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