Montreal Jazz Festival 2004: Week 2
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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