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.