Montreal Jazz Festival: Days 1-3 July 1-3, 2009
Despite the dominating presence of bass icon Dave Holland, The Monterey 4named for its first performance at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival and soon to be released as Live at the 2007 Jazz Festival (Concord, 2009)is a democratic project featuring original material written for the quartet by all four membersHolland, longtime musical parter/saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and drummer Eric Harland. Still, Holland acted as MC for the quartet's performance at Théâtre Maisonneuve, the second largest of Place des Arts' five concert venues, introducing every tune in his usual graceful manner.
Graceful he may have been, but the performance was largely about fire and passion, especially from Potter and Harland, who kept the energy level at maximum for most of the 100-minute set, burning through Live's eight tunes. The increasingly ubiquitous Harland, who'll be dividing his time between this group and Charles Lloyd's quartet this summer, was on fire, pushing the group during Potter's visceral solos and Rubalcaba's equally flexible but at times more harmonically abstract features, while at the same time delivering in-the-pocket groovesregardless of complex metric shiftswith Holland. But it was in his solos, especially on Potter's closing, Middle Eastern-tinged "Ask Me Why," where the drummer literally brought down the house with fluid ideas and unbridled power.
Montreal audiences are known for their attention and energy, and the capacity for The Monterey 4's show was clearly giving something back to the group. Potter is one of the few saxophonists on the scene who can manage long-form soloing, creating multiple mini-climaxes throughout, as he mines motifs to lead up to a peak ending. What's made Potter one of the most important (and in-demand) saxophonists of his generation is his ability to avoid signature lines, making every solo fresh and inventive, equally demonstrated on his own recent release with his Underground group, Ultrahang (ArtistShare, 2009).
Rubalcaba may have run the risk of being slightly overshadowed by the effervescent Potter, but on his own dark ballad, "Otra Mirada," he proved himself every bit as imaginative, with a composition that was lyrical, but in a less-than-predictable fashion. His solo was the perfect combination of elegance, abstraction and nuanced authority, while elsewhere on Harland's burning modal opening, "Treachery," he played with sinewy muscle. Despite The Monterey 4 being far from the pianist's Cuban roots, his playing lent even the most distanced writing the slightest hint of Afro-Cuban-centricity.
Holland may have taken few solos but was a dominant presence throughout, as he is in his own groups. His writing for The Monterey 4 isn't exactly a surprisedetailed charts with plenty of shifting meters, all couched within a groove whose complexity is masked by its effortlessly physical naturebut he continues to create outstanding jumping points for whatever band he's in. With his quintet and big band not exactly on hiatus, but working less as he tours with this group and his new Overtone Quartet (where Rubalcaba is replaced by Jason Moran), Holland is back to the smallest ensemble he's had since Dream of the Elders (ECM, 1995), and also appears to have fallen in love with the piano, only recently recording under his own name with a pianist for the first time in his career on Pass It On (Dare2, 2008).
l:r: Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chris Potter, Dave Holland, Eric Harland
Pushing the audience hard for 90 minutes, with hoots, hollers and loud applause greeting most solos, the instantaneous standing ovation meant a well-deserved encore for a group that, despite the more subdued approach of Holland's "Veil of Tears," couldn't avoid simmering to a near boil during Potter's solo. A smoking performance by a terrific line-up of players, The Monterey 4's FIJM performance is an early contender for one of the 30th Anniversary's best shows.
For the second night of his By Invitation series, trumpeter Erik Truffaz recreated the ambient electronics of the Mexico disc from his Rendez-Vous three-CD set. A sharp contrast to the largely acoustic performance the night prior, the trumpeter once again collaborated with Mexican sound sculptor Fernando Corona, aka Murcof to create an aural landscape that ranged from dark-hued and static to energetically propulsive.
The set would have been more than sufficient with just Truffaz and Murcof, as the opening duo piece made clear, but with tablaist Apurba Mukherjee still in town after the Benares performance, the trumpeter chose to add him to the mix, making it a far more rhythmic affairnot to mention providing Murcoff with another sound source to sample, process and feed back into the mix. Not unlike the kind of innovatively seamless integration of conventional instrumentation and electronics being made in Norway by artists including Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang, Truffaz, Murcof and Mukherjee brought their own complexion to a meaty stew of lyrical melodies with no uncertain reference to the jazz vernacular, broad sonic washes that ranged from recognizable to invented sounds, and the appealing, near-vocal expressiveness of the tablasand Mukherjee's konnakol vocal percussion.
Truffaz processed his trumpet more extensively than the previous evening, with delay, reverb, harmonizer and even a bit of distortion, in addition to unorthodox techniques and an acoustic tone that ranged from breathy to tart. During a Middle Eastern-tinged segment halfway through the 80-minute set, Truffaz began to approach some of the imaginative embouchure variations of Henriksen, Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvaer, where his horn adopted even greater vocal expressiveness; but for the most part his tone was clean and pure, with strong melodies and occasional leaps into more unfettered serpentine flight. A player with impressive technique and an open mind that has seen him explore a wide range of contexts over the past decade, Truffaz was always in service of the music, using space as an equal partner and avoiding any kind of superfluous displays.
Murcof, armed with a laptop, sampler and small keyboard, appeared as static as some of the more ambient music; but he remained as visually unmoving during the more propulsive segments, which at times approached techno territory (but, with Mukherjee's tablas, never quite made the leap) and even, during the trio's encore, a touch of reggae. With more rhythms to choose from, and more colors on his palette, Murcof turned Mexico into a more elastic and eclectic set than the previous evening, using the material from the CD as a starting pointin particular the dynamically expansive "Al Mediodia," that opens the CD. He also turned, along with his trio mates, into something more than what the CD represented. Improvisation was a large part of the picture, and while certain markers, like the tune's repetitive three-note descending line, remained definitive and referential, the trio took the music to places not heard on disc.
l:r: Erik Truffaz, Murcof
But it may well have been Mukherjee who stole the show, based on the reaction of the packed house. It's sometimes difficult to discern, since high energy percussion solos seem to reach into some kind of primitive Jungian place to evoke great response, but what was most impressive about Mukherjee was his open-minded approach that took two instrumentstabla and voiceand used them in far more unpredictable ways than with the undeniably fine but more stylistically focused Benares show. Turning his tabla upside down and using the body as an alternate source of sound, and bringing the konnakol tradition into the 21st century with some surprising variations on its already remarkable ability to subdivide any rhythm with seemingly endless variety made his contribution to the performance and Benares project distinct and defining.
With both Benares and Mexico performances exhilarating and creative, it raised the bar even higher for Truffaz's third By Invitation performance, Paris to close his series on the following evening.