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.