WBGO Blog
  • Montreal Jazzfest 2015, Day 1

    June 27, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: FIJM, FIJM 2015

    Over the last several weeks, several folks have observed that I must be excited about going back to the Montreal Jazz Festival.  Twist is, I always feel as if I’m here. Always here. At home here.

    FIJM banner

    FIJM 2015 is the festival’s 36th year and my 23rd year. There’ve been changes every year, certainly. New people. New buildings. Even massive reconstruction.  But for me, all around Place des Arts feels the same — wonderfully the same — at the world’s biggest (sez Guinness) and best (sez me) jazzfest.

    I’ve been a judge for most of the years I’ve come to Montreal. There’s a competition every year for Canadian groups, and the group we judges think best gets the "Grand Prix de Jazz TD" -- money ($5000) from FIJM sponsor TD Bank, studio time to record, and gigs at the jazzfests in Rimouski, Quebec City, and Montreal. Sting Ray Music also presents an award (another $5000) to the composer of the best tune played in the competition.

    FIJM also honors musicians each year with (essentially) lifetime awards named for festival favorites.  This year’s awards go to …
    Al DiMeola: Prix Miles Davis
    James Cotton: Prix B.B. King
    Erykah Badu: Prix Ella Fitzgerald
    King Sunny Ade: Prix Antonio Carlos Jobim (for an international artist)
    Jim Galloway: Prix Oscar Peterson (for a Canadian artist, this year posthumously for the saxophonist)
    Bruce Lundvall, the great jazz album producer, record biz legend, and good friend of the festival, died recently.   Several years ago, FIJM named a prize after him to honor non-musicians like him who’ve contributed to the music.  Winners mostly have been fellow record producers, but this year’s Prix Bruce Lundvall goes to a journalist and author, Bill Milkowski.

    star-wars-tedn-dahai-cantina-band-mini-bustJacques-Andre Dupont, COO of the jazzfest, also through the years has been active creating events within and beyond the jazzfest.  Most wonderful is an exhibition he coordinated celebrating the Indiana Jones movies of producer/director George Lucas.  "Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology" first played at the Montreal Science Centre, connecting artifacts and stories of real-life Indy-like adventurers with a flabbergasting array of clips, costumes, props, and other cool stuff from the four Indy movies -- including his hat, his bullwhip, the Holy Grail, and, no kidding, the actual Ark of the Covenant.  Another amazing exhibit followed, also working with George Lucas, a gathering of "Star Wars" memorabilia that was also a philosophical journey into The Force.  (I, apparently, mostly identify with the alien jazz players from the Mos Eisley Cantina.)   Both shows have been touring ever since.   "Star Wars Identities" is now playing in Cologne.  "Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology" is now playing in DC at the National Geographic Museum.   Jacques-Andre is now working on another extraordinary exhibition that will open in 2017 and will connect other beloved characters with serious questions about nature.

    And in the meantime, Jacques-Andre was happy to welcome the press to the festival's newest venue.  "Club Jazz Casino de Montreal a la Place SNC-Lavalin" is a long name for what is essentially a lot cleared next to the Gesu, the church that's also a PAC.   "Club Jazz Casino" does not have gambling, but does have picnic tables and stands selling drinks, crabcakes, and the exquisite cookies called macarons.   Another free stage for the festival, most of the Grand Prix TD competition I'll be judging will be happening there.  And there for the welcoming event was the group of Giulia Valle, a Spanish bassist with a seismic boom.

    Co-founders of the jazzfest, Alain Simard and Andre Menard, welcomed everyone to FIJM 2015 at an opening concert in the beautiful church-like  Symphonic Hall.  Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and trombonist Gianlucca Petrella played duets.  Petrella's fanfare resounded majestically in the hall's acoustics.  Fresu's trumpet multiplied itself electronically, often sounding like a heavenly choir.  While they played mostly intimately, weaving together colorful motifs or pulsing heartbeats, in several  moments out came a song, like "Nature Boy."   Fresu and bandoneonist Daniele Di Bonaventura joined six singers from Corsica called A Filetta.  I've never heard before what was called in the program "the Corsican polyphonic vocal tradition,"  but what I heard were the men's voices counterpointing lyrical melodies deeply and dramatically.  I didn't know what they were singing (in Corsican) about, but I could feel every story.

    Zach Condon of Beirut/credit: Benoit Rousseau

    VP of Programming Laurent Saulnier (I call him VP of the Edge) welcomed the many tens of thousands of festgoers standing and laughing in the festival streets to a free "Grand Concert d'Ouverture" with the group Beirut.  Zach Condon is the leader, a singer and songwriter, a trumpeter and world traveler.  Condon's music travels hither and yon around the world.  You can hear the Balkans, an echo of Latin romance, or maybe the sweetness of French musette.  What pulled my ear was a quick detour into what sounded like a Berlin cabaret.   I'd wondered how they'd sound outdoors in the night on a big stage like the Scene TD, how their elegance and earthiness would feel rumbling around the streets around Place des Arts --  but the band's sound enfolded the beer-drinking multitude,  and the show looked great on all the festival's jumbotrons.

    Beirut does not come from Lebanon, but oud master Rabih Abou-Khalil does, and he played another of the concerts on opening night.  I've observed often  that one testament of a festival's greatness is how much music you don't get to hear.  Day 1 also featured gigs of  Quebecoise cellist and singer Jorane, Israeli bassist Omer Avital, trumpeter Theo Croker, Al DiMeola revisiting "Elegant Gypsy," saxophonist Yannick Reu revisiting "A Love Supreme," Bebel Gilberto singing her father Joao's (and her own) bossa novas, blues/rockers Beth Hart and Dana Fuchs, The Steve Miller Band and a band called Whisky Legs, among oodles of others.   NeTTwork, the trio of Charnett Moffett, Stanley Jordan, and Jeff "Tain" Watts, played the first of the concerts that for me always perfectly climax each day of the jazzfest, the "Jazz Dans La Nuit" 10:30 concerts in the "Salle de Gesu," the "Room of Jesus."  I'll be there henceforth as Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal plays on ...

  • Montreal Jazzfest 2015 -- June 25th, Day A

    June 27, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: FIJM, FIJM 2015

    Doesn't start officially until tomorrow, but Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal is underway today.

    First sound that I hear when I arrive at the Hyatt Regency, just across from Place des Arts, is a soundcheck (and some hammer banging) on the big TD Bank stage. That's where the world-pop group Beirut will play tomorrow evening for Le Grand Concert d'Ouverture and where the usual, more or less, 100K who come for the free events will be drinking festival beer and dancing in the street.

    Meanwhile, fountains start spurting up along the middle of what used to be a traffic artery but is now a year-round festival scene.  Children will soon be dancing in the water.  Mostly trad bands will be playing every afternoon.  And all around Place des Arts, free outdoor stages are being finished for all the school bands, swing bands, blues bands, and from-everywhere-in-the-world bands who will play the noon-to-midnight free outdoor concerts.

    Also, kiosks and tents are being readied to sell Heineken and port and rum, barbecue (oodles of pulled pork) and Mexican food, Argentinian food, Thai food, Belgian waffles, mangos-on-a-stick cut to look like flowers, and frites with cheese curds. I don't drool for the latter, called poutine, but I always enjoy the hot dogs from the kids-run grills around the festival.

    Musically, even before the festival begins, the festival presents a special event, or two, and on Day A, at Theatre du Nouveau Monde, Canadian rocker Colin James played the first of three acoustic concerts, while in Cinquieme Salle, Flamenco Vivo stomped the first of five concerts.

    Credit Denis Alix, FIJM
    Colin James/Photo credit: Denis Alix, FIJM

    "Lo Esencial" is full-tilt flamenco, presented by singer Luis de la Carrasca.  He opens the show meandering around the audience, singing with an unfathomable vibrato -- now crying, now gasping -- while tossing candy to the crowd.  Most of the show features a traditional Andalusian arc of seats for players and dancers, and the most spectacular moments look and sound spontaneous, as if they're suddenly possessed by the music.  What always amazes me about flamenco is the hand-clapping -- not in a tempo or time that one can count, but quickly back and forth -- so intensely rhythmic that the "drummer" is free to play finger-breaking solos on the cajon, essentially a wooden box that the player sits on.  And then come the dancers.

    Ana Perez appears in a blue gown with a train, and as she whirls her dress her feet ... stomp!  More than fast.  Machine-gun fast.  Like the drummers playing a Scottish military tattoo.  Only even faster!

    Photo credit: Denis Alix, FIJM
    Ana Perez/Photo credit: Denis Alix, FIJM

    Ana Perez is sexy.  Kuky Santiago is sexual.  As he dances, Kuky coils like a basilisk.  Except that he's a serpent with feet.  Really fast feet.

    After the standing ovation, they all came back for Kuky and Ana to have a dance-off.  I've always felt tap dancers are like jazz drummers.   Kuky Santiago is the Buddy Rich of feet.

  • 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.

    Christine-JensenJazzOrchestra600

    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 …