Montreal Jazz Festival: Days 1-3 July 1-3, 2009
One of Canada's best kept secrets, guitarist Sylvain Provost has been an increasingly significant presence on the Montreal scene since first emerging at the 1981 FIJM at the age of 21. Désirs Démodés is his third release for the Montreal-based jazz label Effendi Records, and so with a new, performance-capable room as part of the festival's much expanded and improved Press Room in its new home, the label put on a press launch for the guitarist's new release, that also featured a brief live performance to introduce Provost to some of the literally hundreds of media people at the festival from around the world.
Provost is an easy-on-the-ears amalgam of a number of references that include Pat Metheny's overt lyricism, George Benson's unmistakable soulfulness, and the dark, woody tone of Kenny Burrell. With his new trio, featuring double-bassist Guy Boisvet and drummer Alain Boyer, Provost brief set focused on original compositions from Désirs Démodés that gave Provost plenty of room to maneuver, demonstrating a capable command of thoughtful melodism, refined voicings and an ability to combine the two into a self-accompanying approach that gave the trio a larger voice. Entrenched in the modern mainstream, Provost group proved as capable of gentle balladry as it was solid swing.
The beauty of FIJM is its tremendous roster of talent known and unknown, established and up-and-coming, with nearly 10 outdoor stages for free concerts that dovetail with the festival's many indoor venues for ticketed shows. For an artist like talented Provost, in a time where CD sales are at best hovering, at worst dwindling, the chance to be heard not only by a large audience of fans who travel to the festival from around the world, but by so much international media, is a rare, almost unparalleled opportunity. With five public performances in addition to the Effendi press launch, hopefully a wider audience will cotton onto what Montreal jazz fans have know for nearly 30 years.
For his final By Invitation series performance, trumpeter Erik Truffaz brought beatbox master Sly Johnson to recreate the music of Rendez-Vous' third disc, Paris. But like his expansion of personnel for his Mexico performance the previous night, he again augmented the duo, this time with powerhouse drummer Philippe Garcia. With all three shows now over, Mexico may have been the most intrepidly experimental and impressive night, but Paris was, far and away, the most entertainingand a significant improvement over the already fine studio verson.
l:r Erik Truffaz, Sly Johnson
That's not to say Paris wasn't without risk or in search of new ideas, but it was the most structured show of the three, where there was often clear song form, especially on a distinctive version of The Beatles' classic "Come Together," one of two duet pieces with just Truffaz and Robinson that opened the set prior to Garcia taking the stage.
Truffaz, over the course of the three concerts, proved himself to be a broad-minded and stylistically unfettered performer, composer and improviser. And for those who view him as removed from the jazz tradition (despite demonstrating many clear linguistic references, even in the most distanced contexts), his gorgeous version of Eden Ahbez's classic "Nature Boy" made clear that he may have left the mainstream behind, but it's still an unequivocal part of who he is. Whether processing his horn, using it to create odd, non-trumpet textures acoustically, or adopting a purer tone, Truffaz's voice has proven distinct and recognizable, even across the three radically different environments he created at theBy Invitation series.
Beatboxing is an almost unfathomable technique that uses the human voice to emulate not only percussion, but bass and other instrumentsand in the hands of Robinson, clearly one of the best beatboxers on the planet, it became even more expansive as he imitated turntables, otherworldly electronics and more. Like Truffaz, real electronics were also part of the picture as he sampled himself in real time to create loops and triggered programmed samples of vocal choruses. But as impressive as his command of the technology was, his unadorned voice remained the most remarkable as he both stretched the limits of its potential and, at times, soulfully sang real melodies with real lyrics. He was also a tremendously charismatic stage presence, and his rapport with Truffaz and Garca was not just visible, but palpable as well.
Garcia also triggered a variety of programs and altered the sound of his drums, but like his bandmates, he proved that his seamless integration of technology was simply a means of augmenting his unmistakable strength as a drummer. Interacting with Robinsonat one point, Truffaz left the stage for a beatbox/drums solo of incredible invention and near unrelenting powerGarcia was not only a potent groove-meister, but an interactive participant who made his instrument's potential as limitless as that of Robinson and Truffaz.
l:r Philippe Garcia, Erik Truffaz, Sly Johnson
"Mr. Wyatt," dedicated to ex-Soft Machine drummer/vocalist/cornetist and now singer/songwriter Robert Wyattwhose Comicopera (Domino) was one of 2007's best releaseswas one of many highlights of the 80-minute set, as was its reggae-inflected encore. That encore was a repeat from the previous night's show, but in a radically different context acted as further demonstration of Truffaz's barrier-breaking approach.
Humor was also a component, especially towards the end of the set and in the encore, where Robinson adopted his best MC voice to introduce the group. Once again, the capacity crowd at the beautiful and acoustically inviting Gesú Centre de Créativité gave the trio a well-deserved standing ovation. For those who attended the entire series, it was a chance to hear Truffaz take the essential qualities of Rendez-Vous and turn them into something bigger and, ultimately, better.