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.