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.