Montreal Jazz Festival Day 8: July 5, 2007
With a festival the size of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal comes an even more urgent need to keep attendance up and face the reality that it's critical to attract a younger audience. While this priority means a shift in focus that brings in acts no way part of the broader jazz spectrum, Montreal has managed better than festivals like Montreux, which regularly bring in acts like Motorhead and Alice Cooper. What FIJM has done is create specific series that appeal to a younger demographic, as well as programs that, while perhaps not jazz, have a specific musical space, like the Afrobeat performance by Seun Kuti and Egypt '80 a couple of days back. Two artists presented on Day Eightthe impossible to pigeon-hole bassist/vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello and equally difficult to categorize guitarist/soundscapist Richard Pinhashave tenuous connections to jazz, but delivered performances that should hold musical interest for jazz fans with less fastidious palates.
If there's one word that can be used to describe Meshell Ndegeocello, it's unpredictable, though another that might fit is intrepid. Her last appearance at the 2005 FIJM was as part of Pat Metheny's Invitation Series. The concert may have been billed as "Pat Metheny and Special Friends," but his collaboration with the bassist/vocalist and her group, playing material largely from The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel (Shanachie, 2005) belonged completely to her. Metheny was, in fact, a sideman (albeit a high-powered one) and, despite her diminutive size, body-masking clothes (hoody, baggy pants) and position largely towards the back of the stage, she exuded a charisma that made it difficult to take one's eyes off her.
Her band was undeniably strong, but her 6:00 PM appearance at Le Spectrum this year was an unexpected mix of grunge, metal, funk, ambience and fusion that, once again, found her powerful persona dominating the eighty-minute set. Her dynamic group featured outstanding players, the names of whom were largely indiscernible amidst the high volume of the set, but keyboardist Jason Lindner will be known to some jazz fans for his work with drummer Dafnis Prieto and singer Claudia Acuna, as well as his own world music- meets jazz Ab Aeterno, and the group's drummer was a powerhouse combination of high energy and finessed polyrhythms.
Ndegecello, after a brief instrumental introduction, told the crowd, "This isn't music to intellectualize; it's music to meet girls, dance, whatever..." Still, it was hard to ignore the political nature of her lyrics and the immense pool of influences that she's assimilated, once again, into a distinguishable and personal sound. There were times where the density was reminiscent of mid-1970s Miles Davis; points where the sophisticated new wave edge of early The Police was recalled, largely through the drummer's Stewart Copeland-like approach; metal-edged, head-bopping periods of sheer aggression and a certain punk element (no surprise, since Ndegeocello was wearing an Iggy Pop and the Stooges T-shirt), despite the often-times complex interaction between the players.
Ndegeocello, who commanded attention at the Pat Metheny show two years back despite remaining relatively sedentary at the back of the stage, was considerably more active here. She's an unsung master of the bass, demonstrating surprising speed and precision while pushing the groove relentlessly. She shared bass duties with Mark Kelly, and it was remarkable to watch the two seamlessly trade off bass duties, rarely playing together at the same time. Ndegeocello also played a little guitar, but spent most of her time at the microphone, or moving around the stage, totally immersed in the music but completely avoiding the kind of poseur stance that so many singers adopt. Honesty and total commitment are defining characteristics of Ndegeocello, no matter what the context.
The set was a mix of her own material, one tune by Lindner (which she introduced by saying, "This is written by Jason Lindner; if it doesn't make you feel good then go talk to some girls") and an old Joy Divison song. It was a set that, ranging from ear-shattering near-noise to subtle textures, may not have been jazz by any stretch of the imagination, but for those whose minds are open to the concept that all music can be grist for innovative assimilation, Ndegeocello's performance was a powerful statement.
Guitarist Richard Pinhas represents a logical evolution of the ongoing soundscape concept, with its beginning in Frippertronics, first developed by King Crimson cofounder Robert Fripp. But whereas Fripp's material, despite being largely improvised, tends towards thematic development, Pinhas' approach is even freer. His 9:00 PM performance at Cabaret JPR took individual linear/thematic components, but layered them on top of each other in such great numbers that the ultimate result was a harsh, atonal wash of noise that swirled around the room. Ambient though it was in initial concept, Pinhas' music commanded and demanded attention.
While Pinhas had a keyboardist/sampler and drummer with him, it was the ability to create incredibly dense layers of sound all by himself (armed, of course, with an array of technology) that was remarkable. Like his work on Metatron (Cuneiform, 2006), the fact that he's a guitarist is almost secondary. There's little in the way of conventional playing, though he does create thematic miniatures that ultimately become a part of the greater whole. The guitar is simply a trigger for Pinhas' expansive aural landscape.
During his first, forty-minute set made up of two pieces, Pinhas' drummer ranged from turbulent free play to, in the second piece, a more definitive pulse. He provided a different kind of focus for Pinhas' sonic washes, as was the case on parts of Metatron.
Pinhas' set was not for the faint-at-heart. Still, it was a captivating performance that demonstrates how one man's innovations (Fripp's) can be grist for greater exploration and personal development by another.
Tomorrow: Richard Bona Dialogues en Musique and Ravi Coltrane.