Monday, December 10, 2012

Changing landscapes

Tonight marks the final hurrah of L'Envers in its physical location of 185 Van Horne. Since trumpeter Ellwood Epps started this adventure upon his arrival in Montreal, L'Envers has served as the hub for creative music, experimental music, musique actuelle and new music. Epps had launched the Mardi Spaghetti series at nearby coffeehouse Le Cagibi around the same time (my memory is foggy as to which came first), and in my mind was a catalyst for a new generation of Montreal improvisers. L'Envers was a performance space, a rehearsal space, but also a presenter: Epps & co. brought such world-class talent as Fred Frith, Matana Roberts and Henry Grimes to a space populated by thrift store couches and cushions to sit on the floor. It was a collision between often heady music and the communal nature of its Mile End neighbourhood. There's a final jam session tonight from 9 pm-midnight. My workload prevents me from attending tonight, but I'll be there in spirit. I wish them all the best; I have a lot of fond memories of that space, and I certainly hope they continue in their capacity as a presenter to continue to bring like-minded artists to town - even though it won't be at 185.

The last time I was at L'Envers was a few months ago for their "Rent Party," which they threw to supplement their shoestring budget (alongside their successful Indiegogo campaign) and renew their rent for a few more months. With artists and listeners shuttling between the "current" L'Envers (the front room of 185) and the "old" L'Envers (the bigger back room, now called The Plant), the night featured a contemporary string quartet, electro-punky-no-wave duos, and a burlesque routine done to a swing band. That night, I really got a sense of the scope of the L'Envers community.


A few weeks ago, there were a string of gigs in town - eons ago in blog terms - that fostered that sense of community as well. They really felt like events, like happenings, with the venues packed to capacity of people enjoying art and supporting the artists. I've been reflecting on what made those gigs so special, so very different from most other gigs in the city (and certainly most "jazz" gigs).

The first was Jai Nitai Lotus' album launch for his début solo record, Something You Feel. He mounted a live band from the ranks of the Kalmunity Vibe Collective (myself included) with DJ/producer Simahlak augmenting the sound. Maybe it's because I'm a huge fan of Mark de Clive-Lowe and the Roots, but live hip-hop and live electronica is not a novelty to me anymore, though it still seems to surprise a fair number of people in town. I don't think much of the audience knew what to expect musically before coming in, even if they were familiar with Lotus' earlier tracks. There were a lot of faces I recognized in the audience, the same faces I saw at the Nomadic Massive mixtape launch this summer, and many of the same faces were out a couple of nights later at the release of Henri-Pierre Noël's reissued album, Piano - the whole family was out in force. To have that awareness while playing is an exhilarating feeling.

Later that same week was Gilberto Gil's concert at Place des Arts, with my good friend Rômmel Ribeiro opening. When the announcement was made that Rômmel would warm up the stage for the master, I was incredibly proud and extremely joyous. It seems rare that we think of local talent in the same space as international stars, especially given the scarcity of Brazilian appearances in town. I would love to see more double-bills that not only pair deserving local artists with international headliners, but also make so much seamless artistic sense as this one did. Rômmel's wide-reaching scope of what Brazilian music means - a passion that's similar, and far deeper, than my own - is indebted to Gil's work over the past 40-odd years. Gil's show (the same to what Peter Hum saw in Ottawa) was his re-envisioning of the traditional music of Northeastern Brazil, with some brilliantly executed, thrilling and creative arrangements.

I sincerely hope that the combination of Gil and Rômmel - which culminated in couples dancing forró in the aisles of Théâtre Maisonneuve - redefines what Montrealers are capable of performing, presenting, and supporting in their music scene. A definition that is rewritten thanks to the passionate visionaries like Ellwood Epps.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

RIP Dave Brubeck

I remember it like it was yesterday. I became enamoured with music at a young age, courtesy of Billy Joel's 52nd Street. I was a bit of a Billy Joel obsessive as a kid, and in one of his long-form VHS tapes, Shades of Grey, he made a passing mention of Dave Brubeck's Time Out and that the artwork adorned a wall of his house. With the gift money of my ninth birthday, I went and bought Time Out.

"Strange Meadowlark" changed my life. Even at nine years old, and having only played piano for three years at that point, I viscerally knew that that - whatever "that" was - was what I wanted to do, what I wanted to become. Not long after purchasing the album, I got the folio of transcriptions and diligently learned most of them. I bought a bunch of the Telarc Brubeck records of the 90s and 2000s - Young Lions and Old Tigers was my pre-adolescent introduction to musicians like Christian McBride and Roy Hargrove. Along with Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis, Brubeck was my gateway into jazz. One of my first issues of Down Beat had a joint interview with Brubeck and Peterson. I can't even very well articulate just how deeply Brubeck affected me as a kid. He is a truly formative influence - not in the sense of someone whose vocabulary I investigated and analyzed, but in the sense of someone who truly altered my life path. It's been years since I've listened to any of those records, Time Out included, but I would not be a pianist, composer, or even possibly a jazz fan, without Dave Brubeck's work.

Though I never saw him live, at his last appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival I did get to briefly tell him the effect that Time Out had on me. I told him, with all truthfulness and no exaggeration, that I owe him my career. A trite statement, and likely one he had heard countless times over his long career, but a meaningful moment for me nonetheless.

Rest in peace, Mr. Brubeck. You have inspired countless musicians to pursue the path we call "jazz."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Filling in the blanks

My apologies for the umpteenth unplanned hiatus on the blog. Hopefully this rundown will explain why these pages have been fairly silent. For everyone who might be landing here from my interview on The Jazz Session, welcome.

POP Montreal wrapped up this past weekend, which occupied a fair chunk of my week. I kicked it off at Balattou alongside Sarah Linhares, who showcased her solo work and a new electro-influenced project called Future Falcon. Sarah's record Messages From the Future just got nominated for Best Electronic Album at the GAMIQ, and we're gearing up for our next live show October 4 at Piano Rouge.

I was also responsible for mounting a live band for my friend ANGO. I called Mark Haynes and Jahsun of Kalmunity to bring the reggae and 80s R&B flavours out of Ango's music, which was enhanced by Mike Din triggering samples and effects that I didn't have enough hands for. It was a blast seeing Prison Garde and Jacques Greene, who had produced tracks on Ango's mixtape Serpentine, reacting to their beats coming to life.

I didn't get much of a chance to catch other people's music at POP this year - I only saw three shows. Fanfare Ciocarlia was at the Rialto Theatre, and their breakneck music was nearly ruined by a hyperactive lighting tech. It's a Balkan brass band, not a techno rave, the strobe lights can stay home. The sound at the Rialto was far better than I remember. I caught most of AKUA's set at Sala Rossa. I've known Akua for a long time, back to our days with McGill a cappella ensemble Effusion, and it's a pleasure to watch her solo material blossom. She acquitted herself well as a solo act, singing and playing keys over her Ableton Live (I assume) beats, and joined at times by harpist Emilie and saxophonist Dave. Akua is a striking visual presence as well, but it's hard to really interact when one is stuck behind a computer screen. The final show I saw was the PASA Musik showcase at Lambi, featuring Sarah MK and La Bronze. I hadn't seen La Bronze, though I have known drummer/vocalist/dancer Nadia Essadiqi for a while through the female percussion troupe Maloukaï. She's a force to be reckoned with onstage, with an honest voice that sometimes falters. The tunes didn't necessarily hit the climaxes that they could have, and while the first number with her two dancers was a welcome surprise, their return appearances became more routine. Maybe it's because they weren't properly lit at Lambi.


In Jason's interview, I spoke a lot about Alicuanta. Rehearsals are well and truly under way. Having lived with this music for nearly two years makes getting into detail work during the rehearsal process a much more feasible task. Pablo Serrano Dakán was in town from Mexico City for over a month working on the projection design. Seeing even the rough drafts of the projections were breathtaking.


I continue to indulge my love for Latin American music. The Trio Bruxo EP has been given some loving attention by Anthony Dean-Harris on his show The Line-Up, and was reviewed by Peter Hum. My monthly Latin series, MOVIM, continues tonight with my friends in Tupi Collective, and I'll be DJing alongside them. MOVIM will continue through the fall with performances by Trio Bruxo, Joel Miller, Frizson, and more.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rent party

The universe works in mysterious ways. Upon my return from NYC (and mere hours after I made a big note of Ethan Iverson's advice to check out Scott Joplin), I got an e-mail from trumpeter and artistic community organizer Ellwood Epps. Epps has been the catalyst of two galvanizing movements in Montreal's musique actuelle scene: the Mardi Spaghetti series at Le Cagibi, and his loft space, L'Envers. L'Envers, over the years, has hosted some of the best improvising talent at the local and international levels, and though they've had ups and downs over the years, they have continued to support the local scene and bring in artists that would not otherwise be booked in Montreal. Since they gave the bigger back room of 185 Van Horne over to La Plante, L'Envers has also been a prime rehearsal space: I have rehearsed there with ALICUANTA and with Matana Roberts' Coin Coin.

In these summer months, post-FIMAV, L'Envers has fallen on hard times. The lack of shows and rehearsal bookings has led to financial difficulty, and if they don't raise $1600 by August 24 they'll be forced to shut their doors - a move that would irrevocably damage Montreal's independent arts community. The rent party is happening August 24, and in keeping with the "rent party" tradition, Ellwood asked me to play some stride piano. Stride piano is really not my forte, so I will loosen the definition of it, and play some early swing and Great American Songbook tunes, and work out my left hand. Also on the bill:

- Belly Dance with Claire Litton
- Improvised music with Jack Wright

- Burlesque Performance with Miss Josephine, backed up by Live Band!
- Contemporary Music with the Bozzini String Quartet
- Short film by Karl Lemieux
- Synth Pop with Brusque Twins

NYC Travel Diary, August 2012

Sometime last year, I made a resolution to get down to NYC as often as time and money would allow. In lieu of actually moving there, I wanted to somewhat resume the commuting I had done in 2006-07 when I was participating in the BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop. Over the years I've cultivated a strong community of friends and colleagues in the city, and when I went down in 2011 after a two year absence I realized that I just couldn't wait that long between visits anymore.

Immediately after my friends Moonstarr and The One Tash got married, I hopped on the bus down to NYC. I didn't realize how much traffic there would be on a Monday morning to get to NYC, and when I got to the bus station I was about 6 people too late to wind up on the 8:30 express bus, and barely made it on to the 9 am milk run. Luckily, most people on that bus were headed straight to New York, so to compensate for our incredibly long waiting time at the border (two agents were attempting to process three bus-loads of people), our bus avoided most of the interim stops like Glens Falls and Ridgewood, NJ. I've had fairly good luck in my bus trips over the years, except for one ride down to Toronto, where a drunk guy got on in Kingston and lost his cool when a woman starting painting her nails in front of us. It seems as though that my fellow passengers on this particular ride had no sense, or at least a very different definition, of what "using headphones at a reasonable volume" meant. After a while I gave up on even trying to listen to my own iPod as other people's music devices and ringtones exceeded my personal comfortable listening levels. I feel your pain, Jason!

After checking into my Bushwick hostel, I headed back into Manhattan for the forró night at Café Wha, led by percussionist and vocalist Davi Vieira. Their repertoire is a fun mix of traditional forró, and reggae-influenced MPB. It feels almost like a backyard jam session, with solos and laughter running rampant through the set. From there, I headed to Richie Cannata's longstanding jam at the Bitter End, where his Billy Joel band colleague Tommy Byrnes was holding down the bar. I've hung out with Tommy when the band has come through Montreal, so it was strange to see him in NYC. (This was not the only time this would occur.)

Tuesday I had coffee with vocalist Karlie Bruce, who sings backup with Montreal Jazz Fest headliners Escort, and is about to launch her first album Stateside. It reminds me a lot of the Montreal sound of Karkwa and Patrick Watson, references that don't really have the same effect in Brooklyn as they do here. She took me to an Aussie café in Williamsburg that actually understood what an allongé is (as opposed to the café near my hostel who looked at me quizzically when I asked for a long espresso that morning). From there, I had rehearsal with my Indigone cohorts Alex Mallett and Matt Rousseau. Alex and I haven't played the Indigone book together since 2009, and there's a few tunes (notably his contributions to the repertoire) that I haven't played since that time myself. It was like putting on an old pair of shoes. Alex and I find a pocket together and there's nearly a decade's worth of trust in our friendship and partnership. Alex referred Matt for the gig and he got through our music admirably, especially with only one rehearsal and a minimum of preparation beforehand.

I got into the East Village as quickly as I could for Cyro Baptista's set with Beat the Donkey at the Stone. The room was strewn with various percussion, a floor for tap dancing, and keyboards that have definitely seen better days. Cyro and four band members came out and blew in harmonized beer bottles - something Hermeto Pascoal did a few months ago in Burlington - before the musicians manned their stations. The set began with a traditional song on ngoni and kora. I didn't get the ngoni player's name but he had a rich, bassy tone and anchored the band well - he was a good singer too. Baptista is a descendant of Hermeto Pascoal and Tom Zé, taking folkloric Brazilian music and running it through a kaleidoscopic sense of improvisational whimsy. Using Zorn or Morris-like conduction he would interrupt these fantastic grooves and rhapsodies on Brazilian folk songs - I never in my life expected to hear "Meu maracatu," a tune I learned in São Paulo, dissolve into noise guitar, or "Pisa na fulo" on a harmonized and amplfied Jew's harp. It was the first show I've seen at the Stone that made me want to dance (but that's because I missed the Mehliana premiere).

I walked along 3rd street westward to Zinc Bar for Orrin Evans' "Evolution" jam session. His quartet's opening two tunes consisted of musicians I didn't know - bassist Alex Hernandez, drummer Kassa Overall, and a sax player whose name I didn't catch - truly getting into the definition of Black American Music. Overall put a semi-"Poinciana" beat on "Bemsha Swing," and Evans' responded with some two-handed gospel chords. It was the best music of the night, outside of bassist Ben Wolfe playing "If I Should Lose You" in duo with vocalist JD Walter. The jam, while efficiently run by Evans, devolved into the trap most NYC sessions fall prey to - the idea that one needs to play all their shit on every tune because they're at a jam session in New York City. I got up and played "What Is This Thing Called Love?" with a few horn players, and my favourite moment was when the band dropped out and Hernandez and I got to play a couple of choruses of duo. I really dug his playing, both as a listener and as a player. He's a name I will watch out for in the future.

Wednesday's itinerary focused on Lincoln Center. My BMI colleague, Mariel Berger, had told me about the score collection at that NYPL branch many years ago, though I had never had time to go out there and investigate. I spent the afternoon lost in the official score of West Side Story, Golijov's Three Songs, and Soul Jazz's coffee table book of classic bossa nova record covers. I finally got to experience the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival in Damrosch Park, programmed by the indefatigable Bill Bragin. Israel's Alaev Family were new to me, and stole the show with their propulsive Bouchari folk music, somewhere between cantorial music and the odd-metered dances of the Balkans. I had initially gone to see Dr. L. Subramaniam, the master of South Indian violin. It was only when I re-checked the website that morning that I realized it was a project called Global Fusion and I somewhat tempered my expectations. Featuring guitarist Larry Coryell, harmonica player Corky Siegel, and others, all the nuances of Carnatic music got trampled over by keyboards, and 4/4 drums. I wish the violins (Subramaniam and his son, Ambi) were more prominent in the mix, and that the mridangam player had had more room to step out. Wanting to end my night on a high note, I walked down 8th Ave to Guantanamera to check out Pedrito Martinez. I'm not sure how a restaurant that small can contain that much powerful music. Pedrito and company just slayed, with rhythmic trickery that I still can't fully comprehend, and a pianist and vocalist whose montunos were the motor of the evening that never faltered. It really is too bad that there isn't room to dance in there, though.

Thursday was devoted to the reunion of Indigone, at Freddy's Bar in Park Slope. It was great to see a bunch of old friends, most of them McGill affiliated and now living in Brooklyn. It was a thrill to play those old tunes again. We were followed by guitarist Todd Clouser, who used his set to explore the outer limits of his music with Rick Parker on trombone and electronics and drummer Tim Kuhl. Definitely not what I was expecting him to do at all, and all the more riveting for it.

Friday, I had had a multitude of plans that all got derailed once vibraphonist James Shipp posted on Facebook that Kate McGarry would be at Joe's Pub. I've been a fan of Kate since The Target landed in my lap via Exclaim! a few years ago, and she's one of the many artists that frustratingly never get booked in Montreal. Her set centred around her recastings of standards in styles ranging from truly rooted swing to dark and brooding straight eighths (her expansive rendition of "The Man I Love" gave it an entirely different meaning). The highlights of the set were her own gorgeous setting of a Hafez poem, in duo with guitarist Keith Ganz, that led into "We Kiss In a Shadow," and the closing Toninho Horta medley which showcased drummer Clarence Penn's killer samba feel. I'm a very happy man when he lets loose that way, as he did with Grégoire Maret a month ago. It was a treat to hear organist Gary Versace in this more straightahead setting, compared to the trio with Ellery Eskelin and Gerald Cleaver that I heard a couple of months back at Sala Rossa. Playing without a bassist, Versace and Ganz accessed a wide palette of colours. One of the other non-musical highlights was having Fred Hersch at the table behind me - I've never been nervous while being an audience member before. I couldn't work up the nerve to introduce myself, as he was at a table with his partner and two friends, and seemingly not interested in talking shop.

Shop talk was reserved for Saturday at Ethan Iverson's master class. Ethan recognized me but only put it all together well into the master class - "I'm only used to seeing you in Canada," he said. It was a small master class, with only two other pianists in attendance - Martin Porter, and a player from Jersey whose name I forget. Ethan, as usual, had great counsel and strong opinions delivered in a forthright and humourous manner. I have a list a page long of things to check out now, from Stravinsky's piano music to Wally Rose to the more obscure Joplin rags. He talked through a Lee Konitz line he was learning for a recording session this week, a knotty piece of architecture that was a pain to memorize. It was probably one of the most edifying experiences, watching a pianist who can quite literally play most anything at the drop of a hat, work through some problems at the instrument.

My final night of the week found me back in Park Slope with Alex Mallett, as part of the Brooklyn Beet Day at Korzo. Featuring a lineup of singer-songwriters that are based out of the neighbouring Roots Café, I played with Alex's band (completed by ex-Montrealer Alan Biller) and then continued to sit in with Gypsy George (with whom Alex plays bass). I also had some killer fish and chips, with beet ketchup, and beet sugar vodka was being passed out for the tasting. I felt like an honourary member of the Roots Café crew for a night. It was a beautiful send-off and a strong reminder that I need to return.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

FIJM Day 10 & Wrap-up

The final night of Jazz Fest was dedicated to groove. I started my evening with my Kalmunity colleague (and former piano student) Sarah MK. I make no claim of being objective here: I'm extremely proud of Sarah, in how she's grown as an individual musician, how her artistic sense has grown as a bandleader, and what she's trying to do on and for the Montreal scene. Her sets strayed from her EP, Worth It, incorporating new tunes, very old tunes, a re-worked version of Chaka Khan's take on "A Night In Tunisia" and a new tune written to a J Dilla beat. Joined by some of Kalmunity's finest (including guitarist/producer Jordan Peters), Montreal's soul scene is in good hands.

Sarah played so long that I unfortunately missed Chicha Libre on the Bell stage and I headed straight to Chromeo's final outdoor extravaganza. They had hired a ten-piece string section, none of whom I could hear except for the harpist. Dave One and P-Thugg unleashed a set of Prince-inspired 80s electro-funk, in a far stronger live set than the one I saw years ago at the Olympia. It seemed much like the Escort show - people were out to be a participant in the final show of this year's Jazz Fest, but I don't think many were Chromeo fans. The crowd response was fairly tepid for 100,000 people and I longed for the real, unifying outdoor events of previous jazz fests: Stevie Wonder, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the Funk Brothers. Chromeo ended early (10:45 instead of 11 pm) and lacked the now-obligatory fireworks finale.

The real final party was back at Metropolis, where DJ/blogger/event promoter Lexis (of Music Is My Sanctuary) was joined by The Goods and Jazzanova behind the decks. Kalmunity was wrapping up their Nightcap series up in the Savoy, so much of the evening was spent transferring between venues and waiting in lines, as both rooms were seriously packed. I got to the venue in the middle of Lexis' set, with rapper/producer Boogat animating the far more responsive crowd. I ran up to the Savoy for an hour, where Kalmunity had an over-capacity crowd in the palms of their collective hands. With the theme being "The Present Moment," the flow of ideas was quick and adventurous (including a three-horn free intro to one of the tunes), and one of the biggest cyphers of vocalists I've seen in a long time. After nearly an hour in the crowd I had to regain a sense of personal space and headed back down the stairs to check out Jazzanova's set of boogie, Brazilian, and other tracks. The Goods' Scott C closed out the night with a more electro-inspired set.


Of course, now that it's over, the wrap-up articles are a mix of self-congratulation and the usual refrain of not having enough jazz at the Jazz Festival. Bassist, composer and OFF Jazz Festival co-founder Normand Guilbeault has written a dissenting article at Le Devoir (French only). I admire Guilbeault as a musician and for his venture at the OFF Festival, started at a time when the FIJM booked far less local acts than they do now. While I also wish that there was a bigger spotlight shone on local artists (although I have to say this year was a good one - the Kalmunity family alone was responsible for 9 shows throughout the festival), and while some of the booked acts stray from even the biggest jazz umbrella, I would argue this year's edition was better than usual. The Brooklyn-disco act Escort featured some of that city's finest jazz and musique actuelle talent, playing tunes that are rooted in the harmony of the Great American Songbook. Lest we forget that jazz itself took a disco turn courtesy of the CTI label. 

As Pete Matthews of Feast of Music aptly wrote (and I'm stunned that a Brooklynite understands this better than a life-long Montrealer), there are two Montreal Jazz Festivals: the indoor paid shows and the outdoor events. I've lived here for ten years and the outdoor events have ALWAYS been a mix of jazz, world music, electronica and blues. The closest thing to a purely jazz outdoor extravaganza I have seen would be the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, The Afro-Cuban All Stars, or the Mardi Gras closing party of a couple of years ago with Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, the Soul Rebels and Zachary Richard. I think the power of these events, as I mention above, is in their ability to unify the city. Does it make artistic sense to have a big band play an hour-and-a-half closing party on a massive outdoor stage, through an incredibly amplified sound system? Would a big band bring 100,000 people to downtown Montreal? I doubt it.

While Guilbeault has valid points, to me he discredits himself entirely by stating he has boycotted the festival for years. If that's the case, how can he know the full extent of the programming, or the surprises that may have occurred during the festival (like Stevie Wonder playing "Giant Steps" on harmonica - isn't that the epitome of capital-J Jazz)? While it's true that after 10 pm, the only outdoor stage with jazz programming is the Radio-Canada stage, that series included such phenomenal talent as Kneebody. That argument is such a narrow definition of what the Festival represents that it discounts the indoor series that continue past 10 pm - all of the programming at Gesù, the second sets of shows at Upstairs, the jam session hosted by John Roney, and the Jazz Amnesty Sound System who conduct a better jazz education class than any university course. If we want the Festival to represent the vibrant jazz community that we have in Montreal year-round, we need to work within the system. If we don't provide them with other artists they can book, if we don't wish to participate in the Festival as spectator, performer or critic, if we don't support our own scenes the other 50 weeks per year, then we have absolutely no grounds on which to complain.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

FIJM Day 9: World affairs

My first visit to the new Maison Symphonique began in awe of its spectacular architecture. This hall is so much better than Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, from its sightlines to its acoustics to its ambiance. Natural wood gives it a warmth compared to the sterility of the red plush seats of Pelletier, and the acoustics are far better. André Ménard preceded guitarist Harry Manx's concert with this caveat (and I'm paraphrasing and loosely translating from the French): "No one wants to watch the concert through your little screen, so photos and video are strictly, truly forbidden." Thank you - many of the concerts have been plagued by people so concerned with documenting the fact that they were there rather than enjoying the experience of being there.

Manx is a guitarist who specializes in a mixture of blues and Indian music. This is no slapdash fusion - his incorporation of the mohan veena and Hindustani filigree is the work of someone who has seriously studied these traditions, as much as he has the Delta slide masters of the blues. Joined by a multicultural band of Australian organist Clayton Doley, Indian vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia, and multi-instrumentalist Yeshe, Manx wove his way through a repertoire of originals and carefully selected covers. The blend of Yeshe's kamele ngoni (a stringed instrument based on a gourd, similar to a kora) and Manx's resonator guitars was impressive and novel, as was the pairing of mbira (thumb piano) with Hammond organ. My intention in going to this concert was to hear Ahluwalia, a stunning Indian classical vocalist with a very pure, stringlike tone. She often left the stage for the other three musicians to delve deeper into the blues tradition. As great as Ahluwalia is, I got the sense she felt very out of place. The band really took off on the ecstatic "Must Must," a Sufi mystic song that Ahluwalia has previously recorded. In meeting her on an equal playing field, the band truly soared. Doley was a complete revelation for me - now seemingly based in Ontario, he's a true colourist on the Hammond, kicking bass pedals and manipulating the drawbars and Leslie speaker speed like Billy Preston. His duo with Ahluwalia, supporting her with subtly sweeping synth pads, was another highlight for me. The crowd responded more to a Booker T and the MGs style blues, and Yeshe's version of Zachary Richard's "La Ballade de Jean Batailleur." Both Yeshe and Manx have gruff voices that, while they're not the most precise instruments, are full of character and grit. The only downfall of the show, to me, was that Manx insisted on triggering kick and snare samples with his feet, which led to a similar feel for every song throughout the concert. It was cool for the first tune and then it grew tired - with Yeshe playing congas, it became entirely unnecessary.

From there, it was a clinic in first-generation hard bop with pianist Cedar Walton and his trio. Kicking off the set with "Newest Blues," Walton wasted no time in getting into some high-quality swing with compatriots David Williams on bass and drummer Willie Jones III. Jones had an impeccable time feel on the ride. Williams glued the trio together with a woody tone for walking. He had a penchant for quoting tunes, be it "Blue Monk" and "St Thomas" in "Newest Blues" or Coltrane's "Resolution" in his feature (whose name escapes me now). The set alternated between concise, punchy arrangements of standards ("Young and Foolish," "My One and Only Love") and Walton originals. It was like a class from Art Blakey University: Walton's tunes had multiple sections with different time feels in the vein of the great Jazz Messenger composers. Jones navigated these time feels with ease and facility. What Walton lacked in precision, he had in ideas - it was such an edifying pleasure to hear that bluesy, tonal post-bebop improvising language from one of its masters. No one owns that medium-slow loping swing tempo of "Dear Ruth" quite like Walton. A true privilege to be in his company.

I had to leave early for a photo op with the Kalmunity Vibe Collective. Last night, the marquee of Metropolis read: SARAH MK; KALMUNITY; NOMADIC MASSIVE. It was "A Great Day in Montreal." The Kalmunity collective is responsible directly for six shows in this year's programming; factor in the extended family of Nomadic Massive and Wesli and the count grows to nine. Kalmunity is a true incubator of talent in this city, and to me it is what sets Montreal's creative culture apart from all other scenes. The ability to unite artists across disciplines and genres to create art improvised in the moment is an experience unlike any other I've found. That they've been doing it every Tuesday for 9 years (with maybe a month or two pause a couple of years ago when we had to change venues) is nothing short of astonishing.

While Kalmunity was paying tribute to the late hip-hop producer J Dilla at the Savoy, I ran over to get my dose of Afro-Caribbean vinyl with the Canicule Tropicale crew. DJs Kobal, Philippe Noël and Sugarface Nene dug deep in their crates for a joyful selection of cumbia, salsa, samba and Afrobeat while Gene "Starship" Pendon displayed his handiwork in live painting beside the decks.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

FIJM Day 7: Feets don't fail me now!

Even though other shows might in the end be higher on my list of favourites, yesterday was easily the strongest single day of programming at the Festival.

My evening began at the 6 pm L'Astral series featuring Montreal bassist Adrian Vedady with drummer John Fraboni and their invited pianist, Marc Copland. Copland described the trio's work as "painting sound pictures." A more than apt description for his own sound on the instrument. Opening with Joni Mitchell's "Don't Know Where I Stand," Copland displayed a uniquely adventurous harmonic sense, fanning outward from diatonicism to incorporating the most tense of intervals as if they were the most natural note choices. His round tone out of the instrument and his often motivically-structured improvisational taste helped convey that idea, too. Copland's been playing with Vedady and Fraboni for a couple of years now, and their simpatico was clear in the flowing rubato of Copland's "Rainbow's End," with Vedady and Copland stating the melody in a tandem borne of listening and experience. Vedady was a more conventional solo voice than Copland, but no less captivating, with a warm, resonant tone. Fraboni, as always, provided impeccable support, and brought to bear his time spent in New Orleans in the second set, reframing Ron Carter's "Eighty-One" somewhere between ECM washiness and a dancing boogaloo. The two sets featured mostly standards that were often drastically re-harmonized (I wish I had recorded that version of "Greensleeves"; "Blue in Green underwent a similar harmonic enrichment) or re-envisioned ("My Funny Valentine" played at an uptempo). As with Copland's playing, these new approaches to old tunes never felt forced, but rather the most logical and appropriate reworking in the world. Peter Hum has sang the praises of Copland to me in the past and now I must do my due diligence on his previous work.

From there, I headed to one of the most-anticipated shows of the year for me: T.P, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. This proto-Afrobeat group from Benin has been revitalized by reissues on Soundway, and seemed to maintain as many original members as possible. Playing to a very warm reception by a half-capacity Club Soda, the band energetically and enthusiastically delivered two sets of their most beloved tunes. For me, the links between West African music of the 1960s and 1970s with salsa is not only intriguing from a musicological perspective, but kicks my feet into motion like little else. I was surprised at how many people in the crowd were singing along with the lyrics. I can't really speak to the specific history of this band: I got to know them through the re-issues and I focus more on the music than the words. I had the same feeling as when I saw Orchestra Baobab in the same venue a few years ago: just to be in the same room as these legends, who are still playing fantastically well, makes the concert beyond reproach.

The fact that it was half-capacity, though, speaks to an issue I have tended to have with the Festival over the years. The promotion and publicity machine seems to create this cyclical interaction between attendance and coverage: all the advertising I see focuses on big names (Seal, Norah Jones, Esperanza, Rufus Wainwright) that are likely to sell out - or in the case of Rufus, draw big crowds - anyway. The lesser-known groups like Poly-Rythmo are not often featured in the print or subway ads. They're not profiled in the media to the same degree. What I would love to see is the Festival make a point of drawing people's attention to these half-empty shows, which are consistently fantastic if under-attended, because if the ENTIRE Festival programming can be as close to full house as possible, that will make life better for artists and programmers alike.

Leaving Club Soda for the SAT, I walked in on Joyo Velarde belting out a cover of the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing" for a smattering of people. The Festival had mentioned Lyrics Born would be performing with a live band - they neglected to mention it was his James Brown tribute set! [/end rant] The MC returned to the stage to join his "LBs" in a rendition of the Godfather's "Get Up Offa That Thing." From that point forward the band (populated by some of the Bay Area's finest, including some of the Jazz Mafia crew) unrelentingly dealt in old-school R&B and hip-hop showmanship. I do tire of the constant goading to "make some noise" but in this case it fit in the context of the show. Bassist and bandleader Uriah Duffy put together a phenomenal set, and indulged in a mid-set solo of slapping and other bass pyrotechnics (spinning his bass around his neck, etc). A perfect way to send off the Festival's 4th of July.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

FIJM Day 6: salons & dancefloors

Last evening's festivities began with Brazilian guitarist and songwriter Márcio Faraco, accompanied only by pianist Philippe Baden Powell de Aquino (and yes, he is the son of the legendary composer and guitarist). In the intimate confines of Savoy, it felt like we were all part of a roda de samba or a house concert. Faraco has that breathy, conversational way of singing that so many post-Joao Gilberto singer-songwriters have. It is truly a challenge for a pianist to accompany a guitarist in the Brazilian tradition - Faraco's playing, especially, is so harmonically and rhythmically complete that the pianist's role is to provide support and colour without getting in the way. Philippe did this superbly, and was also a very strong soloist. Faraco's songs are inspired by places and people, true story songs that alternate between being personal ("Constantina") and political ("Adrenaline," and another tune whose name I forget, a carimbo dedicated at first to Qaddafi and then more generally to life). Previous to Jazz Fest I had never heard of either of these musicians; they were easily my discovery of the festival.

Off I was to L'Astral to check out Belgian pianist Jef Neve. I had heard some of his previous work in passing, and was upset to have missed his duo shows a few years back with José James. With his trio of Ruben Samana on bass and Teun Verbruggen on drums, Neve wasted no time in diving into a propulsive, energetic set. Opening with a rumbling intro, and Samana processing his voice through effects, "The Space Beneath" was a rocking tune with a long form reminiscent of many contemporary jazz composers. The sheer force of the trio was infectious - Neve was playing the piano nearly standing up at moments, crouching in the same manner as Grégoire Maret a few nights earlier at the same venue. They continued with "Sofia," a simple, almost poppy song written while travelling through the Bulgarian capital. Verbruggen unleashed a small arsenal of toys, creating feedback and effects from his kit. Verbruggen was also impressive with his patient minimalism on the ballad "Saying Goodbye on a Small Ugly White Piano." Throughout the set, Neve called to mind Brad Mehldau, in the way he constructed lines and the manner in which he shades the most simple of melodies. He lacks Mehldau's contrapuntal precision, as the lines in "Seldom Seen Here Before" blended together without each note always speaking individually. "Exuberance" is a word that's been coming up in my Jazz Fest notes frequently this year, and Neve's trio was no exception.

Also exuberant in their own way was the live disco orchestra, Escort. Tasked with headlining the traditional mid-festival outdoor extravaganza, they more than lived up to the hype and to the challenge. Walking out of L'Astral into a pulsating four-on-the-floor beat, the band was supremely tight, with two percussionists and a drummer sounding like a single kit. With a setlist paced like a DJ set (and my DJ friends were boogieing down hard), the groove never let up. Lead vocalist Adeline spoke to the crowd mostly in French, humourously filling the band in on what she was saying. A powerful singer, her tone tended more towards rock than the churchy house or disco diva sound, which suited the band. Soloists like trombonist Ryan Keberle (also of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society) had ample room to stretch out. The repertoire included a cover of Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" (impeccably recreated, I must say) and they ended with some French disco tune which I couldn't place but predictably lit up the crowd. A special mention to whoever designed the lighting scheme for the big stage, and whoever had the idea to hang a massive disco ball over the Place des Festivals. Bravo!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled coverage

... for this important announcement. ALICUANTA NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT!

ALICUANTA is my latest project, co-composed with vocalist Gitanjali Jain Serrano. Set to the texts of poet Francisco Serrano, it's a "staged song cycle" scored for voice, piano/electronics, bass, drums, cajón and string quartet. Alongside lighting and set designer Laird Macdonald, visual artist Pablo Serrano Dakán, and dancer/choreographer Danny Wild and our 7 other wonderful musicians, the piece explores the legacy of General Francisco Roque Serrano (1889-1927), a mysterious and influential figure of post-Revolution Mexico. An ardent anti-re-electionist, General Serrano was brutally tortured and assassinated by his opponent during the presidential campaign of 1927. And if you notice a lot of Serranos in the above listing - Francisco Serrano (the poet) is the General's grandson, Pablo's father and Gitanjali's uncle.

We are pleased to announce that ALICUANTA will be premiered in its fully staged form FRIDAY NOVEMBER 2, 2012 (Dia de los muertos) at Salle Gesù (1200 Bleury). While we gratefully acknowledge the funding from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, and the Canada Council for the Arts, we still need your additional support to make ALICUANTA the powerful multimedia experience we're planning. Please click on over to the Kickstarter and donate whatever you can, to help us reach our goal of $10,000 by August 2.

The seeds of this project started in 2007, when I randomly met Gitanjali in a now-non-existent East Village bar while I was studying at the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. When we both returned to Montreal, we talked about how I wanted to write more to the work of Latin American poets. She mentioned that her uncle was a poet, and we met over coffee to read his work. Immediately, many of his poems sparked my compositional interest. Given Gitanjali's extensive background in theatre and my longstanding desire to take on an interdisciplinary project, we decided to create a full-on show. It's been two years of working, creating, rehearsing (and a little bit of arguing) but I am proud that this show can finally come to its full fruition, with your support.

The ALICUANTA team: Francisco Serrano - texts; Gitanjali Jain Serrano - co-composer, director, voice; David Ryshpan - co-composer, piano, sound design; Corinne Raymond Jarczyk - violin; Stephanie Park - violin; Lilian Belknap - viola; Amahl Arulanandam - cello; Sébastien Pellerin - bass; Mark Nelson - drums; Laird Macdonald - lighting & set design; Pablo Serrano Dakán - artwork & projection design; Danny Wild - dance/choreography.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

FIJM Day 5: The Devil's Music

Monday was a slow day at the festival for me. Outside of the media events, I had no tickets and planned on just walking around the outdoor stages.

I missed the first portion of the Ron Carter press conference, stuck in traffic. I caught enough of it to realize that Carter is as cogent a speaker as he is a player. When asked about how he feels when journalists rely on his work with Miles Davis and don't ask him about the rest of his long and storied career, he gave a very diplomatic response: he used to get upset at the ignorance and lack of preparedness, but now he uses those situations to educate the journalists (and hopefully their readers) in the missing pieces of the puzzle. I had the chance to ask about his peak recording period in the late 60s/early 70s, moving between electric and upright, from Joe Henderson to Airto to Gil Scott-Heron, and his reply was simply that he tried to make each session sound like he belonged in that band. Brilliant advice to any musician.

I'm a big fan of media rehearsals. They give the media a behind-the-scenes view of the nuts and bolts of a large production, and also give the artists a specified time for flash-blindness. There was an open rehearsal for The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith, written by playwright Angelo Parra and featuring Miche Braden. Walking into Cinquième Salle of Place des Arts, there was a beautiful set and ambient wash of light, while the techs were busy fixing follow spots and sorting out the sound. While in the media rehearsal, we didn't hear many full songs or even get a sense of the arc of the show, but it was enough to intrigue me into finding a ticket for the opening.

Braden has previously portrayed the lives of Mahalia Jackson and Ma Rainey on stage. Revitalizing the legacies of influential singers from bygone eras seems to be something of an artistic mission statement for her. She's got a big, soulful voice, that evokes Bessie Smith without being a strict imitator. Through the 90-minute show, the history of Smith's tumultuous hard living was elegantly interwoven with the songs. Surrounded by a trio of pianist Aaron Graves, Jim Hankins on bass, and saxophonist Keith Loftis, the musicians are also called upon to act a little bit. Loftis' raunchy duo with Braden is the one of the many high points of the show. The majority of it is raunchy, bawdy and hilarious, and Braden certainly knows how to play to the crowd. She also shows the emotions of Bessie behind the masks of alcohol and sex; in the final act, when Smith's life unravels, Braden cut to the core. Originally produced by the Penguin Rep Theater in New York and after a successful off-Broadway run, this is a show definitely worth seeing and a textbook example of how biographical musicals, or jukebox musicals, should be structured.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

FIJM Day 3: Internacional

The day started early with an interview with Curumin. I thought I was running late but the Brazilian singer/multi-instrumentalist walked into the press room right behind me. We had a conversation about his production tastes and the reality of the Brazilian music market here and abroad.

During the cocktail to welcome international media, André Ménard gave a brief speech honouring longtime WBGO host and Down Beat contributor Michael Bourne. Bourne has been coming to the Montreal Jazz Fest for 20 years - missing only one edition a few years back when he had a heart attack - and he's been a tireless advocate for the festival on a consistent basis. Ménard presented him with a "black pass," a permanent accreditation for the Festival, and re-baptized the press room in Bourne's name. It was clear that Bourne was visibly moved. It's special for me because Bourne's critical voice has been influential on me since I've started reading Down Beat in 1992 (the same year as his first visit to the festival). Part of it all, too, made me miss our own local, indefatigable encyclopedia of jazz, Len Dobbin.

I caught the second half of Alex Côté's set on the TD stage. It's always a blast to see my friends projected larger than life on those massive screens, and it's a bit of a strange feeling to see an acoustic jazz quintet on such a large stage. Playing music from his recent record, Transitions, Côté proved again why he's a force on the local scene. As I remarked to saxophonist Joel Miller, there's so many great composers in this town. The front line of Côté's alto and Dave Mossing's trumpet navigated the tricky lines with facility and precision. Jonathan Cayer's piano sounded better than usual outside, as did Kevin Warren's drums, with Dave Watts the walking superglue of it all.

I had been looking forward to Maria Farinha's set, a Brazilian singer living in Toronto. She brought the top-tier guys from that city with her: guitarist Roy Patterson, with a beautiful nylon-string sound and switching to a sparkly silver electric for one tune; bassist Kieran Overs, whose arco sound was warm and huge from the Rio Tinto Alcan stage's system; percussionist extraordinaire Maninho Costa; drummer Ethan Ardelli, on a night off from the Ottawa jazz festival session; and saxophonist and flutist Allison Au. Maria's music tended towards the polite bossa nova and early MPB, mostly drawn from her new album. I'm not sure why she felt compelled to introduce every tune with long descriptions, but it interrupted the momentum of the set. Ardelli is a fantastic drummer, but I had never thought of him as one of the premier Latin or Brazilian drummers in Toronto, and the hookup between him and Maninho seemed to falter at times. Her rendition of João Bosco's "Pra que discutir com madame" finally sparked the band into that swingue that I love so much.

The last time, and previously only time, I had seen harmonica player Grégoire Maret had been alongside Pat Metheny many years ago. Back with his own band at L'Astral, his set drew heavily from his recently released eponymous album. Opening with "Crepuscule," Federico Gonzales Peña coaxed sweeping expansive pads from a Korg Triton, with Clarence Penn's egg shaker and sidestick for support before the tune switched to a galloping ride. The Metheny references were plentiful in Maret's own music - the main section of "Crepuscule" had a soaring melody reminiscent of the guitarist, and Peña's synth patch selections flirted with the dark side of '90s smooth jazz, fake choral "oohs" and all. Matt Brewer was on fretless electric bass, and his octave lines and wide vibrato recalled Jaco, though his note choices were more adventurous. Like Brewer, Maret nodded at the tradition of his instrument, with minimal bends, trills and scoops reminiscent of Toots Thielemans. At the climaxes of this suite, the rhythm section threatened to overpower him at times, although this may have been a function of the sound. They continued with an intimate duo between Maret and Peña on acoustic piano; an artistic partnership that goes back nearly a decade to their work with Meshell Ndegeocello and their co-led group, Gaïa. Peña's playing is full of soul and deep churchiness; his colouristic sense is very high, orchestrating on the fly between piano, Rhodes and synth. Their version of Stevie Wonder's "Secret Life of Plants" featured Brewer on upright, and demonstrated the love that all four players share for song craft. The final tune, "Manha do sol," was basically a showcase for Penn and Maret. Starting with a great traditional samba feel, Maret turned towards Penn for his solo and goaded him into strong rhythmic interplay, crouching, leaping and bending on stage. The highlight of the set, and of my night, unquestionably.


From there it was off to see CéU, another proponent of the new generation of Brazilian popular musicians from São Paulo. I was too busy dancing to take notes for this one. The set was drawn from all three of her albums, with less of a focus on the new one, Caravana Sereia Bloom, than I had imagined. A hallmark of the Brazilian musicians I love is that, even while their focus might be on other styles of music, there is always a touchstone of Brazilian history in their songs. The piece CéU wrote for her daughter (whose name I didn't catch) was a gorgeous incantation in the vein of traditional Brazilian folk songs, brought into another realm by DJ Marco's electronics and scratches. Her cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland" caught me off guard. The influence of reggae runs deep in Brazil, and their cover of Marley's "Concrete Jungle," as well as CéU's own often dubby tunes, provided a showcase for the pocket of bassist Lucas Martins and drummer Bruno Buarque. They ended the set with "Rainha," which CéU dedicated to the founders of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti and Tony Allen. A beautiful show that did nothing to ease my saudade.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

FIJM Day 2 - guitars and quartets

Another day full of music and insight. The morning began with producer, archivist and historian Michael Cuscuna being awarded the Festival's Bruce Lundvall Prize, reserved for an industry person or non-musician integral to the development of the music. Cuscuna, a long-time lynchpin of Blue Note's revival and the head of Mosaic, is the perfect recipient. The press conference consisted of Cuscuna being interviewed by WBGO's Michael Bourne, with Cuscuna's recollections of the industry past and present, and lightly skeptical outlook towards the future.

From there, I explored the Guitar Show. I'm not a guitarist by any stretch of the imagination, but the beautiful luthierie on display is a great immersive art exhibit. I've also got a soft spot for Tele-style guitars with humbuckers, and anything to do with slide or steel guitar. Not that I can play any of it.

Becca Stevens, however, has a command of various stringed instruments. In her set at Upstairs, she switched between acoustic guitar, ukulele and Peruvian charango. With her band of Liam Robinson on accordion and piano, Chris Tordini on bass and Jordan Perlson on drums and cajón, she performed a bunch of new tunes as well as songs from her album Weightless. Beginning with the joyful exaltation of "Tillery" - "may we shout and may we sing" - it was an introduction to the three-part vocal harmonies (all except Perlson sang) that permeated the show. The harmony parts are sometimes simple unisons, but are usually far more intricate than that. She has a penchant for melodies that seem hauntingly familiar, delivered with a tender innocence. Stevens' rhythmic complexity is far more subtle than her Tillery counterpart Gretchen Parlato, left to the interlocking guitar and piano parts of "Be Still" or the polyrhythmic claps of "Canyon Dust." Perlson provides the perfect support for this band, easily switching from the deep, thudding backbeat on "Jac" to traditional mastery of the cajón, often playing both kit and cajón simultaneously. I discovered the band through their cover of Seal's "Kiss from a Rose," which they reprised here with more abandon. Their version of Joni Mitchell's "Help Me" was far more rhythmically propulsive than the original.


I ran over to Metropolis for a snippet of Esperanza Spalding and her Radio Music Society. Beginning with an introduction of tuning a radio to the proper frequency, the little big band launched into an almost James Brown-style series of introductory solos. For all the press that's been written about Spalding's pop cultural cachet, the beginning of the show was the jazziest I've ever heard Esperanza be, anchoring her band through a slow burning swing. Her monologues that preceded each tune were rehearsed but allowed room for flowing with the vibe of the room. I left at the end of her great arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "I Can't Help It." All reports were that the rest of the show was equally mesmerizing.

I'm not entirely sure what to write about the Wayne Shorter Quartet that hasn't already been written many times over. The harmonic and rhythmic simpatico between these guys is nearly unparalleled, snippets of tunes coming in and leaving, coming together in a truly powerful way. I couldn't identify the names of any of the tunes they played, and in a sense that didn't matter, because the purpose of what they do lies in each individual moment and doesn't necessarily need the context of what tune they may or may not be playing. The show opened with John Pattitucci's gorgeous arco bass, with Wayne and Danilo Pérez cascading chromatically overtop. Shorter seemed to grow stronger through the course of the show. His tenor sound was surrounded by air and saliva, but his soprano was all core tone. To be in the presence of that sound - that sound! - for the first time was an unforgettable experience. Wayne clearly leads the discussion and the shape of the music, even when he's not playing. Leaving lots of space for Pérez's interludes and cadenzas, it's as if the three of them are an extension of Shorter's unplayed sound. The sheer muscularity with which Brian Blade addresses the drums is pure visceral exuberance. At the end of the first tune, all four of them were rightfully filled with glee over the impossible tightness with which they concluded the piece. Sporting ear-to-ear grins, they crossed the stage to high-five each other. If there were one moment to sum up the beauty of this band, that would be it.

During the show I was struck by the similarities between Wayne's quartet and the trio of Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, and George Lewis that I saw at Victo. Clearly, there are sonic differences between the two - Pérez is a much less angular player than Muhal - but the sense of freedom to pursue the moment  (as evidenced by Shorter tapping his mouthpiece cover inside the piano and whistling into the mics) and the deep, intensely focused listening are identical. The sense that these are bands fostered on long relationships, I think, is also the key to their impressive mastery.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Jazz Fest Day 1 - Frisell & Porter

Bill Frisell has the ability to investigate every nook and cranny of a melody and draw new textures from it. Relying on the repertoire of John Lennon, this gift was in full display at Club Soda tonight. And who better to pay tribute to all sides of Lennon's musicality, from his originally skiffle and R&B influenced rhythm guitar chops to his experiments with tape loops, than Frisell? Alongside steel guitarist Greg Leisz. bassist Tony Scherr. and drummer Kenny Wollesen, the group reframed Lennon's work, sometimes in drastic ways, without ever straying too far from the tunes.

Sporting a Gibson ES-style semi-hollowbody axe - not a guitar I associate with him - Frisell and company came on stage after a kitschy orchestral version of "Yellow Submarine," without any prerecorded announcement. His swirling, delay-laden, celestial voicings led into a lightly deconstructed "Across the Universe," announced by repeating the "jai guru deva" section. This band deals in impossibly gradual crescendos, ratcheting up the energy in painstakingly incremental fashion. Frisell can lay into the simplest of melodies with the utmost conviction, and has the patience to stay there - "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" from East/West is the textbook example of this.

Frisell's relationships with these specific bandmates go back years, if not decades. The blend between Frisell and Leisz was so close, at times I couldn't tell who was creating what. Wollesen was clearly having a blast, laying into the backbeats of "Please Please Me" and gleefully referencing Ringo's tom fills of "Come Together." And if there's any bassist within the jazz realm who clearly understands Paul McCartney's bottom-end aesthetic of being melodic while also being glued to the kick drum, Scherr is it.

Once the melody of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" appeared out of a nearly Coltrane-ish modal excursion, Leisz and Frisell would coalesce their lines into a poignant, powerful downbeat. Frisell's dissonances never seemed to be tacked onto the songs: they seemed perfectly natural, like they had always been there, lurking under George Martin's production.

The final tune of the set, "In My Life," induced goosebumps and tears from its clarion opening theme. The piano solo became a recurring part of the arrangement, played in perfect tandem between Leisz and Frisell. Towards the end, Wollesen unleashed a train beat that morphed itself into a nearly Sonny Rollins-esque calypso, before detonating a long E-power-chord pedal that resolved itself to end the set. The two encores, "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Imagine" were played more or less straight up, which is not to say they lacked innovation or beauty. Not by a long shot.

Gregory Porter is a new name to me. I had heard snippets on Bandcamp before, but my knowledge of his work was much more limited than my experience with Frisell, whom I have seen four times. Porter has a husky, classic soul-man baritone, with a Kurt Elling-like nasal rasp in his upper register. He has clear diction and a very disciplined sense of melisma. His between-song banter reminded me of Bill Withers' monologues from Live at Carnegie Hall. Clearly, he knows his history, with his original songs incorporating the classic Motown grooves (complete with a quote of "It's the Same Old Song") and take-no-prisoners swing.

Porter recounted the travel fiasco he and his bandmates encountered in arriving to Montreal. Perhaps that accounts for the kind of youthful raggedness of their sound. Aaron James' intonation on the bass was iffy in places, which made me think it wasn't his own instrument. Pianist Chip Crawford, in the first set, relied on his hands in unison - either octaves or tenths - spinning impressive, if hyperactive, lines. By the end of the two-and-a-half hours, I felt like he had run out of ideas, resorting to a series of glissandi on "Wisdom." Saxophonist Yosuke Sato had a piercing, poppy alto sound, and lacked Porter's restraint. Drummer Emmanuel Harold (I'll check the spelling of his name tomorrow) was a real revelation for me, anchoring the rhythmic feel of the band, from the gospel-meets-one-drop of "Mother's Song" to the Philly Joe Jones rim-click swing at the end of their version of Mingus' "Moanin'". When Porter was singing, the band gelled behind him admirably.

The sets were evenly split between Porter's originals and a repertoire of standards, notably including a fast version of Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile." This was followed by a gorgeous rendition of "Skylark" that was marred only by Rufus Wainwright's outdoor show leaking into the club. (Someone needs to get on soundproofing L'Astral, stat!) Even after two-and-a-half hours of barnburning soul-jazz, the audience demanded an encore. Running up against his curfew, Porter indulged with a short, sweet, a cappella rendition of "Mona Lisa."

Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 Montreal Jazz Festival - outdoor picks

The 33rd edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival unofficially kicks off in two evenings from now, with "pre-opening" concerts courtesy of Janelle Monáe and James Taylor (not, unfortunately, a double-bill). I profiled the indoor programming here; my picks for the must-see outdoor and free shows are below. There is once again an official jam session at the Hyatt hotel, hosted by pianist John Roney. The unofficial jams include the B3 organ hang over at Brutopia, hosted by Martin K. Petersen and company, and local Afrobeat dons Papagroove hold court at L'Absynthe for a few nights as well. And for all the people who grouse every year that the Festival is less and less jazzy (especially outdoors), keep reading.

June 28
Ivan Garzón Quartet (8 pm, CBC stage): I play with Ivan in Denis Chang's manouche quartet, where he plays rhythm guitar. He's also a fantastic post-bop electric player, and is in the running for the TD Grand Prix.
Marie-Christine (8 pm, Rio Tinto Alcan stage): One of the great rising soul and R&B singers in town, she's a commanding stage presence to match her voice.

June 29
Mike Essoudry's Mash Potato Mashers (4 & 6 pm, Heineken Lounge): Mike and I crossed paths at McGill. The Ottawa drummer's revisionist brass band is part of the daily afternoon brass-heavy madness throughout the festival.
Peripheral Vision (6 pm, TD stage): My buddies from Toronto, guitarist Don Scott and bassist Michael Herring, co-lead this quartet featuring their forward-thinking tunes. They're also nominated for the Prize.
Curumin (10 pm, Bell stage): If you missed his show three years ago on the same stage, prepare to be converted to this dubby, hip-hop-inflected Brazilian pop music. Curumin is undoubtedly the reason why my heart and my ears gravitate to São Paulo's music scene.

June 30
Alexandre Côté Quintet (6 pm, TD stage): Alex is an un(der)sung hero of the Montreal scene, as a saxophonist and as a composer. I'm privileged to play alongside him in Gary Schwartz's LETTINGO, and his writing always opens my eyes to new possibilities.
Maria Farinha Band (8 & 10 pm, Rio Tinto Alcan stage): This singer's list of sidemen include the cream of the crop of Brazilian musicians from Canada, the US and São Paulo. A dose of traditional MPB.
Plaster (10 pm, Bell stage): The original purveyors of local wall-shaking live electro. These guys embodied lots of what I loved about the Montreal scene circa 2004-05, and they're back!

July 1 - the night of too many decisions
Chris Tarry Group (6 pm, TD stage): The ex-Metalwood bassist has been settled in NYC for many years now, cranking out phenomenal original music and short stories. Tarry's sound on electric bass has been one of my favourites for years.
Robi Botos (8 pm, CBC stage): I grew up marvelling at Robi's talent in Toronto, watching him give master classes at The Rex with every solo. Without question one of Canada's best pianists. He's in the running for the Prize as well.
Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto (8 pm, Bell stage): the premier traditional cumbia group, in existence since 1940! An opportunity to not be missed. It'll provide context for...
Boogat (10 pm, Bell stage): Montreal MC turned ambassador for electro-Latin music. He's prepping a new record, and I'm sure all the dancefloor hits will be in his set too. ¡Dios mio, que viva Montreal!
Kneebody (10 pm, CBC stage): I've been a fan of this bi-coastal quintet since their first album on Greenleaf. Their electric, modern jazz packs a wallop, with a killer frontline of multi-reedist Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley.
Heavy Soundz (midnight, Savoy, til July 3): alongside Boogat, the leading voice of Latin hip-hop in town. They take up three late-nights of residency at the Savoy.

July 2
Roma Carnivale vs Fanfare Severni (5 pm, place des Festivals): two local Balkan-influenced brass bands march across the place des Festivals for some heatstroke-inducing early partying. My money's on Roma.
Rachel Therrien Quintet (6 pm, TD stage): Like me, Rachel nurtures two great passions: Latin music and contemporary jazz. Fresh off the Banff Centre's jazz workshop, her sound has grown immensely and I can't wait to hear her showcase for the Prize.
Jazz Amnesty Sound System (midnight, L'Astral, til July 4): Selectors Andy Williams (of the Goods) and Luv dig into their impossibly deep jazz crates for a vinyl-only dancefloor section. I've been honoured to guest on a couple of their nights at the Waverly and I always get schooled by their records.

July 3
Sidi Touré (8 pm, Rio Tinto Alcan stage): This Malian singer and guitarist is firmly in line with many of his great countrymen, with a disarming voice and potent fingerwork.
Escort (9:30 pm, TD stage): a live disco big band direct from Brooklyn, featuring members of Darcy James Argue's Secret Society among others, for the mid-festival blowout? Yes, please.

July 4
Karl Jannuska (6 pm, TD stage): A bit of a mythical figure on the Montreal scene, this McGill alumnus moved to Paris before I arrived. Everyone still talks about his drumming and his compositions, for good reason. Featuring vocalist Sienna Dahlen, Jannuska's music is moving and somewhat haunting.
Ernesto Cervini Quartet (8 pm, CBC stage): I'm not really sure how you can be nominated for the TD "Rising Star" prize when you've released a few records on Anzic and your tenor saxophonist is Joel Frahm. Ernesto is a fantastic drummer (and an equally capable pianist and clarinetist) whose compositional voice is constantly growing.
Besh O Drom (8 & 10 pm, Rio Tinto Alcan stage): a group that was at the forefront of the Balkan Beats movement, this band direct from Hungary will show us how it's done.
The Narcicyst (10 pm, Bell stage): MC, author, professor, social critic and fashionista will grace the Jazz Fest stage with an all new show before he leaves our belle ville. Allahdamercy!

July 5
Chet Doxas Quartet (10 pm, CBC stage): The brothers Doxas (Jim's a drummer) are fixtures on the local scene, and the catalysts for some of jazz's biggest names to come to town. Chet will be playing music from his last album, Big Sky, featuring guitarist and Triplettes de Belleville composer Ben Charest.
Coyote Bill (10 pm, Bell stage): horn-heavy funky goodness featuring composer/producer/saxophonist extraordinaire Charles Papasoff, and members of Papagroove.
Kalmunity Vibe Collective (midnight, Savoy, til July 7): full disclosure - I'm playing on this one. Kalmunity has provided nine years of improvised grooves and social commentary in the city, and has been the incubator for some of the city's most promising talent over the past decade. With our three nights at the Savoy, we're indulging three different facets of our collective personality. July 5 is my baby, exploring the roots of all this music at Congo Square, and seeing how and where it grew from there. For those of you who attended our Mardi Gras party, expect some greasy NOLA funk through the Kalmunity kaleidoscope. The following nights are spotlighting J Dilla (July 6) and "the present moment" (July 7).
Canicule Tropicale (midnight, L'Astral, til July 7): My boys Philippe Noël and Kobal are back once again, with an all-tropical, all-vinyl marathon of dancefloor rockin' goodness.

July 6
Samuel Blais Quartet (8 pm, CBC stage): another young saxophonist whose enterprising NYC connections have led to an influx of fantastic shows in this city. He's showcasing his homegrown quartet, one of his many simultaneous projects.
Orgone (TD stage, 9 & 11 pm): I still harbour a love for the "jamband" scene - a remnant from my high school and early university days. These guys are carrying the torch of that community quite well, with an improvisational sense to their funk.
Frank Lozano Montreal Quartet (10 pm, CBC stage): Frank was a teacher of mine at McGill and a big inspiration, with a language that spans all periods and improvisational abilities.

July 7
Chicha Libre (8 pm, Bell stage): Led by Olivier Conan, the co-founder of Brooklyn's renowned club Barbès, this group has led the way for the rediscovery of Peruvian chicha music. They've put out a couple of brilliant records.
Blackmahal (10 pm, Bell stage): Bill Smith of Eye For Talent agency described them to me as "Bollywood hip-hop." An intriguing enough endorsement to warrant closing out the festival with this group. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

The time taken

The impetus of this blog, when I started out, was to document my life as a musician in Montreal. At the time, jazz blogging was in its infancy and centred around New York. I felt that Montreal's scene was equally vibrant and worthy of documentation. As the attention of indie-rock sites focused on the talent coming out of this city (many with links to jazz education programs in town), there wasn't the same mention being given to our jazz talent on the national or international stage. Ironically, as I've been more active as a musician, and therefore have had more things going on to document, my time for blogging has decreased. Yet one recent McGill Master's recital has prompted me to try and revise that.

Trombonist, composer, and arranger Jean-Nicolas Trottier was a few years ahead of me in our undergrad class at McGill. His concert of original big band pieces, held in the smallest recital hall available at McGill, was the catalyst for my own path down writing for large ensembles and cramming them onto tiny stages. Johnny has since become a first-call session player and arranger in town, and rightfully so. In his Master's recital, he led a tentet comprised of three saxes, two trumpets, trombone, and rhythm section. Due to the torrential rainfall of Tuesday, I was half an hour late to the set, and missed the opening tune "Mes Deux Femmes." I walked in on the closing woodwind chords of "Klondike Suite."

Trottier's writing features beautifully tense voicings, without sounding overly dense. The immediate parallel at the beginning of his "Chamber Suite" was Birth of the Cool, for its bouncy rhythmic sense and the roundness of the horn blend. Throughout the set, Trottier proved to be the epitome of straight-ahead jazz in 2012: there's an assimilation of great large ensemble jazz composers before him, from Tadd Dameron to Gil Evans. Anchored by a hard swinging rhythm section featuring guitarist Carlos Jimenez and pianist Jonathan Cayer, the ensemble sections were an outgrowth of Trottier's own trombone sound: not overly brassy or harsh, yet not pastoral in the way many post-Maria Schneider composers can be. Even the more angular tunes, like "Blue Lines" (a feature for trumpeter David Carbonneau and Cayer), and Part 5 of the "Chamber Suite" (seemingly indebted to George Russell's "All About Rosie") had the edginess sanded off. I appreciated that, aside from personal amps for Carlos and bassist Sebastien Pellerin, there was no electricity whatsoever. No microphones, which worked quite well in the new(er) Tanna Schulich Hall of McGill, and showcased Kevin Warren's touch on the drums behind the soloists. Even when Trottier soloed over the band - in cup mute! - he was completely audible in the back row of the hall.

The recital was essentially a dry run for the weekend's recording session. With standout soloists in altoist Samuel Blais and bari player J-F Ouellet, in addition to the aforementioned, Johnny's tentet is poised to take its place in the canon of great Canadian jazz composition.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

FIMAV 2012 diary

My first trip to the esteemed Festival International de la Musique Actuelle du Victoriaville (FIMAV, or Victo to its friends) was this past weekend. It was a privilege to perform on the final day with Matana Roberts, with the majority of the Montreal group that recorded Chapter 1: Gens de couleur libres. Sunday at Victo was a bit of a tribute to Constellation Records, with Matana, Silver Mt. Zion and Esmerine on the bill.

We left CST HQ early Sunday morning at the non-musician-friendly hour of 8 am. Luckily, Mile-End staple Cafe Olimpico opens at 7 am, even on a holiday Sunday. We piled in two oversized vans and hit the highway. Making good time (and defying the no stopping rule) we made a bleary-eyed detour for some additional caffeine, before heading to Colisée A, the re-purposed hockey arena where we were playing. We had arrived an hour early, but the stage manager was apologetic that they weren't ready for us and helped us begin our setup before the rest of his crew came. Victo was one of the best festival set-ups I've been witness to: multiple stagehands and techs catering to our needs, and when you're trying to balance four horns with electric saw, guitar synth, and piano, there's a multiplicity of needs! After soundcheck we were given individualized folders with our festival IDs and information about Victoriaville (including a couple of maps that did not prevent us getting highly turned around in trying to locate the hotel). Festival director Michel Levasseur, sporting a red square, introduced Matana (as he did every show) and asked her about details before going on stage. He also gave us the liberty of starting a teeny bit late so we could finish our talk-down of the piece.

Every time I've had the opportunity to play Matana's music, there's both an edginess and a complete surrender that occurs. Her notation and conduction demands that an improviser's attention is devoted to many elements at once, but what happens in the moment reigns supreme. I've played both Chapter 1 and Chapter 2: Mississippi Moonchile, and the different ways that folkloric music is ingrained into the piece is a real anchor, I find. We had only a limited amount of time to rehearse the piece and integrate some of the new conduction Matana has added, so for my part I tried to watch her like a hawk. (Being on the other side of the stage didn't necessarily make conduction gestures easier to see!) The "calinda" - I guess on the album it goes under the title "How Much Would You Cost?" - gets me every time. As we rose to bow (to a standing ovation), we saw Henry Grimes in the front row. George Lewis came backstage afterwards, as well.

After the show, I went back to the hotel to catch a second wind. We headed out for dinner, and unfortunately time slipped away so we missed our Coin Coin compatriots Thierry Amar (bass) and David Payant (drums) pulling double-duty with Silver Mt. Zion, complete with a cameo from Matana. I headed back to the Colisée to get a seat for the trio of Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell and George Lewis, not before succumbing to the incredibly dangerous record kiosk. I don't know anywhere else in Quebec (or even Canada) where such a deep catalogue of Clean Feed, Tzadik, FMP and other small but highly important labels are available.

Muhal's opening low Db melted me with its tone. The first large segment of their improvisation, with Roscoe on flute, exhibited a mastery of patience. It slowly bloomed into a bigger sound, with Roscoe walking towards the microphones. The trio at times splintered off into duos and solos: Muhal waiting for the right moment to re-enter; Roscoe alternating among flute, soprano and sopranino saxes. George divided his time between trombone (with and without plunger) and his laptop, with which he would reconstruct Muhal's and Roscoe's sound into a swirling, pitch-shifted alternate universe. The electronic palette grew a tad predictable towards the end if no less enthralling. The improvisation ended an hour later as it had begun - Roscoe switching back to flute, the piece bookended by deliberation, causing the entire coliseum to hang on each individual note. The trio returned for a loudly demanded encore, which I unfortunately remember less than the main piece. I do recall it ended humourously, with George's guttural plunger effects ascending into a sudden stop.

The morning after, everyone congregated in the restaurant for breakfast. I was seated with Matana, Henry & Margaret Grimes. Later, fellow musicians, journalists and devotees trickled in before we all hit the road and count the days until next year.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

2012 Montreal Jazz Festival - indoor programming picks

It's that time of year again, where local aficionados that the major festival in town is less and less jazzy. In my view, the programming for the 33rd annual Montreal Jazz Festival is decent - a couple of wows, a lot of repeat performers, and overall some solid, if not surprising, programming. And as always, the jazz is there if you look for it.

A couple of general notes before we proceed with the day-by-day picks:
- More venue juggling from years past, including cutting the 6 pm series from Gesù, and moving the late-night shows to the SAT.
- Upstairs Jazz Bar has the most consistently impressive series of the festival, featuring Brian Blade (!!) and Jon Cowherd with Fraser Hollins and Joel Miller, the Becca Stevens Band, trumpeter/composer Tom Harrell (!!), pianist Aaron Goldberg, and more.
- A couple of glaring omissions, given that these artists are performing in nearby Ottawa: Dave Holland's new electric group with Kevin Eubanks, Craig Taborn and Eric Harland; Kneebody (fresh off their residency at Brooklyn's Littlefield); the Mingus Big Band; and Tim Berne (either with Snakeoil, playing in Burlington, or the trio Big Satan).
- No disrespect intended to the fantastic musicians involved with these shows, but can we please, please, please have a festival without a tribute to Miles (Miles Smiles with Kenny Garrett et al, July 2) and/or Billie Holiday (Ranee Lee, July 7)?

June 27
The night of pre-opening special events: Janelle Monáe at Metropolis (8 pm); James Taylor at Wilfrid-Pelletier (7:30 pm, also the 28th); and the premiere of Carlos Saura's new show, Flamenco Hoy at Théâtre Maisonneuve (6 pm, until July 1). Saura will be an omnipresent figure at the festival, as I've heard his films will be screened at the Cinématheque as well.

June 28
- *Bill Frisell (Club Soda, 6 pm): Frisell is one of my favourites, and his renditions of pop melodies are always magical. The night will be devoted to the music of John Lennon, as heard on his disc All We Are Saying.
- Rafael Zaldivar Trio w/ Greg Osby (L'Astral, 6 pm): Cuban ex-pat Zaldivar has been stirring up the local scene for years, and his trio is joined by rhythmically advanced and provocative alto saxophonist Osby.
- Gregory Porter (L'Astral, 9 pm): this deep-voiced singer often gets compared to José James for his ability to convincingly wade in the waters of the jazz and R&B traditions.
Honourable mention: Gotta shout out my bwoys in Inword, who will be opening for Ziggy Marley at Metropolis (8:30 pm). The bill could easily be the other way around. 

June 29
- ***Wayne Shorter (Théâtre Maisonneuve, 9 pm): I should have my credentials suspended for not having seen this band yet. One of the most exhilarating working groups in jazz, led by the true definition of living legend. I'm NOT missing them again.
- Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society (Metropolis, 8:30 pm): We love Esperanza, Esperanza loves us. She gets to indulge her groove side here, and she specifically requested the venue.
- Pierre Bensusan (Cinquième Salle, 9:30 pm): I've been exposed to this French guitarist through bassist Chris Jennings, and his beautiful tone and innovative tunings give him a stunning solo repertoire.
- Colin Stetson solo (Gesù, 10:30 pm): Solo saxophone wizardry in probably the best acoustics in the whole city? Yes, please.

June 30
- *Grégoire Maret (L'Astral, 9 pm): If memory serves, the last time this Swiss-born harmonica player was here was alongside Pat Metheny. His sound is the new standard for the instrument, and he's a great composer, too.
- *CéU (Club Soda, 10 pm): She's a lynchpin of the new São Paulo scene that mixes hip-hop and electronica into their MPB, the reason I got into modern Brazilian music in the first place.

July 1
- ***Me'shell Ndegeocello (Club Soda, 10 pm): When she last rolled through with her Spirit Music group, she floored those listeners at Spectrum that were paying attention. I'm eager to hear how she renders her new album, Weather, live. Added bonus: my boys of Parc-X Trio have the privilege of opening the show!
- Barr Brothers (Metropolis, 8:30 pm): Jazz Fest programmer Laurent Saulnier called them their "chouchoux" of the year, and having rammed Club Soda for Montréal en lumière it's evident. NB: Metropolis will be set up "cabaret-style," with seating, another specific request from the group.
- Fishbone (SAT, 11 pm): Ska-punk pioneers back at it.

July 3 
- L'Orkestre des pas perdus (L'Astral, 6 pm): This actuelle-tinged brass band has been off my radar for a while, but they've always proven to be an intriguing listening experience.
- Marcio Faraco (Savoy du Metropolis, 7 pm, also July 1): I'm a sucker for Brazilian guitarists and songwriters. I'm unfamiliar with Faraco, but he sounds like he's in the Gilberto-Djavan tradition. He's also collaborated with Brazilian music's poet laureate, Chico Buarque.
- Jef Neve Trio (L'Astral, 9 pm): I know the Belgian pianist more for his solo work and his accompaniment of José James. It will be a treat to see his trio live.

July 4 - the day of tough decisions
- *Carmen Lundy (Club Soda, 6 pm): The underrated vocalist graces us with a rare Montreal appearance. She's one of the rare "jazz singers" that is as strong a songwriter as she is an interpreter of standards. Unfortunately, she's at the same time as...
- Adrian Vedady & Marc Copland (L'Astral, 6 pm): Bassist Vedady has become a fairly regular host of this iconoclast pianist, whose work I should know far better than I do.

-  ***L'Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou (Club Soda, 10 pm): After a wave of killer reissues on Analog Africa, this Afrobeat powerhouse from Benin is going to tear the roof off Club Soda. Absolutely not to be missed, unless you go to...
- *Ambrose Akinmusire (Gesù, 10:30 pm): I first heard Ambrose at jam sessions in NYC, and his full trumpet tone and ear-perking ideas were immediately impressive. His Blue Note debut, When the Heart Emerges Glistening, was rightfully one of the most acclaimed albums of last year. Why do these things have to be at the same time?
- Lyrics Born (SAT, 11 pm): From the Quannum label, another great Bay Area MC, who will be performing with a live band!
July 5
- Rémi Bolduc's 50th Birthday Bash (L'Astral, 6 pm): What other endorsement do you need than tenor heavyweight Donny McCaslin addressing a McGill student in a master class with, "Are you going to lay some of that Rémi stuff on me?" To celebrate, M. Bolduc will invite many of his collaborators past and present.
- Sonia Johnson (Jazz Cruise on the Bateau-Mouche, July 1-6, 6:30 pm): 2012 Juno winner for Jazz Vocal Album of the year, and another one of the rare breed of jazz singer-songwriters.
- D'Harmo (Savoy du Metropolis, 7 pm, also July 4): Four harmonicas playing music from influences around the globe. They were highly recommended to me after their standout show at last year's OFF festival. 

July 6
- Sarah MK (Savoy du Metropolis, 7 pm, also July 7): Severe conflict of interest alert - Ms. MK and I are fellow members of the Kalmunity Vibe Collective, and I was her piano teacher for a little while. Her new EP Worth It has received tons of accolades and airplay, and I'm proud of her. If you missed her crammed-to-the-gills launch at O Patro Vys, now is the time to see her.
- Harry Manx World Affairs (Maison Symphonique, 7 pm): The acoustic blues guitarist, who is also adept at the mohan veena, presents another West-meets-East conference featuring, among others, the fantastic vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia.
- Misja Fitzgerald Michel (Musée d'art contemporain, 8 pm, also July 7): I was previous unaware of this guitarist, but a release of Nick Drake's music on the No Format label proves to be very promising.
- Cedar Walton Trio (Gesù, 10:30 pm): One of the last of the hard bop masters, a tremendous opportunity to be up close and personal with the tradition.
Honourable mention: my boys and girls of Nomadic Massive opening for Deltron 3030 at Metropolis.

July 7
- Dirty Projectors (Club Soda, 10 pm): The indie darlings - and rightfully so, Bitte Orca is a near masterpiece - make their festival debut.
- Music Is My Sanctuary 5th Birthday Bash w/ Electric Wire Hustle & The Goods (SAT, 11 pm): What a way to close out the festival, with DJs Lexis, Scott C and Andy Williams handling the selections, and New Zealand's electro-soul heartbreakers, Electric Wire Hustle, blowing minds. (Full disclosure: I'm tight with the Goods, fill in for their radio show from time to time, and attended the Red Bull Music Academy alongside EWH's Mara TK.)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Bad, not good, mediocre...

There are feathers flying on Facebook regarding the NOW Magazine article on Toronto hip-hop instrumental trio BADBADNOTGOOD. Thanks to Peter Hum's more cogent analysis, the attention on the article is spread, more generally, around the Internet. I first saw mention of this on Brownman's Facebook wall, and I weighed in alongside current Toronto players like Rich Brown. Brownman posited a "live-and-let-live" approach; regardless of what we may feel about their musicianship, allow these kids to "criticize their environment," as he says, and make music they believe in. At the time of my posting, I had not read the NOW article. I have... *ahem*... now. Below is an edited and expanded version of what I posted on Facebook.

I first saw and heard BBNG at a J Dilla tribute event at Le Belmont co-presented by The Goods and Music Is My Sanctuary. My beef with their set was that I didn't get the sense that they understand the tradition of what they're playing. Not necessarily the "jazz" tradition as taught by any number of schools, but the tradition of groove-based music, and the tradition of covers, i.e. playing a song with a meaning. To go double-time rock freakout on Slum Village's "Fall In Love" either means you are just pulling out your musical tricks because you can, or it means you've had some really shitty relationships (which could very well be the case at 19). They also didn't seem to realize, or care, that they were booked on a Dilla tribute bill and in a sold out room full of Dilla heads. To be fair, a lot of people in the room were really digging it, but their set proved that they're a bit of a one-trick pony (or maybe a hog?) musically. And yes, when I was 19, I believed that every tune had to crescendo to a climax, too. The early days of Indigone Trio are evidence of this.

I'm not entirely sure what the environment at Toronto's Humber College, BBNG's alma mater, is like, but I look at the schools here and I see two major issues:

1) a lot of the profs are ill-equipped to talk about the post-Dilla rhythmic and harmonic language, not to mention anything more "avant-garde" such as the AACM or Cecil Taylor. Therefore, if students are interested in music beyond the common-practice bebop/post-bop/mainstream jazz language, they run into walls trying to get their questions answered.

2) I don't see students getting reality checks about what leading a life in music is really like, and what creative musicianship really entails, both in school and in the outside world. Having guys like Brownman and pianist Gordon Webster school me at the Rex when I was 15 really got me ahead of the game, in terms of how to be a humble musician and how to act on and off the bandstand. I don't see that kind of mentorship happening as much anymore - I see a lot of students either disinterested in the school environment, burnt out, and/or not held accountable for their behaviour in ensembles and in the classroom. There's little sense of realistic expectations, not just of musicianship, but of "the hang." I'm guilty of it too - I don't hang out at jam sessions much anymore, but I do try to pay my experience forward.

We need to read the BBNG article for what it is - three jazz school dropouts full of piss and vinegar, running the scene for the time being, playing with their idols and heroes and having microphones shoved in their faces. I agree with the sentiment prevailing on Brown's wall, that we can and should give them their space and their soapbox, but also give them the reality check of how to create a supportive community of artists. When the BBNG fame subsides, will these guys be able to get a gig outside of their own project? It remains to be seen. I hold far more hope for young guns like Kris Bowers, the 22-year-old Monk competition winner holding court with José James and Jay-Z, who's still a humble cat.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Bourbon blues on the street

It's Carnaval time, as Facebook is kindly reminding me with events I can't attend. This means that Tuesday, the 21st, is Mardi Gras, and to celebrate it, I'm organizing a Mardi Gras party with the Kalmunity Vibe Collective at Les Bobards. We're taking classic New Orleans funk and soul tunes from the Meters, Lee Dorsey, and the Wild Magnolias, among others, and running it through the Kalmunity filter of improvisation with poets, MCs, vocalists and fantastic musicians.

This isn't just a way to tie into the festivities (although it helps) - New Orleans music has been a highly important part of my life. My parents would tune into the "oldies" stations that fed me a steady diet of Fats Domino and Little Richard, recordings I loved long before I was aware of their New Orleans connections. My first exposure to jazz was Louis Armstrong, and a compilation that included some more overt New Orleans references ("Skokiaan" and "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?") as well as "Hello Dolly." It was in high school when a classmate turned me onto the Meters that I became more explicitly aware of the phenomenal New Orleans R&B tradition. The "jamband" scene of the late '90s and early '00s paid frequent homage to New Orleans funk, with Galactic leading the charge of reviving that music in the younger generations' consciousness, and various other bands inviting the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth horns as guests.

The real lynchpin was the web-radio station Radio Free New Orleans; that was where I discovered a whole swath of the rich musical heritage of the Crescent City. Every day of the week was a different theme: Wednesdays were New Orleans Rock 'n' Roll, Saturdays were Piano Day, and Sundays were devoted to gospel. The unnamed programmers were responsible for exposing me to Professor Longhair, James Booker, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and Earl Palmer's phenomenal "in-the-cracks" drumming.

It's been a real privilege to dive into this music, which I've rarely heard played in Montreal (outside of "Cissy Strut"). For me, it's paying respect to truly formative music in my life. On a purely technical level, Stanton Moore's clinics and books have redefined my rhythmic sensibilities. Getting to witness Allen Toussaint work his magic in the intimacy of Gesù is a concert experience I won't soon forget. The goal is not just to throw a hell of a party, but to pay the influence of this music forward.

The line-up for Tuesday's Kalmunity Mardi Gras party:
Fredy V, Odessa "Queen" Thornhill, Jjanice - vocals
Jason "Blackbird" Selman - trumpet/poetry
Vincent Stephen-Ong - alto sax
Alexandre Dion - tenor sax
Christopher Cargnello - guitar
David Ryshpan - keyboards
Mark Haynes - bass
Jahsun - drums