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.

1 comment:

Adam Daudrich said...

Yeah i gotta agree with you on the thing about Normand's post. There is still a lot of reluctance to accept change in the music industry. It's hard to say whether it's all good or all bad, as hard as it is to pick apart and sort which elements are good and not. But let's face it: some jazz festivals are huge events... and and audience of 100,000 at an outdoors stage, apart from being a very seductive marketing stat), is beyond what jazz music has ever catered to. The guy from BK is right, there are two sides to the coin: You have a huge stage, huge sound system, all the possibilities that come with that, and all the space to pack people... I'm sorry but you just can't ask for jazz on that stage just to satisfy some individuals who are kinda cranky about how things have changed. Attitudes that were prevalent before the popularization of the jazz festival (1980-forward) really do die hard... And I'm saying this with all due respect to Norman, a man of integrity. At some point, we all, as musicians gotta stop lamenting the inevitable changes and just make music with the given circumstances. You can't really expect it all to bend. The game is essentially asses-in-seats!