Bourne's Montreal Day Two: Star Wars, Architecture and the Jesus Room
July 3, 2012. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Equipe Spectra, the folks who produce the jazzfest, do plenty more throughout the year. They produced last year an amazing exhibition of artifacts -- props, costumes, sketches, scenes -- from the Indiana Jones movies. George Lucas archived everything from his movies, gathered by a curator. First thing, walking in, there was the actual ark!
Now comes, again at the Montreal Science Centre, Star Wars. Boba Fett's flying armor you see first. And the animated bucket, R2D2. But the show is much more philosophical than cinematic. "Star Wars ... Identities" is what they've called the show. "What forces shape you?' is the show's question.
"Select a species" says the first display. You pick a character to be from the Star Wars aliens. You can be human, but I opted to be Bith, like the musicians in that first tavern scene, round bald head with big black eyes and what look like gills for a mouth blowing an alien oboe. What follows are videos or other displays about how humans evolve identities, how the brain works, how social and psychological forces within and around us determine our personalities and how we behave, individually or in groups. Some of the displays include clips from the movies -- in one, how Anakin was beguiled by the Dark Side and became Darth Vader, while Luke resisted.
I'd have enjoyed more clips and designs, more costumes and stories about the making of the movies. Some of the cinematic highlights include how Yoda's inverted syntax came about, how his eyes were designed to look like Einstein's, and there's the actual animatronic puppet of the Jedi master. And the carbonized Han Solo. And a mannequin lounging in Leia's harem bra and veils. Lucas created the sidekick Chewbacca to look like his favorite dog, and there's the seven feet of furry costume.
All the while the show delights the Wookie in us all, Lucas wants us to think about who we are and "What are your choices?" Questions about our beliefs are asked, about freedom, conformism, hedonism, benevolence, and we answer by flicking our personalized wrist bands across our choices. Ultimately, the question is whether we'll join the Dark Side. I opted not to go dark, and left with the image of myself cosmically swinging on a space sax.
Near to the Montreal Science Centre is the city's archaeological museum, Pointe-a-Calliere. Built on the actual ruins of the city's original foundation, the design is in-your-face abstract, especially an architecturally meaningless steel-and-glass fan that sticks out like a whimsically obscene gesture. Projected onto the ruins down below is a spectacular multi-media show of the city's history, stories about all the historical figures they named streets, halls, colleges, and beers after. Rene-Levesque. Maisonneuve. McGill. Molson.
There's also a special private collection of samurai artifacts, especially the "terrible beauty" of samurai weapons and armor. All of the armor features helmets with the icons of warriors: a crawling crab, a crescent moon, a laughing gremlin, a foot-long centipede. Bloody though the swords were meant to be, each of the swords was uniquely crafted as a work of art. And at the end, there's Darth Vader again, his black armor very like a samurai's, his light sabre very like a samurai's katana. Terrible beauty indeed.
Just a block away is the basilica, Notre Dame, with a blue ceiling full of stars and Montreal history in stained glass -- like the city's founder, Maisonneuve, planting a cross atop Mont Royal. Just across the street is Pizzedelic, and it happened to be lunchtime. Pizza #2: chevre et noix, goat cheese and walnuts, with black olives, sliced tomatoes, and I added more of the spicy saucisse Calabrese.
Meanwhile, back at the jazzfest ...
One hallmark of FIJM is that you miss as much great music as you actually get to hear. I'm sorry to have missed the formal concert d'ouverture: accordionist Richard Galliano with strings playing Bach and Piazzaola in the brand-new Montreal Symphony Hall. Place des Arts was already the biggest arts complex in Canada, and now it's even bigger.
I nonetheless heard music aplenty, including the first of the ten bands entered into this year's competition for the Grand Prix de Jazz, sponsored by TD Bank. Canadian jazz groups (this year 4 from Ontario, 6 from Quebec) perform on the free outdoor stages. Winner gets money ($5K), studio time, a record deal with the jazz label Effendi, plus gigs at the jazzfests in Zacatecas (Mexico), Rimouski (Quebec), and (on a bigger stage) Montreal. Galaxie, the satellite system, also gives a prize ($5K) for the best composition of the contest. I am again this year one of the judges.
Most extraordinary of all the changes around the festival is the sculpting of rue Jeanne-Mance, an avenue alongside Place des Arts, into the permanent Quartier des Spectacles. What was once a downtown traffic artery is now an open space with fountains, new trees, TV screens, and at the end the enormous TD Stage, complete with all the tech for spectacular effects. That's where the festival's Grandes Evenements happen, the Big Events that have (usually, and not kidding) a hundred thousand (or more) fest-goers listening, dancing, and drinking beer for (frequently pop) stars like this year's local-boy-made-good, singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. I've seen by now more than a million fest-goers crowded into the Quartier, and never once have I seen trouble. Montrealers have rioted about hockey, but not about jazz.
FIJM also resurrected a long useless building on the corner as a year-round Maison du Festival. They have a restaurant, a museum, a library and videoteque of the festival's history. They have a jazz joint of their own, L'Astral, and performing there on opening night was Monk-and-Cuban-inspired pianist Rafael Zaldiver with special guest Greg Osby, also (in his Montreal debut) one of WBGO's favorite singers, Gregory Porter.
When asked what concerts I was looking forward to the most, I answered "whoever is playing in the Jesus Room." What used to be called Salle de Gesu, literally Room of Jesus, is now more formally called Gesu--Centre de Creativitie. An intimate theatre in the Jesuit church around the corner from Place des Arts, it's where so many of my favorite concerts happen at every jazzfest. And quite often I know nothing about the musicians. I know only that they'll be cool and will likely play music I've never heard the likes of.
The World Kora Trio played first. Cherif Soumano plays the kora, a giant gourd with a shaft straight up, like a tentpole with wires angled downward. He sometimes strums glissandi like a harp. Or he plucks wires with his thumbs, sometimes impossibly rapidly, like a machine gun. Soumano's kora is one of the most melodically rhythmic (or rhythmically melodic) instruments I've ever heard. Eric Longsworth plays an electric cello, sometimes blowing beautiful African-inspired melodies or, as Longsworth looks and smiles at Soumano, they happily play call-and-response. Jean-Luc Di Fraya plays djembe hand-drums instead of a snare in his traps, and he sings, often in a high falsetto that flies like a bird through the music. I bought their album, and you can hear what I'm talking about on the website eric-longsworth.com...
© 2012 WBGO
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