Monday, December 05, 2011

Indigo, indigoing...

Speaking of chance encounters in New York, on my last visit, I got to meet fellow Ropeadope artist Todd Clouser in the flesh at The Bitter End. Todd lives in Baja, so for the two of us to meet while both passing through NYC was a bit of odd happenstance. I mentioned, as I always do, that if he ever wanted to play in Montreal I'd hook him up. A few Facebook messages later, I rounded up the Indigone crew for what seems to be an annual winter performance! We welcome bassist Joel Kerr into the extended Indigone family for this occasion. (Seb will have just returned from Chile alongside Color Violeta, a fantastic project paying tribute to Violeta Parra. ¡Felicidades, mis hermanos!)

CASA DEL POPOLO (4873 St-Laurent)
8:30 pm - $10
David Ryshpan - keyboards/compositions; Joel Kerr - bass; Evan Tighe - drums.

For a brief time, let ours be the beautiful songs

There's been a long silence on this blog, not necessarily intentionally. Very luckily, in my world, "jazz" is not necessarily that uncool. (More on that subject to possibly follow)

Loyal readers of this blog have probably noticed various winks and nods to a project that I've been pursuing. Finally, after nearly two years of work, I can finally divulge all the details in this space.

The name Gitanjali Jain has made frequent appearances here over the past year or so: we both perform together in the live salsa/hip-hop band Mantecoso (who also backed up Latin soul legend Joe Bataan), and we both had the privilege to record with Matana Roberts on Coin Coin: Gens de couleur libres. A strong vocalist with a background in theatre, we initially met randomly at a bar in New York. I realized that having your drinking neighbour speak French is common on Boulevard St-Laurent but not on Avenue C.

Gitanjali knew that I was very inspired by Latin American poetry in the past - two pieces from the Indigone album, Cycles, are based on Neruda and Borges, respectively - and had intentions to work with more of it in the future. While I was in Banff in 2010, she e-mailed me an anonymous, pre-Hispanic Mexican poem she had found. I wrote music to it in two days. Upon my return to Montreal, she showed me the poetry of her uncle, Francisco Serrano. A couple of his poems immediately lit the same spark that Neruda and Borges touched, as well. At some point in this process, we said, "Why don't we turn this into a full-on song cycle?" Months of writing, rehearsal, demo-ing, revising, and support from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec later, the song cycle is here: ALICUANTA.

Alicuanta (aliquant): "A number or expression which is not an exact divisor of a given number or expression" (Oxford Dictionary of Mathematics)

 It's an apt title, for what we've created is not really any one thing in particular: musically, we've drawn from Mexican folkloric traditions, modern jazz, and contemporary classical. Looking down the road at future presentations, we plan on utilizing Gitanjali's strong background in theatre, but this isn't a play, nor an opera, nor a musical. It's somewhere in between.

The texts are mostly drawn from Serrano's anthology, Aquí es ninguna parte, though there are some poems drawn from other books of his, as well as that pre-Hispanic poem that started it all. Mr. Serrano describes the poems we've selected for the song cycle as "songs of love and lost love, pain and hope, rhythms that evoke surprise, joy, gratitude, and loneliness and longing and nostalgia. In short, a passionate record of the forgotten wonder of being alive."

 The songs are bridged by improvised interludes set to a poem entitled "Elegía trágica," written in homage to General Francisco Roque Serrano (1889-1927). Investigating the history of the General has been as much a part of this project as the other poetry and composition; a leading figure of the Mexican Revolution, General Serrano was brutally assassinated by his opponent while running for presidency in 1927. (Yes, that's a gross oversimplification of the events that occurred.) It's a tangled web of betrayal, political corruption and historiography that to this day is still not really clear.

This marks the first time I've collaborated in composition with someone to this degree, on this scale. I'm incredibly grateful to Gitanjali for her co-piloting this project and to the musicians who have played a part in developing this work. I'm proud to announce the premiere of ALICUANTA is Wednesday, December 14 at a beautiful loft called La Cenne. All the details are below:

LA CENNE (7755 St-Laurent, #300)
8 pm sharp! - $10 (tickets available through
Gitanjali Jain - voice; David Ryshpan - piano/electronics; Sébastien Pellerin - bass; Claudio Palomares - cajón; Mark Nelson - drums; Marjolaine Lambert & Stephanie Park - violins; Lilian Belknap - viola; Bryan Holt - cello.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hallowed halls

Here's my first attempt at video-blogging. A couple of weeks back I got a guided tour of the new Montreal Jazz Festival exposition from head honcho André Ménard. He showed me around the exhibit featuring memorabilia from a small sampling of artists important to the festival's history. For a more thorough investigation of the Montreal Jazz Festival, be sure to check out the Médiathèque, home to a bunch of Mac Minis loaded up with all the CDs in the Festival's collection as well as every videotaped show over the years. I've already whiled away many hours in that place, with a promise of many more to come: Spectra has taken ownership of late jazz connoisseur/historian/"friend of jazz" Len Dobbin's archives, including more than 12,000 CDs and 500 books.

Monday, October 17, 2011

SFJAZZ Collective - L'Astral, 10/12/2011

Given my well-documented geekery for all things Stevie Wonder, there was absolutely no way I was going to miss this latest edition of the SFJAZZ Collective. (I even had to forgo seeing my brothers and sisters of Groundfood & Snarky Puppy tear up Club Lambi - ah, the sacrifices we make.) The last time I saw the Collective was in 2009, on the McCoy Tyner run at the Metropolis. There have been a couple of personnel changes since: Avishai Cohen has assumed the trumpet chair from Dave Douglas; Mark Turner is on tenor, in place of Joe Lovano; and Edward Simon is now on the piano bench instead of Renee Rosnes. For the Canadian stretch of the tour, Kendrick Scott was subbing Eric Harland on drums, and the L'Astral hit was his first gig.

The first set started with Robin Eubanks' arrangement of Wonder's "Race Babbling," which kicked things off with a healthy dose of swing. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris carved out a deliberately bluesy statement before flying across his instrument. Scott has a broader sound on the drums and washier cymbals than Harland's precise and tight kit, creating an Elvin-like lope. A fragment of "Contusion" sent Eubanks off over a hybrid samba/songo groove. Cohen, like his sister Anat, is a charismatic presence onstage, trotting off behind the piano to dance behind Eubanks' solo. The whole adventure wound down with a beautiful chorale of "If It's Magic."

"Deliberate" is an adjective that came up frequently in my notebook. All the members of the Collective, but notably Turner, Harris, and Simon, have an almost architectural solo concept that came to the fore throughout the show. Harris' arrangement of "Visions" opened with a stark solo vibraphone intro, contrasting clean octaves with clusters that created the widest phasing effect I've ever heard from vibes. The blend between Harris and Simon evoked a massive Fender Rhodes. Gradually the vibes set up a very dense, repetitive figure, a much busier version of "Visions" than would necessarily suit my tastes. It's one of the strongest melodies and it seemed to get obscured. Scott was pushing Turner through his solo, which released into the gorgeous bridge of the tune.

Cohen's ballad, "Family," opened with another stunningly crafted solo introduction by Edward Simon over a G minor drone. I was so taken by the melody and its orchestration I stopped writing notes. Matt Penman took the microphone and introduced his own tune, "The Economy" in nearly flawless French. Described as a "tragicomic" affair, the tune is marked by a dark and biting unison line. The four horns scattered to the corners of the stage, playing an off-mic chorale, with Cohen seemingly playing into the piano. The drum solo was cleverly crafted as a call-and-response between the riff and Scott, which then exploded into assertive statements by Miguel Zenón and Simon.

The second set opened with Ed Simon's tune, "Young and Playful," which featured a strong Cohen solo (complete with a quote of "Peter and the Wolf") and some winks-and-nods at tumbao from Simon. Mark Turner's arrangement of "Blame it On the Sun" was next, tweaking the melody through some subtle rhythmic variations without fragmenting it too much. Scott was in lockstep throughout Zenón's solo, finding all the right holes to fill without ever getting in the way. Penman's version of "Creepin'" was suitably brooding, with a phenomenal Turner statement. The outro was delivered in a new, faster tempo with Zenón and Cohen trading. The set concluded with SFJAZZ's semi-viral hit, Zenón's arrangement of "Superstition." Scott, throughout the evening, took things in a more Latin direction than Eric Harland's hip-hop-informed interpretations, and it worked surprisingly well here. Eubanks dug in with another great turn.

There's been discussion about the fact that SFJAZZ has paid tribute to a non-jazz composer, such as Stevie Wonder. I would personally argue that Wonder is as much an influence on today's jazz composers as Kenny Wheeler, Wayne Shorter, or Monk. This edition of the Collective seemed to have a much more cohesive language among its members, both in terms of improvising and arrangement. Easily one of the standout gigs of the year that I have seen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Trio Bruxo at L'OFF Festival

It's a rarity that I get to perform on a real piano with this band. Thanks to Claude Thibault from SortiesJazzNights for the quick upload!

Monday, September 26, 2011

In the good ole days when we were young

After an intense week of final prep, the Joe Bataan gig is in the past. It was not the first time I've learned another artist's repertoire and mounted a band for them - Trio Bruxo has done that frequently - but this was on another level. I felt like, in the absence of Joe and his music director, Ray Poncin, that I was entrusted with his legacy of Latin soul and getting it into shape before they got there. The musicians of Mantecoso had the music for two months before the gig, and like any jazz-trained bandleader I rehearsed according to "the ink," or what was on the page. It was only two days before the show, during dinner, when Ray told me, "Oh yeah, we don't play it like the charts." Cue some mad scrambling before the final rehearsal to figure out their sign language signals (similar to my own, but different enough that we had to wrap our heads around it) and realizing that basically every tune was no longer a set arrangement but modular sections to be cut and pasted at Joe's whim.

It was an honour to be on stage alongside Joe - an old-school performer and businessman who drives the bus in the same way as classic R&B singers of yore. It's a New York-bred mentality that not many people have in Montreal. His riveting stories about contracts and life on the road was mentorship unlike any that exists in Canada. I have to thank Frank Rodriguez and Lou Piensa of Afro-Latin Soul for spearheading this project, and for them and Joe and Ray to put their faith in me is a privilege I don't take lightly. And many thanks to Pop Montreal for taking the initiative of booking Joe Bataan, an artist who has a significant cult following; contrary to the enthusiastic Midnight Poutine review, most of the audience at Sala Rossa were there explicitly and exclusively for Mr. Bataan. Before we went on stage, Joe received a few guests backstage telling him that they had waited 30 years to see him live.

Some reviews of the show have gone up, and I just want to set the facts straight. It's clear from the tone of the reviews from The Gazette's T'cha Dunlevy and La Presse's Alain Brunet that, like any good freelance journalist, they caught mere snippets of our set. Anyone who knows Joe Bataan's catalogue would not peg him as a salsa artist - he has always referred to himself as "Latin soul." Only three of the tunes in our twelve-song set were salsa dura - the rest ran the gamut from bossa nova to breakbeats, proto-rap and gospel. As much as I love the Latin musicians in Montreal, I don't know many of them that could handle that diversity of music. It takes a versatile crew of musicians to be able to hang on "Puerto Rico me Llama" as well as "Call My Name." I'm aware that it wasn't perfect, but I'm satisfied with it, considering we had 3 hours with Joe to re-learn the arrangements. Regarding the weakness of drums and percussion in the mix, suffice it to say that when the congas are miked with only one overhead mic, its presence in the mix will be severely compromised, regardless of how great the player is.

Regarding the lack of Latino-American musicians on stage with Joe, I want to bring to everyone's attention that we had three musicians from the Latin & South American diaspora with us: Butta Beats is originally from Buenos Aires, saxophonist Steve Salcedo is of Dominican heritage, and conguero David Sanchez (also of Heavy Soundz) is Mexican. The fact that we had a Torontonian Jew, a Québécois, and a Minnesotan in the band reflects the reality of the Montreal music scene quite aptly and I think is a perfectly appropriate showcase for Pop Montreal and for the influence of Afro-Latin Soul across North America. Let's use this successful concert to rejuvenate the Latin music scene in Montreal. The crowd came out to support in force, and there are ample musicians here, Latino or not, to capably back up the legends that are still among us.

Monday, September 12, 2011


One year ago, when Trio Bruxo was in São Paulo, vibraphonist, producer, and man-about-town Guga Stroeter was kind enough to show us around Centro Cultural Rio Verde and studio Sambatá across the street. He gave us phone numbers of fantastic musicians in town, equipment for our upcoming gigs, and CDs that his great band Orquestra HB (Heartbreakers) have put out. Two of them feature the singer Sapopemba on traditional songs from various regions of Brazil; one CD traces the common roots of candomblé and santería to the Nigerian Yoruban traditions, and unites a band that is half-Cuban, half-Brazilian. Both of these albums floored me when I got back to Montreal. What's more is that Guga told us Sapopemba is (or was?) a truck driver, whose parents used to take him to all the parties in town - that's how he learned Brazilian folklore and according to Guga, "knows more about the folkloric history of Brazil than any professor."

Guga posted this on Facebook this morning: a program on TV Cultura called Ensaio (Rehearsal), featuring Sapopemba & Orquestra HB. As the weather starts to get colder here in Montreal, this music brings me right back to São Paulo. Muito obrigado. Axé.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

September happenings

Apologies for the blog silence. It's been busy behind the scenes here. Some of the reasons are listed below.

September 9, 2011 marks the return of Trio Bruxo. We haven't played as a trio with original drummer Mark Nelson in quite a while - Pascal Lepage, now of Bran Van 3000 fame, has been a fantastic sub lately. We'll be adding some new tunes to the repertoire, including original compositions of mine. This gig also marks the one-year (!) anniversary of our adventures in São Paulo, so expect a good chunk of music related to that city. [I should really do a link-dump post of all the fantastic people we met there; I'm still amazed by the hospitality and graciousness people showed us while we were there, and I can't wait to go back.] Our good friend Isaac Neto will open for us, and we'll do a few tunes together at the end, as well.

4465 St-Laurent, corner Mont-Royal
Friday, September 9, 2011
9 pm - $10
DRR - keyboards; Nicolas Bédard - bass; Mark Nelson - drums/percussion; with Isaac Neto - guitar & voice.

I've been keeping this next gig pretty close to my chest. I am humbled, privileged and thrilled to announce that I will be playing with Latin Soul pioneer Joe Bataan at POP Montreal. A co-production by POP, Afro-Latin Soul (run by Nomadic Massive's Lou Piensa and San Juan Hill's Frank Diggz), and The Goods, we've rounded up the Mantecoso gang and become the Afro-Latin Soul Orchestra. We'll be playing all the Bataan classics, and it promises to be a fantastic night of music.

On many levels, this show is very important to me. It marks Mr. Bataan's first ever gig in Montreal, and to be entrusted with his music is a great honour, indeed. I've long been an advocate of meetings between international musicians with local players; as much as I love the notion of working bands and nurturing that development, I think the bandstand experience of being in the pickup band for a touring soloist and singer is also necessary for musical development, not only for individual artists but for a city's scene in general. I hope that this gig will re-energize the live Latin music scene in Montreal - it's bubbling under the surface, and recent shows by salsa groups both homegrown and from elsewhere have proven that it's a vibrant community - and promote more exchanges between Montreal musicians and other like-minded artists.

POP Montreal, Afro-Latin Soul & The Goods present: JOE BATAAN
Saturday, September 24, 2011
La Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent)
doors: 8:30 pm; San Juan Hill -> Joe Bataan -> The Goods
Joe Bataan - keyboards/vocals; Ray Poncin - trumpet; Steven Salcedo - tenor sax/flute; Jean-Philippe Tremblay - trombone; Chris Cargnello - guitar; DRR - keyboards; Mark Haynes - bass; David Sanchez - congas; Butta Beats - drums.

Friday, August 26, 2011

City inspiration

I took a bit of a whirlwind trip down to New York this weekend, with the express purpose of being a tourist in Bienestan, the fictional country established by Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein. Named by bassist Matt Penman in a linguistic mixup (he misread the title of "impresión de bienestar" as "bienestan"), Bienestan is a place to do whatever you like. As evidenced by their final set at Jazz Standard, that meant drastically revisiting standards and Charlie Parker tunes in the kaleidoscopic rhythmic language that Klein loves. Joined by saxophonist Miguel Zenón (who is another master of rhythmic illusion driven more by clave and melody than math) and drummer Eric Harland, the music was absolutely brilliant. The opening minimalist vignette of "Implacable" for just Goldberg on piano and Klein on Rhodes led into an abstraction of "All the Things You Are." The self-described "cubist" takes on "Donna Lee" and "Blues for Alice" were highlights.

Earlier on Sunday I had a lesson with Guillermo. We looked at some music I'm writing for piano trio, voice and string quartet (more on this later), and he offered concise, cogent and inspiring insights into how to improve the music. His sense of harmony and orchestration is deeply rooted in Duke and Gil Evans; throughout the lesson this became clear. One of the best lessons I've had in a long time, in terms of getting myself to re-evaluate my own work, my process, and my musical language. We also took a look at the woodwind orchestrations on Miguel Zenón's new record, Alma Adentro.

Other impressions from this weekend:
- Spotted at the Jazz Standard: Matt Merewitz, Dan Tepfer, Aaron Parks, Patrick Jarenwattananon, Obed Calvaire, and Billy Hart. Maybe it's because there's a concentration of everything in NYC, but it was really nice to see fellow musicians and industry people at a show in the "off-season". Yes, I'm guilty of not going out to jazz shows as much as I used to or as I should. I'm planning on changing that. The scene starts with ourselves.
- Monday night I went down to the Bitter End for Richie Cannata's Monday night jam session. I went once, years ago, when it was at the Cutting Room. It feels much more like a session and a hang at the Bitter End than at the Cutting Room, where it felt like a show. I met fellow Ropeadope artist Todd Clouser, and was blown away by the house band's keyboardist, Benny Harrison. There was a 16-year-old curly-haired, bespectacled kid that played some really solid rhythm guitar on "Whole Lotta Love" and "Last Dance with Mary Jane." It recalled my days swigging iced tea out of pint glasses at the Rex.
- Guitarist Oz Noy played the set before the jam, with rock-influenced takes on Monk tunes: "Light Blue" had a surf quality to it, and the closing "Evidence" was drenched in fuzz. They did a dirty shuffle version of "Ballin' the Jack," too.
- What impressed me most at the Bitter End jam, frankly, was the sound system and the sound man. When was the last time there was a soundman on site for a jam session in Montreal? The system was powerful but not painfully loud. This is a lesson all Montreal venues need to learn. (I agree wholeheartedly with Bugs Burnett's assessment of Jello Bar, but it would be infinitely more impressive to hear Alan Prater, Dan Thouin and company through a really well-tuned system with a sound guy at the helm.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

FIJM: Wrap-up & 2012 Wish List

Nearly a month late, I just realized I never did a final summation on the Montreal Jazz Fest. The final show I saw was Malian vocalist Khaira Arby, who was just absolutely stunning. The obstacles which she has had to overcome are enough to warrant attention, but above and beyond that her voice is golden. She's got that indescribable power that Milton Nascimento and so many other great singers share to just cut to the core of a song and a listener, without fanfare or flash but with sheer emotional acuity. Arby is described as a fierce feminist, but I feel like she's more a humanist, advocating the equality of sexes. She is the reason women can sing in Tuareg communities. What an inspiring way to close the festival.

These are acts that got away in 2011 (and in previous editions too). Here's my wish list for 2012, and I've even taken it upon myself to suggest the venues! Most of these artists have not performed at the FIJM to my knowledge, the exceptions being Zenón and Forró in the Dark who are just way overdue for a return.

- Guillermo Klein y los Guachos in Gesù
- John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble in Gesù
- Miguel Zenón Esta Plena in Gesù or Club Soda
- Ambrose Akinmusire in (guess where!) Gesù
- Tirtha in Gesù
- Kneebody (with or without Theo Bleckmann) in L'Astral
- Calle 13, outside or in Metropolis
- Instituto at Savoy at midnight
- Criolo, at Club Soda
- Forró in the Dark, outside or Club Soda
- Mark de Clive-Lowe featuring Nia Andrews, Rahel and/or Sy Smith, outside or in Club Soda
- Aloe Blacc in Club Soda

And my two personal pipe-dreams:
- Ruben Blades opening or closing the festival outdoors
- Zimbo Trio in L'Astral

Monday, July 04, 2011

Montreal Guitar Show 2011

No, I'm not a guitarist. I have always been fascinated by the instrument, though. Also being in love with all things shiny, and having hung out in music stores since a young age, I have made a point over the last three years of going to the Montreal Guitar Show, one of the biggest guitar expositions in North America. It was created to coincide with the Jazz Festival, having now spawned its own award and its own sub-series of programming.

The show is split into two large conference rooms at the Hyatt: one of electric guitars (with soundproofed booths with boutique amplifiers), and one of acoustics (also with soundproofed module studios). Of the electrics, I got to lay my hands on Mike Potvin's Ranchero Grande Thinline - I've always had a thing for Thinline Telecaster-style guitars - and Kauer Guitars' Daylighter, both of which played amazingly for this non-guitarist. I wish I remembered the name of the amp I played them through. One guitar I played a couple of years ago, and still covet, is Marc Lupien's Convertible, presented again this year in all its glory. James Trussart's instruments looked far too intimidating and beautiful for this pretender to pick up and play.

I didn't spend as much time in the acoustic side, but I did see Batson Guitars' flat-fronted offerings, and a beautiful luthier from Tijuca, Fernando Bernardo. I've also been nursing an obsession over lap steels, so I was happy to refresh myself with the work of Joseph Yanuziello, and really wanted to check out Bill Asher's work.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

FIJM 2011 - Day 8

Another Jazz Fest day dominated by the outdoor stages. Singer Magos Herrera kicked off the evening with a set of music from her new album Mexico Azul. Herrera takes songs from the golden era of Mexican cinema spanning the 1930s-50s, and re-arranges them in a polished, modern jazz setting. Many of the tunes were reset in odd meters, reflecting the traditional Mexican 3 feel with a subtle lilt. Pianist Luis Perdomo and guitarist Nir Felder laid a lush harmonic carpet for Herrera's voice. Both of them were strong, impressive soloists, especially Perdomo with his post-Herbie Hancock language. The balance between drummer Alex Kautz and percussionist Rogerio Boccato was something to behold - the two never got in each other's way, and with Boccato playing his multi-percussion setup with sticks most of the time, it really blended into the sound of Kautz's kit. Herrera pushed her voice (which sounds more powerful now than it did on Distancia) with a bit of a pop-ish manner. The only headscratching moment came at the end of the set, when she delivered the beautiful "Tres Palabras" in English, which seemed to rob it of its poetry.

I caught a bit of Peru's Novalima, whose electronically-enhanced Afro-Peruvian funk translates far better on a big outdoor stage with lots of bass than in the cabaret setting of Lion D'or (as I saw a few years ago). Still riding the wave of their last album, Coba Coba, they previewed some new material from an upcoming record. Based on the set, I look forward to hearing it.

Nomadic Massive & Groundfood tore the roof off Savoy late night. Nomadic warmed up the crowd with some of their live set staples, with a couple of new tracks interspered. Then they made way for Groundfood, who added an MC alongside their usual crew of Kalmunity-affiliated band members. Then, the masterpiece was the all-killer, no-filler, hybrid set of Hip Hop Revival greatest hits. What started as a one-off night of Native Tongues covers has grown into a new Montreal tradition. Their set on Saturday included Black Star's "Definition," Tali & Meduza taking on Lauryn Hill's "That Thing," and the closing posse cut "Scenario." The highlight of the night was seeing the hip-hop colours of guitarist Ali Sepu (taking the mic for "Insane in the Membrane") and poet/trumpeter Blackbird. A night not to be forgotten.

A note: Tali mentioned on the mic (and this was corroborated by FIJM programmer Marc-André Sarault) that on the first night of Nomadic's midnight residency, there were up to 2000 people waiting outside that couldn't get in. On Saturday, Savoy was full well before midnight. In a year where the outdoor "blowouts" have been referred to by the Gazette's Bernie Perusse as "underwhelming," perhaps FIJM should consider booking Nomadic, Groundfood, and their extended family of the Montreal soul & hip-hop scene for a real homegrown expo next year. Just a thought.

FIJM 2011 - Day 7

After the modernist Latin jazz of John Benitez and Yosvany Terry, and the knockout salsa of La Excelencia, I was looking forward to hearing the more traditional sounds of Sierra Maestra. A group of traditional soneros, active since 1976, their former members include Juan de Marcos Gonzalez - the mastermind of Afro-Cuban All Stars - and Jesus Alemany of Cubanismo.

They immediately portrayed the difference of people learning the music vs. people living the music - though not loud or in-your-face like brass-driven salsa, the time feel of Sierra Maestra was powerfully deep. With the traditional complement of percussion (conga, bongo, guiro and cowbell) and electric bass, the sound was well grounded. The rhythmic changes - from son to changui to 6/8 - were highly effective; they spurred the crowd of dancers, and while they weren't necessarily executed in the tightest fashion, they always felt good.

With a band this culturally and historically important, a group that very rarely plays Montreal, the show at Club Soda was disappointingly short: 40 minute first set, then an intermission, then a half-hour second set. No encore, house music on, techs abruptly and diligently tearing down the mics. Not everyone needs to do four-hour marathons like Prince or Peter Frampton, and I know the Festival needs to change over the venues, but by the time Sierra Maestra generated a good dose of momentum in their set, they were offstage.


I was fortunate to catch about half of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's set. Playing mostly music from their upcoming album, The Race Riot Suite, it was my first occasion to hear them with bassist Jeff Harshbarger. Harshbarger's woody sound is more "acoustic" than his predecessors, which frees up pianist Brian Haas and drummer Josh Raymer. Lap steel guitarist Chris Combs is the composer of the suite, whose movements range from semi-New Orleans grooves to late-Romantic or early-20th century sonatas for Haas. Combs' sound, soaked in reverb and delay, adds an otherworldly texture to the band, a collision between Frisellian Americana and indie rock thrust. Raymer reminded me of local drummer Jim Doxas, in his mannerisms around the kit and in his wide swing feel.


Pianist Dan Tepfer is a fan of counterpoint. In evidence from the first tune of his Upstairs set, "Nines," his harmonic sense stems from interweaving lines, and less from traditional chord-scale pedagogy or vertical harmony. His exceeding amount of technique is at the service of his line construction and a solidly intriguing rhythmic sense. Drummer Ted Poor was the embodiment of interactivity without being overbearing. He was even busy at times but still supportive of Tepfer, the former watching the latter like a hawk during endings.

Tepfer, Poor and bassist Massimo Biolcati exhibited great range as well. Midset, they displayed their efficacy with the bebop and post-bop tradition with a contrapuntally fractured "Giant Steps" and another beboppy (in Tepfer's own way) tune. On this latter tune, Poor was on fire with his brushes, and the whole trio generated a lot of heat without exploding in volume. Tepfer's variety of dynamic, within his lines and from song to song, was astounding. The opening B major chords in Jacques Brel's "Le plat pays" were chiming incantations, and his original ballad "The Distance" was almost pastoral and bluesy. These ballads had a vibe reminiscent of when Brad Mehldau plays Radiohead, and allowed Biolcati to display a singing, resonant solo voice on the bass.

As a pianist/composer, Tepfer is also a fan of arpeggiated figures that anchor some of his tunes. Both "Nines" and "Back At Ya" had repetitive figures that served as the foundation of the piece, but also threatened to straitjacket the band members a bit. When Tepfer released his left hand from the shackles of the ostinato, the tunes lifted. The freer endings of the pieces were just as, if not more, compelling, than the tunes they concluded. The closing "All I Heard Was Nothing" was the exception, where the pedal point was a hallmark of the piece but not restrictive. Poor and Tepfer soared over the tune, with Tepfer unleashing some modern bluesiness on the vamp out. The trio returned for an encore of "Body and Soul," featuring another enchanting Biolcati solo and Tepfer muting the piano with paper and his fingers. One of the best sets of music of the Festival so far, and easily the best swing feel I've yet heard this week, courtesy of Ted Poor.

Friday, July 01, 2011

FIJM Day 6 - ¡Sabroso!

When I arrived at Upstairs at 6:30 for the first of three sets by the John Benitez group (supposed to start at 7), there were no cymbals on the kit, no bass on stage, and no musicians in the house. Due to some unexpected transportation problems, the band only arrived at 7:15 and hit around 7:50. Both John and club owner Joel Giberovitch apologized profusely for the delays; it didn't seem to affect the music one bit.

As soon as everything was set up and soundchecked to their liking, the band launched into a set of tunes from their new album, Purpose. The first tune took a happy, major-key riff and used it to modulate through various key centres, on top of Benitez's wide tumbao as its anchor. Manuel Valera was an inspiring pianist - he's got a great handle on the 1960s post-bop language, beautifully soulful chord voicings, and an ear for intriguing, denser polychords, but he really lifted the band to a new level every time he unleashed a montuno, as he did behind saxophonist Yosvany Terry. Many of the tunes in the set were either sectional or longer-forms, filled with unison figures split among different members of the band. Terry picked up his shekere for Tom Guarna's guitar solo, whose clean sound, with a bit of delay, added some breath and atmosphere around the band. Guarna's moment to truly shine came in his solo introduction to the second tune of the set, a beautiful ballad featuring out-of-time statements from Benitez and Valera. Guarna and Valera dovetailed their sounds and lines behind Terry's alto solo, elegantly staying out of each other's way.

Francis Benitez, John's son, is a force to be reckoned with. At his young age, he's got chops galore but also the discipline to sit in the pocket. From traditional cascara patterns to funky backbeats to some of the most convincing swing I've heard at this edition of the festival, the father-son rhythm section drove the band forward. Definitely a drummer to watch out for. In addition to being a fantastic alto player, Terry is also a virtuoso on the shekere, as he displayed on the unaccompanied intro to "Rumba." He and the younger Benitez were greatly responsible for finding new colours in the grooves behind the soloists.

From there, it was over to the mainstage to dive into some salsa dura from NYC's La Excelencia. Getting there an hour early, I watched as Montreal's tight-knit community of salsa dancers congregated towards the front and warmed up with miniature expositions as the crowd clapped the clave. La Excelencia is crafted from the same classic Nuyorican salsa mould as the Fania Records heyday of Willie Colón and Johnny Pacheco - intricate horn arrangements that never lost the groove, a pianist that was a montuno machine, and a propulsive timbalero. The singer indulged in a bit too much crowd animation for my liking (I counted about 5 "Montreaaaaaaaaal" shout-outs in an hour-long set, and he repeated "Do you want to continue?" at escalating volume three times in a row), but the band and the tunes were great. They're the perfect argument for the return of salsa orchestras to clubs - dancers never dance as well to a DJ as they do to a live band.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

FIJM 2011 - Miscellaneous

- Sunday: had the pleasure of hanging out with pianist Kiko Continentino, who absolutely schooled me in Carioca samba-jazz. He also e-mailed out Milton's full setlist from the night before.

- Sunday: Soul Rebels Brass Band rolled through Jello Bar, where Café Soul (Alan Prater, Dan Thouin, Al Baculis, Tony Albino, and guests Jordan Peters, Maxime St-Pierre and François "Franky Love" D'Amours) were holding court for a three-day long jam session. A wicked version of "Chameleon" and a hell of a lot of dancing ensued.

- Tuesday: Esperanza Spalding to Gretchen Parlato during soundcheck - "I don't even know what to say to you, because we don't have words for this feeling in our culture."

- Wednesday: finally made it to the Upstairs jam session, where pianist Jeff Johnston took me to school again with a brilliant solo piano version of "Round Midnight," before Fraser Hollins and Greg Ritchie jumped in with "Rhythm-A-Ning." I got to play with Rémi-Jean LeBlanc and Rogerio Boccato on drums, including a samba version of "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise" with vocalist Amelia McMahon.

FIJM 2011 - Day 5 at Gesù

For Darcy James Argue's first official Secret Society show* in Montreal, he was blessed to be in Salle Gesù. I can't think of any other room in the FIJM's roster that would suit him more - hands down it is the best sounding space in the lineup, and the one with the most effortless elegance.

I was working the merch table and hanging out backstage, so I missed some parts of the performance. It's remarkable how good Gesù sounds from the back, too! When I was listening intently, I didn't miss a note. Jon Wikan's opening filtered, delayed cajón on "Phobos" came through clearly in the wings. The rhythm section of Gordon Webster on piano and Wurlitzer, Sebastian Noelle on guitar, Matt Clohesy on basses, and Wikan were the tightest I've heard them yet, nailing the rock-, funk-, and electronica-influenced grooves that anchor many parts of Argue's music.

The highlight for me was the new piece, "Chapter 1: Neighborhood," from the upcoming Brooklyn Babylon project. It introduces leitmotifs from the rest of the suite, each of which reflects a certain hallmark of Argue's compositional vocabulary: the opening, post-Minimalist E pedal in the piano and reeds, shifting towards an almost disco-like backbeat for Mark Small to soar over, which returns after a circus waltz with a sombre lining.

The soloists in the band are phenomenal, and are adept at structuring their improvisations around the long forms that Argue provides: trumpeter Matt Holman's solo on "Induction Effect" gradually twisted and turned its way out of the glowing brass and reed accompaniment, going into some nearly Lester Bowie-like sounds before landing on Clohesy's propulsive, funky bass groove. Trombonist James Hirschfield's solo on "Habeas Corpus (for Maher Arar)" captured the sobs, declamations, and testimony of those submitted to extraordinary rendition. Ingrid Jensen always stuns in her feature on "Transit," ascending through her whole range and continually ratcheting up the gears. I've been a fan of Argue's music for years and I know these tunes well, and yet when the groove lands in "Transit," mid-solo, I'm always happily surprised.

* = There was a "Secret Society North" performance a few years ago at Sala Rossa, where the rhythm section and the Canadian expats in the horns were rounded out by Montreal and Toronto cohorts.


I stuck around at Gesù for the concert of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green. Mahanthappa's records are consistently fascinating, especially his collaborations with fellow altoists (Apex, with Green, and Kinsmen with Kadri Gopalnath). From what I heard of the soundcheck, I was very eager to hear it live. Also, I don't remember the last time - if there was one - that Bunky Green was in town.

They opened Mahanthappa's "Summit" with an E pedal that was somewhere between qawwali and Coltrane. Mahanthappa was smoothly bending notes, before it shifted up to F and into a fast swing. While Mahanthappa and Green blend fairly well on the album, at Gesù their sounds could not have been more contrasting. Green's sound was darker and a little rounder than Mahanthappa's, which was bright and came thrusting forward out of the bell. Throughout the show, Mahanthappa was visibly happy to be sharing the stage with Green, and was audibly directing the band, calling out each of the sections on "Soft."

The rhythm section was comprised of pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Carlo de Rosa, and drummer Damion Reid. This version of the band was stacked towards Mahanthappa's sound - Reid trades the drum chair with DeJohnette on the album; de Rosa is the bassist on Kinsmen; and Mitchell assumes the piano bench from Jason Moran. Of Mitchell, Mahanthappa said, "I call him New York's secret weapon. So watch out for Matt Mitchell... just watch out!" Mitchell reminded me of Craig Taborn, in his ability to use a wide swath of the jazz language, from extraterrestrial bebop, to energetic modal comping, to dense clusters of sound. In his solos he would often play across the time. de Rosa proved to be as fluid a soloist as either of the hornmen, getting around the bass in a way I've rarely heard or seen. I would have liked him to be just the slightest bit louder in the mix during his comping - the definition of his notes got a little bit lost at the back of the room. Reid was propulsive, well-versed in Mahanthappa's rhythmic language, and quick to respond to the other soloist's rhythmic ideas - almost too much so. By the end of the set, it sounded like he was so eager to join other people's phrases that he steamrolled over them in the mix. While he had a great fast, swing feel on the closing tune, and was all over the odd-meter, straight-eighth grooves, his slower swing on Green's "Little Girl, I'll Miss You," or the Elvin-derived 6/8 on "Playing With Stones" felt a little stiff.

It was a great privilege to see Green, who sounded in fantastic form. In his sound, you hear the roots of Mahanthappa (and I heard a bit of the seeds of Matana Roberts' sound, too). His subtle but emotionally powerful vibrato on "Little Girl, I'll Miss You" effectively summed up a good chunk of jazz history. He easily navigated the rhythmic juggernauts that Mahanthappa constructed, and his own tunes provided some of the best piano work of Mitchell's night. It's unfortunate that as I exited Gesù for the evening, I looked for some of his discs and agent Nick Venti told me "They're all mostly out of print." As the first night of an extended tour for Apex, let us hope that someone will reissue Green's work, to inspire another generation of listeners.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

FIJM 2011 - Gretchen Parlato (L'Astral)

Since her two sold-out shows at the Savoy last year, Gretchen Parlato has ascended the ranks of notoriety from being considered a "singer's singer" to a more widely-acclaimed rising jazz star. In fact, her manager, Karen Kennedy, said "A lot has changed in the past year!" All the change was evident in Parlato's stunning set at L'Astral.

Her latest album, The Lost and Found, finds her moving towards the hip-hop and modern soul-inflected sound that marked moments of her previous record, In a Dream. The set followed suit. Surrounded by her extended musical family of Aaron Parks on piano and keyboard, Alan Hampton on bass (with cameos on guitar and voice), and Jamire Williams on drums, she opened with "Within Me" and "Holding Back The Years," bridged by a subdued Williams drum interlude. The next two songs, "Butterfly" and "Juju," were linked by an almost architecturally-crafted bass solo from Hampton. Parlato and crew were the epitome of hushed intensity. Their power came not from volume, but from drawing the listener in to a very intimate and focused degree. In Parlato's one vocal solo, on "Juju," she recalled Wayne Shorter's soprano sax playing of recent years, with carefully crafted statements and choosing her places in the music. Williams has matured by a remarkable degree since I heard him with Christian Scott a few years ago - he displayed his vast amount of technique not by flash but by his precise dynamic control. He is one of the leading practitioners of the MPC/drum-programming inspired grooves that have been adopted in modern jazz, but he widened his sound to blend with Parks. Parks can play like a sample, à la Glasper, as he showed on the closing "How We Love," but generally his sensibility is broader and more organic. His comping enveloped Parlato's voice as it ranged from her trademark hush to a more powerful upper register than I've ever heard from her.

Parlato hasn't totally abandoned the jazz, Brazilian, and African-inspired sounds of her previous repertoire. She led the groove of "Juju" on caxixi, and played these West African balls on Paulinho da Viola's "Alô alô" (and yes, many double entendres were made - "I need to get a new pair of balls, these are busted"). Immediately after "Alô, alô," she and Parks performed an absolutely gorgeous rendition of "Spring is Here," with Parks' silken touch and sensitive reharmonization framing Parlato's tender expression of the lyric. As was the case at Savoy, Gretchen Parlato is not afraid of using the tropes of the "jazz singer" for her own purposes. The band vamped in on "Within Me" as her entrance and on "How We Love" as her exit, giving a slight dramatic arc to the show without it being trite.

Their loudly demanded encore comprised two songs that are extremely important to me on a personal level: Djavan's "Flor de lis" and Stevie Wonder's "I Can't Help It." For the former, Djavan was the first Brazilian musician I ever heard and of whom I became a devoted fan. For the latter, I learned that song at the hands of its composer two years ago. They did both songs an exceeding amount of justice (and Jamire Williams has a deep samba feel). I was too busy shivering with goosebumps to make any further notes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

FIJM 2011: Day 2 - Dios mio, que viva Montreal!

Marc Ribot is no stranger to Montreal, though most of his appearances have been in the smaller venues of Divan Orange and La Sala Rossa. In one of their most daring bookings this year, the Jazz Fest asked Ribot to host three nights of their Invitation Series.

I've been a fan of his los Cubanos Postizos for nearly a decade, since the two albums conceived as a tribute to Arsenio Rodrigues were initially released. Ribot turned Theatre Jean-Duceppe into a punky son party for nearly two hours straight, including two loudly demanded encores. The band was comprised of EJ Rodrigues on percussion & Brad Jones on bass, the only two original Cubanos postizos, along with Anthony Coleman on B3 and Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez on drums. El Negro was restrained for first few tunes then unleashed a solo full of double-kick pyrotechnics to which Ribot deadpanned "that could get you into a lot of trouble back home." It felt like friends jamming on these classic Cuban songs in a living room - loose and energetic, with a jagged intensity that Ribot brings to everything he plays. Slashing away on a Fender Jazzmaster and a Gibson ES-style semi-hollow guitar, Ribot was in fine form. Jones eats tumbao for breakfast, belting out coros alongside conguero Rodrigues. Words I never thought I'd type: the B3 was way too loud where I sat (granted, I was in front of a speaker). There were moments where Coleman played the organ pianistically, with his foot off the volume pedal and playing locked-octave lines that came out shrill and overpowering. When he rode the volume pedal (the way the instrument breathes), it was much more dynamic and he proved to be a great foil for Ribot. Rodrigues was the MC for most of the evening, introducing the musicians and egging on the other players.

Montreal-based MC Boogat provided a great, energetic set of hip-hop cumbia. For this outdoor show on the Groove stage, he was in the company of DJ/producer Poirier, Latin hip-hop crew Heavy Soundz, fellow MC Face-T, and percussion maestro Kiko Osorio. Boogat digs into the rhythm with his flow and the set was paced really well.

The Soul Rebels Brass Band rocked L'Astral last year, but the mix of drums and brass wasn't properly served by the sound system of the TD mainstage. The vocal mics weren't clear for their vocal chants and rapping. Sound aside, the grooves were there in abundance, including killer soulful covers of Katy Perry's "California Gurls," Anita Baker's "Sweet Love" and the Eurhythmics' "Sweet Dreams." In the words of another brass band (the Dirty Dozen), "Ain't nothing but a party!"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

FIJM 2011 - Milton Nascimento (Théâtre Maisonneuve)

Milton Nascimento was one of the first Brazilian artists I really got into. When the Festival announced he was coming to this year's edition - his first appearance since 1994 - I immediately rushed to get a ticket. Walking into Théâtre Maisonneuve, I heard more Portuguese than English or French and it seemed like every Brazilian in Montreal was in the house.

Coming out in front of his quartet of guitar, piano, bass and drums, Nascimento looked better than he has in the past few years. He opened with "...E a gente sonhando," the title track of his new album. As far as I can tell it was the only song from the album that he played in the 90 minute set. A few songs in, it was clear that there were some rough edges around upper end of full voice, for which he apologized a few times throughout the show. However, his falsetto still there in all its haunting glory. For every ragged moment there were three moments of heartstopping beauty. There's a character to Milton's voice that I can't really describe, that it still possesses: it cuts to the core of both the song and the listener. Many times throughout the concert, I had never-ending goosebumps. When his full voice was warmed up, the power of his 1970s heyday was still there. He gave ample space to his band members, especially pianist Kiko Continentino, who offered consistently surprising and intriguing solos in the vein of Herbie Hancock and Wagner Tiso.

Unafraid of revisiting his repertoire, Milton played many of his classic tunes, re-arranged either subtly (like giving "Nos bailes da vida" a reggae feel) or drastically (like the half-time polytonal middle break of "Cravo e canela"). For me, the highlight was a medley of "Ponta de areia" and "Saidas e bandeiras." Some of the rearrangements, and the solos from Continentino, guitarist Wilson Lopes, and drummer Lincoln Cheib, were fascinating and exuded joy. Being surrounded by Brazilians gave me new insight into Milton's repertoire; among my colleagues and friends, tunes like `Cravo e canela," "Ponta de areia" (revitalized by Esperanza Spalding) and "Tudo que você podia ser" (which he didn't play, unfortunately) are the big ones, but the crowd roared for "Coração de estudante" and for the encore of "Maria, Maria." An utterly beautiful concert and a privileged encounter with a master. I can cross this one off the bucket list.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Farmers By Nature - Suoni 2011

The collective trio, Farmers By Nature, was easily the bright spot in this year's Suoni programming for me. Two thirds of the group have provided previous Suoni highlights: Craig Taborn wowed with Tim Berne's Hard Cell a couple of years back, and William Parker is a perennial Suoni guest in various formations. Gerald Cleaver is new to my experiences at Suoni, though I did see him at Vision Fest a few years ago with Parker's Double Sunrise Over Neptune.

Both sets were continuous pieces of improvised music. The first set was marked by patience and restraint; aside from one loud section, the majority of the set stayed around mezzo-piano. What was fascinating was how they achieved tension. Taborn's deliberation, working from chiming octaves towards flurries of cross-handed clusters, and Cleaver's attention to colour, dynamic and restraint, were outstanding. All three shaped the music cohesively, contributing to a whole comprised of three distinct improvisational paths. Sometimes they would link in unexpected places; each musician was clearly informed by what the others were playing, yet no one jumped onto anyone else's idea. It was the Roscoe Mitchell school of "complementary without copying." Each member had roles at the forefront of the improvisation, but I hesitate to call anything a solo. The way Taborn and Cleaver would fade out and fade in to new sections was seamless, starting from near silence and growing in volume. The trio operated on the fringes of any traditional sense of "groove" or "pocket," making it that much more effective when they did decide to sit on a groove. For the most part, it was as though any common jazz feel had been sent through a kaleidoscope and cut up into jigsaw puzzle pieces. The abstracted F blues that Taborn initiated at the end of the first set framed the riveting nature of their improvisational aesthetic.

The second set started with some 21st-century bebop. I could have sworn I heard some Thelonious Monk quotes coming from Taborn - fragments of what he was playing recalled at turns "Evidence," "Ask Me Now," and "Monk's Dream." Parker's walking and Cleaver's winks and nods at the history of jazz drumming recalled the classic Ornette quartets. After a beautiful mini-chorale between Taborn and Parker, it escalated towards an energetic free-jazz crescendo, with Taborn flying across the keyboard with his palms and fists, Cleaver rumbling around the kit and Parker furiously bowing. It was in this second set where the three landed in this monstrous groove that reminded me of Parker's previous, hypnotic appearances at Suoni with Hamid Drake. A brilliant evening of music showcasing improvisation at its finest.

You can hear a majority of both sets here, along with my colour commentary with fellow pianist/blogger/radio host Parker Mah.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Insider's Guide to FIJM 2011 - Outdoor Edition

Yesterday the outdoor programming for Jazz Fest was announced. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. Between having to relocate stages and cut the amount of overlapping shows due to the new proximity between the stages, they've done a really admirable job to present as much music as possible. And given that the big closing party is the B-52s, I was a bit doubtful about what else they might be bringing this year. Let's just say that the B-52s are going to be an anti-climactic finish to the party. Read on for my picks of the outdoor programming.

June 25
John Roney (Rad-Can stage, 8 pm) - since moving from Toronto, Roney's been a fixture on the jazz scene here. A frequent sideman at the festival, he gets to present his own music this time.
Power Dam Initiative (L'Astral, 11:30, until June 28) - this jazzy, funky, Afro-inspired DJ crew will keep you dancing into the wee hours.

June 26
Ernesto Cervini (Rad-Can stage, 8 pm) - fantastic drummer/pianist/composer, from Toronto but who has spent some serious time in NYC. His two albums on Anzic have been deservingly well received.
Soul Rebels Brass Band (TD stage, 9 & 11 pm) - if you missed them last year as part of the New Orleans blow-out, do not make that same mistake again. The new school of brass band music from NOLA.
Joel Kerr (Rad-Can stage, 10 pm) - a McGill-trained bassist who's beginning to make some serious noise in the scene. I know him as a sideman, and I'm eager to check out his own work.
Boogat (Bell stage, 10 pm) - the ringleader of Nuvo Tumbao and the Esperanto Sound System, one of the leading figures of hip-hop en español aquí. ¡Dios Mio, que viva Montreal!

June 27
Efa Etoroma Jr. Trio (Rad-Can stage, 8 pm) - a young drummer, a new graduate of McGill, this is his trio featuring his compositions. He may be better known around town for his other group, the live hip-hop band Ruckus Fo'tet.
Galactic (TD stage, 9 & 11 pm) - heirs to the New Orleans funk throne, and the ultimate party-rockers.

June 29
Laila Biali (TD stage, 6 pm) - the pianist/vocalist from BC has been in New York these past few years. Her music has always been engaging.
Roberto Lopez Project (Bell stage, 8 pm) - the Colombian guitarist plays music off his last album, Soy Panamericano. He recently did a concert more overtly fusing "big band" jazz with traditional Colombian rhythms; this is more of a traditional cumbia/salsa party band.
Lucky Peterson (Loto-Québec stage, 9 & 11 pm) - a fantastic blues B3 player that I've been meaning to see for a while.

June 30
Parc-X Trio (TD stage, 6 pm) - my boys! They won the jazz festival prize last year, are launching a new album, and are three of the nicest dudes imaginable. Go support your local scene!
La Excelencia (TD stage, 9 & 11 pm) - "salsa dura" (hard salsa) from NYC, hearkening back to the classic Fania era. You know I'm not missing this.
Canicule Tropicale (L'Astral, 11:30 pm) - also my boys! DJs Philippe Noel, Don Pedro and Kobal bring all things Latin, Central & South American to your dancefloor.

July 1
Alex Côté (Rad-Can stage, 8 pm) - My colleague and co-arranger in Gary Schwartz's LettingO, Alex is a fantastic composer and saxophonist. Another frequent sideman at the festival who finally gets to present his own work.
Nomadic Massive (Savoy, midnight, until July 4) - You know them, you love them. Ambassadors of the Montreal multicultural hip-hop scene, my good friends and beautiful people. Get there ON TIME because Savoy packs up quickly - prepare to sweat.

July 2
Atomic 5 (Rad-Can stage, 8 pm) - a fresh bunch of McGill grads that just released their first album on Effendi. Their sonic sense belies their age, and they're all players full of promise.
Novalima (Bell stage, 8 & 10 pm) - Electronic groove music from Peru. Guitars and no less than three (!) cajóns. I saw them at Lion D'Or a few years ago and they were fantastic.
Fraser Hollins (Rad-Can stage, 10 pm) - the premier jazz bassist in town, another incredibly frequent sideman turned leader. He'll present music from his début album, Aerial.

July 3
Jean-Nicolas Trottier (Rad-Can stage, 8 pm) - a highly in-demand trombonist and arranger - outside of the jazz world, he's worked with Patrick Watson & Karkwa. His writing has been an inspiration for my own for years, and he is one of the best trombonists I've had the pleasure to play with.
Rael da Rima (Bell stage, 8 pm) - full disclosure: I played with Rael at Les Bobards, and at Serralheria in São Paulo. An ally of the Nomadic Massive crew, he plays a mix of reggae and hip-hop with an irrepressible Brazilian touch.

July 4
Khaira Arby (Bell stage, 8 pm) - if you only see one show at FIJM this year, make it this one. I discovered her powerful, evocative music on YouTube. The greatest Malian singer you haven't heard yet. I have no words to adequately describe her music and her strength. (edit: apparently Dan at Said the Gramophone does, though.)

And no, there is no official Festival jam session this year. I was told that this was a request from the technical committee - trying to do three different setups per night in L'Astral was not fun for them. With that I can sympathize. L'Astral wasn't really the right venue for it, either. There are a handful of jam sessions happening at Théâtre Ste-Catherine. No word yet on whether Upstairs will have a late-night jam or whether Vanessa Rodrigues will host her B3 hang again (edit: saxophonist Vincent Stephen-Ong tells me the organ jam is on at Brutopia). As much of a gong show as jam sessions can be, I think they're absolutely vital for the jazz community, especially during festival season when different artists from around the world are rolling through town.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Spring announcements

These last weeks of May are busy ones. Lots of announcements follow:

Thursday, May 19, Montreal Gazette columnist Sue Montgomery has organized a benefit concert entitled Bougez pour Haiti. A reprise of her successful event last year, all proceeds will be donated to a public high school in Limbé, and a Decamus business school in Port-au-Prince. I'll be performing with two members of Nomadic Massive, Vox Sambou (who was born in Limbé) and Waahli Yussef. Also on the bill are Emrical, Adris da Prince, and a photo expo from Magee McIlvane. It all goes down at La Sala Rossa (4848 St-Laurent), doors at 8 pm, $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $15 for students.

Sunday, May 22, vocalist Barbara Reney has organized a marathon Jazz for Japan benefit at the Rialto Theatre (5723 Parc). Starting at 5 pm and running till midnight, it will feature many of Montreal's finest musicians, including Thom Gossage's Other Voices, Parc-X Trio, and Sonia Johnson. I'll be performing with Gary Schwartz's LETTINGO, and with singer Nico Beki. Tickets are on a sliding scale between $15-$30.

Wednesday, May 25, my friends in Kite are launching their début record at Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent). Guitarist Eric Couture-Telmosse, bassist Paul van Dyk, and drummer Eric Dew have been hard at work on this project, and the album bears the fruits of their labour. Recorded in an Ontario barn after a tour, it's a great document of band simpatico and balanced compositional voices (all three write for the group). Paul was kind enough to ask Indigone Trio to open the party! It's free, and there will be food, booze and merch! It starts at 9 pm.

Friday, May 06, 2011

New York 2011 travel diary

Monday after sitting through never-ending rush hour traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel, I got off the bus and headed straight to (Le) Poisson Rouge. It was Matana Roberts' listening party to launch Coin Coin: Gens de Couleur Libres. As I went down the stairs, I heard the "Lullaby" section of the piece playing. LPR is a very big, dark room, a little bit disorienting after 8 hours on a bus. With the dimensions and vibe of the room, it felt very strange to not have a band playing onstage, instead to have a record playing while people congregated at the bar or hung out on couches. I met a couple of close friends of Matana's, beautiful people all, and got to relive the memories of the session - the album was recorded live during the biggest rainstorm of last summer, and we suffered two power outages during soundcheck. I remember Matana asking engineer Radwan Moumneh, "What happens if the power goes down during the recording?" "Well, then, there's a gap in the recording." The spirits were with us that night, and the power and technology behaved. Thanks to the directions of Matana and co., I took a much easier route to Indigone bassist Alex Mallett's place out in South Slope.

Tuesday was spent with singer and good friend Jean Rohe. Around lunchtime, we prepped for our short duo dinner set at Caffe Vivaldi, a tiny, unassuming Italian resto on Jones Street in Greenwich Village. There's always a great energy playing with Jean. Killing time before the show, I went to Tropicalia in Furs, drooled over records, only picking up a couple, and listening to many more. Other record stores in the area that I set foot in were Other Music and Good Records. Very dangerous places. I stumbled on a Carioca transplant playing sambas outside Music Inn on W 4, and invited him down to the gig. The hang continued at Kush, with Ben Allison's weekly residency with Shane Endsley and Steve Cardenas. Jean introduced me to Rogerio Boccato, who sat in on percussion. Also in the audience were Jo Lawry and James Shipp. James, Jean and Rogerio all had their pandeiros with them so it became a real jam session. As Ben remarked, a bit stunned, "Only in New York will there be three pandeiro players... in the audience!"

Wednesday was a dismal, cold and miserable day. I caught up on e-mail, went to Roots Café with Alex's girlfriend, and watched a movie. Headed out to Alex's show at Judson Memorial, a church that hosts "Bailout Theater," an outreach initiative serving food and music to whoever needs it. Alex has been writing great, witty banjo-driven tunes over the past couple of years, and he played them with his new band featuring ex-Montrealers Nico Dann & Alan Biller; I sat in on a few tunes. Afterwards I walked over to NuBlu and caught a long, fantastic, thrilling night of Brazilian music. First up was drummer Adriano Santos' quartet with Helio Alves, Alex Han and Dave Ambrosio. They made me feel like I was back in São Paulo, playing obscure Jovino Santos Neto tunes and a wicked arrangement of Baden Powell's "Consolação." Adriano has that swingue that marks a lot of the fantastic samba-jazz drummers. They were followed by Forró in the Dark, who packed the place (at midnight on a Wednesday - every Wednesday) and turned it into a sweaty dancing mess. I spotted Anat Cohen dancing up a storm beside the stage.

Thursday I met up with publicist extraordinaire Matt Merewitz, who gave me a whole whack of releases to check out from promising new artists and established figures on the scene. Lots of listening to tackle now that I'm home. I grabbed a drink with Alex (our only time to catch up because even though I was staying at his place, our schedules were entirely different), and then headed out to the Vanguard for Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos.

Wow. I knew some of Guillermo's music before, but the power of hearing all those intricate, interlocking parts and entrancing grooves right in front of me was astounding. They played lots of new music (most of which will hopefully land on the upcoming recording). Standouts were "Moreira" (someone correct me if I've misspelled it) and his orchestration of Ginastera's First Piano Sonata. I say orchestration because it appeared that Guillermo was reading from the piano score, while the horns sounded like an extension of his hands. Klein is a democratic and modest bandleader, letting the compositions, arrangements, and hand-picked soloists come forward. There is a beautiful poetry in his lyrics too - he translated one line of "Moreira" for me but I cannot remember it at the moment. One tune had great saxophone triologue from Chris Cheek, Miguel Zenón, and Bill McHenry. Zenon sounded brilliant as usual on "Moreira." Percussionist Richard Nant and drummer Jeff Ballard complemented each other and sounded like one massive kit. I had the pleasure of meeting Guillermo, Miguel, Bill, and Taylor Haskins after the show, congratulating them all.

Friday I had brunch with saxophonist Jon Lindhorst at Wally's Square Root Café. We caught up about the NYC scene, the Montreal scene and who is where now. I packed up my bag and began the long, long, journey home. For those who are wondering, there's not much difference between the train and the bus - the train, I think, is more comfortable and takes marginally more time; the bus is equipped with Wi-Fi and there are multiple ones running throughout the day.

Thanks again to everyone who made this trip a memorable one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Insider's guide to FIJM 2011 - Indoor edition

The complete indoor programming has been announced for the 32nd edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival. And while, as Peter Hum writes of the Ottawa counterpart, many will bemoan the big name pop headliners like Robert Plant and Peter Frampton, there's a good chunk of phenomenal jazz & world music in the program as well. Let's get to it:

June 25
David Binney Quartet (6 pm, Gésu) - one of the premier voices of modern jazz over the past 15 years, Binney brings his working band of David Virelles (the Cuban pianist that won the Festival's Grand Prix a few years back), Eivind Opsvik and Dan Weiss.
The Jolly Boys (7 pm, Club Soda) - the pioneers of mento.
Jon Day (8 pm, Musée d'art contemporain, also June 26) - a good friend of mine, a great jazz pianist and the co-founder of McGill's Effusion A Capella has transformed himself into a phenomenal and exploratory singer-songwriter-producer. He surprised people at the press event today.
Milton Nascimento (9:30 pm, Théâtre Maisonneuve) - an absolute legend of Brazilian music with his haunting voice in tact. FIJM books these Brazilian masters only once in a blue moon. I already have my ticket.

June 26
Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos (8 pm, Théâtre Jean-Duceppe) - I wore out these albums, paying tribute to the tres master Arsenio Rodriguez. Traditional Cuban music mixed with Ribot's punky, bluesy edge. Ribot is one of the three hosts of the Invitation series; he'll also be playing with his rock band Ceramic Dog and the project Caged Funk.
Steel Pulse & Ernest Ranglin (8:30 pm, Metropolis) - As great as Steel Pulse is, don't miss this opportunity to see the absolute master (and inventor) of the reggae guitar skank, Ranglin.
Brad Mehldau/Joshua Redman Duo (9:30 pm, Théâtre Maisonneuve) - My favourite moments of Mehldau's Highway Rider feature Redman. This video of them tackling Nirvana's "Lithium" is a fantastic preview.
Anat Cohen (10:30 pm, Gésu) - she wowed at L'Astral last time round with her powerfully swinging mix of modern jazz influenced by klezmer and choro.

June 27
Lee Konitz & Dan Tepfer (7 & 10 pm, Upstairs) - An undisputed master with a buzz-worthy up-and-comer. They're also two highly sensitive improvisers. At Upstairs, it'll feel like eavesdropping on a conversation.
Esperanza Spalding's Chamber Music Society (9:30 pm, Théâtre Maisonneuve) - see: Grammy win. See also: Herbie Hancock's endorsement.

June 28
FLY (6 pm, Gésu) - this collaborative trio of Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard are three of my favourite player/composers. I still spin their first record obsessively. I believe this is their first time as a group at the festival.
Gretchen Parlato (9 pm, L'Astral) - considering she sold out Savoy for two nights last year, and that her new album The Lost and Found has garnered a lot of well-deserved buzz and is produced by FIJM darling Robert Glasper, this should sell out quickly and for good reason.

June 29
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society (6 pm, Gésu) - For those who don't already know, go here and find out why.
Lee Fields & The Expressions (7 pm, Club Soda) - part of the Daptone family of unheralded, resurrected soulful party rockers.
Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green (10:30 pm, Gésu) - Rudresh is deservedly becoming a regular here, and their collaborative album Apex was one of last year's best.

June 30
John Benitez Group f/ Yosvany Terry (7 & 10 pm & midnight, Upstairs) - See: my unabashed love for forward-thinking, burning Latin jazz. Benitez, among other accomplishments, is the bassist on Roy Hargrove's Habana record, my first real entry into Latin music and so he's important to me for sentimental reasons, aside from his deep pocket.

July 1
Don Byron New Gospel Quintet (6 pm, Gésu) - Don schooled us all in gospel at Banff in 2005, and even back then it was clear that this music communicated something very deep and powerful to him. With this band, he now communicates it to us all.
Sierra Maestra (7 pm, Club Soda) - put a legendary Cuban group in a small club and watch the roof explode.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey (9:30 pm, L'Astral) - Indigone had the pleasure of opening for these guys at Sala Rossa a couple of years back. They've embarked on two ambitious projects recently, one re-working Beethoven and the other The Race Riot Suite written by their lap steel guitarist, Chris Combs. A unique and mesmerizing group.
Jaga Jazzist (11 pm, Club Soda) - the groovy, electro-jazz wielding Norwegians are back. Someone hipped me to them years ago and I've never seen them live.

July 2
Ana Moura (6 pm, Théâtre Maisonneuve) - fado is a Portuguese folk style that cuts right through me, and Ana is probably its most renowned practitioner these days.
The Roots (8:30 pm, Metropolis) - I still haven't seen them live. They need no justification or introduction. Watch an episode of Jimmy Fallon or follow ?uestlove on Twitter.

July 3
Jean-Pierre Zanella Homage to Don Alias (6 pm, L'Astral) - the legendary percussionist lived here for a while and served as a mentor to a generation of Montreal players. Saxophonist Zanella, who embodies Alias' musical polyglot nature, pays tribute with a cast of Montreal's finest, and guest bassist Gene Perla.
Christian McBride & Inside Straight (6 pm, Gésu) - the bassist who salutes James Brown and Ray Brown equally brings his swinging, straightahead formation to town.

July 4
Daniel Lanois' Black Dub (7 pm, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier) - the début of this band was supposed to be last year, but Lanois was in a severe motorcycle accident. Lanois and Brian Blade in any combination proves to be magical, and with the addition of Trixie Whitley it will be stunning. Indie sweetheart Leif Vollebekk opens.
Yaron Herman Trio (9 pm, L'Astral) - See: Nextbop. See also: the only pianist I know that counts Frisell, Britney Spears, Björk and "Hatikvah" among his repertoire.

The outdoor programming will be revealed, as we say in French, sous peu. And it'll be interesting, considering our fantastic city is ripping up Ste-Catherine street throughout the festivities, causing the programming committee to deal with the loss of two stages.

EDITED TO ADD: Evelyn Reid has posted her more general and very thorough summary of the festival.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A couple of posts on Josh Rager's blog - one recent guest post from Toronto pianist Chris Donnelly, and an older one from Josh himself - have sparked my thought process. I want to specifically focus on the issue of students not showing up to teachers' gigs. As an educator myself now, and not long ago a student, I see both sides of this.

Chris and Josh, noting the absence and potential lack of interest of students at gigs by local musicians, is a sentiment echoed by many other players and teachers through the years. I agree with them that having local role models is vital - I owe a lot of the musician I've become to the time I spent hanging out at The Rex in Toronto as an impressionable teenager. I also agree with the idea, proffered in so many "why is jazz dying?" articles, that clubs and concert venues have become prohibitive to students, either through age restrictions, ticket prices and cover charges, or by drink minimums and the like. I was lucky - when I was growing up in Toronto, The Rex and Top O' the Senator were licensed as restaurants, not bars, which meant minors were allowed. I still have fond memories of being served iced tea in a pint glass at the Rex. The Senator even had student half-price Wednesdays. There seem to be two possible responses to Chris and Josh's questions:

1) the general lack of respect and recognition at a local level
2) a sense of reciprocity.


It's clear that priority, among audiences and presenters, will go to foreign artists (be it from out-of-town, out-of-province, or out-of-country) above the locals. If audiences ignore local artists, then clubs and festivals aren't necessarily wrong to bump locals down the ladder. But the regularity of certain artists at certain clubs can work to their detriment as well. The public can procrastinate without fearing too much repercussion - why go this month when I can see him next month? If enough people think that same way, we have empty rooms. The local scene absolutely has to be nurtured. I wish I had the definitive answer about how to do that. There's been so much written throughout the blogosphere about innovative arts presentation methods and how to get warm bodies in the door. Every city needs its equivalent of Search & Restore, and often I think it needs to come from the musicians ourselves. As important as blogs, radio, and (what little) print media (is left) are, we as musicians do more than anyone else to present and represent ourselves. We get to identify our own sense of collective and community and then spread those ideas and identities to the city, and the world.


What if we flip the equation and ask where are the teachers at the student gigs? Where is the support for young players outside of the classroom? I think for the most part, we tend to play for our peers - students go to fellow students' concerts, and the teachers hang out with each other as well. As much as that's lamentable, it's also understandable and normal. Perhaps there's more give-and-take, and more cross-generational mingling, than I'm seeing.

I definitely remember the initiative my classmates had in putting on recitals and booking gigs; even at the McGill combo nights at Upstairs I don't remember seeing profs that weren't adjudicating. At jam sessions, the students are often put together in one group, often later in the night, instead of being cajoled and educated on the spot by older players; by role models. I don't think that's effective for many reasons - primarily for the reason Josh mentioned in his recap of the John Patitucci clinic, that younger players should take every opportunity to play with the more experienced, and that a bunch of students scuffling together doesn't make for great music. And I wouldn't be surprised if, in part, the lack of student attendance at gigs is fuelled by the lack of support from their teachers (either perceived or real) and/or being shafted by one too many jam session hosts. My private instructors were generous with their involvement in my own music-making, and were honest if they couldn't make one of my recitals or gigs. I try to be as supportive and up-front with my own students.

There's likely other factors, the same factors that drive students to seek out their international idols versus their local mentors. Montreal is a far smaller city compared to New York, and to hang out at sessions and shows in either city means something very different. I love trading insights with fellow Montreal musicians after various concerts in town, but there's also a certain amount of perceived glamour and gravitas when you can rub elbows with [insert more famous jazz player] at [insert more famous jazz club]. Also, if we're dealing with a generation of students who have not checked out Thelonious Monk or "Carolina Shout," and choose instead to soak up every gesture of the under-40 jazz generation (Rosenwinkel, Monder, Mehldau, Glasper), then the more straightahead-leaning musician/educators are likely to be on the other side of a generation, tradition, and taste gap.

Yes, it's been a while since I've been at a jazz show myself. I realize that my show-going habits (when I'm not working myself) have leaned towards out-of-towners and non-jazz music. And we need to be honest about the fact that life just gets in the way of going to all the shows we would love to see, if we had all the time in the world and a couple of clones to fill in our places. Life gets in the way for students as well as professional musicians and teachers. None of this is to justify the behaviour of people who ignore their most valuable resources. If anything, it's to work towards rectifying it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Public address system

Four announcements, not necessarily concerning me or my music, but concerning the work of friends and colleagues that I admire and respect.

1) Danish guitarist Torben Waldorff brings his "American Rock Beauty" tour to North America after a series of dates throughout Scandinavia. The band features Montrealers Joel Miller on saxophone and Fraser Hollins on bass (recent Juno winners through their contributions to Christine Jensen's Treelines), and Jon Wikan on drums. Waldorff's ArtistShare record features Wikan, Matt Clohesy, Donny McCaslin and Jon Cowherd. Beautiful, modern jazz in the vein of his sidemen's other affiliations. The North American tour dates are as follows:
April 1 - The Rex, Toronto; April 2 - Upstairs, Montreal; April 5 - Miles' Café, NYC. (I believe Matt Clohesy subs Fraser on bass for the NYC hit.)

2) Pianist/vocalist/songwriter Isis Giraldo and her group, Gozadera Salsa, launch their record April 3 at La Sala Rossa. The band is made up of McGill-trained musicians (including my Mantecoso bandmate Steven Salcedo on tenor sax and vocals) and incorporates a wide swath of Latin sounds. Giraldo is from Bogotá, and her lyrics speak to various social justice issues of Latin and South America. You can listen to her interview with me on the last edition of World Skip the Beat here. The young guns of the jazz/hip-hop band Ruckus Fo'tet open.

3) Due to events with which we are all too familiar, the 2011 edition of the Red Bull Music Academy will not be held in Tokyo. The new location will be announced April 11, and the application deadline has been extended until April 26. The dates of the two terms have not been changed. My best wishes to all of the Japanese RBMA family. (Stay tuned for an announcement of a fundraising concert here in Montreal.)

4) It's once again time for the Montreal Mirror's Best of Montreal poll. Once again, I ask current and ex-Montrealers to vote, and to specifically vote in the category of BEST JAZZ ACT and BEST JAZZ BAR. Christine Jensen just won a Juno, it would be nice if she could get some attention in what little written press we have left; the actuelle crew of Mardi Spaghetti just celebrated three years of improvised music on Tuesdays at Le Cagibi; the presenters at L'Envers have featured people ranging from Matana Roberts to Ben Monder and will present their final show at their current location April 30. The Montreal jazz community is as vibrant as ever, and we need to showcase it in its current, modern state. The trick with the Mirror is you have to fill out 25 categories for your ballot to count. Some advice in other categories:
Best radio station: CKUT
Best rep/art house cinema: Cinema du Parc
Best bagel: Fairmount (sorry, Saint-Viateur are a bit too hockey-puck-ish to my taste)
Best poutine: La Banquise
Best teahouse: Camellia sinensis
Best smoked meat: The Main (Schwartz's is the landmark, but the Main is just as good with half of the line-up)
Best non-chain coffee: Café Neve (they win because they have Brazilian espresso; Café Myriade is nearly as good)
Best locally-brewed beer: Tie - St-Ambroise/McAuslan and Dieu du Ciel. Try both.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Paloma, como simbolo de paz

My apologies for the blog silence. It's been a very busy few months around here. I've been working on two major, Latin-influenced projects, the first of which is premiering this week.

About a year ago or so, Butta Beats from Nomadic Massive came through Kalmunity and freestyled while I played a montuno over the groove. After the set, he pulled me aside and said "We gotta talk." He pitched the idea of a band that dealt with the classic salsa of legendary New York label Fania Records, but also integrated the history of the Latin influence in hip-hop. I was immediately on board and we started the ball rolling. Enter Mantecoso!

This project is débuting this Saturday, March 26, at Les Bobards (4328 St-Laurent), as part of the Afro-Latin Soul series, co-presented by Nomadic's Lou Piensa and San Juan Hill's Frank Rodriguez. The band is a great group of friends and some phenomenal musicians:

Butta Beats - vocals
Gitanjali Jain - vocals
Steve Salcedo - tenor sax
Matthieu van Vliet - trombone
DRR - piano
Mark Haynes - bass
Kullak Viger-Rojas - timbales
André Martin - congas/batá

I found the development of this band really intriguing, as it blended my jazz training with the hip-hop and groove music I've been playing a lot lately. Getting the music together was a multi-step process. Butta, Gitu, Mark and I were on board first, and we selected the repertoire together - we brainstormed a bunch of tunes that we each wanted to play, and then whittled that down into a cohesive set. Once the setlist was made, I went about transcribing the tunes, while Butta worked some hip-hop production magic, chopping up some of the tunes we had selected into beats. We then worked out arrangements and transitions, going from the original tunes into the flips, planning out the set as a file in Logic, like a DJ mix. I then made charts incorporating all this information.

Transcribing these tunes was a challenge, and also the deepest insight I've yet had into how the clave permeates and informs the tune structures; how composers and arrangers of the Fania era, especially Willie Colón, use odd numbers of bars to flip the clave, or use odd harmonic rhythm to give the illusion of different phrasing while the clave continues. Some of my favourite tunes were the most difficult to transcribe - on the surface, they sound effortless and natural, but digging into the inner workings of the tunes reveals layers upon layers of complexity, with breaks and harmonic left-turns. One tune in particular I sold to the band as being "just a descarga," a one-chord jam. And if you're not paying attention (as I evidently wasn't), it sounds like that; but it's riddled with punches, stops and extra bars. It might be the trickiest tune in the whole set. I suppose that's a commonality with all the music I love - music that's sophisticated but doesn't call attention to its own complexity.

For those who don't know about Fania Records, there's a great primer in PBS' Latin Music USA documentary (Part 2: the Salsa Revolution). And also, the quintessential Fania film, Our Latin Thing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Find out what it means to me

Of course, the jazz blogosphere has been abuzz about Keith Jarrett's most recent outburst at Carnegie Hall. I've written about my Keith experiences before, and I hold fast to my sentiments: Jarrett is a masterful pianist, but I have absolutely no need to see him live anymore.

At Playjazzblog, the author makes the point that audience discourtesy has grown in recent years, with which I would not argue. A few years ago, I witnessed two stragglers walk in on the last song of a David Binney set at Casa del Popolo, and proceed to talk through Binney's solo at the foot of the stage. Binney was compelled to chastise the dude, and everyone in the house held no grudge towards Binney's behaviour. That's an extreme case, and I would wager that that kind of blatant and oblivious disrespect would warrant a Jarrett-esque reaction from anyone. As someone who attempts to suppress his coughs (without noisily wrapped lozenges, I might add), puts his phone on silent and leaves his camera in its pouch, the other reason I am in no hurry to see Jarrett again is because of the "atmosphere he has created," as he said in Montreal last year. I find that atmosphere highly stressful - going into Jarrett's concert at Place des Arts, I was more concerned with whether someone would sneeze or take a photo than with the beauty of the music that would be taking place. His notoriety for his tantrums have possibly led to provocative audience behaviour ("let's see what Keith will do when I piss him off this way") instead of creating the sanctuary he so obviously needs. Bruce Hornsby is equally picky, and on certain bootlegs you can hear him take down people with cutting humour, interjecting "Tell 'em what they missed!" to latecomers before returning to his verse on a dime.

On the flipside, how much artist disrespect should audiences put up with? With Lauryn Hill having performed here on Sunday, I see an interesting parallel to Keith Jarrett. I was not at that show so I'm only going off the previous reviews I have read and the flurry of activity on my Facebook feed. Like Jarrett, Hill's behaviour of late is as much a part of the spectacle as her music: would she show up? How late would she be? Would she be on her game or not? She only graced the Metropolis stage at 1 am, and delivered a set that was reportedly mixed at best, with some glimpses of her magical talent buried under ham-fisted rock arrangements. That fear is why I didn't buy a ticket to see one of the best soul singers of our generation. Miseducation is an inarguably fantastic album, but Hill has not been firing on all cylinders since. (What happened to that whole neo-soul crew anyway? Maxwell took ten years to resurface, D'Angelo is who-the-hell-knows-where...) But Metropolis was full. At what point will audiences back away? I suppose when they buy tickets to this show and somehow still expect "Walk on the Wild Side."

It's a balancing act to be sure. Perhaps it's because I'm an artist at a level where I don't have the luxury of being dictatorial to my audience, but I tend to err on the side of being welcoming, or at least trying to. I've had my fair share of nights where the talking crowd is overwhelming and intrudes on the bandstand. But I've never made a big deal of it on the mic, nor have I stormed off stage. If Jarrett decided to remain in his home studio and put out gems like Jasmine, I might be more compelled to put down my dough to witness his mastery live, warts, risk and all. But considering the vast majority of his output since 1983 has been recorded live, I'll stick with the documents of audiences that venerate Jarrett and allow him to create, and allow me to listen in privacy, free of coughs and camera flashes.