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.