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.