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.