• Beast and the Bees (?) at FIJM

    July 2, 2010. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Just as usual back home, I forget what day it is.  I've been at the Montreal jazzfest 8 days -- or 9?  (One sign you've been a long time in a hotel is when the maid doesn`t re-arrange the room back to the standard set-up but leaves the trash can and chairs where you moved them.)  We finished broadcasting on Wednesday, and you can hear many of the interviews -- Bobby McFerrin, Manhattan Transfer, among jazzful others -- on this very blog.   Have a look at the wonderful photos by David Tallacksen -- and props to him for engineering our broadcasts so superbly.

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    Now that they have several bigger stages outdoors, the jazzfest presents more outdoor extravaganzas.  Les Grandes Evenements.  Used to be one on the  Tuesday in the middle of the jazzfest.  Now they have three or more during the festival.  This year opened with more than 100,000 folks swing-rocking (or rock-swinging? ) to the big band of guitarist Brian Setzer.  This year`s finale will be a Mardi Gras party with Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, and floats from NOLA.  Laurent Saulnier, VP of programming -- I call him VP of The Edge -- produces the mid-fest event, multi-media cross-musical blow-outs that don`t stretch the envelope musically.  Laurent`s shows set the envelope on fire.  Like the midnight shows at Club Soda, the mid-fest events offer electronics and dj`s, multi-culti rhythms, nouveau-divas, hip-hoppers, trip-hoppers, and whatever-they-call-new-groovers.

    Beast performs for thousands
    Beast performs for thousands

    This year came Beast, a Montreal twosome whose songs encorporate all of the above, plus (in projections and, eventually, costumes) bees.   Beast features singer Betty Bonifossi, first known for the Oscar-nominated soundtrack to The Triplets of Belleville.  I remember another grand event when the dj Champion was playing turntables and other electronic whizbangs under plastic sheets in the rain -- Betty was on a roof nearby out-singing the storm.  Bonifassi`s chops are flabbergastingly powerful and, even without amps, are louder than Joshua`s trumpet.  She sings through a double-mic, one with echo and other effects, but mostly needs no effects.  Bonifassi sings darkly, deeply -- I scribbled adjectives like "dramatic," " operatic,"  and always amazingly in tune.   Her musical other half is Jean-Phi Goncalves, drummer, electronicat,  and (through a police megaphone) rapper, with a stage presence as animated as the event`s projections of bees, gears, stars, and other  motion pictures.    I didn't know until after the event that he used to play with the group Plaster.

    Years ago at Club Soda, Laurent Saulnier challenged me to hear Plaster, a trio of keyboards, bass, and drums, all also playing electronics.  Through  mostly funky grooves, they improvised solos and riffs with noises and samples,  including a quote from a politician`s speech.  I realized suddenly, as they layered riffs on riffs, all with a foot-patting momentum, that what they were doing musically was very like the Basie band in the 30's.   Jazz, I'm thinking,  is a cultural consciousness more than a music.  Jazz, I've observed,  evolves, encorporates, and, generation after generation, changes.   Nowhere moreso than at FIJM.   I started listening to more of the "Edge" artists and soon could recognize which were doing something creatively new and which were playing what were already cliches and jive.

    Those in the media who whine that Montreal`s jazzfest doesn`t have enough jazz are not listening.  (I was asked once by a radio reporter "Why can`t you hear jazz at the jazzfest?" just as a New Orleans second line was strutting by with some barbecue.)  Plaster, even with all the technological devices, was swinging.  And year after year, the Montreal jazzfest is re-defining jazz.

    Beast was a different animal musically.  Industrial-strength rhythmically.  Metal without the hair and stupidity.  Goofy at times.  Sweet even.  Then dramatic.   And cinematic.  I rarely knew what Bonifassi was singing about, or what language Bonifassi was singing in, but the power of her voice was sensational.  One song that I knew was "Four Women" --- and second only to Nina Simone herself, Bonifassi shouted the song's anger to the heavens.   Goncalves at the drums was joined through most of the show by an electric bassist with a two-octave keyboard built into the bass, also a guitarist, two (sorry to say unheard and so useless) back-up singers, and an occasional (not kidding, even through all the music`s thunder) string quartet.   Most surreal -- and there`s always something surreal in one of Laurent`s mega-vaudevilles -- as Bonifassi was singing her lungs out, out came,  in colorful peasant costumes and singing beautifully, Bulgarians.

    Beast played an encore dressed as mutant bees.  I never connected with their apian fetish, but I and more than 100,000 in the Place des Festivals happily buzzed.

    -- Michael Bourne

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