WBGO Blog
  • 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 …

  • 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