Monday, November 22, 2010

Rick Rosato, Gilad Hekselman & Ari Hoenig - 11/19/2010, Upstairs

For bassist Rick Rosato's final artist series weekend at Upstairs, he invited two musicians with whom he has a solid amount of playing history. The first time I had heard of guitarist Gilad Hekselman was when Ari Hoenig's Punk Bop! band played at Upstairs a few years ago, with Rosato in the rhythm section. Hekselman won me over with Anat Cohen's quartet a couple of years back at Jazz Fest, and Hoenig's melodic sense on the kit is unmatched.

I haven't heard Rick in years, since he moved to New York (and has since moved back to Montreal). When he left, he was a kid with a prodigious amount of talent. It was obvious from the opening "Boplicity" how mature a player he has become. He is definitely a bassist to listen for - a compelling soloist, a rock-solid foundation, and a blooming compositional voice. As much virtuosity was present on stage through the set, I was more taken with the amount of listening going on. Starting the set at a slow simmer, Hekselman let the melody slowly unravel as the trio hit subtle, unexpected accents in unison. Metric trickery was implied and hinted at, without overtaking the music.

The rest of the set was made up of mostly originals. Rosato's "Migrations" was a straight-eighth groove in 5/4 with Hekselman's fluidly overdriven solo. His is a very smooth tone, sometimes with almost no attack, just lines weaving and rolling into each other. A tune of Gilad's, "New York Angels," followed, peppered with what seemed to be sly quotes to Babe Ruth's "The Mexican." Hoenig started on brushes and eventually moved to sticks. Throughout the set, Hoenig would anchor his polyrhythms in grooves rooted in samba and New Orleans street beats. (Anyone who has followed this blog for a while, or has talked to me, knows what a sucker I am for those "between-the-cracks" kind of grooves.) Hekselman started a solo guitar intro at almost dead silent, barely amplified, that morphed into "Moonlight in Vermont." His almost pianistic choice of voicings and the development of that introduction was one of the highlights of the set. It ended with a series of false endings that almost, but not quite, wore out its welcome. After Hekselman's 6/8 feel "One More Song" and Rosato's "Origami," the set proper ended with Hoenig's "Green Spleen." Roaring out of the gate with heavily distorted power chords, the tune went through a set of rhythmic modulations, eventually landing in Clyde Stubblefield "Funky Drummer" mode.

Returning for a loudly demanded encore, the group played "Prelude to a Kiss," with Hoenig playing the melody (on pitch!) on kit, with Hekselman answering. It ended with a series of trades between Hekselman and Hoenig, a device that would have been terribly corny - or to use Kurt Rosenwinkel's famous phrase, "insider jazz" - if it weren't so well-executed and delivered with a palpable sense of humour. Indeed, there was a contagious sense of fun in the room, emanating from the stage. Bravo, Rick.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bruxos na rua

It's time for Trio Bruxo to hit the road for our first series of concerts in Canada since our trip to São Paulo. It will be an intriguing three-day run: we will be incorporating music from our travels into our sets, and Nicolas and I will be playing with Pascal Lepage on drums.

Friday, November 26, 2010 we will return to Ottawa's Mercury Lounge (56 Byward Market Square). Bruxo played there over a year ago and I was there this summer alongside Rael da Rima. Our hit is an early show - doors at 7 pm and we are done by 10 pm because we have to make way for Detroit's MPC master extraordinaire, Jeremy AYRO Ellis. $10 at the door.

Saturday, November 27, 2010 we will be at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage in Morrisburg, ON. Organizer Jeanne Ward reached out to us to perform in this concert series and we're happy to be a part of it. The intimate atmosphere will let us explore the jazzier side of what we do, and get into some of the beautiful Brazilian ballads. This is another early show - 7 pm start time. Visit the St. Lawrence Stage site for ticket information.

Sunday, November 28, 2010 we end our mini-tour at Les Bobards (4328 St-Laurent). Sunday at Bobards is always a party atmosphere, and it's the landmark for Brazilian music in Montreal. This show is being co-promoted by the Brazilian Film Festival that we happen to coincide with; a fantastic festival showcasing the visual creativity of Brazil. 10 pm, $7 at the door.
A plug for our co-promoters: Do not miss the documentary on the Brazilian music scene, Beyond Ipanema, that they're screening. For those that want to discover what exists musically in Brazil beyond bossa nova, this is a great way to do so.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Yesterday, as part of the Salon de la musique indépendante de Montreal (SMIM), Philippe Laperrière offered a lecture on the mise-en-scène of a concert. Laperrière has worked with various artists in the Québecois pop scene. It was a refreshing perspective on stage presence in general, as Laperrière emphasized that mise-en-scène is not necessarily about the external elements of set design or lighting, but about the substance of the music. "You don't want to notice the mise-en-scène, you want to walk away saying 'That was a great show.'"

Laperrière chose to define "spectacle" or "show" as a meeting and exchange between the artist and the public. And surprisingly, much of his workflow and his conception of mise-en-scène can apply at all sizes of venues and across a multitude of styles. He was adamant that when he is hired as a metteur-en-scène he brings no preconceptions to the band, and allows the band to create their own ideas. He is merely a facilitator. Often, he works in the same way as a music producer, nurturing the good ideas and an external set of ears to dispel the false good ideas.

What struck me was Laperrière's emphasis on text. He will work one-on-one with the artist for a long period of time just on getting a sense of the lyrics, and the subtexts the artist wishes to convey with those songs. He often gets the artist to sing the songs for him a cappella, and to ensure that the themes are being communicated clearly. When the rehearsals begin with the band, he makes sure the entire band is clear on the themes of each tune. It brought to mind how many times I've been advised to learn the lyrics of standards, and what a musical difference that makes.

While mise-en-scène generally suggests some amount of codifying (a planned, structured setlist that determines much of the additional elements of stage production), Laperrière's comments on the relationship with the audience and pacing apply to all scenarios. "A performance does not rely on the number of people in the room," Laperrière said. You never know who could be among the five people in a club, so it is vital to give 100% of your show. I know I'm often disheartened by an empty club, and while it is depressing playing to a cavernous setting, it's a challenge.

One of his bullet points was "If the crowd is talking, ask yourself about what you're giving as a show," which is a point to which many jazz musicians can relate. Perhaps jazz musicians are fighting an unfair uphill battle about the perceived role that our music serves to the public (thank you Starbucks) that singer-songwriters and pop bands don't necessarily deal with, but it's still something to think about. How can we attempt to musically engage the (sometimes significant amount of) people at a jazz club that have not come there to hear the music, necessarily?

In thinking about mise-en-scène in relationship to improvised music, I believe it's important to have an improvisational approach to mise-en-scène as well. I plan my setlists for Indigone and Bruxo in advance, knowing certain venues, the potential audiences, and if there's another band on the bill, but I will also cut and paste on the fly, reading the crowd. Often, the room will have its own character that will influence the set. My years in radio have definitely shaped how I structure a set in terms of pacing and where and how often I talk. At the crux of what Laperrière is dealing with, I think, is a sensitivity to the content of one's music and an awareness of how to effectively communicate that to an audience visually. It can be small (like not leaving a water bottle at your feet, or the band releasing tension in unison into the verse), but those details leave lasting impressions on an audience.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Elizabeth Shepherd & Mike Evin, Le Divan Orange, 10/10/10

I'm more often performing for small, intimate audiences than I am a member of them. Seeing pianist/vocalist/songwriters Mike Evin and Elizabeth Shepherd populated by two handfuls of people felt like a very special communal experience. Thanksgiving Sunday's show at Le Divan Orange was a revelation for me, and everyone else that witnessed it.

I walked in during the second song of Mike's set. He's a very funny, affable guy and his songs are usually full of humour. His lyrics can be about domestication ("I Only Want to Brush my Teeth With You") and vignettes of life ("Shuffleboard Prince"), over chord progressions that hearken back to early Elton John and boogie-woogie piano. The only other time I've seen Mike was when I opened for him and Andy Creeggan at a house concert, so I've seen him interact with small audiences before. Playing on Divan's often-ignored upright piano added to the homey feel. Mike just finished a new album that has not been released yet, and from the tunes he played, there will be a gorgeous ballad on it called "Taking You With Me."

I've seen Elizabeth Shepherd twice before, in two very different settings: once at Maison du Jazz, and once at a packed Supermarket club in Toronto during the final IAJE conference. This show was far more conversational and confessional than the others; with a small but highly attentive audience, Elizabeth introduced her tunes with stories and insight that I had never known. Battling a cold ("I find it adds a touch of class to blow my nose onstage," she joked), her voice was still in great form and her piano playing was the anchor of the band. Her music has shifted from the overt jazz influences of Start to Move to tightly constructed, sophisticated pop songs on Heavy Falls the Night. It was the first of the three shows I've seen where she played exclusively her own compositions. Drummer Colin Kingsmore and bassist Scott Kemp have been her rhythm section for years, and their familiarity with each other is showing - Colin was really opening up the feel on her often odd-metered tunes. Colin and Scott were also singing backup, which added a welcome layer to the sound.

Elizabeth has been playing some small venues on this tour, and like someone else wrote on her Facebook page, "it was like having a Juno nominee in my living room." It was truly that way at Divan: embracing the people that were there and paying attention, Elizabeth and Mike offered their music, and themselves, letting us few listeners in on their secrets.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bruxos in Brasil - Part 2

Day 7
On Monday, Nic and I had to switch hostels. I said to Nic that we should stop into Centro Cultural Rio Verde and say hi, as they had been integral to us securing the grant from OQAJ. We walked in, and within a few minutes vibraphonist/producer Guga Stroeter was showing us around Rio Verde and Sambatá studio across the street. Guga gave us newly released music from his Orquestra HB, a bunch of contact information for some of the top musicians in the city, and told us about a big band collective he's involved with called Movimento Elefantes. Comprised of a rotation of 10 big bands, they play every Monday at Maximiliano High School in Vila Madalena. Think about how many trombone players there must be in São Paulo! Guga also allowed us to use Rio Verde as a rehearsal space for our shows at Syndikat, and let us borrow Rio Verde's keyboard and a spare electric bass from Sambatá.
We moved from Vila Madalena Hostel to Sampa Hostel, located on rua Girassol in the heart of Vila Madalena. After we checked in and got acquainted with our new location, we went up the street to YB studios. One of the biggest recording studios, record labels and management firms in the city, Mauricio from YB was a fantastic resource in spreading the word about our trip among his artists. Nic and I showed up without an appointment, and once I explained in my limited Portuguese who we were, the receptionist let us in and told us to make ourselves at home. After waiting for Mauricio to finish up a phone meeting, he came down to meet us and showed us around the beautiful space, introducing us to artists who were hanging out in the café and allowing us to sit in on a mixing session.
That night, we went over to the high school to check out Big Band da Santa, a group of students and recent graduates from Santa Marcelina led by Paulo Tiné. I was not exactly sure what to expect - I was thinking they'd be playing the standard big band repertoire of Sammy Nestico and Thad Jones. Instead, we were greeted by big-band arrangements of Toninho Horta, Baden Powell, Moacir Santos and even some frevo arrangements. The American backbeat stuff was less convincing. Afterwards, we introduced ourselves to Paulo and, like every other musician we met, he was incredibly kind and helpful.

Day 8 & 9
On Tuesday, Nic and I headed over to Rio Verde in the afternoon, to work on some new tunes and get the rust off some of the usual repertoire. Not travelling with gear means limited opportunity for practice. After rehearsal, we took a detour to Isabella's Coffee Lab for an amazing cappuccino, and went back to Rio Verde to pack up the gear to take to Syndikat. Once the rainstorm subsided, we attempted to call a cab. Murilio Acioli helped us to explain the directions to Syndikat (which is located on a tiny street that no one really knows by name). We almost got into a two-taxi collision on Avenida Rebouças, and the driver blew by the street we needed to turn on. We did, eventually, arrive at Syndikat safe and sound. Wednesday night, since we left the gear at the club, I told the cab driver to leave us at the closest major intersection and we got there without incident.
Due to Mark's departure, the Syndikat gigs were done with drummer Carlos Ezequiel. A member of the faculty of Conservatório Souza Lima, Carlos is a highly regarded drummer in Brazil and elsewhere, playing with some of the finest musicians in São Paulo. We were put in contact by the Canadian Consulate in São Paulo, and it was a real education to play with him. The only way to learn about swingue is to play with Brazilian musicians, and I definitely had a better sense of that feel after the first night. Syndikat is a very intimate and cozy space, in the basement of the bar, with couches and tables close to the stage. The entire staff was friendly and accommodating, helping us set up and tear down. We were filmed on Wednesday night for a clip on TVA.

Day 10
Our final day in São Paulo. We returned the equipment to Rio Verde, and thanked Guga profoundly for all his assistance. He told us to swing by Sala Crisantempo on our way back to the hostel. A gorgeous theatre with a fantastic piano, they also host dance and pilates classes during the day. We had a final farewell lunch with Rael, and then we were off to the airport for the long flight home. Throughout the final week, Nic and I were already planning next year's trip.

Many thanks to/muito obrigado para:
and everyone else we met during the course of our trip.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bruxos in Brasil - Part 1

Day 1 - Montreal
Due to last-minute ticket purchases, Nicolas was on a different flight than Mark and me. This shouldn't have been a problem as our flights were supposed to land within an hour of each other. Mark and I met at the bus station to hop the new STM airport shuttle bus. We left around 2:45, leaving more than enough time to get to the airport for a 6:15 pm flight. That was until the bus hit an empty schoolbus on the highway and lost a mirror, leaving us stuck on the highway for a good 45 minutes before being escorted off the highway by police, waiting for another shuttle that never came. We hopped in a cab and made it to the airport just after 4. After clearing security and customs quickly, Mark insisted on a celebratory pint. Smooth flying to Miami, and then upon landing we found out our flight from Miami to São Paulo was delayed until the next morning at 9 am. Can we get on the earlier flight, leaving in half an hour? No, our bags were already checked in on the other flight. Nic has no cell phone. Oh boy. We head to the hotel with our vouchers, I frantically send out e-mails to Nic and our Brazilian contacts, and fall asleep watching Whose Line is it Anyway?

Day 2 - São Paulo
We get up early to catch the 7 am shuttle to Miami Airport. No schoolbuses were encountered. The plane sits on the tarmac for another hour before takeoff. We land in São Paulo around 6:30 pm. Mark and I were sure Nic had left for the hostel on his own. We get our luggage relatively without incident - mine was the first bag off but Mark had to wait a while for his. As we get to the exit of the airport for a taxi, Nic greets us. He waited in the airport for 11 hours for us. We apologize profusely, tell him about our obstacles, and hop in the car for Pinheiros.
We arrive at Hostel Vila Madalena around 7 pm. There's no sign, just an address, a graffiti mural, and a gate. After checking in, and rescheduling our date with Syndikat Jazz Club, Rael da Rima and friends show up. We make plans for the next day's show, and then go exploring Vila Madalena for food and drink. When we got back to the hostel, they were blasting Banda Black Rio. I knew we were in the right place.

Day 3
I woke up to the sound of kids in the school above the hostel playing futebol and our breakfast was accompanied by a soundtrack of Airto Moreira, Cartola, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus. We travelled without gear, so most of the day was spent making arrangements with Rael and crew for gear. The host of the hostel, Túlio, was immensely helpful in allowing us to use his phone, and giving us maps and directions of the area. We walked down to Rua Teodoro Sampaio, the place for musical instruments in São Paulo. Six solid blocks of music stores - and none of them rent gear. We go in to get a feel for prices and availabilities. Since I didn't even bring my cables, I got a custom mini-to-1/4" cable made by a Japanese guy recommended by every single music store on the street.
We discover a Chilean empanada joint, El Guatón, a couple of blocks away from our hostel, which would become our go-to lunch and dinner spot. The first time was a little rough, as my Portuguese vocabulary did not contain many of the names of ingredients. We spent an inordinate amount of time studying the menu, surely confusing the waitress. Once we decided what to order, the empanadas were delicious.
We got a lift from Cauê, Rael's sax player, to Serralheria, a gallery/venue in the Lapa neighbourhood of São Paulo. A beautiful space with hardwood floors, we weren't sure about the bass amp situation. Owner Amadeu Zoe greeted us and brought out their massive bass amp from the back. Lapa is a bit removed from the music and arts centres of Vila Madalena, Pinheiros and rua Augusta, so the audience was small but supportive. It was great to finally play in São Paulo, after all the planning, the ups and downs and the stress. We were joined by M.Sario of Pentágono, and guitarist Bruno Dupré. There was a lot of jamming in soundcheck, and we ended the evening with versions of Pentágono's "É o moio" and Jorge Ben's "Umbabarauma."

Day 4
We prepared for the evening's show at Jazz nos Fundos by visiting their sponsor and drum provider, Bateras Beat. Owner Dino Verdade was immensely helpful, providing us with a great drum kit, cymbals, a tour of his store/school and even giving Mark a couple of Brazilian drum magazines.
Jazz nos Fundos ("jazz in the back") is literally in the back of a parking garage. It's a hidden space but in its five years has become the spot for jazz in Pinheiros. Manager Caroline was incredible throughout the planning of this trip. Our guest saxophonist, Flavio de Souza of Projetonave, arrived an hour before downbeat - we ran down the structure of the tunes and hit. Recommended to me by trumpeter Daniel Gralha (his horn-section mate in Projetonave), Flavio nailed the tunes on tenor and soprano. A fantastic player and great guy, we look forward to playing with him again. The audience at Jazz nos Fundos was incredible - a lot of the tunes we play are somewhat obscure in Canada but might as well be standards in Brazil. The entire club was singing along at points. Note to North American jazz clubs: the female quotient was much higher in São Paulo. The vibe in the entire club was fantastic - certainly not what I would expect to find in the back of a parking lot. Photos from the show are here. After we finished playing, they served us food and I discovered Cachaça Seleta.

Day 5
The first of our three days off, we went to the Saturday market in Praça Benedito Calixto. Nic bought some caxixi and postcards, Mark bought a great denim jacket, and I bought lots of records.
In the early evening, by the time we got to O do Borogodó it was full, so we stumbled another killing traditional samba band in a bar called Linha de Gato. The band would perform breaks with fantastic precision and incredible energy, all the while nonchalantly turning around to watch the game. We walked back down towards Pinheiros, had some Japanese yakisoba for dinner, and hopped in a cab towards Bar Ao Vivo in Moema to see the legendary Zimbo Trio.
Zimbo are part of the first generation of samba-jazz trios, and one of the most profound influences on the genesis of Trio Bruxo. We walked in to find them just beginning to set up while a DVD of Diana Krall played on two big screens. I went up to pianist and bandleader Amilton Godoy and introduced myself and the band in my broken Portuguese. Mr. Godoy and drummer Rubinho Barsotti could not have been nicer to us. We exchanged CDs and they seemed to be genuinely surprised and honoured that three young gringos from Canada know who they are and would come all the way out to Moema to see them.
From the opening of "Domingo no Parque" I knew we were in for a ride. Amilton and Rubinho are still in great shape, and have the intimate hookup that only comes from 45 years of playing together. Their sense of arrangement and Amilton's elegantly florid playing style reminded me of the Oscar Peterson trio. They even managed to make "Girl From Ipanema" interesting. After their "Suite Canção de amor demais," Amilton dedicated their arrangement of Hermeto Pascoal's "Bebê" to us, and introduced us from the stage. Rubinho left the stage and his successor, Pércio Sapia, took over, adding a much more contemporary sound to the band. They ended with a 35-minute medley of Milton Nascimento tunes. An absolutely stunning concert and an evening I will never forget.

Day 6
We were supposed to meet up with Rael's crew to go see Céu in Parque da Independência, but we forgot. Instead, we had breakfast at Pain du France - really, the amount of random French names in São Paulo was rather stunning - and then went sightseeing. We walked to Avenida Paulista, Parque Tenente Siqueira Campos, and the Museu de Artes de São Paulo, where an antiques market was being held. From there we walked down to Parque Ibirapuera, explored the gorgeous Auditório Ibirapuera and hung out near the Fonte Multimidia (a pond with a floating raft of speakers in it).
Mark had to leave, so we saw him off and then I went out to O do Borogodó again. To hear that kind of swingue in a tiny little bar, up close with everyone dancing, was inspirational and educational. The trombonist doubled on cuíca, there was a flute player who kept playing snippets of Hermeto's "Chorinho pra ele" until he finally played the whole thing, and lots of great singers and percussionists. Their rendition of Chico Buarque's "Quem te viu, quem te vê" grooved its behind off.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Community immunity

(Hat tip to Curtis Macdonald for the title of the post)

As I enter my 9th year of living in Montreal, I've been reflecting on the role that community has played in my life here. I moved here in 2002, a time when lots of very important musical collectives were formed. Kalmunity Vibe Collective started up at Sablo Kafé, a tiny little place in Little Italy, in 2003. Another improvisational event, Moondata's monthly LABProjects, happened in O Patro Vys for a few years in the mid-Oughts. The multi-lingual posse of Nomadic Massive started around 2003 or 2004. DJs Scott C and Andy Williams will celebrate the 8th anniversary of their monthly party, The Goods, later this month. Miles Perkin and Sage Reynolds staged a few Mont-Royal Composer's Forum concerts while I was still at McGill, and the musique actuelle scene is held together by communal spaces like l'Envers and the Mardi Spaghetti series at Cagibi.

To a certain extent, I've taken all these organizations for granted. I don't know an artistic reality in Montreal before them, and my own creative path is heavily indebted to these collectives in various ways. I've met a lot of musicians through all of these events; discovered and developed new sides of my own playing; and been turned onto a lot of new music and opportunities. They've also re-inforced the ideal of Montreal that I try to abide by at all times: the collision and collaboration of anglo-, franco- and allophone players; musicians and artists from different scenes creating together. I never really bought into the linguistic divide here, and while I do realize that it exists (given that I really don't know anything about anybody coming out of Université de Montréal, the francophone university here) I don't believe that it has to.

As social media becomes more prevalent and the internet makes the world smaller, this sense of community needs to extend itself. Thanks to my participation in workshops like the Banff Centre, the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop, and the Red Bull Music Academy, I have been connected to like-minded musicians from around the world, many of whom I can still call colleagues and friends. I feel it's imperative for these connections to be made, through blogs, Facebook, Myspace, and the real world. The unofficial mandate of Trio Bruxo, for instance, is exactly that: because the Brazilian music community in Montreal is vibrant but tiny, I feel compelled to ally the group with similar musicians in Toronto, New York, and now São Paulo. One thing I've noticed in the past couple of months of intensive Brazilian gigs is that there is a split within the Brazilian music community: the audience for our show at Afro-Latin Soul and just a couple of nights ago at Casa del Popolo is not the same as the audience regularly at the Sunday nights at Bobards. There's very little overlap. And that scene is far too small as it is for it to be divided in half.

Patrick Jarenwattananon at A Blog Supreme recently asked about the Great Unknowns in jazz, and one commenter replied that it boiled down to anyone not living in NYC. While it's snarky, it is true. While saxophonists Joel Miller and Samuel Blais have done well in forging links with various well-known American musicians in bringing them up to Montreal, I don't know that it's necessarily helpful in bolstering their own reputation south of our border. That's not even to mention important educators and my own personal mentors like Gary Schwartz, Rémi Bolduc (given some love here by Peter Hum), or Jeff Johnston.

It's impossible to know about everything and everyone, but I place the utmost importance in creating musical communities. I find them fundamental in two ways: on a creative level, they allow for open environments to share ideas; and on a commercial level, they can be brands, attesting to certain allegiances and similarities.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

O resto eu vejo depois

For those who missed Afro-Latin Soul at Bobards last Saturday, here's video evidence courtesy of Liliane Braga:

It was a pleasure to work with Rael da Rima. He and I will play duo at Ottawa's Mercury Lounge on Friday, August 6.

And this video also is a testament to Trio Bruxo's project in São Paulo this fall, with the aid of l'Office Québec-Amériques pour la jeunesse. I firmly believe that the world of Brazilian musicians is small, and with the Internet, there's no reason for all of us not to be connected with each other. Musicians in Montreal, Toronto, New York and Brazil should all be working together to create opportunities for each other. With Rael and many other artists in São Paulo, this is what we're aiming to do in September.

Our final fundraiser concert for our trip is AUGUST 19, 2010 at Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent). $10 at the door helps us get to São Paulo, to bring back some incredible music to Canada.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

FIJM 2010: final days

Got caught up in the whirlwind of my post-Jazz Fest life and realized I did not wrap things up here.

July 4 was Allen Toussaint day. You can read my account of the solo show at Gésu at Nextbop.

July 5: I arrived a few minutes late for the Dave Brubeck press conference. It was a true honour to be in the same room as him, to hear him talk mostly about his links between classical and jazz, and some of his history. He quoted what Mingus said about him: "To know if Dave is playing jazz, just look at the audience's feet when he plays!" Right after I whispered to Vy from Nextbop if anyone had asked about his studies with Milhaud, Brubeck mentioned one of Milhaud's pieces of advice: "Don't give up jazz. It's what makes you American. You can survive anywhere there's a piano! I have to go to universities and suffer through faculty meetings!" A lot of chronological details escaped Brubeck and were left to manager/producer/conductor Russell Gloyd. I got to shake the man's hand and tell him the truth: if it weren't for Time Out I would not be a jazz pianist.

More press conferences: My boys in Parc-X Trio won the Grand Prix this year. Can't think a better bunch of guys to take it. All the best to them! Don Thompson was awarded the Oscar Peterson prize, for outstanding contributions to Canadian jazz. He gave a brief interview and was obviously a little stunned by the whole award. Hearing Thompson talk about how the scene isn't like it was in the good old days left me ambivalent - normally I would write it off as just nostalgia, but he made a valid point. There are no house rhythm sections in clubs to play for touring artists anymore, and so a lot of that on-the-bandstand trial-by-fire education no longer exists. Those rigorous playing opportunities of three or four sets a night, five days a week, are very much a thing of the past. The musicians now, Thompson said, are as good as they've ever been and have so much information at their fingertips via YouTube. There is the risk, though, that we can begin to take that information for granted because we don't have to wait for it and treat it like a major event.

Onto the music. I caught about an hour of Karen Young, Eric Auclair and Bugge Wesseltoft. Having missed Bugge's solo set at Chapelle de Bon-Pasteur I was happy to see him in this group. WWPV-FM's David Beckett had seen the solo recital, and we had been talking about Bruce Hornsby in a somewhat unrelated manner. I wouldn't normally think of Bugge and Bruce in the same sentence, but they do share a pastoral sense of tonality. Both Auclair and Wesseltoft have extensive experience with live electronics and sampling, and both of them were manipulating their own sounds, triggering loops. Young was at her best soaring over the sound with wordless vocal improvisations. Her voice, for my taste, was drowned in way too much artificial reverb. The poetry she had written to the pieces composed by Auclair were not really to my taste either; at points it felt like the text and music were somewhat forced together, not part of a cohesive whole. Young was visibly engaged with Wesseltoft, though, and for having only met at soundcheck the Norwegian pianist shared great chemistry with the two Montrealers.

I caught the Orchestre Septentrional d'Haiti on the Tropiques stage. The musical institution of that country delivered a solid, joyous set of kompa to an eager crowd. Then it was off to Emir Kusturica's No Smoking Orchestra, which was more a provocateur rock show than I think most people expected. In a blue spandex Batman-meets-Mexican-wrestler outfit, Kusturica's lead singer prowled the stage, pumping his fists, interacting with his musicians, creating chants of "Are you agree? [sic] FUCK YOU MTV!". I enjoyed the parts that incorporated traditional folk-like melodies, just because it was the strongest musically, and generally featured the phenomenal violinist. The "Smoke on the Water" intro to something was hilarious. In general, they were not very compelling or strong as a pure rock band. If I want world-punk, I'll take Manu Chao.

July 6: final day. The heatwave is on. Secured a spot on the Christ Church Cathedral steps to watch the Mardi Gras parade, featuring some of the real floats from New Orleans, various bands from here and abroad, a nod to Brazilian Carnaval with the batucada from Estação da luz, and (this is something I never want to hear again) bagpipers playing "When The Saints Go Marching In." Made it through the crowd, somehow, to catch the last half of Zachary Richard's set, with David Torkanowsky on piano. The Soul Rebels Brass Band walked through the crowd and played an all-too-brief set of new-school brass band music. Trombone Shorty took the stage - I knew he was a phenomenal trumpet player and trombonist but he's also a great singer! The band was incredibly tight, nailing NOLA and Oakland-style funk, an Isley Brothers-esque slow jam, and a roaring cover of the Guess Who's "American Woman." The crowd thinned out as Allen Toussaint took the stage, introduced as the "High Priest of New Orleans music." He played all the tunes I wanted to hear in the solo show - "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?", "Get Out My Life, Woman," and all the classic New Orleans R&B he's crafted. He only repeated a couple of tunes from Sunday's recital, including "Southern Nights." Don Byron took a guest spot on "Bright Mississippi." The whole bash concluded with Soul Rebels at midnight in L'Astral, cranking out hard-grooving covers of "I Want You Back," "Could You Be Loved," Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy," and many many more. Another Jazzofolie (term courtesy Mark Nelson) over.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

FIJM Day 9

Keith Jarrett's concert in Wilfrid-Pelletier was preceded by an additional announcement beyond the usual "Bell thanks you in advance for turning off your cell phones and all other devices with an alarm": "Flash photography and video is explicitly prohibited throughout the entire concert, including the bows. This is a request from the artists themselves and we ask you to respect their wishes." Visions of Umbria danced in my head.

Musically, it was peerless. Jarrett's touch is still second-to-none, ranging from the opening "You Go To My Head" as a Bud Powell-ish medium swing, the heart-melting balladry of "Too Young to Go Steady," and the impossible task of making uptempo romps through "Autumn Leaves" and "All the Things You Are" captivating and intriguing. His double-time lines are full of invention and exploration, and when he sinks his teeth into more stock bebop and blues phrases they have a sense of catharsis and authority. Gary Peacock had a less aggressively amped sound than I remember, his solos concise statements. Jack DeJohnette at times threatened to overwhelm Keith, nailing the dirty gospel-blues in the first set and providing the most unpredictable yet entirely perfect fills throughout the whole concert.

Temperamentally, it seemed Keith was in better spirits than usual. There were coughs and he played through them. There was an inordinate amount of time between two tunes, and during the negotiations he joked "Three heads are better than one." Jarrett paced around the piano during much of Peacock's solos and was constantly drinking fluids and at one point seemingly taking medication. They repeated the "No flash photos even during the bows" announcement as we returned from intermission. At the end, they walked off during a standing ovation, returned for a second bow, and by popular demand they returned to the stage. Yet some moron decided to take a flash photo. Here's what ensued:
It's obvious I have created an atmosphere where I don't even have to say anything and everyone knows what is going on. So, the people behind that person, take their camera away and I'll shut up.
Walk offstage. House lights up. No encore.

You know what? From now on, I will celebrate Keith's FIJM appearances by playing Tokyo '96 and Whisper Not in the comfort of my own home, where I can wheeze and sneeze as I please. I wonder if there will ever be a critical mass of people fed up with Jarrett's antics who will just buy the records and stop going to the concerts. Fair enough - there really is nothing like hearing Keith's command of the piano live, to be in the same room as the trio creates spectacular versions of standards. But the records come close, and the mastery and vocabulary has been the same for 27 years, and it's much less expensive and a more pleasurable listening environment, quite frankly.

The Ninja Tune party at Metropolis was the perfect palate cleanser. No pretension, no diva behaviour. Just Mr. Scruff rocking the house with a set full of reggae, afrobeat, salsa and funk and potato-head animation shouting out various Montreal neighbourhoods and advising us: "Warning: Incoming bassline alert!" Perhaps Jarrett should adopt the same proviso: "Caution: virtuoso pianist with God complex ahead. Tread lightly."

Saturday, July 03, 2010

FIJM Day 8

Gretchen Parlato is a very savvy vocalist. She knows the capabilities and role of her voice and uses her musicians and arrangements to frame them to their fullest. With her band of Taylor Eigsti on piano and keyboard, Alan Hampton on bass and Otis Brown III on drums, she captivated a sold-out Savoy. Using the presentation formula of every traditional jazz singer - band performing an intro, vocalist coming on last and leaving first, band vamping out and introductions over the last tune - made her repertoire choices and delivery all the more striking. Parlato and Eigsti had a fantastic interaction, Parlato feeding Eigsti melodies and Eigsti providing intriguing, inspiring harmonic beds for Parlato. They previewed some brand new material from an album to be recorded in August, produced by Robert Glasper. Parlato's two new originals, "Better Than" and "Winter Wind" have that Glasper kind of gloss to them already - an R&B sensibility with unpredictable twists and turns. Her duo with Brown on "Doralice" was a rhythmic masterpiece and Brown laid into a phenomenal partido alto samba feel.

Setlist: Within Me; Butterfly; On the Other Side; Doralice; Better Than; I Can't Help It (setbreak); Blue in Green (as a swinging hip-hop inflected tune); Juju; Me and You; Winter Wind; Ugly Beauty (duo w/ Eigsti); Weak.


Adam Rudolph's set was, frankly, plagued by all sorts of disappointments. I had high hopes for this show, solidified by the promise of his album Dream Garden and his work with Yusef Lateef. Gésu was half-empty and the concert started more than 20 minutes late, due to bassist Jerome Harris running over from his earlier show with Jack DeJohnette. Both reed players from the album (Ned Rothenberg and Steve Gorn) were absent, replaced by Ralph Jones. Graham Haynes was on flugel, trumpet, and borrowed a couple of flutes from Jones. Brahim Fribgane was the revelation of the festival for me, on cajon, frame drums and oud. Kenny Wessel was on electric guitar and banjo.

They opened with the steamrolling percussiveness of "Oshogbo," Fribgane's cajon and Rudolph's congas locked into each other with the horns cueing small figures and guitar swells. It then broke down into an open, free section of bowed bells, gongs and "little instruments" reminiscent of the Art Ensemble, except it was painfully static and not moving towards anything. I found Jones, throughout, to be distracting and interruptive - some beautiful moments courtesy of Fribgane and Rudolph would be derailed by Jones picking up another ethnic flute and noodling on it off-mic. Wessel seemed to be in his own world, not listening or responding to anything else going on. That's fine, though it either needed someone else also improvising out of context or he needed to lay out more. There were fragments of potential themes, melodies and rhythms that never cohered or moved anywhere. It picked up steam in the last third of the concert, with a meditative raga-like piece in D with a repetitive melody chased around the group, and another uptempo theme in Eb.

If the concert had been a half-hour shorter and the interludes more condensed, it would have been a thrilling mixture of folkloric rhythms and free improvisation. As it stood, it was a concept unrealized and promise unfulfilled.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

FIJM Day 7

Last night's shows on the TD Stage were two bands who have one foot in the jazz tradition and one foot in forward-thinking electronica and groove music.

Toronto bassist Rich Brown and his band rinsethealgorithm took the stage at 6 pm, playing music from their album Locutions. Throughout the set, elements of Rich's experience with Andy Milne and Steve Coleman were mixed with a smoother R&B gloss and inspiration from London's broken-beat scene. Drummer Larnell Lewis was taking his cues as much from the drum programming of Bugz in the Attic as Steve Coleman's phenomenal history of drummers. I grew up listening to pianist Robi Botos in Toronto, hearing him in acoustic jazz contexts at the Rex. He also has a tremendous pocket, unleashing a funky clavinet solo on the final tune and creating pad-laden atmospheres behind Brown's heartstring-tugging bass solos. I could have used more of Botos and saxophonist Luiz Deniz in the mix - Deniz was a bit drowned out but his solos were full of intensity and invention.

José James and his band followed up with two sets of music drawn from their album Blackmagic, along with some tracks from The Dreamer and white-label releases. The 9 pm set was plagued by terrible sound - James' lower mid register fell victim to a massive, distracting woofiness, and Frank LoCrasto's Rhodes was lost entirely. They still rose above it with fantastic versions of Freestyle Fellowship's "Parkbench People" (based on "Red Clay") and Coltrane's "Equinox." Richard Spaven is the perfect drummer for this band, stomping the Flying Lotus beats from Blackmagic as well as swinging his ass off on "Equinox." Bassist Chris Smith, a new name for me, matched Spaven's pocket the whole way through. LoCrasto's rich harmonic palette was on display in his many solo turns. The 11 pm set was much better sonically and it showed, as the band seemed to be a lot more at ease on stage. The Rhodes was clearer, and there was almost no woof to be heard. The only repeated tune in the two hour-long sets was "Electromagnetic," delivered in two entirely different versions. James' improvisations are superb. He nailed upper extensions with perfect intonation, hanging out on the #11 of the final chord of "Save Your Love For Me" and laying into the 6ths on "Equinox" and a couple of other tunes. In the 11 pm set he was really digging into Spaven, engaging him with extremely quick passages of scat but also more generally in the whole time feel. The highlight of the second set was his interpolation of "A Love Supreme" (with all of its harmonic complexity) into another tune. His phrasing is obviously indebted to hip-hop, especially in the way he would chop the phrase of a tune the way a DJ would scratch a record, but also to the laidback phrasing of Billie Holiday and Andy Bey. James is proving to be the epitome of a 21st-century male jazz singer.

FIJM Day 6

Last night was marked by party music of all kinds. I kicked off my evening with LA-33, a band from Colombia best known for their viral YouTube hit "La Pantera Mambo." I had written them off as one of those YouTube joke bands like Pomplamoose, but boy was I wrong. This crew delivered some of the grooviest, funkiest salsa I've heard live in a long time. Rooted in the classic Fania records of Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe, with a modern funk and hip-hop edge. Their covers are totally kitschy - "Roxanne," the aforementioned Pink Panther theme - but musically they work.

Then it was off to Slavic Soul Party. I've been meaning to see this Balkan brass band of Brooklynites for years, and they pulled no punches in their 9 pm set. Furious amounts of energy, tremendous precision by the trumpeters in their ornamentation, and the loudest tuba I have ever heard, played by the mohawk-sporting Ron Caswell.

Last night was also my first time seeing Dave Douglas' Keystone live. Playing music from the new film collaboration with Bill Morrison, Spark of Being, two things struck me immediately: 1) the absence of DJ Olive (on parental leave, and being subbed by Jeff Countryman behind the scenes); and 2) the similarity between Keystone and Dave's quintet. The instrumentation, obviously, is remarkably similar - Marcus Strickland on tenor, Adam Benjamin on Rhodes, Brad Jones on Baby Bass, and Gene Lake on drums. It's the slight differences in the players from their counterparts in the Quintet that really mark the two bands apart - Strickland has more air around his sound than the razor edge of Donny McCaslin; Benjamin processed his Rhodes with filters and delays that allowed him to be the glue between the band and the sound design; Jones' Baby bass has a hollow sound (and unfortunately wasn't working for most of the show); and Lake is an entirely different beast on kit. But it seems that Douglas' compositional voice is now cohesive across his many projects - the Quintet, Keystone and Brass Ecstasy are all quintessentially Dave.

Based on Morrison's film, which is itself based on Frankenstein, the opening themes had that quality of unpredictable ascension that only Douglas writes. The recurring themes often featured repetitive motivic figures, in one tune sounding like an air raid siren. The repetition of repetition led to a couple of "Epistrophy" quotes - how very meta. In other places, it seemed that Douglas has been checking out J Dilla and Flying Lotus, Lake delivering powerful beats that had Douglas and Strickland in full-out headnod mode. At times it was truly difficult to tell what was Benjamin's processed Rhodes and what samples Countryman was triggering from the stage, and that was truly important: the samples were truly integrated into the band sound. Lake used his powers of chops and gear for good and not ill - there were some pyrotechnic rolls but they were at the service of the music, and very few have a groove as deep. He absolutely nailed the unique swing of Dilla and post-Dilla experimental hip-hop, the Afro-Cuban 12/8 feel that popped up a few times, and the swampy funk and shuffle of the encores.

The first few pieces of Spark of Being were delivered continuously, and I think the music may have even been more effective delivered as a continuous suite or even screened with the film. Even without that, Spark of Being is compelling music and perhaps the most seamless integration of electronics in Douglas' career.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

FIJM Day 4: Marco Benevento

Sometimes two factions of audience members collide: patrons of the Festival who buy ticket packages, and fans of the artist performing. I remember Charlie Haden's concert a couple of years ago, supporting the folk/bluegrass album Ramblin' Boy, and the legions of people leaving during the concert because they didn't do their research. Marco Benevento's show was such an event.

Walking into Chapelle historique de Bon Pasteur, the home of the new Solo Piano series and a beautiful Fazioli piano, I saw elegant elderly patrons of the festival sitting in the foyer. I was genuinely curious as to whether or not they knew what they were getting into. With a row of guitar pedals and a MIDI controller atop the grand, Benevento wasted no time announcing that this would not be your usual "solo piano" concert. Performing his original trio repertoire in the company of Nintendo-sounding drum loops and processing the Fazioli through delay and tremolo effects, the row of 70-somethings in front of me seemed thoroughly baffled and proceeded to talk through most of the concert. Benevento has a penchant for simple, almost child-like melodies, and was very much musically aligned with the orchestral indie rock scene of this city (see: Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre). The first part of the concert was comprised of mostly original compositions, including "Greenpoint" which featured an interpolation of Nirvana's "Come as You Are."

As much as I loved the electronics, samples, and beats, the concert really took off as Marco started to abandon the effects and dig into the piano. He has a way of selling melody, as evidenced in his covers of My Morning Jacket's "Golden" (played over a drum loop that sounded pilfered from Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening") and homeboy Leonard Cohen's "Seemed So Long Ago, Nancy." The final three songs of the concert - an F-major soundscape piece in 5/4, the "Real Morning Party" delivered as a James Booker-style New Orleans piano raveup, and his arrangement of Monk's "Bye-Ya" in 7, in an appropriate and tasteful display of piano chops - were easily the strong point of the set.

Oddly enough, the older audience members were buying Marco's new album, Between the Needles & Nightfall, in droves after the concert. Maybe, as Josh Jackson hypothesized, it was for their grandkids. But that would have been an interesting crowd to survey for Meet the Jazz Audience.

Monday, June 28, 2010

FIJM Day 3: Chano Dominguez

Pianist Chano Dominguez returned this year to the Jazz Fest, after last year's guest appearance with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. This time around he was leading his own group, presenting a two-part show called Flamenco View, with music drawn from two upcoming albums.

The first half of the show featured Chano, drummer/cajon player Guillermo Mcgill, vocalist Israel Fernandez Munoz, and dancer Joaquin Grilo who also played cajon. They performed Chano's adaptations of music from Catalan classical composers Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albeniz and Federico Mompou. It was evident that space was opened up for improvisation within the pieces but not being familiar with the original works I couldn't say where. Dominguez has found a way to truly incorporate the phrasing and feel of flamenco guitar to the piano - the rolling flourishes, repeated notes, and a real hook-up with the palmas and the cajon. Jazz has been hybridized with his harmonic and melodic sense, some well-incorporated bluesy touches, as well as Dominguez's penchant for quotations à la Dexter Gordon. "Lush Life" and "St. Thomas" popped up in the first half. Fernandez did not sing on every piece, but deployed these heart-wrenching vocal ornamentations at exactly the right time. Grilo played a lot of cajon and palmas but when he danced he was a welcome addition. His opening choreography reminded me a lot of modern circus, and some of his footwork and posture to my eyes was more akin to James Brown than flamenco dance. He and Dominguez shared a great chemistry onstage.

The second half of the concert was a tribute to Kind of Blue, its repertoire re-imagined by Dominguez to varying degrees of success. The group was completed by bassist Mario Rossy, whose bottom end filled out the sonic spectrum and who also proved to be a fantastic soloist in his intro to "So What." "Flamenco Sketches" began this half, appropriately enough, and it went to a much higher-energy place than the song's roots in Bill Evans' "Peace Piece" would suggest, ending essentially as a bluesy descarga in G. Fernandez also improvised admirably over the changes. "Freddie the Freeloader" was recast over an Afro-Cuban 6/8 that did not feel as inspired or as cohesive. When the band switched to a buleria 6/8 feel with two cajons under Rossi's solo, the groove suddenly gelled and felt much better. The highlight was "Blue in Green," with Rafael Alberti's "Poema 51" set to its melody, opening in a powerfully moving duo between Dominguez and Fernandez. "So What" was the most radical transformation, transposed to F, reharmonized, and preceded by a brilliant Rossy solo. Dominguez invited Grilo to dance, trading with Mcgill. The encore was "All Blues," which in an ironic twist was played in a funky 4. A bit of an anticlimactic ending, with Dominguez playing Michael Jackson's "Black or White" for a chorus and really not catching the inspirational spark of the first half.

Dominguez, in his best moments, exhibits a true understanding of both the jazz and flamenco traditions. When they're not forced together by external concept but dovetail with each other through musicality, it's a vivid and thoroughly gorgeous experience.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

FIJM 2010: Day 2

Jean Derome, founding figure of Montreal's musique actuelle scene, took the stage of L'Astral. Playing music from his last album To Continue with his regular group Les Dangereux Zhoms, comprised of longtime cohorts Tom Walsh on trombone, Guillaume Dostaler on piano, Pierre Cartier on electric bass and Pierre Tanguay on drums.

Derome, in deadpan delivery, described the tunes as a suite dedicated to the mundane incidents of life on the road, with titles like "Nez qui coule" and "Cogné de genou."

Dostaler is a very deliberate player in every comping phrase and every line. It took a while before Tanguay unleashed his irreverence in the solo of "Prières." Cartier sang "La grenouille et le boeuf" admirably in a trembling baritone and his electric bass allowed for a sustained, almost post-rock undertone to "Nez qui coule." Walsh often relied on glissandi and extreme high register, often complemented by a plunger. Derome, on alto and soprano saxophones and flute, played with a fairly clean tone, marked by intentional spurts of overblowing and other extended techniques.

Compositionally, the pieces featured some intriguing structures - the Berg-like stacked tone row of "La grenouille," the intervallic unisons of "Nez qui coule." The blend between Walsh's trombone and Derome's alto was especially notable. The centrepiece of the set was "Prières" (based on Protestant hymns), with the horns in harmonized chorale, the cued repeated figures for Tanguay's solo, and splitting the band into two time feels. Throughout the show, it was all very interesting but the spark was lacking - perhaps that was part of the tribute to the mundane as well.

The Kalmunity Après Jazz party was off the hook. It started off slow and took a while before people showed up, but around the stroke of midnight people started flooding in. Half of San Francisco's Jazz Mafia crew came in, and various drummers, singers and horn players came in to join us. Jazz Mafia seems to be Kalmunity's West Coast twin - they also hold down a weekly Tuesday gig, and are a sizable collective that has led to other smaller ensembles. Drummers E.J. Strickland and Obed Calvaire were just hanging out.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

FIJM 2010: Day 1

Hail, hail, the gang's all here! Most of the first day was a big hang in the press room catching up with folks I see rarely, like WWPV-FM's David Beckett and the hilarious Mitch Myers. Sushi dinner with Hour's Mike Chamberlain and the aforementioned Beckett ran long so I was absent for Vijay Iyer's solo show at Chapelle historique de Bon-Pasteur. My sources at Nextbop tell me it was... well... sick. With "Fleurette Africaine" and "Imagine" in the mix, I would imagine so. I caught half of Burkina Electric's set on the Tropiques stage. The concept is promising: afro-pop from Burkina Faso, rooted in folkloric legends and songs, on top of deep house kick and snare. It didn't always gel: the glitch processing overwhelmed the vocals and threatened to derail one tune, and it seemed the guitarist and live drummer were not always locked in with the loops and samples. The lead female vocalist has a guttural, powerful voice and charismatic presence, and the two male backup singer/dancers were no slouches either. When the group was together it was a fascinating and danceable hybrid, but it just wasn't consistent enough.

It took me five years to catch up to Vijay Iyer. In listening to his music previously, I appreciated his craft but I could never really follow the thread of what was happening. Last night's trio show at Gésu changed all that. Immensely captivating and transfixing, the two-hour show (including two encores) flew by. Much is often made of Vijay's intricate rhythmic language, but last night the math was present without being at the forefront of the music. Marcus Gilmore has a way of referencing a swinging ride pattern overtop of these rhythmic cycles. He has matured into a very fluid drummer, still armed with the laser precision of his playing on Re-Imagining. Vijay described Stephan Crump as "my secret weapon," and it was an apt description - from round, earthy pizzicato to various bowed explorations of the bass, he added a bit of a smooth finish to the trio. Vijay plays with an angularity steeped in the jazz tradition without ever resorting to stock blues phrases. Not enough mention is made of his touch at the piano and his dynamic range, coaxing intimate pianissimo from the instrument and gearing up to a full thundering roar. The hallmarks of Vijay's style were still there - the use of the low register of the piano, the wide-ranging chords, the constantly unravelling chromatic lines - but there was also a certain looseness, freedom and levity to the evening that I did not expect.

Much of the setlist was drawn from Historicity, and many of the tunes flowed into each other seamlessly. The opening hush of "Helix" led into the fractured swing of "Historicity." Iyer's recent arrangement of "Human Nature" (long live the King) moved from an insistent accompaniment to Gilmore's post-Dilla hip-hop shuffle. Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D.", with its almost march-like bassline, morphed into the high-octane "Cardio." The second half of the set was marked by the covers from Historicity - Crump's highly rooted walking anchoring the beginning of Bernstein's "Somewhere," delivered with a stunning sense of beauty. Andrew Hill's "Smoke Stack" bore witness to the constant truth and inspiration of the blues, with a magnificent Marcus Gilmore solo. The kaleidoscopic view of "Mystic Brew" grooved incredibly hard. To a well-deserved and loud standing ovation, the trio launched into "Galang" to kick off their first encore, followed by a hushed G minor near-lullaby, Vijay's runs reminiscent of vocal ornamentation. Gésu's lights switching to a deep red and then fading, it would have been the perfect, intimate coda to the evening, but the full house demanded more. For the second and final encore, they performed their abstraction of Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother," Gilmore locking into his mallet-groove in 7, bringing it down in volume but not intensity by playing it with his hands under Crump's solo. A high watermark of the 2010 festival in its first day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The madness begins for 2010

On site at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I will blog and tweet when I can, as not having a laptop nor a smartphone makes it hard to communicate in real time (though I must say I'm loving my Mac Mini).

I've been collaborating with Claude Thibault of SortiesJazzNights for some of his video interviews. My meeting with Omar Sosa is up, and I just interviewed Vijay Iyer earlier today. I'm looking forward to his shows tonight. Watch this space for reviews.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jordan/Parker/Drake, La Sala Rossa, 06/10/2010

My first real exposure to William Parker's music came through preparing a radio feature on the Suoni per il popolo festival years ago. Parker has been a recurring figure throughout Suoni's ten-year history, appearing with many groups and even conducting a master class a couple of years ago. It was only fitting that he, long-time rhythmic partner Hamid Drake and legendary Louisiana tenor Kidd Jordan would return to Suoni for this milestone year. In the wake of Fred Anderson's illness and Bill Dixon's passing, it seems all the more important to have finally witnessed Kidd Jordan.

Both sets were continuous, with fragments of various tunes creeping in and out of the improvisations. In the first set, Parker and Drake were very clearly driving the bus, with Jordan riding over them. Opening with unison punches on a major 9th that launched into a fast swing, Jordan exhibited his full-bodied sound across the entire range of his horn. Ideas from all three performers were dovetailing with each other, Drake fluidly moving from groove to groove - hints of backbeat led to a Latin-ish groove duet between him and Parker. An eerie combination of Parker's bowed bass with Jordan's plaintive altissimo register dissolved into a 6/8 feel. After quoting Coltrane's "Pursuance," Jordan got so overheated he exclaimed "Hallelujah!" and left Parker and Drake alone while he cooled himself off with his towel. The set ended with an interpolation of "Nature Boy."

The second set was more of an egalitarian triologue, Jordan digging into the rhythm section and solo spots opened up for each member. The powerful hook-up between Parker and Drake was still present in abundance. Coltrane quotes - this time "Cousin Mary" - were prevalent from Jordan. Drake became a one-man batucada for a minute while Jordan and Parker played a descending D minor scale. "Wade in the Water" appeared over Drake's patented rubbery reggae feel. The ending was awkwardly humourous, continuing past the point of its intended conclusion into a series of extended attempts to end it. The strange ending did nothing to detract from the preceding two hours of inspirational music. It was clear from both body language and musical interaction how much respect the three musicians had for each other, and how much fun they were having.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Música universal

I just found this on Hermeto Pascoal's site - his principles of Universal Music. In the wake of Jazz Nerds International and all the fervour over at NextBop, I think it's highly refreshing and useful to return to some of these basic concepts (especially principles 1 through 4). I have taken the liberty of Google-Translating the text (as much of it as I can read; the link goes to a draft written in Hermeto's wife's hand).

In my experience of nearly 7 years of making Universal Music, and in 6 years of living with its creator, my beautiful love and master Hermeto Pascoal, I learn and realize more and more that:
- Harmony is the Mother of Music, Rhythm is the Father, and Melody or Theme is the child;
- Universal Music is mixed without prejudice, but with good taste;
- Good Taste is not learned at school;
- All is Sound;
- To be a Universal Musician is to love, create, imagine and be inspired by the sounds of Nature;
- Nature is all that it exists. It is all worlds, and beyond;
- The Universal Musician does not compare, does not generalize, only seeks to find himself;
- Everyone has much to contribute to music;
- The only label we accept for the music that we make is Universal Music;
- Universal Music is the brotherhood and the love among people;
- The essence is already in everyone, naturally;
- To be a Universal Musician is to be open to natural influences, without premeditation;
- A Universal Musician is anyone that feels Universal Music;
- Practice is the master;
- You need to use the theory in favour of the music;
- Universal Music is food for the soul;
- In Universal Music I found myself.

Monday, June 07, 2010

2010 Montreal Jazz Fest picks

As always with the jazz festival, there are a gross amount of conflicting shows. Lots of big outdoor events, and this year there is as much jazz outside as inside, alongside all the electronics, international grooves and hip-hop. Below are my picks of the festival, divided into indoor and outdoor shows. There is no possible way to see everything. It should also be noted that pianist Dan Thouin is hosting the official festival jam sessions at l'Astral this year in the company of bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer John Fraboni. Each night, they'll be joined by special guests including Frank Lozano, Joel Miller, Benoit Charest and Erik Hove.

Due to space, I'm letting my recommendations go without comment. Bios are available at

EDIT: Always go with your first instinct. Commentary has been added.


June 25 - Vijay Iyer two ways - solo at Chapelle historique de Bon Pasteur, 7 pm; trio at Gesu, 10:30 pm [Vijay's Historicity was deservedly the talk of best-of-2009 lists, and having seen glimpses of his solo piano work at Banff I'm very curious to hear him solo in the great space of Bon Pasteur]
- Yosvany Terry Quartet at L'Astral, 9:30 [I'm a sucker for the fusion of Latin rhythms with sophisticated jazz composition and Terry does it at a very high level]
- Paolo Fresu & Omar Sosa, Gesu, 6 pm (part of Fresu's Invitation series) [Interested to hear this pairing of Fresu's trumpet, which I must admit I'm not so familiar with, with the pan-Afro-Caribbean pianism of Sosa]

June 26 - Jean Derome & les Dangereux Zhoms, L'Astral, 6 pm [local musique actuelle supergroup led by one of the founders of the scene]
- David Sanchez Group, Theatre Jean-Duceppe, 9:30 (with Omar Sosa opening) [see my love for forward-thinking Latin-influenced jazz]

June 27
- Chano Dominguez Flamenco View (also June 28), Theatre du Nouveau Monde, 8 pm [Dominguez's hybrid of flamenco with jazz intrigues me; I'm not familiar with it and I think it may be best witnessed live]

June 28
- Marco Benevento solo, Chapelle historique de Bon Pasteur, 7 pm [big fan of Marco's work with the Duo and his own work as a leader; interested in seeing how he ties in his use of pedals and electric instruments into a solo show]
- Chet Doxas, L'Astral, 6 pm [a stalwart local tenor player and composer, whose music is equally indebted to Lovano, Giuffre and Frisell]

June 30 - Bobby McFerrin Vocabularies (with choir from College Laval), 6 pm, Theatre Maisonneuve [What is there to say about Bobby McFerrin? High level vocalism, and I'm interested to see how he presents the cut-and-pasted choirs from the new album with a live collegiate choir]
- Dave Douglas & Keystone, Gesu, 10:30 pm [I'm an overall fan of Dave's work, especially the programmatic nature of Keystone, scores to the movies of Fatty Arbuckle]
- Jose James & Jef Neve duo, Savoy du Metropolis, 7 pm [James is in the midst of defining what it means to be a 21st century male jazz singer, and his rapport with Neve is a must-see]
- Joel Miller featuring Geoff Keezer (also July 1), Upstairs, 7 & 9 pm [Joel is a great friend and a local inspiration, and Geoffrey Keezer is a highly impressive and inventive pianist]

July 1 - John Zorn's Masada Marathon, Theatre Maisonneuve, 6 & 9 pm [looks like it will be a mix of the electric and acoustic configurations of Masada with a whole whack of the best improvisers around]
- Charles Papasoff, L'Astral, 6 pm [another local saxophonist/composer whose music I always find intriguing; I have not yet seen him live]

July 2 - Gretchen Parlato Band (also July 3), Savoy du Metropolis, 7 pm [I can't get enough of Gretchen's two records, a phenomenal singer with a great ear for reworking repertoire]
- Jack DeJohnette Group, Theatre Jean-Duceppe, 8 pm [a supergroup led by possibly my favourite living drummer - Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto, Dave Fiuczynski on guitar, George Colligan on piano and Jerome Harris on bass. To me it looks a bit like an odd grouping on paper but I'm fascinated to hear it]
- Robert Glasper w/ Terence Blanchard, Gesu, 6 pm [Glasper came up in Blanchard's ranks and I love both of their playing]
- Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures, Gesu, 10:30 pm [Rudolph is a percussive multi-instrumentalist with influences from all over the globe]

July 3 - Robert Glasper w/ Bilal, Gesu, 6 pm [boundary-pushing jazz-influenced R&B, or is that R&B-influenced jazz? Who knows? It will be fantastic]
- Andreya Triana, Bonobo & Mr. Scruff, Metropolis, 8:30 pm [a Ninja Tune triple bill - Andreya is a luscious voice to be heard and Bonobo & Scruff will keep the party rocking]

July 4 - Allen Toussaint solo, Gesu, 6 pm [for anybody who cares about the history of New Orleans music and New Orleans piano playing in particular, this will be a master class]
- Bugge Wesseltoft solo, Chapelle historique de Bon Pasteur, 7 pm [Norwegian "nu-jazz" phenom whom I've only heard in group projects, very curious about his solo concept]

July 5 - Allen Toussaint Bright Mississippi, Theatre Jean-Duceppe, 9:30 pm [the touring version of his acclaimed last record, with another interesting "on paper" grouping: Nicholas Payton, Don Byron and Marc Ribot]
- Christian Scott Quintet, Gesu, 10:30 pm
- Gale/Rodrigues Group, Upstairs, 7 pm & 9 pm [local B3 advocate Vanessa Rodrigues and her group with Toronto tenor Chris Gale; I'm a sucker for the mighty B]


June 26 - Remi-Jean Leblanc, TD Jazz stage, 6 pm [the bassist to watch in town, on upright and electric, is also a fantastic composer]
- October Trio, CBC/Rad-Can stage, 8 & 10 pm [Vancouver/Toronto group - saxophonist Evan Arntzen also plays with Amanda Tosoff, and was in Banff with me this past year; great young players to discover]

June 27 - Parc-X Trio, CBC/Rad-Can stage, 8 & 10 pm [my boys! Back in the Grand Prix competition after a stellar performance last year garnered them an honourable mention]
- Elizabeth Shepherd Trio, Rio Tinto Alcan stage, 8 & 10 pm [really fascinating pianist/singer/songwriter that gets odd meters to groove and sway; sophisticated, intelligent pop music]

June 28 - Isaac Neto (also June 29 & 30), Balmoral Bistro, 9 pm [my good friend and colleague, a brilliant Brazilian guitarist and singer]
- Narcicyst, Bell stage, 10 pm [member of hip-hop collectives Euphrates and Nomadic Massive, an insightful, incisive MC]

June 29 - Cameron Wallis, CBC/Rad-Can Stage, 8 & 10 pm [another local saxophonist/composer, man about town, musical director for many great singers and a compositional voice to follow]

June 30 - Slavic Soul Party, TD Stage, 9:30 & 11 pm [holding down the weekly residency at Barbes in Brooklyn with their Balkan brass madness]
- Le Golden, Bell stage, 10 pm [formerly known as Jedi Electro, the francophone session wizards unite for improvised electronic goodness]
- LA-33 (also July 1), Bell stage, 8 pm [who doesn't love a mambo version of the Pink Panther theme? but are they a one-trick pony? Curious to find out more]

July 1 - Rich Brown & rinsethealgorithm, TD Stage, 6 pm [Toronto electric bass stalwart with his band influenced by the London "broken-beat" scene, a group of old friends from T.O.]
- Jose James Blackmagic Band, TD Stage, 9:30 & 11 pm [see my comment about James above; this is the band performing his more R&B/electronic leaning work]
- Rafael Zaldivar Trio, Festival stage, 7 pm [Cuban pianist extraordinaire featuring my colleagues Nic Bedard and Kevin Warren]

July 2 - Chicago Goes West, TD Stage, 6 pm [drummer Karl Schwonik, Nic Bedard once again, and Chicago trumpeter James Davis; great straight-ahead trio with inventive arrangements]

July 3 - Amanda Tosoff, TD Stage, 6 pm [Amanda's group was out at Banff, she writes some beautiful music and the band concept grew by leaps and bounds out there]

July 4
- Michelle Gregoire, CBC/Rad-Can stage, 8 & 10 pm [Winnipeg-based jazz advocate whom I'm eager to discover]
- L'Orchestre Septentrional d'Haiti (also July 5), Bell stage, 8 pm [I honestly don't know anything about them but in Montreal it seems I'm surrounded by Haitian music and this is a great opportunity to get it from the source]

July 5 - Emir Kusturica's No Smoking Orchestra, TD stage, 9:30 pm [I know Kusturica mostly as a director who furthered the reputation of Balkan trumpet virtuoso Boban Markovic; this will be a lot of fun]
- NOMO, Bell stage, 10 pm [Detroit-based Afrobeat]
- Terry Clarke/Don Thompson/Phil Dwyer, CBC/Rad-Can stage, 8 pm [three Canadian jazz masters]

July 6 - Closing Mardi Gras with Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty and the Soul Rebels Brass Band, TD stage, 8:30 pm [do I really need to explain this one? Again, if you care about New Orleans music at all, this cannot be missed]
- Late night closing party with Soul Rebels Brass Band, L'Astral, midnight

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dancing in your head

Some videos from Gary Schwartz's LettingO performance at Théâtre La Chappelle in January have gone up on YouTube. I'm thrilled to be part of that project, playing with fantastic musicians and getting to write for some non-traditional instrumentation. Thanks to Fred Salter for helping us to sound good, and to the videographer (whose name I unfortunately don't know).

Gary Schwartz - guitar; Ron Dilauro - trumpet; Erik Hove - alto saxophone; Alex Côté - tenor & soprano saxophones; Frank Lozano - tenor saxophone & bass clarinet; Josh Zubot - violin; Joe Grass - pedal steel; David Ryshpan - keyboards; Nicolas Caloia - bass; Claude Lavergne & Thom Gossage - drums & percussion.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Front lines

The flame of the jazz wars has been rekindled, both from an economic and aesthetic point of view.

In the Terry Teachout corner, we have Nextbop contributor Jared Bailey and his essay about the trials and tribulations of being a young jazz musician. In the glass-half-full corner, we have NPR's Patrick Jarenwattananon positing how we can fund the Everyday $200 Gig. These essays are not entirely in opposition to each other in the sense that they tackle a few different issues, but to me they represent two ways of thinking about the state of the music (or anything, really): Bailey addresses the problem, while Jarenwattananon attempts to come up with solutions. Frankly, I'd rather hang with guys like PJ. I'm not so interested in bemoaning the current conditions of being a musician (or any kind of artist) in this climate; yes it's tough, yes it's gruelling, but I'm not sure it's any easier or harder than it was 10, 20, 50 years ago. I'm sure each generation has its own challenges to overcome. I'm much more concerned with finding ways to operate in the world as it is - finding alternative venues, different sources of income, different ways of presenting my music.

Those who have spoken to me this week have heard me joke that I might go on hiatus for the entire hockey season, because there really is no way to compete with the Habs for attention and dollars in this city, especially during their current playoff run. But having a pity party about people not coming out to gigs is not fruitful - figuring out ways to get people to the next gig is. It seems absolutely vital for artists and presenters to work together collectively, whether it be the novel programming Search and Restore is pursuing in NYC, or even something just as simple as floating an e-mail out before booking a gig to see if you're directly competing with your own scene. Like-minded artists need to band together to further our cause; we need to look out for each other.

Onto the aesthetic end of things - namely, Jason Marsalis' "nobody swings anymore" rant currently making the rounds of the Jazz Internet. Josh Rager's XYJazz is hosting a good chunk of the debate. Saxophonist Becky Noble sums up my feelings pretty well with her comment:

What bothers me about the so called "jazz wars" (popping up online all over the places these days!) is the idea that there are two camps; the purists and modernists. I think the reality is that most people actually fall somewhere in between on the spectrum. To be quite honest, I just don't buy the idea that a significant percentage (at least significant enough to be ranting about) of young musicians are shunning the history, abandoning melody, refusing the learn the standards, playing 30 minute solos void of meaning. Please, tell me where these people are???!!! Because in my experience studying and playing, I don't think I've met one.

In my opinion some of the more successful "jazz" musicians today have been able to meld the art form's history with modern influences, to create their own unique voice. I mean, that's what Bird did. Miles. Coltrane. Bill Evans. All of them. Let me cite five contemporary examples, off the top of my head: Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Douglas, Brian Blade, Seamus Blake. All four are "hip". You can clearly hear the entire history of their respective instruments when they play. They can swing like crazy, they aren't afraid to play a blues or in 4/4, and they also play chromatically and often in odd meters. They play standards and they also compose beautiful music. The don't sound like anyone else, and they just happen to be some of my favourite musicians.

I've made my stand very clear, both here and elsewhere: like Becky, I think it is absolutely necessary to be able to deal with everything, from swinging standards to the Ornette and post-Ornette language, odd meter complexity and free improvising, and whatever non-jazz influences anyone cares to bring into their music. Many of the students and recent graduates I meet and work with are cut from this cloth: we look up to people like Mehldau, Blade, David Binney and Maria Schneider - all composers who tie in many disparate influences into their work but also have a firm command of the "tradition." We're as likely to be listening to J Dilla and Milton Nascimento as Cannonball, Andrew Hill or Duke. Influences from outside the jazz sphere have been part of the traditional jazz repertoire for decades, from bossa nova to gospel to Indian music.

I agree that there is a lot of "insider jazz," to use a term from Kurt Rosenwinkel, that is more concerned with its own hipness than with any sense of emotional connection. However, that doesn't mean that every multi-metric, harmonically knotty, straight eighth tune is devoid of emotional significance. I can be left cold by tunes overstuffed with Giant Steps changes, or by rhythmic mind-melters that have no relationship to the tune being played; in other contexts those same elements of craft can astound, impress, and deeply move me if played with conviction and understanding. It's about cultivating a relationship to what you are playing, and again, a broad knowledge and respect for music is key.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

May flowers

Seeing as I'm a Montrealer, two things seem mandatory to start this blog post:
1) Holy hell, yesterday's snowstorm was freaky, and today it's still too cold for it to all have melted away. [Insert generic complaint about the weather]
2) Go Habs Go!

Now that that's out of the way...

Next Thursday, May 6, Trio Bruxo will be partnering up with Global NTT for their Over-Exposed series at Jupiter Room (3874 St. Laurent). It will be an all-Brazilian night, with Syli D'Or nominee and good friend Isaac Neto playing an opening set, Bruxo continuing, and then a few songs with all of us together. WeFunk's Professor Groove will be spinning selections between and after sets. Mike and Peter of Global NTT have been strong supporters of mine for years, and have been helpful to Trio Bruxo since its inception. We're happy to be part of their new showcase night.

Isaac Neto - guitar/voice; Trio Bruxo: David Ryshpan - keyboards; Nicolas Bédard - bass; Mark Nelson - drums/percussion.

Friday, May 7 marks the return of Michael Reinhart to Centre Ste-Ambroise (5080-A Ste. Ambroise). It's always a treat to play with Michael, and now that he lives mostly in Edmonton it's a less frequent occurrence. It's also the only group in which I play accordion - Michael's accordion! In an accordion extravaganza, opening the night will be Ottawa (also via Edmonton)'s Marie-Josée Houle.

Michael Reinhart - guitar/voice; David Ryshpan - piano/accordion; Jérémi Roy - bass.

Friday, May 28 is the reprise of Ardesco's Motown and More! show at the KoSA Centre (5325 Crowley, metro Vendome). I unfortunately had to miss the first one because I was in Calgary, but I'm honoured that they've asked me to be the musical director for this edition. I have been friends with the vocalists in Ardesco for many years, going back to when we were all affiliated with McGill's Effusion A Cappella.

Ardesco: Amelia McMahon, Melina Bikhazi, Elizabeth Burnell, Andrew Mangal, Othniel Petit-Frère - voice; David Ryshpan - keyboards; Dave Goulet - guitar; Shaun Ryan - bass; Mark Nelson - drums.

Monday, April 19, 2010

World Skip the Beat Playlist - April 19, 2010

King Sunny Ade - "Kiti Kiti" (Odú)
Steve Reid - "Don't Look Back" (Daxaar)
Jali Bakary Konteh - "Combination" (Konteh Kunda)
Bassekou Kouyate f/ Toumani Diabaté - "Timeni" (I Speak Fula)
Lionel Loueke - "Ami O" (Mwaliko)
Yinguica - "Mine a uni tendere" (Marrabenta)
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars - "Gbrr Mani" (Rise and Shine)
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou - "Sé wé non nan" (The Vodoun Effect)
Bob Ohiri and his Uhuru Sounds - "Ariwo Yaa" (Nigeria Afrobeat Special)
Fidel Sax Bateke & The Voices of Darkness - "Motako" (Nigeria Special 2)
*Souljazz Orchestra - "Agbara" (Rising Sun)
Puerto Plata - "Guantanamera" (Casita de campo)
Maestros del Joropo Oriental - "Guacharaca" (¡Y Que Vive Venezuela!)
Eugenia León - "La Tirana" (Rough Guide: Mexico)
Torreblanca - "Nunca acabo lo que empieza" (Defensa)
Tumulto - "Tú, yo y nuestra amor" (Love Peace & Poetry)
Pedro Aznar - "María Landó" (A Roar of Southern Clouds)
Rubén Blades - "First Circle" (Mundo)
Papi Brandao y su conjunto Aires Tableños - "La Murga de Panama" (Panama! 2)
Yerba Buena - "La candela" (Rough Guide: Latino Nuevo)
Forro in the Dark - "Lilou" (Light a Candle)
Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition - "Vandanaa Trayee" (Apti)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ring the alarm

Montreal has seen a wave of gentrification in the past couple of years in the traditionally low-rent, artist-friendly neighbourhoods of the Plateau and Mile-End. This influx of new affluence has led to the closures, either temporary or permanent, of such lynchpin venues as Main Hall (still closed, though its sister venue Green Room has re-opened), Casa del Popolo (sans music for many months, including during last year's edition of their June festival, Suoni per il popolo), and Zoobizarre. These closures stem from noise complaints filed by neighbours, which lead to investigations into the liquor licenses of said establishments, most of which did not have the proper permit to have live music in an establishment serving alcohol. I don't know what the exact language of the by-law is, sorry.

Recently, it has taken on a whole other level of stupidity, moving its sights towards venues right in the heart of downtown Montreal. First, L'Escalier (which existed as Cafe L'Utopik, and before that Cafe Ludik, a hub for Francophone progressives, alternative jazzers and singer-songwriters, and some pretty decent veggie food) was busted for not having a proper license. Now, via Karnival don and recent RBMA alum Ghislain Poirier, comes a brilliant open letter to our mayor concerning an incident at the Société d'Arts et Technologies (SAT). The letter is in French (EDIT: English translation here); I will briefly summarize. (Incidentally, the SAT was supposed to be a major partner in the Biennale Montreal 2009 until Stephen Harper's first round of arts funding cuts decimated its operating budget. Sigh.)

During the anniversary mini-festival of electro promoters I Love Neon on March 25, someone filed a noise complaint against the SAT, located on Saint-Laurent and Rene-Levesque: the gateway into Chinatown, a stone's throw from the eastern edge of the Jazz Fest site, and smack in the middle of what the city is building up as "le Quartier des spectacles." When the cops showed up, the SAT complied with the request to turn down, but I Love Neon has moved its events elsewhere. As much as I advocate protecting one's hearing and sensible volume levels, the electro and dubstep that I Love Neon were likely rocking that night is meant to be played loud (I wasn't there)!

The SAT is not really a residential neighbourhood; bordered by other huge clubs such as Metropolis and Club Soda, as well as the legendary strip bar Cleopatra's across the street, it's not like there's a rave going down in the middle of a placid suburb. I'm sorry, but if you want peace and quiet, live in the West Island. If you file a noise complaint against a club at the intersection of two of the most important streets in the city, you should have a psych evaluation. What's next - someone who buys one of the condos going up around the renovated Place des Arts filing a noise complaint against an outdoor show at Jazz Fest or Francofolies (edit: which at least director Pierre Fortin agrees is a bit much)? Someone calling the cops on Divers/Cité or Nuits D'Afrique? And at what point will this administration ever listen to the residents of the city it's supposedly governing - how many failed projects must Mayor Tremblay launch without public consultation?

One of my most vivid memories of New York City was walking to the subway with Darcy James Argue and David Adler after the 2007 Vision Festival. We passed the freshly boarded-up ruins of Tonic, and stood for a moment lamenting its loss. (Hat tip to Steve Smith for re-tweeting this article about the inflation on the Tonic block.) I knew in that moment if clubs like CBGB's and Tonic were being demolished in New York, it would only be a matter of time before such things happened in Montreal. And sure enough, shortly thereafter we had the aforementioned clubs silenced, not to mention the sucker-punch of losing the Spectrum.

It is vital that we protect all elements of culture, not only that which condo developers and public servants deem suitable and palatable. Especially in a city that prides itself on being a thriving artistic metropolis, in a city where arts and culture account for much of its tourism revenue. For anyone that gives a damn about any festival, venue, promoter, or musician in Montreal, it is imperative that we make our voices heard. In the next municipal election, this should become a talking point.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Delivery is passionate

Montreal pianist (and one of my mentors) Josh Rager has a guest blog at Jenn Hardy's Pork Pie Jazz, responding to the recent hivemind about the cultural relevance and significance of jazz. While I agree with Ronan Guilfoyle's sentiment that jazz shouldn't be trying to play in pop's ballpark, and I concur with some of Josh's sentiments as well, there's a tangent to this that I've been thinking about quite a lot lately.

I've been talking to other colleagues lately about the idea of really owning one's music, or owning a song. The idea is hard to qualify, necessarily: it's one of those "I know it when I hear it" sorts of things. It's the sense of conviction and belief in the art one is creating, that comes across on record or from the stage. To my ears, it often comes across as the sound of exploration, a personal musical quest.

To be fair, I don't claim to own everything that I play. But I do endeavour to try. I can't lay claims to authenticity, really - Indigone covers everything from Bjork to Ornette Coleman, Bulgarian Women's Radio Choir tunes to Stevie Wonder. Hell, I lead a Brazilian group and I'm not Brazilian in the least. As a composer, improviser, and performer, every song has its own world that it inhabits and all that I try to do is live in that world for the time that I need to.

To me, the idea of cultural significance and relevance is just a signifier for "honesty." When a soloist plays a lick and it obviously sounds like they're deploying a lick, it rings false. Hearing the stitching within a solo has become a big pet peeve of mine. I think we, as critical listeners and musicians, can tell when a pop tune is in a performer's repertoire because they truly identify with it or because it's a ploy to appear hip. Or if someone uses a non-swing beat.

The progression of "fusion" music has become truly seamless, and that music - I'm thinking of Rudresh Mahanthappa's Kinsmen, Miguel Zenon's Esta Plena, the Gilfema +2 record, Maria Schneider's use of Afro-Peruvian rhythms - is some of the most thrilling and engaging, to my ears. Zenon's record, and the music of Guillermo Klein, is to me what "Latin jazz" always should have been - modern jazz coming from a set of Latin influences without necessarily having to exhibit all the trappings of its Latin heritage. All these artists are "culturally relevant" - they are embracing their life experiences and communicating them through music. That's all any of us can ever hope to achieve. Making "Body and Soul" culturally relevant doesn't necessarily mean turning it into an R&B slow jam - it means truly understanding what that lyric, that melody, is about and evoking that emotion however one can. What seems to deter a lot of non-aficionado listeners is that mediocre jazz - irrelevant jazz, if you will - reduces music to chord changes and scales. It can become a display of craft and science, rather than an expression of art.