Montreal Jazz Festival 2004: Week 2
Although the center of the Montréal Jazz Festival was situated in a specially bordered downtown area, it was clear that the spirit of jazz had permeated the entire city. The music was everywhere, whether it was Dinah Washington's "After Hours With Miss D" playing in the Renaud-Bray Bookstore, a couple of guys on acoustic bass and tenor sax playing John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." on a street corner, or Wes Montgomery's version of "Con Alma" running through my head. Official posters and other merchandise trumpeting the festival were displayed in full force throughout Montréal, which is justifiably proud of it's still growing twenty five year-old. Naturally, at gatherings of this scope diversity engenders debate, if not cynicismdo k.d. lang and The Roots really belong in the same milieu as Dianne Reeves and Oscar Peterson?but it's a debate which, if explored properly, enriches all who participate in it.
Right after I picked up my press pass from the festival's media room in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, I went next door to the press conference honoring singer Ibrahim Ferrer as the winner of the first Antonio Carlos Jobim Award, presented in recognition of "musicians whose contributions to their national musical traditions have had a significant impact on jazz worldwide." When the turbo-powered, digitally enhanced paparazzi began jostling each other for pole position to photograph the honoree, I adjusted my freshly minted credentials around my neck, anchored my body, pulled my 35mm disposable camera out of my pocket and joined the fray, whipping off quality shots like a grizzled veteran.
Charlie Haden took the baton from Chick Corea as the featured artist of the Invitation Series, and on this night he played in a trio setting with saxophone legend Dewey Redman and drummer Matt Wilson. Shortly after taking the stage Haden joked about how he and Wilson happened to be the parents of triplets, which he described as "quarter-note triplets," then the music began. Redman opened on tenor and his rich, deep tone filled the Monument-National concert hall easily. Haden then laid down a complex plucked solo, with Wilson galloping alongside him on the rims. Redman switched to alto for the next song, which had an ominous, foreboding theme. As Haden and Wilson brewed behind him, Redman constructed a passionate solo that spiraled and shrieked as it continued. He played like a man who knew he was going insane and was desperately trying to explain why before the madness drove him beyond articulation. Haden soloed partly by strumming the strings at the bottom of the bass, and Wilson comped economically. Too many drummers think that bashing their kits into submission defines a solo. Wilson could play with that kind of power but he preferred coherence over volume. The trio's version of "Body And Soul," with Redman's dreamy tenor and Wilson's brushes, was the highlight of the show and drew a rousing ovation. During the up-tempo r&b-flavored tune that followed, Redman interrupted his solo to urge the audience to clap along with him, which it did enthusiastically. When the trio played its encore Redman picked up the alto and they played another unidentified piece which, based on the interplay among the musicians, seemed to be improvised.
Later that evening I went to the GESU Centre de Créativité, the oldest performance space in the city, to catch the Danilo Perez Trio, featured as part of the "Jazz Dans La Nuit" series. Joining the great pianist were bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz. I took my seat and everything was fine until some people sat in the row front of me. Their seats leaned back, knocking against my knees and pinching the tips of my toes. I immediately looked around to see if there were any open seats and saw an almost empty row a section over. As I was about to bolt I noticed that my present seat, however uncomfortable, would give me a great sightline on Perez' hands as he played. So I decided to sacrifice comfort for perspective and endured the seat backs wedged against my knees.
As GESU's announcer was delivering the obligatory caveat concerning no recording devices/no pictures/turn off your cell phones and pagers, an alarm began buzzing loudly somewhere. It was stopped briefly but resumed as the announcer continued with his warning. It stopped again and the trio took the stage. As Perez went into his opening statement the alarm went off yet again. The audience groaned but Perez was undaunted. He escalated the intensity of his playing in response to the nuisance, reacting as though the alarm was a fourth musician who had shown up for an unplanned improvisation. The audience picked up on this right away and wildly applauded the effort. I remember thinking that if that had happened while Keith Jarrett was playing, he would've walked off the stage.
From there the trio went on to marvelously deconstruct songs by Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Ruben Blades, among others. But it was during one of Perez' own tunes, "Native Soul," that the fun really started. When he introduced the other members of the trio he referred to Cruz as "my little brother." The two men played with a simpatico that was astonishing to hear and watch. Perez thrives on the unconventional, playing songs in odd keys and time signatures, often changing tempos like Peyton Manning calling audibles at the line of scrimmage. No matter what he did in this regard, though, Cruz was right there with a corresponding answer on the drums, laying down wicked polyrhythmic answers to Perez' challenging questions. This astonishing game of cat and mouse continued throughout the set, song after song, leaving Perez and Cruz sweat-soaked and beaming, while the audience sat with its collective jaw on the floor at this extended display of virtuosity. Nearly lost in the middle of these blistering exchanges was bassist Street, who had considerable chops of his own but on this night seemed to expend most of his energy toward not becoming an afterthought to the dynamic between Perez and Cruz.
After the tune we gave the trio a wild standing ovation and screamed for an encore; when they returned Perez showed that he had a sense of humor to match his fluency on the piano when he quoted "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the middle of "Besame Mucho."
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After devouring my first (and definitely not my last) smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz's Deli, I went back to GESU for a double dip. The first show featured bassist Michel Donato and his European Friends. Donato spoke French, which I don't, so I couldn't understand his introductions and between song banter. Fortunately, i got some help from fellow All About Jazz writer Riel Lazarus, who was with me and translated some of what was said. A couple of years ago Lazarus wrote a short film for which Donato contributed original music, and the first song he performed with his sextet was "Herman's Blues," which appeared in the film, a slow blues with a nice guitar solo. The group played another song which Donato dedicated to fellow bassist and local legend Skip Bey, who had died that morning. The song was appropriately somber, centered on a dolorous muted trumpet. The audience response was warm but not overwhelming. I thought the show was good but not great. Riel said the first number was definitely the best.
The late show starred the duo of alto saxophonist Bud Shank (returning to the festival after fifteen years) and pianist Bill Mays. Mays opened things up by playing Bach's eighth Two-Part Invention, from which he and Shank segued into a medley of "Scrapple From the Apple" and "Ah-Leu-Cha." Mays laid down a rich, melodic solo on "The Bad and the Beautiful." Shank also played a breezy, intricate solo despite having a little trouble with the neck of his horn. They paid tribute to the great Bill Evans by playing a medley of songs associated with him: "Your Story," a rarely heard original; "Evanescence" and the timeless "Waltz For Debby." Mays captured Evans' style perfectly, block chords and all. When they performed "Sacajawea," a Shank original, Mays reached inside the piano and strummed the opening theme on the stringsa technique I've seen more and more pianists use. While this was going on Shank moved into the soft shadows of the stage and constructed a dazzling passionate solo, pulling what Miles Davis might have called a half-nelson, playing with his profile to the audience. The duo closed their set with a spirited rendition of "Bouncing With Bud."
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Charlie Haden's last gig was with the famed Quartet West, featuring Ernie Watts on tenor, Alan Broadbent on piano, and Ronnie Green on drums. As soon as Broadbent counted off the first number Watts launched into a robust, fluent solo, frequently scraping the upper register. Broadbent provided a splendid foundation, and when Haden soloed Green accompanied him on the hi-hat (Green was a fine drummer but I was really looking forward to seeing Matt Wilson again). Watts was again splendid on a Latin-themed tune, building a long, intricate solo, dancing and contorting his body with every riff. The highlight of the show, however, was the quartet's rendition of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," which Haden had first played as a nineteen year-old whelp in Coleman's band. Broadbent laid out for a substantial portion of the tune, but Green thrashed, Haden plucked like a man possessed and Watts soared dramatically on the crescendoing classic.
When the group came back out for its encore, Haden joked that the title of the song would be "Hold the Plane Blues": the show began at 6pm and his plane was scheduled to leave at 10:30. What they actually played, though, was the second rendition of "Body And Soul" I'd heard in three days. It began as a duet between Haden and Broabent, then Green added tender brushstrokes, and Watts topped it off with a crisp, bluesy coda to conclude Haden's triumphant run. We gave him a rousing sendoff to catch his plane, bidding bon voyage to a musician whose proficiency on the bass, and skill as a leader, is exceeded only by his warmth.
The last show I saw at GESU featured multi-reedist Jane Bunnett with pianist Stanley Cowell and David Virelles. Bunnett started off on soprano sax with an original composition, "Heaven's Gate," which she, like Donato, dedicated to Skip Bey. Cowell held down the melodic fort as Virelles accompanied Bunnett on her high-pitched flights of fancy. On "Equipoise," a Cowell tune, Bunnett almost came in at the wrong placeshe was stopped by a checking glance from Cowellbut she righted her ship quickly and supplied another wonderful solo. Cowell danced along with her, each measure he played bursting with notes. Bunnett switched to flute for another Cowell tune, "Cal Massey," which I happened to have running through my head that morning (talk about jazz being in the air; it's not like I was thinking about "Stella By Starlight" or "Autumn Leaves"). Bunnett took a fiery turn, rocking her body as the ideas poured from her fingers. Cowell and Virelles mashed well behind her, soloing solidly and picking up on each other's thoughts with only a few minor collisions. For the encore Bunnett brought out her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, Cowell's daughter Sunny on violin, and bassist Kieran Overs to perform "Winter Reflections." Sunny provided lofty vocals, which Cramer followed with a flawless muted solo.
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The Spectrum, on rue St. Catherine, whose interior looked like the Village Vanguard on steroids, held a doubleheader of sorts this evening. The Vinicius Cantuaria Quintet played the early show, and the charismatic guitarist and vocalist led a fabulously energetic band whose percussion-driven sound was primarily Latin, with some surprising Middle Eastern highlights added. Cantuaria sat while he played and sang, and the fabulous band fired off Brazilian rhythms con gusto. The lead percussionist, Paulo Braga, garbed in shades and a white bandanna, was a frenetic whirlwind, and the rest of the band seemed to draw energy from his performance, especially acoustic bassist Jay Osby, whose sound was large enough to boom over the rhythmic energy. The most interesting song Cantuaria performed that evening was Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Ligia," which was slanted toward the r&b/funk slot in the musical spectrum. And he induced the audience to participate in singing along on "Ela a Carioca," during which we provided out own warm breezes to Cantuaria's splendid guitar work.
After Cantuaria I went to the media room and asked, with a straight face, if there was any chance of me getting into the festival's Oliver Jones Trio/Oscar Peterson Quartet closing concert. The gentleman at the desk replied, with an even straighter face, "Not even if you're the Pope." So I went back to the Spectrum to see trumpeter Dave Douglas with his quartet Vacation Blues, featuring Roswell Rudd on trombone, Brad Jones on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. This group offered a feast of free jazz meets Dixieland inventions. Douglas blew with tremendous power and energy on up-tempo tunes and with sweet sadness on ballads. He and Rudd produced a riot of colors and intonations, dancing skillfully among the challenging arrangements, with Rudd occasionally coaxing frightfully deep notes from the trombone. Jones kept the heartbeat pumping smoothly throughout the set, and when Altschul wasn't keeping polyrhythmic time he was playing thunderous solos.
When the group came out to play their encore, Douglas issued an apology to the audience. "I'm sorry about our President," he said to wild applause and cheering. "We're really doing what we can to send him back to Crawford, Texas." The song that followed, Monk's "Bye-Ya," was dedicated to the recently departed Steve Lacy. Douglas explained that Lacy would often close his shows with that tune, and instead of telling the audience what he was going to play, he would simply raise his hand, wave goodbye, and start playingwhich is exactly how Vacation Blues ended their set.
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"We're from Toronto, but nobody's perfect," quipped Abbey Sholzberg, the bassist for the Club Django Sextet, who played a free afternoon concert at the Complexe Desjardins in the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The group also featured guitarists André Séguinot (the group's founder), John Farrell and Tony Oldland; Rodion Boshoer played violin and Gerry Duligal was on the accordion. The music they played was inspired by the great guitarist Django Reinhardt, evoking the swing and "gypsy" styles he helped to popularize back in the twenties and thir-ties. Today's listeners might be familiar with the style via the animated film "The Triplets of Belleville." The guitars they used were replicas of the ones Django played; Sholzberg expanded the homage by wearing red socks, which Django preferred (and I'd like to think that the violin in the group was a silent homage to Stephane Grappelli).
Among the songs they played were pitch-perfect versions of Reinhardt staples such as "I Found A New Baby," "Waltz of the Hedgehog," and I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight." The group's take on "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)" featured beautiful accordion work by Duligal. At the end of the closing song, a rousing swing tune, the sextet shouted "DJANGO!" on the last note, the perfect exclamation point to mark the end of this edition of the Montréal Jazz Festival. Jusqu' à la prochaine fois, Montréal, au revoir.
Visit the Montreal Jazz Festival website at www.montrealjazzfest.com .