Montreal Jazz Festival Day 10: July 7, 2007
Wayne Krantz is a guitarist known to many musicians, but has yet to find his way onto the radar of the larger listening public. Still, anyone who's heard saxophonist Chris Potter's remarkable Underground (Sunnyside, 2006) has heard him run the gamut from raucous, gritty edge to ethereally subtle nuance. He's also toured with Steely Dan, so there are many who've seen him play but just don't know who he is.
For the final night of a three-night residence at Metropolis (the first was solo, the second a duo with his bassist, Paul Sokolow), Krantz featured his working trio with Sokolow and drummer Cliff Almond on a ninety- minute set that was like manna from heaven for some, and a new addition to the biblical ten plagues for others.
The show was loud. With Sokolow and Almond creating an almost relentless ground-shaking undercurrent behind Krantz that was, at times, more tumultuous maelstrom than clear pulse, and Krantz's pushed-to-eleven Stratocaster and Marshall Stack, the feeling, at times, was an all-out assault on the senses. Krantz's often long-form writing consisted of radical shifts in tempo and feel, cued with the slightest of nods to the rhythm section, resulting in music that, rather than catering to the audience in any way, dared it to come along for a ride filled with twists and turns.
Some folks chose not to. Krantz, who appeared somewhat introverted but, when speaking to the crowd, had a relaxed rapport, said, "I'm seeing people who feel like they just have to get outta here, it always happens so it's ok but I'm glad a lot of you have chosen to stay."
The trio performance represented a milestone for Krantz, who has been playing weekly with various incarnations of his trio at the same New York club (other than when he's on tour) for the past decade. With that gig ending, his Montreal performance will be the last one with the trio for some time. Krantz may play with rock energy, and use all kinds of processingdistortion, delay, wah wah, ring modulation, pitch shifting and morebut the complex nature of his writing and the abstruse way that he develops his solos means that he's often difficult to grasp, and there must be considerable obstacles to finding a forum and venue for his music.
Still, the audience that stayed was treated to an unusual combination of virtuosity all around, take-no- prisoners grooves, and another player at FIJM who seems to have an endless supply of inspiration and creativity. Krantz's hard-to-approach compositional and performing styles may limit the audience that's ready for him, but for those who are, his Montreal performance was a rewarding experience.
Guitarist Russell Malone's show, featuring the remarkable bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding as the opening act, was a highlight of the 2007 FIJM. It was, however a bittersweet experience for those who have spent any time at Le Spectrum over the years. A club venue with terrific sound and a capacity for approximately nine hundred, it's been not just a key venue at FIJM since it was opened twenty-five years ago: it's been a vital part of the broader Montreal music scene, bringing in a variety of acts ranging from metal to pop, singer/ songwriter to jazz instrumentalists including Oregon, who performed there in February 2007, and more. The entire block is slated for demolition later in the summer, and there are conflicting stories about whether or not a new club will be part of the picture.
Regardless, the history of an institution can't be ignored, and the choice of Malone as the final jazz show to take place at Le Spectrum was an inspired one. As was the decision to put Spalding in as opening act, though she'd already played two free, outdoor shows and guested with Richard Bona on the second day of his four-day Invitation Series. Spalding came to Montreal in 2006 with Joe Lovano, but more impressive than her performance was her sitting in at one of the late-night jam sessions, hosted by Montreal pianist John Roney and his trio with bassist Zack Lober and drummer Jim Doxas. Only twenty-two, Spalding is now on staff at the Berklee College of Music, paralleling another young artist who taught at the renowned school at a young age and has since gone on to become one of the biggest names in jazz: Pat Metheny.
Whether or not Spalding reaches the same height of popularity, her brief performance made it clear that she's a serious triple threat: a fine bassist with a robust tone, a strong sense of groove and richly lyrical solos; a powerful singer, capable of the hard-to-imagine combination of scatting and bass playing; and a notable writer, whose material made up most of the set list that kept her and her triokeyboardist Leo Genovese and drummer Lyndon Rochelleon their toes throughout. Completely without pretense, Spalding engaged the crowd with a powerful voice capable of greater subtleties and a refreshingly non-melismatic vocal approach in these days of American Idol-like excess. She possesses a voice marked by purity and a sweet, understated vibrato of great effect, because she used it to enhance, rather than obscure, her gymnastic ability to develop powerful vocal solos.
Wherever direction her career path takes, she undeniably possesses all the components to become a significant artist on the international jazz scene. Only time will tell.
Following a short break, Malone took to the stage, launching immediately into a fiery original, "He Said What," that quickly established his remarkable skill. A mainstream player who has clear precedence in Wes Montgomery, George Benson and, to a limited degree, Pat Martino, Malone remains unique in the world of straight-ahead jazz guitarists. Few jazz guitarists use vibrato, but Malone's B.B. King-like fast vibrato created a unique combination of blinding technical virtuosity and unexpected physicality.
Malone's quartet has been around for a couple of years and features in-the-pocket bassist Tassili Bond, powerhouse drummer Jonathan Blake and pianist Martin Bejerano, heard recently at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival with drum legend Roy Haynes. The quartet is featured on Live at Jazz Standard, Vol. 1 (MaxJazz, 2006) and the soon-to-be-released follow-up, Volume Two (MaxJazz, 2007). While Malone, in one of his engaging introductions, described how each member came to the band, he didn't have to say what was perfectly clear the moment the group played: that this is a potent band with terrific energy and commitment, an ability to shift feels on a dime, and the broad stylistic scope and supporting skills to play both within and outside the American mainstream tradition.
l:r: Russell Malone, Jonathan Blake
Malone's technical ability has few peers. Blinding speed aside, he's capable of the kind of chordal harmonics first introduced by the late Canadian guitarist Lenny Breau, but he's taken the technique one step further, as demonstrated on his solo intro to "More Than You Know." And while he sticks mainly with a pick, when he does finger-style picking, as he did on a beautiful intro to "Unchained Melody," it becomes clear just how much potential yet remains for this gifted player.
With impressive solo after impressive solofrom everyone in the bandthere was no question of leaving without an encore. When he asked what the audience wanted to hear and someone yelled out "blues," Malone and his quartet launched into a booty-shaking barrelhouse blues. Even more in B.B. King mode, Malone adjusted his amplifier so that his normally warm hollow body electric tone was more appropriately sharp and pungent. His extended solo once again demonstrated the kind of breadth that suggests how, while he may be viewed as the mainstream now, where he'll go in the future is wide open.
FIJM could not have chosen a better double bill to close Le Spectrum, with many of the people in the capacity crowd leaving with a sense of ambivalence: exhilaration from the performance combined with a sense of loss that this great Montreal institution will be demolished in a few short weeks.
Tomorrow: Festival Closing Party with Rachid Taha, Festival Wrap-Up.