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.