you can clap, hoot, and holler after our solos. If you want to dance, that's fine too, just watch out for the waitresses. The fact that it was essentially my birthday party seemed to draw people in, too. I'm not suggesting that every gig has to be a reunion of old friends, or booked on a band member's birthday, but when musicians are visibly communicating with each other on stage (I'm thinking of Bobby McFerrin, Béla Fleck, Anat Cohen, and Frisell in his own way), the audience - jazz fans or not - can pick up on it. Brownman and I both sold merchandise of entirely unrelated projects at this show, because people liked the way we played. I gave people the disclaimer that Trio Bruxo is nothing like Indigone, and they didn't seem to mind. And the majority of the audience I would peg at (well) under 40, much in line with the audiences Bruxo, Indigone and Brown's Electryc Trio normally pull.

Peter Hum addressed the issue of musicians announcing at shows. I commented:
I like to announce, and I like it when musicians announce, especially when original music and/or non-standard repertoire involved. I think that's my radio and critic experience coming in - I want to be able to check out the tunes I really loved after the fact, and not ask everyone "What was that tune?" I appreciate that composers like Maria and Darcy Argue explain the origins of their pieces, because I think the insight can be key for some listeners to find their way through the compositions.

But I think it's an overall aesthetic thing - Ornette and Wayne play wall-to-wall and that's what an audience expects of them and their bands; for them to stop the set in the middle and say "That was x tune," would interrupt all the momentum they've generated. I tend to pace my sets the way I pace radio - two or three songs at a time, and then talk.

(I would add that Brian Blade's shouting and propelling himself off his drum stool, and the body language of the quartet in general, are adequate replacements for announcements.)

One final anecdote: Charlie Haden looked like a kid in a candy store playing duo with Hank Jones, even after Hank caused a train wreck by mistakenly playing a tune in 4, instead of in 3. Charlie first tried to follow Hank, with big downbeats, and then when all else failed, Charlie flailed his arms and said, "No, Hank! Stop! The tune's in 3!" Hank bashfully turned around, gave the audience a look of "My bad" and they restarted. Letting the audience in on the mistake - and turning it into a running gag for the rest of the set - eased the musical tension, and made two masters playing in an outsized hall feel like two old buddies playing in a living room.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

We're going to a party party

For those who haven't seen this from my e-mails, on Facebook, or from personal conversation, I'll be celebrating my upcoming birthday at Upstairs with four very special shows. Upstairs has run a Wednesday/Thursday trio series for a couple of years, and my two weeks happened to coincide with my birthday.

On August 19 & 20, Trio Bruxo will take the stage. For these birthday shows, I've invited trumpeter Brownman to join us. In addition to his current job as trumpet soloist with Guru's Jazzmatazz, he's acted as Toronto musical director for Brazilian harmonica master Hendrik Muerkens, and had a band with Maracatu Nunca Antes co-founder Aline Morales. Brown's been a good friend since my Toronto days; we haven't played together since 2003, so it will be a really fun birthday reunion. Trio Bruxo, with Nicolas Bédard (who also plays with Rafael Zaldivar) on electric bass and Mark Nelson (of Parc-X Trio and Fieldtrip) on drums, is modeled after the great Brazilian jazz piano trios of the 60s and 70s - Zimbo Trio, Tamba Trio, Milton Banana Trio, just to name three. Brownman's extra dose of energy to our samba/jazz grooves, in addition to it being my birthday, promises for two memorable nights.

On August 26 & 27, I'll be joined by Sebastien Pellerin on bass and Jim Doxas on drums. Seb, who is now the regular bassist in Indigone Trio, was also in my first McGill combo. I absolutely love Jim's playing; the only chance I've had to play with him, outside of jam sessions, was in the CKUT 20th anniversary big band Sean Winters and I organized. We'll be playing a mixture of Indigone's repertoire of covers and originals, a brand-new original tune, and a couple of new covers.

All shows start at 8:30 and are $5.

Jazz Amuck playlist, August 14, 2009

Filled in for John B. this past Friday.

John Hébert - "La reine de la salle" (Byzantine Monkey)
Josh Berman - "Let's Pretend" (Old Idea)
Andrew Green - "Short Cut" (Narrow Margin)
Matt Wilson - "Shooshabuster" (That's Gonna Leave a Mark)
Dave Burrell - "4:30 to Atlanta" (Momentum)
*David Mott - "First Dance" (Downtown Runout)
Donny McCaslin - "The Champion" (Recommended Tools)
Rashied Ali - "Blood on the Cross" (Moon Flight)
Alice Coltrane - "The Battle of Armageddon" (Universal Consciousness)
John Hollenbeck & JazzBigBandGraz - "Just Like Him" (Joys and Desires)
Positive Catastrophe - "Plena Organization" (Garabatos vol. 1)
Sound Assembly - "My Star" (Edge of the Mind)
Michael Musillami - "From Seeds" (From Seeds)
*Les Contracteurs Genereux - "Gab's Bag" (Le sous-marin de l'espace)
Medeski Martin & Wood - "Rifion" (Zaebos: Book of Angels vol. 11)
Tony Malaby - "Obambo" (Paloma Recio)
Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings - "Wade" (Renegades)

Update: the playlist from my fill-in on The Goods a couple of weeks back is now up.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Le rap party des francos - 8/9/2009

The Francophone hip-hop scene always gets showcased throughout Francofolies and this closing blowout was a testament to its breadth.

The party kicked off with Samian, an MC that dropped powerfully conscious rhymes in both French and Algonquin, over smooth beats rooted in 90s old-school to my ears. He even did a couple of verses a cappella, including one riffing on "mon rap à moi," empowering young First Nations kids. A fitting description of his style came in one of his verses: "I don't do rap from the streets/I do rap from the reservation."

Assemblée rocked some mighty boom-bap full of anglicisms, in the vein of what I've come to expect from the Francophone rap scene - lots of shouts of "faites du bruit" and hyping up the crowd. They were followed by Radio Radio, with their Acadian slang, 808 swing, live horns and rant against tam-tams and djembes.

I saw [Ghislain] Poirier and Séba at my first Francofolies - which was, incidentally, the last time they played Francofolies. Poirier's beats are heavily influenced by soca and British bass music like dubstep, which adds a dark menacing bounce under Séba's rhymes. Séba dropped an a cappella tirade against the Cinématheque québécoise, too.

The headliner was Loco Locass in their only Montreal show of the year. They're a group I admire greatly on a musical level, especially given their recent collaborations with chamber orchestras. To be polite (and not wanting to open this can of worms), I don't always agree with their politics and so a lot of the long activist speeches between tunes did not engage me the way they did most of the crowd. The live band, and the energetic interaction among the MCs, was killer, blasting out some breakneck drum 'n' bass and building to raucous punk fervour by the end of the set. Samian came out during their encore to perform their collaboration, "La paix des braves," and to sign a petition trying to force PM Stephen Harper to recognize and support the First Nations people (it was more specific than that but I didn't catch all the details - and that's one thing I do support).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Karkwa - Metropolis, 8/7/2009

I have a fairly long history with Karkwa. As I mentioned in my last review of them, I first saw them in 2003 at Francofolies on an outdoor stage, promoting their first album. At the time they had a lot of crunchy, funky unison riffs and songs that shifted drastically from section to section. Over the past six years, they've moved towards a more atmospheric indie sound and become far more cohesive in their songwriting. Their 2008 album, Le volume du vent, is easily their best yet, and as always, they took it to another level live.

What struck me about Karkwa, even from that first show in 2003, is that it is a band of players that knows how to serve their songs. Louis-Jean Cormier has become a tremendously strong singer, and his guitar playing has always been solidly in a textural and colouristic rhythm-guitar sort of way. Keyboardist Francois Lafontaine is that rare player equally at home with pure chops and pure sound, unleashing a distorted Rhodes solo on "M'empecher de sortir" that would have done Craig Taborn proud, or playing layered and split parts "Le solstice." Stéphane Bergeron on drums, with a deep pounding snare, is complemented by Julien Sagot's percussion, and bassist Martin Lamontagne is with them in lockstep. Nothing fancy, but they get the job done in a powerful way.

Most of the tunes in their Metropolis set were from Volume du vent, with a couple from Les tremblements s'immobilisent. They've refined their sound and their show over the years, eschewing much of their odd-meter excursions or earlier funk. That said, there's still a great variety in the artistic path they've chosen, from the soaring directness of "Oublie pas" to the bursts of noise that punctuated a tune whose name escaped me. Metropolis was packed beyond anything I've ever seen in there - no room to move on the ground level and the balcony was stuffed two people deep all the way to the top.

Bassist and vocalist Marie-Pierre Arthur was the opening act and is yet another force to be reckoned with in the Montreal indie scene. The first time she appeared on my radar was as bassist and back-up singer for Ariane Moffatt, who aptly told the audience to watch out for Marie-Pierre. Sharing a sonic kinship with Karkwa, she delivered a solid set of her tunes, in a direct alto that sounded like a cross between Ariane and Liz Powell of Land of Talk. She also helmed a fantastic band, featuring Brad Barr and Olivier Langevin on guitars. Olivier and Marie-Pierre came out as guests throughout Karkwa's set, and Francois played one tune during Marie-Pierre's set. A truly impressive showing by the hometown crew.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Béla Fleck & Toumani Diabaté - Théâtre Maisonneuve, 8/6/2009

Three weeks after seeing the homegrown banjo-kora meetup of Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko, I was highly curious to see how two undisputed masters of said instruments would approach the collaboration. It was a study in contrasts: whereas Stone met Sissoko firmly on his turf, adapting the sound and playing vocabulary of the kora and ngoni to the banjo, Fleck's approach was more to integrate the banjo, and his language, into the context of traditional African music.

The concert opened with Fleck and Diabaté in duo, playing two new pieces written by Fleck, and Diabaté's "Manchester." Full of the bounce that characterizes Fleck's previous work, the duo prefered to trade solo with one another and accompany each other, playing lines in unison only rarely. The set ended with a stunning, hypnotic solo tour de force from Toumani that left myself and many other people around me entranced and mesmerized. The storytelling power and tradition of griots was in full effect.

Fleck began the second set solo, playing a variety of tunes not unlike his usual solo spots from Flecktones concerts, as well as a piece based only on open strings and harmonics, changing pitch by turning the tuning pegs. He then picked up a custom made cello-banjo, tuned to sound reminiscent of a bass ngoni, and played a medley of traditional songs he learned during his trip to Africa. Diabaté returned to play the absolutely gorgeous Fleck song, "Throw Down Your Heart" (the title of the film and CD, as well as the English translation of the Tanzanian port Bagamoyo, where slaves were boarded onto ships). The encore was an old Malian folk song passed down through the generations of the Diabaté family. After one of Diabaté's usual thrilling cadenzas, Fleck quipped, "Of course you know, this means war," and launched into a full-on "Duelling Banjos" with Diabaté more than holding his own. An impressive and moving concert, truly deserving of the explosive standing ovation it garnered at the end.


I attended a screening of Throw Down Your Heart earlier in the week, and like most documentaries of Western musicians travelling to Asia or Africa, I just wanted to jump and cry. I find it utterly fascinating that a tiny village in Uganda, without running water, can congregate to build and play a 12-foot-long balafon. The role of music in these communities is vital and permeates every part of life - it's not a specialized luxury, as is often the perception in the West. Fleck is honest and humble, marvelling at guitarist Djelimady Tounkara's adaptations of the ngoni language to guitar, and teaching ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyate's son how to play the banjo. I'm curious to hear if Fleck will transfer the playing style of kora or Malian guitar virtuosos like Tounkara or Ali Farka Touré to banjo, the way Jayme Stone has.

Friday, July 31, 2009

On Interview Music

A term that's come up in this highly intriguing and informative discussion of grant funding for jazz is "interview music." Coined, as A Blog Supreme states, by an unidentified colleague of Mulgrew Miller, it seems destined to be a disparaging phrase.

For me, as a composer, I suppose I write a certain kind of "interview music." The majority of my tunes have a backstory, whether it's a tribute to someone, a piece based on poetry or art, a tone poem for a place or life experience, or even just a certain set of musical challenges I set up for myself. That backstory keeps me focused throughout the compositional process, which can sometimes drag on over a long period of time. When I look at the tunes I'm writing now vs. tunes I wrote four or five years ago that were purely tunes - no story, no nothing, just musical ideas - both the end result and the actual process are much tighter with the backstory tunes. As a listener, I find pieces that come from a specific musical or extra-musical place - e.g. DJA's "Transit," Maria Schneider's "Hang Gliding," Don Byron's "Himm," Geoffrey Keezer's Aurea, Dave Douglas' work - often more immediately compelling.

I sympathize with the point that's being made - music composed under the banner of projects, suites, cycles, oratorios, and other lofty terms, with heady influences recognized and loved by traditional arts-funding agencies, are what tend to get the money. Whether the end result is technically and formally a suite, song cycle, or Hiphopketball: A Jazzebration is sometimes besides the point. John Murph and Joe Phillips raise another valid point, that the use of hip-hop, r&b and broken-beat influences by Black jazz artists is somehow less "jazzy," less "academic," or less "interview music" than the incorporation of rock (indie or no) and various indigenous and folk musics from around the world. Certainly, the role of electronics in modern classical and jazz pieces is generally closer to the world of Subotnick than J Dilla. I wonder if Miguel Atwood-Ferguson's Suite for Ma Dukes would have garnered grant funding.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Francofolies Day 1

To make a truly reductive comparison, Corneille is Quebec's answer to John Legend. A singer-songwriter of Rwandan descent who moved to Montreal in 1997, he is one of the few, if not only, francophone soul artists in this province, complete with a large band and equally large stage show. To open the 21st edition of les Francofolies, he welcomed guests from the multicultural community of Quebec musicians.

The night opened with one of Corneille's big hits, "Ensemble," delivered with fantastic sound and groove by the tight band led by guitarist Andy Dacoulis. Corneille followed it up with one of a handful of tunes from his forthcoming album that he sprinkled throughout the set. They were all good tunes, if not as memorable as some of his earlier hits, and sometimes stalled the momentum of the night.

The first guest was multifaceted Luck Mervil, performing a duet on "Africain à New York," a rewrite/cover of Sting's "Englishman in New York." It worked surprisingly well, with a driving highlife beat courtesy of drummer Sam Harrisson, Denis Chiche on percussion and J-B Carbou on bass. Quebec hip-hop group Sans Pression followed, with Corneille singing their hooks and the MC hyping up the crowd.

After a couple more Corneille-only tunes, guitarist Lokua Kanza came out on stage. Corneille was quite candid about the influence Kanza has had on him musically and personally, opening doors for his own success in Quebec. Kanza's emotionally charged, keening tenor was showcased on "Wapi Yo." Marie-Luce Beland, a young singer I had never heard of, came out and performed two songs and was trying her damnedest to bring some life into the crowd. Her delivery and stage presence reminded me a bit of Divine Brown, with a swaggering kiss-off in "Je ne t'appartiens pas." After Corneille took the momentum down a gear again with the slow jam "Le bon Dieu est une femme," the energy rocketed up with compa legends Kassav'. Fresh off their closing show for Nuits D'Afrique, the crowd went crazy for their three-song set, including their ubiquitous Afro-party staple "Zouk la se sel medikamen nou ni."

A couple of more slow tunes from our evening's host, and the night ended close to two hours later, with "Les marchands de rêves" (the title track of his last French album) and "Parce qu'on vient de loin" (his breakout hit). It was here that the John Legend comparison bore itself out - fronting a choir and all the invited guests, hints of gospel and the complete R&B tradition were present in the tunes and in Corneille's slightly weathered tenor. There's very few artists in Quebec doing what Corneille is doing - in some ways he's more aligned with the Toronto R&B scene of Jully Black, Divine Brown and Jacksoul, and for that I applaud him. The band (rounded out by keyboardist Alister Philips and MD/guitarist Andy Dacoulis) was uniformly superb, with a horn section featuring Ron DiLauro on trumpet. If the show had been shortened by half an hour and had three less ballads, it would have been a truly incredible opening show.

Nuits D'Afrique 2009

I caught a couple of shows at Nuits D'Afrique this year, my first time going to any of the festival's indoor programming.

Balattou was crammed likely beyond capacity for banjo player Jayme Stone, from Toronto, and griot Mansa Sissoko, now living in Quebec City. Their album Africa to Appalachia fully deserves its Juno award, tracing the African roots of the banjo and demonstrating the commonalities between traditional West African and American folk music, from bluegrass to Maritime fiddle tunes. Stone rarely sounded like a regular banjo player; with his instrument tuned down to F to match Sissoko's kora, he sounded at times like a second kora, or in the vein of Malian guitarists like Ali Farka Touré and Boubacar Traoré. The rhythm section of bassist Paul Mathew and drummer Nick Fraser, on kit and calabash, rounded out the sound and gave it a deeper bottom than on the record. One thing about the intimacy of mostly acoustic African music is how deep the groove can be at low volume.

This was starkly contrasted the following night with Peru's Novalima, highly electrified and using the amplification to power their grooves. They're a band that rocks the party hard, mixing reggae and electo touches into Afro-Peruvian music - or would it be better described as bringing cajons into reggae? I was compelled by the songs where the polyrhythms of Afro-Peruvian music (and Novalima's three percussionists) were allowed to shine. The majority of the set was typical of electro-reggae-pop from across the diaspora, with the guitarist unleashing a dubbed-out siren from some sort of oscillator on top of his amp. I was impressed with how seamlessly loops were integrated into the band and how tight the percussionists played to the beats.

Afro Cuban All Stars & Los Van Van - 07/12/2009

The fiesta cubana that closed the 30th anniversary of the Jazz Fest was a case study in the contrasts of Cuban music. The All Stars, led by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, are rooted in the big band tradition of Afro-Cuban son and Latin jazz, with bold brass, an impeccable rhythm section, fantastic soneros, and killer soloists. Pianist Gabriel Hernandez was a marvel, holding down rock solid montunos, turning in great solos and a beautiful piano introduction to "Guajira." The harmony vocals on "Chan Chan" were pristine, and each of the soneros came down to the platform below the stage to interact more closely with the crowd.

Los Van Van's showcased their funkier timba, with a dense blend of violins, trombone, sax and synthesizers. They performed a solid cover of "Birdland," so seamlessly integrated into their sound that it took me a while to clue into the tune. Adding to the Michael Jackson tributes throughout the festival, the horn line from "Shake Your Body Down to the Ground" made an appearance, as did the "Hey Jude" singalong. I've been meaning to check out Van Van more deeply for a long time, and this show, as well as their midnight set at L'Astral, provided a solid catalyst.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ornette Coleman Quartet - Theatre Maisonneuve, 7/9/2009

It wouldn't be an Ornette Coleman concert if it wasn't intensely challenging. After being presented the Miles Davis award, Coleman went on one of his trademark tangential speeches about love and life. He gave a similar sermon in a press conference earlier in the day, bewildering many journalists unfamiliar with his style.

Bassists Tony Falanga (on contrabass) and Al Macdowell (on electric piccolo bass) did most of the heavy lifting, playing the heads of "Blues Connotation" and "Peace" in unison, with Ornette only coming in afterwards to blow. Ornette sat centre stage, spending most of his time on alto, only picking up the trumpet and violin for a phrase or two, for a burst of different colour, and possibly to cue changes. His sound is still full in its idiosyncratic way, showing no real signs of his physical frailty.

Denardo Coleman had two modes on drums: frenetic swing interspersed with fills (which lended itself to the edge-of-your-seat momentum of the group), or a sloppy, non sequitur backbeat. The effectiveness of Denardo's complete lack of hookup with the rest of the band is debatable - my friend Adam Kinner at the Gazette really liked that element, but I prefer my Ornette with a more musically sensitive drummer (Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell, Jack DeJohnette). The superimposition of the backbeat on a truly gorgeous ballad early in the set really annoyed me. When it recurred throughout the set, I wasn't sure if it was some sort of inside joke.

A singer came out towards the end of the set, singing and reciting poetry half in English, half in Japanese. In true Ornette fashion, she was not acknowledged, her presence as ephemeral as the music. I left shortly after, to catch Curumin outside on the groove stage, missing what was by all accounts a tremendous reading of "Lonely Woman."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bill Frisell Quartet - Theatre Jean-Duceppe, 7/8/2009

I've been spoiled by my Frisellian experiences. Watching him in the intimacy of the now-departed spectrum, both shows were full of heart-rending melodicism, with Frisell's endearingly strange guitar tone seeping in through my pores, emphatically moving me towards laughter or sorrow. In the much larger space of Jean-Duceppe, I wondered if that would happen again.

For the majority of the set, it did not. Tony Scherr was his usual self, dancing around with his upright bass and providing the exact bottom the tunes needed - a cushion on "Moon River," dirty walking, or angular broken feels. Ron Miles was the sound of surprise here, with his clarion melodies suddenly dissipating into extended trumpet techniques, and playing underneath Frisell in pedal tone. Rudy Royston responded to Frisell's music like a modern jazz drummer would. Which is to say, he was lacking the ragged, surprising edginess that characterizes Frisell's interface with Matt Chamberlain, Joey Baron and Kenny Wollesen. He was a fantastic player, whose music I greatly enjoyed, don't get me wrong. There was a certain novelty in hearing Frisell's music framed by that particular style of drumming. He was missing that wonk factor that would have elevated his hookup with Frisell and Scherr. The set was constantly attention-grabbing, and everyone played great. It was just missing that weird sense of emotional engagement that characterizes so much of Frisell's music for me.

The band hit that other level in the encores, reaching that epic grandeur of the Spectrum shows. Coming out to thunderous applause, Frisell set up an electronic soundscape that sounded like a music box and an Atari in a punch-up. The band eventually coalesced into "Baba Drame," which then led into Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now." Here it was - that keening melodic cry, from a band fused together, that dares you to be unmoved.

The second encore was prefaced by a rare Frisell speech. After noodling with the first three notes, he said, "I played this song on nearly every gig for eight years. And then one night I was playing with Rudy, and there was a big celebration, and I didn't feel like I needed to play it anymore." Following that, he launched into another fabulous and gutwrenching version of "A Change is Gonna Come." Whether it was necessary or not, it was more than welcome. As always, Frisell has wrangled his way near the top of my Jazz Fest list.

Haden Family & Friends - Theatre Maisonneuve, 7/8/2009

Sitting in the lobby waiting for the doors to open at the Charlie Haden concert, I heard one older Québécois man bemoan the lack of real jazz at the Jazz Festival. Part of me wondered whether he even bothered to look at this year's program; another part of me wondered whether he knew what ticket he had just purchased. Judging by the steady stream of people leaving throughout the show, many concertgoers bought a ticket based on Charlie Haden's name, and not the content of his last record, Ramblin' Boy.

It's a pity, because the concert was a solid set of great music, played by some phenomenal musicians. The band was staffed by the best in Nashville's bluegrass and newgrass - Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Rob Ickes on dobro, Sam Bush on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, Dan Tyminski on banjo, and Mark Fain trading off with Haden on bass - and the Haden offspring have uniformly moving voices. The triplet daughters in particular - Tanya, Petra, and Rachel - have a reedy blend that hearkens back to the family bands that populated the Midwest and South in the early 20th century, where Charlie's roots are.

The repertoire ranged from chugging bluegrass of opener "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad" and "Old Joe Clark" (which Haden admitted to quoting in his bass solo on "Ramblin'"), the loping melancholy 3/4 of so many Anglo-American folk tunes and early country classics, and tunes dear to Haden's heart. There was a story behind many of the tunes: "Ramblin' Boy" was taught to him in his childhood home by Mother Maybelle Carter herself.

Son Josh Haden came out and sang his original "Spiritual," a plea to Jesus to not die alone that was immensely passionate. Charlie even sang backup in a thin, raspy baritone on Roy Acuff's "Precious Jewel." Tyminski did most of the male lead vocal work, with his traditional twang. The rendition of "Man of Constant Sorrow" was true to his O Brother Where Art Thou? recording, with the other musicians chiming in on the responses.

Charlie reiterated the notion that good music is good music regardless of genre - a lesson lost on the exodus of purists.

RIP Len Dobbin

If this year's 30th anniversary didn't have a sombre lining to it with the constant Michael Jackson tributes, it certainly does now. Len Dobbin, journalist emeritus of the Montreal (and international) jazz scene for over 50 years, is gone.

Word is spreading via Facebook - the most details that have surfaced are here (French only). Len had been sick for many years, to varying degrees of severity - he had to be rushed out of the CKUT studios a couple of years ago. Since that incident he'd been weakened, but he looked to be in better form this year than last.

I can't express just how deep this loss is - Len, as an historian, wasn't just someone who memorized facts and trivia. He was there, for many things, and was incredibly passionate about the things he wasn't able to personally attend. When I first moved to Montreal, Dobbin's Den was the first jazz show I heard, and he served as a template for my own entry into CKUT. I've had the distinct honour of filling in for Len over the years -- the first time was quite possibly the most nervewracking two hours of radio I've ever done.

Len was truly a fantastic resource for us Montrealers, and a beautiful man. I was just hanging out with him in the press room, very aware of how lucky I was to be around him and other great journalists. It will be a very strange atmosphere in the press room today. He will be greatly missed.

EDIT: Via Christine Jensen, some of Len's beautiful photography.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Rocksteady @ FIJM

A few years after Motown's Funk Brothers blowout at the Jazz Fest, another group of crack musicians and honeyed vocalists rocked the Place des Festivals. Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt of the I-Threes, Stranger Cole, Ken Boothe, Hopeton Lewis and the Tamlins graced the stage with a 2-hour Jamaican history lesson. Hearing a solid one-drop with a bounce that only comes from a true reggae drummer, with the undiminished vocal blend of the Tamlins, is a wonderfully enjoyable thing.

Each lead vocalist was solid in their own right. Highlights included Stranger Cole indulging in a freakazoid James Brown dance, and Marcia Griffiths' exhortation to indulge the band in a supremely grooving "rub-a-dub stylee." The requisite Bob Marley covers - Marcia and Judy singing "No Woman, No Cry" and "Could You Be Loved," the finale of everyone singing "One Love" - brought me back to my memories of porting in Jamaica off Cruise Ship X. Judy Mowatt attributed the musicality of so many Jamaicans to the grace of God. Montreal was grateful for them to share their gift with us.

Gazette colleagues Jake Shenker and Bernie Perusse have more reviews(incidentally, Bernie and FIJM head honcho André Menard were shaking their tailfeathers with equal, unrivalled enthusiasm); Natasha Hall provides the setlist.

Notes: the crew never actually left the stage for the encores, merely the rest of the singers came out to join those already on stage; the band was tight once they hit their grooves, but some of the entrances, punches, and endings were tighter in the media rehearsal; and special shoutout to Montreal's Mossman, who was instrumental in putting together this project and whose involvement went sadly unacknowledged.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Miscellaneous Jazz Fest notes

- Nomadic Massive rocked the Groove stage July 3. MCs Waahli and Narcicyst wore white gloves in tribute to the late MJ, as the band, featuring Butta Beats behind the kit, laid down some solidly funky backdrops for the MCs and vocalists (rounded out by Vox Sambou, Lou Piensa, Meryem Medusa and Tali). Nice to see them bring their multilingual hip-hop on a big stage.

- Also big up to my brothers and sisters in Kalmunity, who absolutely owned the Groove stage two nights later. After 6 years (and counting!) of slogging it out at the tiny Sablo Café, they seized their opportunity to shine on a large scale. I only caught the last half of the show, after Lionel Loueke's set, but was beaming with pride to see my friends and colleagues Jahsun, Mark Haynes, Jordan Peters, Zibz and Yussef holding it down behind Jonathan Emile, Katalyst, Malika, and Fabrice Koffy.

- Caught a snippet of Ola Onabule on my way out last night. Decent enough start to the set (and his keyboard player is fantastic), but it went downhill with pseudo-operatic vocals and a lot of crowd-baiting.

Anat Cohen Quartet - L'Astral, 7/6/2009

It was such a pleasure to see four musicians having visible fun onstage. When flowing lines weren't exiting her clarinet, Anat Cohen was off to the side, dancing and encouraging her bandmates with shouts of "Yeah!" She and guitarist Gilad Hekselman shared a similar liquid tone, with more emphasis on the body of the note than the attack. Anchored by bassist Joe Martin and drummer Daniel Freedman, the quartet played a mix of truly swinging tunes.

The set opened with Anat's arrangement of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," the head as a syncopated 9/8 Latin creature, releasing into swing for the solos. Cohen really hooked into the rhythm section, phrasing her lines with deep rhythmic intensity and locking in with Martin and Freedman. Hekselman phrased more like a horn player, riding over the rhythm section. All the soloists quoted the head, with varying degrees of liberty, to cue the end of their turns. Freedman's drum solo had him using his elbow to alter the pitch of his snare drum.

"The Purple Piece," an original Cohen composition, was a minor 3/4 tune that made great use of Cohen's facility with pitch-bend and glissando. Hekselman unleashed his chops on this tune, tapping a passage on the fretboard - perhaps in homage to visiting guitar heros Jeff Beck and Stanley Jordan. This led into a 6/8 Latin feel with Hekselman's bubbling comping.

"J Blues" opened with Cohen's intro, filling out a solo groove in the vein of Eddie Harris. Quotes from various big band chestnuts came out in the solos, including "Air Mail Special" - fitting, coming off Anat's Clarinetwork tribute to Benny Goodman at the Vanguard last week. Martin and Freedman hooked up on a soft yet intensely propulsive swing feel, Freedman swinging the side-stick like Philly Joe.

After a gorgeous reading of "Body and Soul," the set ended with the choro "Uma Zero" by the grand master Pixinguinha. Freedman used his floor tom as a surdo and nailed the particular brand of snare-drum swing of a Brazilian percussion group.

Hommage Eval Manigat - L'Astral, 7/6/2009

I didn't know Eval Manigat. I didn't know about Montreal's world music scene until a few years ago. By that time, Manigat wasn't as active on the scene as he had been in the 1980s and 1990s, focusing his energy on establishing the St-Marc Music Academy in his native Haiti. So the nostalgic element was a bit lost on me; the emotion I felt was more along the lines of wishing I had known him. A great bassist, vibraphonist, arranger and composer that passed away last year, the program was comprised of his tunes, save a couple of tributes penned for the concert.

The band featured Eval's compatriots from over the years, ranging from singers Karen Young and Sara Renelik, a horn section of saxophonists Yvan Belleau and Jean-Pierre Zanella, trumpeter Jocelyn Couture and Richard Gagnon on trombone, pianist Jean-Francois Groulx, bassist Fritz Pageot (father of Ric'key), and drummer Yvon Plouffe. Jean Vanasse assumed Eval's position behind the vibes on a few tunes.

The show opened with Belleau's tune "Compas pour Eval," a great fanfare and tribute, featuring Belleau and Groulx and the solid percussion section. Manigat's tunes incorporated rhythms from across the Caribbean, from Haitian compa to Cuban descargas, all with a strong sense of melody. All the soloists were in top form - Groulx's montunos were powerful, especially on "Rhapsody pour Haiti" alongside Richard Lalonde's flute; Martial Méroné's crystal clean Stratocaster evoked the Afro-pop diaspora. Young Haitian poet/vocalist Jahnice and pianist Genevieve St-Pierre offered a moving piece called "Bam La Vi," and Young, accompanied by pianist Tim Jackson, sang one of Eval's beautiful ballads, "Le Silence."

May Eval rest in peace - his music lives on in his colleagues, and the St-Marc Academy which will prove to be his legacy.

Le Large Ensemble - L'Astral, 7/3/2009

Dan Thouin could easily move his mattress to the Jazz Fest site. The multi-keyboardist is renowned around Montreal for his sonic mastery and his musical sensitivity, but doesn't always have the room to stretch out. With his Large Ensemble paying tribute to the music of early electric Miles, he had all the room he needed.

The band was comprised of some of the best and brightest on the local scene: Jocelyn Tellier and Olivier Langevin on guitars, Jim Doxas and Tony ("The Buddha of Beat") Albino on drums, Remi-Jean Leblanc on electric bass, Miguel Zaraipa on percussion, and a horn section of Maxime St-Pierre on trumpet, Yannick Rieu on soprano sax and Chet Doxas on bass clarinet and tenor sax. Thouin limited himself exclusively to Rhodes, run through Moogerfooger delay and modulation pedals. His improvising language is as solid as his attention to sound, incorporating elements of all the keyboard associates of that period - primarily Herbie in note choice and phrasing but with Chick's penchant for ring modulator and distortion, and Zawinul's swath of colour.

The band nodded at the 70s Miles era, without mimicing it outright - Yannick sounded especially indebted to Wayne on soprano, and Maxime St-Pierre had Miles' darkness in his sound without always deploying that characteristic weep. Tellier and Langevin combined with Thouin for some swirling soundscapes, while the three drummers and Remi-Jean hooked up to drive the group forward. Chet Doxas took some superb turns on bass clarinet and tenor. Tellier had a smooth, distorted sound for his solos, while Langevin sometimes got lost in the mix, but seemed to be unleashing Nels Cline-ish bursts of sound.

My favourite tunes of the set were the percolating take on "It's About that Time," with the band ferociously owning that groove, and the melancholy read of "In a Silent Way." It should not be another five years between a reunion of this Large Ensemble. If you can't get enough Dan Thouin at the festival, he's playing with Jedi Electro (joined by fellow journeymen Alex McMahon, Martin Lizotte and Jean-Phi Goncalves) at the Savoy at midnight tonight and tomorrow.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Lionel Loueke - L'Astral, 7/5/2009

What a brilliant show by Lionel Loueke and his trio at the new L'Astral. The same members, but different concept, from his Gilfema group, the trio played music from Loueke's Blue Note album, Karibu, far more powerful and engaging live than on the record.

Drummer Ferenc Nemeth and bassist Massimo Biolcati (the brains behind the iReal Book app) have a tremendous hook-up, ranging from the broken straight-eighth grooves to full-out walking swing. The metric shifts that dominate Loueke's music were performed with unified elasticity, and Nemeth's drumming style brings out the musicality of them, and not the mathematics, the way Marcus Gilmore might. Nemeth's small arsenal of percussion - cowbell and woodblock integrated to his kit, tambourine and dumbek off to the side - provided a novel percussive texture change behind Biolcati's bass solos. Nemeth has a way of building and releasing rhythmic tension alongside Loueke and Biolcati, without ever copying their lines verbatim. His solo on "Seven Teens," starting only on the snare and hi-hat while feathering the kick, as Biolcati and Loueke nailed the downbeats, was the highlight of the set.

Biolcati has a plucky attack in his upper register with a round woodiness on the bottom, a great anchor. His opening solo on the second tune had him anchoring the groove on low notes while filling in the gaps. The tune had a feel of metrically-shifted highlife, with Biolcati and Loueke in unison, opening up in the bridge.

Loueke was in phenomenal form throughout the show. Playing a nylon-string Godin guitar (and shouting out Robert Godin, who was in the audience) through Whammy and delay pedals, Loueke's sound was clean, with a warbling chorus effect via the Whammy's not-quite-accurate pitch tracking. In my brief interview with him, he affirmed that African music in all its forms is still a very prevalent and personal influence, and it was clear throughout his music: utilizing the clicks and pops of African dialects as another form of percussion; sticking a piece of paper under his strings to emulate a kora; the vocal harmonizer splitting his voice into a South African gospel choir; and the killing juju groove of "Nonvignon," complete with an audience singalong and a guest on soprano saxophone whose name I didn't catch.

Like The Bad Plus, Loueke proved that powerfully engaging music doesn't always come at high volume - his solo intro to "Karibu" and his coda to the second tune held me and the rest of my table in rapt attention.

Joyce - Club Soda, 7/4/2009

My friend, Rômmel Ribeiro, called me and said "Are you going to see Joyce?" After his recommendation, and Luciana Souza's cover of her "Feminina," I got myself a last minute ticket. What a pleasure it was. Drummer Tutty Moreno had the textbook bossa feel I've heard off the Milton Banana records - laidback, effortless, and swinging like crazy. His fills were subtle - a snare accent here, hi-hat and sidestick rolls there - but highly effective and never disrupted the groove. Pianist Helio Alves is my discovery of the festival so far; for whatever reason his name never popped up on my radar. Featured as much as Joyce, every tune had a fantastic Alves solo, well-constructed, melodically sound and harmonically rich. Very few people talk about the great legacy of Brazilian pianists, from Wagner Tiso to Walter Wanderley to Amilton Godoy and many others. Helio Alves is directly in that line.

Joyce's first set was more languid bossa nova, with tributes to the masters of bossa Johnny Alf, Dorival Caymmi (a fantastic version of "Lá Vem a Baiana") and Jobim (a slow, simmering "Desafinado"). She proved herself to be a terrific self-accompanist on guitar, never getting in Alves' way, and adding another layer of richness underneath her strong alto. She told stories behind her songs, including the English "Band on the Wall" written at the club of the same name in Manchester. The second set was full of more uptempo samba, including a wordless (save the bridge) take on "One Note Samba" and a thrilling rendition of "O morro não tem vez." Joe Lovano and Judi Silvano were in the house, and Joyce dedicated one song to them.

The Montreal crowd, nearly filling Club Soda, had been waiting forty years to see Joyce, and it showed. After an encore of "Berimbau," the crowd clapped strong and slow for minutes through the canned music, with stagehands running around backstage before Joyce returned to the stage solo for another version of "Aguas de março."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Opinions are free

There's a lot of well-deserved brouhaha over this "review" of Maria Schneider on the Gazette blog. When I first read it, like many, I thought it was a joke. I've read bad reviews, I've even written a couple, but I never imagined there was any way a review could be entirely wrong. This is the textbook example of how not to review -- at no point whatsoever does Heinrich talk about the music. I'd have even accepted complete and utter misrepresentations of Maria's music, her musicians, and their instruments, over what wound up being published.

I disagreed with many of Mr. Heinrich's reviews of last year's festival, and I assumed that he was brought in to fill the space of the then-ailing Juan Rodriguez. Juan's better this year and is his usual bright spark around the press room, so why they still sent Heinrich to cover anything is beyond me. I don't recall having read his political or "diversity" writings, so I'll withhold further judgement.

This should not reflect on the rest of the Gazette's music and Jazz Fest team. Juan Rodriguez is one of the best music writers around with his wide range of expertise; Bernard Perusse and Irwin Block produce some great work throughout the year, and are fantastic people to trade concert impressions with; Adam Kinner is a buddy from my McGill days, a killing saxophonist, and an insightful writer; and Natasha Hall is a burst of energy in the press room, seemingly going to every show and dutifully reporting on them. I haven't yet met Jordan Zivitz or T'cha Dunlevy but I admire their work as well. Whether I agree or disagree with their reviews (and I tend to agree with most of them, most of the time) is beside the point -- all of them consistently back up their arguments and word them well. How Heinrich's piece slipped through the cracks is an egregious aberration that I sincerely hope the Gazette will not repeat again.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Bad Plus - L'Astral 7/1/2009

It seems that a review of the Bad Plus has to address the critical (mis)perception of the band, as well. Ever since they exploded onto the major jazz radar with their cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," they've been painted with the wide brush of being a strictly bombastic band. Throughout their set at L'Astral, they proved that power can come without volume.

The set opened with Reid Anderson's "Everywhere You Turn," almost "Nefertiti"-like in its economy. Dave King rarely strayed from his soft yet propulsive backbeat (until the tune's final build), and Ethan Iverson gave a direct reading of the tune's melody, allowing Reid to solo in the gaps with his amped-up tone.

Ethan's introduction to his own "Mint" featured his distinctive sense of counterpoint, where it sounds like it could go off the rails at any moment but won't because of Ethan's startling sense of control. I really appreciated the dry sound of the trio in the new L'Astral, as opposed to the immense reverb they were saddled with when they were Mike Stern's guests at Place des Arts.

King's "Thriftstore Jewelry" followed, featuring the twisted TBP take on the '60s "Latin" feel. Dave's drum solo seemed to be the percussive equivalent of Ethan's melodic language. By the way they unleash elements of the standard language of common-practice jazz, you can tell by inference that Ethan, Reid and Dave have done their homework, and are tweaking the paradigms with strong intent.

It was quite revelatory to hear two of the modern classical pieces - Ligeti's "Metal" (from the second book of piano etudes) and Babbitt's "Semi-Simple Variations" - live. They didn't sound drastically different from a Fieldwork tune, with the intervallic consistency and logic and the rhythmic twists-and-turns that Dave brought into relief with his drum patterns. The Babbitt served as a prelude to Reid's "Physical Cities," in all its tension-ratcheting, thundering glory. The immense hookup between the three, the massive groove that sometimes comes out, is an underrated element of the Bad Plus.

Wendy Lewis came out for the second half of the set. I really appreciated how the tunes were recast in ways that truly suited the songs - not subversive for the sake of being subversive. In the chorus of Nirvana's "Lithium," the trio starts to wobble like a warped record, pulling the rug from under Wendy. Ethan's harmonic language substitutes for the noise of Cobain's distorted, chorus-laden guitar. Wendy's straight voice, without vibrato, allowed every element to come across clearly. She has phenomenal intonation to keep everything in place over the reharmonized passages. Wilco's "Radio Cure" opened with a duet between Reid and Wendy, as Ethan peppered polytonal flurries over a relatively straight rock beat. The song gradually got dismantled harmonically, before it fell apart rhythmically. Reid showed off his backing vocal chops here, and on "Comfortably Numb."

This harmonic pulling-apart was a characteristic of all the other covers: the lugubrious swing of "Long Distance Runaround," the plaintive plea of "How Deep is Your Love" which started off as is and then gradually disintegrated in the second chorus. Ethan sped up Gilmour's chiming arpeggios in "Comfortably Numb," turning them into beautiful cascades of piano.