WBGO Blog
  • Bourne's Montreal: Dueling Finales

    August 28, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    When the first Montreal jazz festival played in the streets back in 1979, neighbors nearby complained about the noise. This year's 35th anniversary FIJM ended with a bang.  A really loud bang.

    Deltron 3030 is a trio of hip-hoppers, each doing something … hippy?  hoppy?

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Once upon a time, I avoided most pop music.  I'd listen to the groups on SNL or Letterman, usually no more than a minute.  I'd often DVR those shows, and, if I didn't hear an actual melody or amusing lyrics,  I'd quickly fast-forward.

    I'm still not a "fan" of the various neo-pop groups that sell millions of records — down-loads, I mean --  but since my revelation listening to Plaster, when Club Soda became my neo-pop road to Damascus, I'm now certainly game to listen.  Especially when Laurent Saulnier, FIJM's "VP of the Edge," tells me "you have to hear" whoever he circles on FIJM concert grid for me.

    And the festival's finale — L'Evenement Special de Cloture - out on the big (even bigger this year) TD Bank stage — is usually, as Woodkid was to begin the jazzfest, spectacular.

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    Kid Koala, a local DJ, is one of the three Deltron 3030 hip-hoppers, and with three turntables he "scratched" LP's.   He'd lick his fingers, play a record, maybe a voice, but he'd stop and pull the voice backwards, let the record play again, maybe only a quarter spin, create a groove from the shards of music and mechanical noises of a record player, all while licking and stop-starting LP's on the other turntables.

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    "This is my mother's favorite record," he said with a smile like a naughty child, and he played an easy-listening chorus singing "Moon River," all the while twisting weird counterpoints over and under the song on the other LP's.

    Kid Koala was having fun, and so was the multitude on the Place des Spectacles, and so was I.

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    Then came the rapper,   Del the Funkee Homosapien.  (Do rappers, I wondered, have to trademark their often silly names?  Like circus clowns have to trademark their goofy wigs and noses?)

    Almost immediately, for me, the show was over.

    When I first really listened and appreciated neo-pop at the festival, I soon could hear when artists were being truly creative — and when wanna-be artists were running in place, repeating what were already cliches, selling the Emperor's New Nonsense.

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    Del the Funkee Homosapien was not even (properly spelled) funky.   He rapped over annoyingly monotonous mechanical beats.   Loud -- all the more annoying — footpat-less beats.

    He blathered gibberish so quickly and so inarticulately that all I could comprehend was that the gibberish rhymed.  At best vaguely rhymed.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    And then the third Deltronic, Dan the Automator, dressed in tails, cranked up an entire orchestra, complete with a barrage of cellos — but playing only orchestral groans.

    Maybe, and only far-fetchedly maybe, I'd have enjoyed Kid Koala's scratching counterpoints or even amusing noises within Dan the Automator's groaning — but Del the Funkee Homosapien kept on jerking doggerel, and I split.Back to the Gesu I came for the last Jazz dans la nuit concert.  Christine Jensen's big band was playing for less than half of the house, but we few were very happy.

    Photo by Randy Cole
    Photo by Randy Cole

    Christine's band gathered some of the best players of the Montreal scene, including tenor saxist Andre Leroux and Christine's sister, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.

    Playing barefoot, the better to toe pedals for electronic effects, Ingrid looped herself within her solos.  Hauntingly.  Quietly but palpable.

    Photo by Angela Jimenez
    Photo by Angela Jimenez

    "Like wind across the water and through the trees," I scribbled as the music transported me.  So many of Christine's pieces, including all the music from her album Habitat, were evocative, inspired by scenery and scenes.  Streets.  Vistas.  Journeys.

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    One of her pieces traveled down through Canada, from northernmost Hudson's Bay down to the bustle of Ottowa.  Andre Leroux played several downright carnivorous solos, and Christine featured her own soprano sax from time to time, from scene to scene.

    Christine Jensen's big band played, for me, a perfect (and tres grande) finale of FIJM 2014.

    Je reviendrai a Montreal …

  • Bourne's Montreal: Very Montreal

    August 8, 2014. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    "What's this group like?" asked one of the folks on the WBGO trip to the festival.

    "I don't know," I answered.  "I always want to hear up here music I've never heard before."

    I've often written that the Montreal jazz festival virtually re-defines jazz. I hear every year musicians incorporate new forms and styles of music into jazz.

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    I wrote an essay in Montreal a few years ago about an electronic group called Plaster that generated riffs with samples and various whizbangs yet reminded me of the Basie band in the 30's swinging riffs.

    Hip-Hop.  House.  World Beat.  Beat Box.  And especially electronics have expanded the palette of jazz melodically, harmonically, and certainly rhythmically.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    With his group Shadow Theater, Tigran played synthesizers (or whatever little boxes with wires and knobs are called nowadays) to create looping melodies and rhythms,  sometimes only an ambience, to play within.

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    White Horse, the husband and wife team of Luke Doucet and Melissa McLelland, created tapestries of sound criss-crossing technological devices with traditional instruments.

    Doucet played guitar and miscellaneous percussion, including hammering on a floor drum sonic booms that echoed this way and that.

    McLelland, hugely pregnant in a green cocktail dress, played a Fender bass.  Together they "built" songs like a Dublin tapster "building" a pint of Guinness.

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    BadBadNotGood played the late show at Club Soda — where every night something different was happening.

    These kids from Toronto play what someone called "post-rock" -- but the interplay sounded rather like be-bop.  Rocking.  Bopping.  Lively.  And fresh.  They became instant sensations on the web about a minute ago, and already they've been working with hip-hop stars.

    "They're just kids," I said to Laurent Saulnier, the festival's VP of the Edge. "Nerds."

    "No," he said, laughing like only he can.  "Geeks!"

    Geeks that, notwithstanding electronically, swing …

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix
  • Bourne's Montreal: Zappa, Meet Zappa

    August 7, 2014. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    I first encountered Dweezil Zappa, who played FIJM at Montreal’s Metropole this year, in the womb.

    I met his father, Frank Zappa, on the 4th of July, 1969, in Indianapolis at a Holiday Inn.  I was interviewing Frank for a cover story in Down Beat.  Frank's wife Gail was great with child.  Dweezil.

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    I was nuts about Frank's uniquely jazzy/rocky/funny theatrical music, and I hung with The Mothers of Invention variously on the road from '69 into the 80's.

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    I'd never heard  Dweezil playing his father's classics until Montreal, and I was singing along from the jump.  "Call Any Vegetable."  "Suzy Creamcheese."  Mostly songs from the early Mothers albums and some of the best of Frank's  satiric ("I Am The Slime," about television) and surreal ("Montana," about dental floss) classics.

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    Dweezil's band was loudly orchestrated, almost as if the living albums with the volume turned up, and all in the band are virtuosic enough to whip it out — especially singer and saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez, whose animated  presence on stage reminded me of Frank's sexy (and very musical) Ruth Underwood.

    Except that he didn't play extended concerto-like improvs, Dweezil's guitar chops sounded very like his dad's.

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    I missed every other gig that night.  "Zappa Plays Zappa" was so cool I was flooded with great memories — and the contact high with all the other older Zappaholics in the crowd was quite bulbous.