Our Man in Montreal: The 23rd Montreal International Jazz Festival (Part 2-2)
On the 5th, I caught Trilok with his own band at the Spectrum. Change is about in Trilok’s world. He’s certainly changed up his concept of late, mixing Indian and African concepts, with vocals, for his "African Fantasy" and "Beat of Love" projects. He’s stripped down his touring unit to a vocalist, Sabine Kabongo, and a keyboarist/sequencist/ samplist, Jerry Lipkins. This streamlines things musically, as well as practically (for Trilok’s words regarding these developments, and more, check for the coming interview ). He’s made profound changes his drum array, a subject that could make up an article in and of itself. He’s pretty much tossed the former western/Indian hybrid kit that we were all just getting used to (that setup is depicted well here ). He no longer sits on the floor, opting for a standard drum throne. Gone is the trademark vertical bass drum, replaced by a conventional bass drum pedal put to a pad triggering a sampled bass drum sound. Gone is the array of standard toms, replaced by flattened out, saucer-like, amoeba-shaped, huge-sounding, tom inventions of his own design. The tablas are elevated such that he can slide over to them from the kit and play them while still on the throne. The water songs, bird calls, and the remainder of the ancillary noisemakers are there, but their use has been changed by yet another device from the brain of Gurtu, a transmogrifier of sorts, operated not unlike a theremin, through which, it appears, a percussion device may be passed so its sounds may be morphed and amplified.
Kabongo is a lithe, athletic, physical, animated, dancer of a singer, like her musical sisters from Zap Mama, the project for which she is most well known. The African ( by way of Belgium) vocalist, immediately establishes a connection with the audience that Gurtu and Lipkins chip in to maintain for the rest of the show. Among its many facets, this project is about connection to the audience for Gurtu, and in that regard, it’s a resounding success. People cheer, they sing along, and best of all, they are goaded into three part audience participation with Trilok’s amazing, on the spot explanations of complex time signature and his trademark "TaKaDin"-style vocalese. Human beatbox.? Trilok preceded all of hiphop’s and continues to improve and invent with this stuff. He now steps out in front of the kit with no other percussive adornments than his voice and the information inside his amazing head, dizzily divvying up the time and cuttin’ up beats and flayva like a fugitive Bisuteki chef at one of those all you can eat Punjabi restaurants on Ste Catherine’s Boulevard. As a longtime fan, I have to say I miss some of the mental and physical push and pull of a full rhythm section that was there for Trilok’s "Glimpse" and "Crazy Saints" periods. But that’s subtle, sometimes complicated stuff, however thrilling, and right now, Trilok is out for the people, and not so much in terms of expanding his audience (which hopefully will be a side effect), but in terms of reaching them. The response in Montreal was the most fervent I have heard for Gurtu in the many contexts in which I have seen him perform (including MMW the night before), so he seems to have certainly achieved that goal.
On the way to Trilok’s show I was reminded of a fact to keep in mind when venturing to Montreal-the dreaded schedule conflict. I caught the Moutin Brothers reunion quartet soundchecking material from their superb Dreyfus release in front of about 50,000 people.
I also a misunderstood the nature of the bill for another show with the same start time. The 6pm show at Theatre Maissoneuve, another gorgeous venue that I did not set foot in this trip, was not, as thought, a duo show between the virtuoso oud players, the Lebanese Rabih Abou-Khalil and Palestinian Simon Shaheen. It was in fact a double bill featuring both leaders and their units. Now, the unit for Shaheen includes the incredible New York guitarist Adam Rogers and a young master frame drummer from Pittsburgh named Matt Kilmer, who I know will continue to be a name-checked in the percussion world for years to come, and who also happens to be currently reside in my neighborhood in Boston. I didn’t know about this until I very unexpectedly bumped into Adam Rogers in the lobby outside the jam session at the Wyndham, located in heart of the Festival. By all accounts, the "Blue Flame" (that’s Shaheen’s band name) show was incredible, so in retrospect, it probably turns out I went to the underreported of the two shows. Still, it’s probably going to be a real long time before Gurtu and Shaheen play in the same town, at the same time, again. BTW, Jim Hall was also playing a solo guitar set at Gesu at 6pm!