June 29, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Rio Tinto Alcan mines and sells aluminum world-wide. They've been a leading sponsor of the jazzfest for years. Their name is on the Maison du Festival, HQ of the indefatigable FIJM press corps and where the jazzfest operates year-round a jazz joint called L'Astral, a restaurant, a mediateque with countless hours of festival videos, and the Bell-sponsored jazzfest museum -- highlighted by the very piano Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones learned to play on.
Scene Rio Tinto Alcan is a big stage right below my window in the Hyatt. While blogging and what-not, "Messin' with the Kid," the classic blues of Junior Wells, was rocking down below, played by Les Pros du Camp de Blues.
Music happens freely from noon to midnight on the outdoor festival stages all around Place des Arts. Mountebanks also perform, a reminder that Cirque du Soleil comes from Montreal and that a circus festival is coincidentally happening in the "City of Festivals." I haven't seen fire-eaters yet , but on two light poles, I watched young women climb and contort into pretzels, one hanging or twisting around a white rope, the other whirling in an enormous purple sling. And nearby, two brightly-feathered long-necked firebirds were bopping. On stilts.
Dancing in the street happens every which way around the jazzfest. I walk by the Heineken "Lounge" (it's a tent) and a group is playing a sweetly swinging "Blue Monk" as 4 or 5 couples dance cheek to cheek. I turn the corner and, in a bicycle lane alongside an open pub, 8 or 9 teenagers are line-jitterbugging to Pops singing "Hello Dolly." And on the CBC Radio blues stage, the Jake Chisolm band from Ontario is playing "Work Song."
Thousands of folks meander the festival. Eating. Drinking. Dancing. Listening. Eating more. What was once Avenue Jeanne-Mance on the east side of Place des Arts is now the jazzfest's main drag, Spectacle Deambulatoire. President Kennedy Avenue, the upper perimeter of the festival, is another major thoroughfare that's been shut down. Where traffic is usually rolling, folks are eating empanadas (Angus or veggie) at a make-shift shack called Atelier d'Argentine. Or tacos from the tent down the block. That the city transforms everyday active streets into two weeks of the festival grounds is the most obvious show of how much FIJM means to Montreal.
Club Jazz Casino de Montreal a la Place SNC-Lavalin is a long name for the parking lot of the fortress-like tower that is engineering magnate SNC-Lavalin. "They build...everything," a VP said. They've loaned the space for the an outdoor bandstand -- where we judges heard the first of ten bands in the Grand Prix TD competition. We were first supposed to sit in the front row, and we only listen to the first 30 minutes. I observed that the musicians are already nervous. Seeing the judges scribbling notes will make them even moreso. And then we walk out! So, we were relocated to the back of the "Casino" and saxophonist Andy King played first. With nine to go.
I always remember the music. I cannot always remember when I heard the music. I cannot remember at which of the 23 Montreal jazzfests I've attended, but I'll always remember a gig trumpeter Enrico Rava played at the Spectrum, a now-long-gone cabaret on Ste Cat. Playing trombone in Rava's quintet was Gianluca Petrella. His sound was golden. His playing was surprising. And nonetheless is. Petrella's duets with trumpeter Paolo Fresu last night were intimate and ethereal. Petrella's duets with pianist Giovanni Guidi tonight were ... not argumentative, but an intense call and response. Or, really, response and response. Whimsical themes and grooves rumbling against and atop each other. I've often said that the trombone sounds to me the instrument most like a human voice, and when Petrella plays he sounds to me as if he's singing. Or, really, speaking. Words, I mean. Not that I know what he's saying -- he's speaking Italian -- but he's saying something, quite often funny. And the same for Enrico Rava. Like so many of the Italian cats I've heard in Montreal, Rava plays with (an Italian word that's now English) bravura. Italian cats at FIJM have been often also, somewhat ... wacky. Rava's quintet played straightahead, swinging tunefully, and always with an echo of what sounds to me like Nino Rota's mirthful finale of 8 1/2. Or, as I scribbled in my notebook, circus bebop ...
Phronesis is a Greek word meaning practical wisdom. Phronesis in jazz means the trio of British pianist Ivo Neame, Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby, and Swedish drummer Anton Eger. They're witty, especially in the musings of Hoiby introducing the tunes. They're kaleidoscopic, especially in the musical whirlwinds Eger whips up. Eger plays around the drums so quickly that his solos sound legato -- as if breathtaking melodies. Phronesis, like so many groups that end each evening at the Gesu, were serious fun.
© 2015 WBGO
June 27, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
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 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.
Jacques-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.
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 ...
© 2015 WBGO
June 27, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
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.
"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!
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.
© 2015 WBGO