July 7, 2012. Posted by Simon Rentner.
WBGO’S Simon Rentner concludes his broadcast coverage of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal by asking a simple question: Why Montreal? Festival Co-Founder and Artistic Director André Ménard and Vice President of Programming Laurent Saulnier have their answers. Plus, Canadian musicians Peter Appleyard and Claude St-Jean chime in.
© 2012 WBGO
July 7, 2012. Posted by Simon Rentner.
WBGO's Simon Rentner, reporting from the last day from Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, asks: Does Canadian Jazz Have A Sound? Artistic Director and Jazz Festival co-founder André Ménard (above), Canadian singer Sonia Johnson, and our own Michael Bourne answer that question.
© 2012 WBGO
July 4, 2012. Posted by Simon Rentner.
Burn down the "Jesus Room." That doesn't sound good, but that's exactly what Joey Calderazzo and Aaron Parks accomplished at Montreal's Gesu Centre de Creativite on Gershwin's “Liza,” the last tune of the evening. These two pianists -- unfamiliar with each other and separated by two generations -- started a bit more mild, warming up on Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way." But immediately the natural chemistry was there. Ten fingers on 176 keys can often be a handful on the ears. But they avoided the pitfalls of playing over each other, avoiding any chaotic clutter. Instead, they coalesced into one sound, a single expression. They even hummed together. It's these moments where the magic of jazz can be so spellbinding. Two virtuosos came together for random interplay, left their egos behind, and created beautiful, unselfish music. Calderazzo humbly bragged that they only rehearsed once together, only 45 minutes before show time. Despite these straining odds, they were able to find moments of relaxation, pause, and space during the concert. They shared their common interest in the music of Keith Jarrett ("Rainbows”). But the high point of the show for me was Aaron Parks playing solo on Duke Ellington's "Melancholia." That's the moment my heart skipped and a small tear crept in my eye.
© 2012 WBGO
July 3, 2012. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Equipe Spectra, the folks who produce the jazzfest, do plenty more throughout the year. They produced last year an amazing exhibition of artifacts -- props, costumes, sketches, scenes -- from the Indiana Jones movies. George Lucas archived everything from his movies, gathered by a curator. First thing, walking in, there was the actual ark!
Now comes, again at the Montreal Science Centre, Star Wars. Boba Fett's flying armor you see first. And the animated bucket, R2D2. But the show is much more philosophical than cinematic. "Star Wars ... Identities" is what they've called the show. "What forces shape you?' is the show's question.
"Select a species" says the first display. You pick a character to be from the Star Wars aliens. You can be human, but I opted to be Bith, like the musicians in that first tavern scene, round bald head with big black eyes and what look like gills for a mouth blowing an alien oboe. What follows are videos or other displays about how humans evolve identities, how the brain works, how social and psychological forces within and around us determine our personalities and how we behave, individually or in groups. Some of the displays include clips from the movies -- in one, how Anakin was beguiled by the Dark Side and became Darth Vader, while Luke resisted.
I'd have enjoyed more clips and designs, more costumes and stories about the making of the movies. Some of the cinematic highlights include how Yoda's inverted syntax came about, how his eyes were designed to look like Einstein's, and there's the actual animatronic puppet of the Jedi master. And the carbonized Han Solo. And a mannequin lounging in Leia's harem bra and veils. Lucas created the sidekick Chewbacca to look like his favorite dog, and there's the seven feet of furry costume.
All the while the show delights the Wookie in us all, Lucas wants us to think about who we are and "What are your choices?" Questions about our beliefs are asked, about freedom, conformism, hedonism, benevolence, and we answer by flicking our personalized wrist bands across our choices. Ultimately, the question is whether we'll join the Dark Side. I opted not to go dark, and left with the image of myself cosmically swinging on a space sax.
Near to the Montreal Science Centre is the city's archaeological museum, Pointe-a-Calliere. Built on the actual ruins of the city's original foundation, the design is in-your-face abstract, especially an architecturally meaningless steel-and-glass fan that sticks out like a whimsically obscene gesture. Projected onto the ruins down below is a spectacular multi-media show of the city's history, stories about all the historical figures they named streets, halls, colleges, and beers after. Rene-Levesque. Maisonneuve. McGill. Molson.
There's also a special private collection of samurai artifacts, especially the "terrible beauty" of samurai weapons and armor. All of the armor features helmets with the icons of warriors: a crawling crab, a crescent moon, a laughing gremlin, a foot-long centipede. Bloody though the swords were meant to be, each of the swords was uniquely crafted as a work of art. And at the end, there's Darth Vader again, his black armor very like a samurai's, his light sabre very like a samurai's katana. Terrible beauty indeed.
Just a block away is the basilica, Notre Dame, with a blue ceiling full of stars and Montreal history in stained glass -- like the city's founder, Maisonneuve, planting a cross atop Mont Royal. Just across the street is Pizzedelic, and it happened to be lunchtime. Pizza #2: chevre et noix, goat cheese and walnuts, with black olives, sliced tomatoes, and I added more of the spicy saucisse Calabrese.
Meanwhile, back at the jazzfest ...
One hallmark of FIJM is that you miss as much great music as you actually get to hear. I'm sorry to have missed the formal concert d'ouverture: accordionist Richard Galliano with strings playing Bach and Piazzaola in the brand-new Montreal Symphony Hall. Place des Arts was already the biggest arts complex in Canada, and now it's even bigger.
I nonetheless heard music aplenty, including the first of the ten bands entered into this year's competition for the Grand Prix de Jazz, sponsored by TD Bank. Canadian jazz groups (this year 4 from Ontario, 6 from Quebec) perform on the free outdoor stages. Winner gets money ($5K), studio time, a record deal with the jazz label Effendi, plus gigs at the jazzfests in Zacatecas (Mexico), Rimouski (Quebec), and (on a bigger stage) Montreal. Galaxie, the satellite system, also gives a prize ($5K) for the best composition of the contest. I am again this year one of the judges.
Most extraordinary of all the changes around the festival is the sculpting of rue Jeanne-Mance, an avenue alongside Place des Arts, into the permanent Quartier des Spectacles. What was once a downtown traffic artery is now an open space with fountains, new trees, TV screens, and at the end the enormous TD Stage, complete with all the tech for spectacular effects. That's where the festival's Grandes Evenements happen, the Big Events that have (usually, and not kidding) a hundred thousand (or more) fest-goers listening, dancing, and drinking beer for (frequently pop) stars like this year's local-boy-made-good, singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. I've seen by now more than a million fest-goers crowded into the Quartier, and never once have I seen trouble. Montrealers have rioted about hockey, but not about jazz.
FIJM also resurrected a long useless building on the corner as a year-round Maison du Festival. They have a restaurant, a museum, a library and videoteque of the festival's history. They have a jazz joint of their own, L'Astral, and performing there on opening night was Monk-and-Cuban-inspired pianist Rafael Zaldiver with special guest Greg Osby, also (in his Montreal debut) one of WBGO's favorite singers, Gregory Porter.
When asked what concerts I was looking forward to the most, I answered "whoever is playing in the Jesus Room." What used to be called Salle de Gesu, literally Room of Jesus, is now more formally called Gesu--Centre de Creativitie. An intimate theatre in the Jesuit church around the corner from Place des Arts, it's where so many of my favorite concerts happen at every jazzfest. And quite often I know nothing about the musicians. I know only that they'll be cool and will likely play music I've never heard the likes of.
The World Kora Trio played first. Cherif Soumano plays the kora, a giant gourd with a shaft straight up, like a tentpole with wires angled downward. He sometimes strums glissandi like a harp. Or he plucks wires with his thumbs, sometimes impossibly rapidly, like a machine gun. Soumano's kora is one of the most melodically rhythmic (or rhythmically melodic) instruments I've ever heard. Eric Longsworth plays an electric cello, sometimes blowing beautiful African-inspired melodies or, as Longsworth looks and smiles at Soumano, they happily play call-and-response. Jean-Luc Di Fraya plays djembe hand-drums instead of a snare in his traps, and he sings, often in a high falsetto that flies like a bird through the music. I bought their album, and you can hear what I'm talking about on the website eric-longsworth.com...
© 2012 WBGO
June 30, 2012. Posted by Michael Bourne.
The 33rd Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal is my 20th as a journalist and/or broadcaster. I first came almost accidentally in 1992. I've come back ever since, always amazed and amused that the jazzfest is bigger and better every summer. I still can't parle français much more than schoolboy French, but jazz is the universal language.
I am always ritualistic, and in Montreal one of my favorite rituals is Pizzedelic. Once settled in, I was joined by Vincent Lefebvre, wrangler of the international press, at my favorite of the four pizza joints named (though not really a chain) Pizzedelic. They each have a unique personality and somewhat different menu. Brightest (and breeziest) is the pizza resto on rue Notre Dame across from the basilica. Pizzas are square with a matzo-like crust and a grand variety of toppings.
2012 Pizza #1: trois fromages, three cheeses: mozzarella, parmesan, feta. It's actually quatre fromages, but I don't like the blue cheese. I added black olives, pepperoni, and spicy saucisse Calabrese. And a red beer, La Belle Gueulle rousse.
Tomorrow night is the festival's official opening, but James Taylor played an early concert at the big hall, Salle Wilfred-Pelletier of the Place des Arts. Just before the concert, he'd been presented with the Festival Spirit Award, and he walked on-stage with the metal sculpture, a self-portrait of Miles Davis.
He thanked the festival (in way better French than mine) and played charmingly more than two hours, interrupted only by an intermission. "I don't know why," he said at the break. "We're just going to stand behind the curtain for 20 minutes."
That he was having a good time radiated from the stage, even when singing songs ("Fire and Rain," "The Secret of Life," et al) that he's performed countlessly. When someone in the balcony shouted for one of his hits, he held up a chalkboard with his set list and pointed to that title. I'd been looking forward to "Sweet Baby James." "That was written for my nephew," he said. "He was named after me. He's a big thing now."
Another highlight was his song inspired by a man found long after he'd been lost in ice, "God Have Mercy on the Frozen Man." And he let the band play, no wonder. "This is an excellent band," Taylor said as he introduced the stellar ensemble, including saxist Lou Marini, trumpeter Walt Fowler, keyboardist Larry Goldings, and drummer Steve Gadd.
He'd gotten a standing O after "Fire and Rain," and the audience was up and dancing for "Your Smiling Face," dancing and singing along with "How Sweet It Is." Taylor's encore was that much more joyful with everyone chubbing and checkering "The Twist."
Having someone having as much fun as James Taylor was was an ideal overture to another great jazzfest in Montreal.
© 2012 WBGO