Monday, February 13, 2012

Teach them now and let them lead the way

I had a couple of very affirming moments last week concerning the future of music - jazz music and all music (and no, not just because Adele swept the Grammys and Bon Iver is this year's Esperanza-style upset).

The first was at Katie Malloch's sendoff concert at Lion D'Or. Peter Hum has a much more thorough review. (I would add trombonist/arranger Christopher Smith and guitarist Gary Schwartz to Hum's roll call of musicians present at the show.) The music was top-notch, and reminded me of when I was still studying at McGill and heard AndrĂ© White, Kevin Dean, et al with regularity. It was totally swinging, with an authoritative command of the bebop and post-bop language that made it sound real, not affected. There were a couple of moments where altoist P.J. Perry's over-articulated eighth notes were a little too mannered for my taste, but in all it was a moment of celebrating the tradition. It was truly fantastic to remember that all jazz - indeed, all music - thrives in a community. There is an intangible, indescribable sense of belonging that occurs when I see all generations of musicians hanging, listening, and enjoying.

The second was a pleasant surprise before Stephen Johnston's hit at Upstairs, the following night. I headed straight to the club after teaching and was greeted by McGill students showcasing their combos in the matinee slot. Back in my day, we got to headline Upstairs on Mondays and Tuesdays. The first combo appeared to be first and second year students, firmly getting a grasp on their vocabulary on Improv class staples like Joe Henderson's "Serenity," but they also included White's contrafact on "Along Came Betty." The second student group floored me. Playing without sheet music or music stands, they delved headlong into band-arranged deconstructions of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean," and Lennon's "Happiness is a Warm Gun." They were taking chances, pushing each other creatively, and sounded and looked like a band. The drummer's presence on the mic was welcome, too. My standard answer when people ask about my time at McGill is positive, but I qualify it because I feel the year I was in was a special one. I still play fairly regularly with many of my classmates, and there was a willingness to always explore, to always try new things (or, at least, things that were new to us). I've seen and heard many students burn out and become disillusioned with the jazz education system, and it was a pleasure to see some genuine creativity and joy coming out of a school ensemble.

The third - in two parts - was at Saturday's J Dilla tribute, presented by Montreal music maven Lexis, featuring our very own Scott C & Simahlak, with Toronto imports MyManHenri and BadBadNotGood. Every Dilla tribute in Montreal seems to be a night of unity in the Montreal hip-hop scene, and Saturday was no exception - representatives from Kalmunity, Alaiz, and the Nomadic Massive crews were there (and there's some overlap between those three groups). Efa from Ruckus, Ango, and Krystale, were also in the building. BadBadNotGood were, indeed, very good, although not what I expected. These three (ex?-)Humber College students took a different tack on Dilla beats. I'm sure one of the "Bad"s in the group name must be an homage to The Bad Plus for their sheer force, energy and revisionism. They kind of reminded me of Indigone's early days, where we would take every tune to a high-energy climax, whether it warranted it or not. They injected sudden tempo shifts and aggressive energy into their takes on classic beats like Busta Rhymes' "Woo-Ha" and De La Soul's "Stakes is High." With Henri's master class in the way Dilla flipped samples (and a classy moment of silence dedicated to Dilla, Whitney Houston, and Bad News Brown), BBNG's next-generation live set, and Scott C & Simahlak keeping heads nodding all night, it felt like the hip-hop equivalent of Katie Malloch's party: an inter-generational celebration of the people and music that are integral influences to what we're doing now.

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