Bourne in Montreal - Part Five
July 1, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Lunch on the terrasse, plateau of the Place des Arts where they have boutiques, games for kids, sponsor outlets, and eats. I was joined by one of my loved ones in Montreal, Catherine Simard, daughter of Alain Simard, president and co-founder of the jazzfest. Catherine endeared herself to me years ago when she was my virtual minder during the 25th anniversary jazzfest. We were supposed to catch a boat from the Old Town out to an anniversary concert on an island in the St Lawrence where the festival actually began almost 30 years ago. When we got to the dock, the boat was pulling out. I'll never forget Catherine -- in flip-flops! -- running along the dock shouting to the boat. Which actually stopped and came back...for me. Since then she's worked in most of the departments of Spectra, the arts company that produces the jazzfest and so much more. This year she's responsible for marketing, and the sponsor logos hanging ariound the Place are her work. I said years ago that she's not the "heir apparent" because she's Alain's daughter. I believe Catherine will be a boss some day because of her smarts, her charms, and her willingness to do whatever the work is -- whether she's running an enormous jazzfest or running in flip-flops ...
Public Enemy was playing Metropolis. I know nothing about them, except that they're among the first doing hip-hop. I have never heard them, and was not going to their press conference, but Marie-Eve Boisvert, boss of the salle de presse (and another of my loved ones), said "You should go. They're interesting." I recognized Flavor Flav from posters in the subways for his TV "reality" show, and he was as amusingly goofy as he looks. Chuck D, the other singer, was indeed interesting. He talked about politics, racism, and other seriousness that they've sung about, and he was also insightful about the music business, always speaking with a remarkable forthrightness and yet also with a very quick wit. "Our press conferences are more entertaining than most hip-hop shows," he said, and I believed him. I'm sorry I couldn't go to their show. I was booked to various of the other 39 musical events happening today from midi to minuit.
I was especially aware today of how many people come every day, countless thousands of people, all ages, all colors, all cultures, all having a good time. I saw babies dancing in the street, also little old ladies dancing in the street. I'd see whole families dressed in the saris or scarves or hats of wherever they came from. Montreal often seems even more international than New York, especially in the musicians and everyone listening to them at FIJM.
What looked like two or three (or more) thousand folks were standing in the street at the big GM stage for the Cuban funk of trumpeter Alexis Baro, leader of a group in the GM/Galaxie contest. Baro's grooves filled the stage and the street, and his electric solos through a wah-wah pedal were especially heated. Baro's is one of the better groups we have to judge, but I'm getting more and more curious about who we all will agree is the best. MAQ, Mario Allard Quintet, is very much in the running, for me and I think others. Allard's alto, with tenor, trumpet, bass and drums, endeavors to create harmonies beyond the usual changes of groups with piano or guitar. Allard's trumpeter played especially brilliantly. Some of us have been a little bothered when the groups read too much on the gigs, but they're also competing for a composition prize, so it's inevitable. Allard's music sounded remarkably orchestral for a quintet, and also was amped as loudly as a bigger band.
Melody Gardot is one of this year's best discoveries for me. I heard that she was born in New Jersey, but she lives in Philadelphia and is already singing around the world. She first appeared alone, singing a spiritual with only her foot stomping and her fingers snapping. She was joined by a drummer, a bassist, and a trumpeter she calls "Chet" because he plays with a sound very like Baker's, a sound that he weaves around her voice like breezes. Melody herself plays piano or guitar, either beautifully, and sings with a voice lyrical, heartful, soulful, and sexy. She sings a few standards -- "Ain't No Sunshine," "My Funny Valentine," an encore of "Caravan" -- but most of her songs are her own, mostly jazzfully melodic, mostly whimsical or wistful about love. Melody Gardot is poised to be the next jazz pop (or pop jazz) star.
Laurent Saulnier is the VP of the jazzfest's programming, but I call him "VP of the Edge." One of my Montreal rituals is to ask Laurent to tell me some unusual groups to listen to, groups beyond the Edge of what's usually called jazz. Laurent was 2 for 2 in picking tonight's edgier offerings. Nojazz, an electro-hip--hop group from France, played on one of the smaller stages in the street but filled the street with folks getting into the boogaloo, clave, and other grooves they electrified, highlighted by the often phantasmagorically rocking synth solos of a keyboardist who looked like a living cartoon, as if drawn by Chuck Jones but jumping like Tex Avery. I concluded the night with another phenomenon for me: the Bjorkestra. I know nothing about the singer Bjork, only that she showed up at the Oscars with a dead swan around her neck. I don't know her songs or her singing, but I want to hear Bjork herself after hearing what this big band does with her songs. Fronted by alto saxist Travis Sullivan, the full-tilt jazz big band is joined by a cat playing laptop and a sometimes dramatic, sometimes sweet (as I'm told Bjork is) singer, Becca Stevens. They perform the songs arranged with a brassiness like Kenton's but open to wild solos and even all-band blow-outs like Zappa's. I wanted right away (and got) their aptly-titled album Enjoy!
-- Michael B
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