WBGO Blog
  • Bourne's Montreal: Ambrose And Tigran

    July 20, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    I've never actually been Upstairs. That's the nightclub where the best of jazz from New York plays in Montreal.  This year including one or two nights with the Heath Brothers, Fred Hersch, Sheila Jordan, Bob Mover, Ben Sidran, and Peter Bernstein.  Upstairs is officially part of the jazz festival, but is far from the jazz festival.

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    When I'm in Montreal, I stay within walking-ish distance of the 40 or so gigs happening every day around Place des Arts -- and, as I've often observed, it's a testament of how great is a jazzfest that one will actually miss more great performances than one can get to.

    Some of the best concerts (for me) happen at the Gesu, the Jesuit church on a nearby block.  When not functioning as a church, it's also an active arts center, and in the intimate concert hall, Salle de Gesu  -- literally "Room of Jesus" -- some of the festival's best music is played.

    I missed - while judging the TD band contest - the 6 p.m. "Invitation" gigs of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire - one with his quintet, one with guitarist Bill Frisell.

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

    Akinmusire and the pianist Tigran were this year's Invitees — invited to play several concerts with different (sometimes dream) groups.  And once in a while, the Invitees play together, like this year's mid-series duets of Ambrose and Tigran.

    Photo by Marie-Claire Denis
    Photo by Marie-Claire Denis

    What first compelled me about Ambrose several years ago with his quintet at the Gesu was that the very sound of his trumpet is so… different.  As if he's breathing some other oxygen through his trumpet.  As if he's fluttering notes like a butterfly's wings.

    I looked at my scribbles in the dark, and writ large was the word blissful.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    What first compelled me about Tigran several years ago with a quartet called Punk Bop at the Gesu was his quickness on the keys, especially when playing sparklingly the higher keys.  Also, that he looks quite physically small but plays with gigantic passion.

    Together, Akinmusire and Tigran played mostly lyrical originals, but the highlights for me were when they were spotlighted solo on standards.  Ambrose playing "All The Things You Are."  Tigran playing "Someday My Prince Will Come."

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    It's the true delight of jazz that the best of jazz play songs we've heard a thousand times (sometimes literally, like these two songs) but have never heard before played so freshly, so unusually, so  beautifully.

    I was happily free of judging and able to enjoy Tigran's two other concerts, happily and luckily able to get tickets to his sold-out shows - one of duets with pianist Brad Mehldau, one with his "Shadow Theater" group.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Tigran showed his musical roots in Armenia with his group, especially with a singer and/or himself chanting Armenian folk songs.  Tigran and the singer also played electronics, generating pulses of rhythms and loops of melodies.

    Again, his piano sounded now gentle, now fierce — especially when his drummer blew the roof off the Gesu.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix
  • Bourne's Montreal: FIJM By The Numbers

    July 15, 2014. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    “So what music are you most looking forward to hearing?” someone wondered when I first walked into the press room of the Maison du Festival.

    “I don’t know,” I said, truly. “Whoever is playing...”

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    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    I come to the Montreal Jazz Festival every year -- but not so much for the jazz. I come for the festival, and for all the wonderful people who make the festival happen. The programmers. The press corps. They’re truly for me... loved ones.

    And the music IS always good, and even great – a bon festival indeed.

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    FIJM, le Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal, is the biggest (sez Guinness) and the best (sez me) jazz festival in the world. Here's FIJM 2014 by the numbers:

    35 jazzfests for Montreal, 22 jazzfests for moi… 12 days of music, more than 800 concerts, enjoyed by 2 million festgoers on 11 free outdoor stages, 14 ticketed indoor stages, and a boat…

    400 accredited media, including me and producer Simon Rentner from WBGO, from 20 countries, including 5 live radio broadcasters - three from France, and KJazz and XM/Sirius from the U.S..

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    All the music happens within walking distance in and around Montreal's Place des Arts.   And, for me, this year better than ever, I actually enjoyed walking all the distance.

    Montreal literally translates "Royal Mountain" -- and for someone knee-challenged like me, Montreal is agonizingly-hilled.  Just the hill only a block UP from the Hyatt hotel to the Maison du Festival is gruntful.

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    Which is why I got in better shape for this year's FIJM.  No carbs or sugar for 40 days, my own personal Jazz Lent.  I lost about 25 pounds, and, as if training for a Jazz Olympics, I walked aplenty.

    Photo by Simon Rentner
    Photo by Simon Rentner

    Plus, all the walking up (and down) worked off all the carbs and sugar I enjoyed so much during the jazzfest.

    Especially all the pizzas at one or the other Pizzedelic, always with a Quebecois biere rousse.

    Photo by Simon Rentner
    Photo by Simon Rentner
  • Bill Frisell's "Space-Age Guitar": Listen Now

    June 5, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Guitarist Bill Frisell joins Josh Jackson to talk about guitar memories from the 1950s. Frisell hosts "The Electric Guitar In America" at New York's Jazz At Lincoln Center June 6 and 7 with Greg Liesz on electric and pedal steel guitars, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums.

    Frisell visited WBGO June 4 to talk about the childhood musical inspirations he celebrates in the concerts and on his upcoming album "GUITAR IN THE SPACE AGE!"

    Click to hear Frisell and his band perform The Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl," one of the tracks on the CD, which is slated for release by Sony/OKeh October 7.

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    A full version of Frisell's conversation with Jackson will air on WBGO's weekly new music magazine, The Checkout, in October.  Frisell's 2012 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival was also featured on The Checkout.

    Click on the image below to watch a video trailer for the album by Paul Moore and Paul Hicks, which features the band as they perform "Baja":

    frisellBAJA