WBGO Blog
  • Bourne's Montreal: Prizes Galore

    July 31, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    I’m a judge for the festival's annual week-long competition of jazz groups from across Canada.  They compete on outdoor stages for the TD Bank Grand Prix: money and three festival gigs.

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

    I have a ritual with my long-time frere de jugement, Martin Roussel, director of the jazzfest at Rimouski (334.9 miles along the St. Lawrence seaway north-east from Montreal).

    When we hear, sometimes more than half-way through the contest, a group good enough to win, we show an index finger:  "That's One!"

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    Whoever plays thereafter will have to be better, and this year the TD "One" was a swingingly interplaying piano-bass-drums trio from Ontario, The Pram Trio.

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

    There's also a special prize for the best composition, granted by the satellite television service Galaxie.

    This year, we voted the Galaxie prix to Montreal bassist Rick Rosato, composer of a tune without a title - only called “New Untitled”…

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  • Bourne's Montreal: Pink Martini Dreams

    July 22, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Pink Martini is a frequent pleasure for me at the Montreal jazzfest. What they play is an elegant confection of pop songs and what used to be called “light classics,” chosen from across time and from around the world.

    I caught up with Pink Martini after their Sunday matinee performance at FIJM this year. Listen to our conversation here:

    Dressed in a scarlet gown for the concert with (what looked like, or sparkled like) a tiara, Forbes sang with her usual bounty of charms and chops.  And in umpteen languages, including Farsi.

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

    "Amado Mio," sung by Rita Hayworth in the movie Gilda, is almost always the opener.   "Aquarela do Brasil," with the audience dancing, is almost always the finale. And in betwixt, they played a … "variety" does not fully encompass it.   More like a variegated cornucopia.

    Like one very obscure song they discovered from a very obscure movie, a torch song originally sung by sex kitten Mamie van Doren in a - not kidding - German western.  Or a song they adapted from a theme by French modern classical composer Francis Poulenc.

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

    These days, Pink Martini are joined by the Von Trapps, three girls and a boy, all 20-something, all cute, and all grandchildren – not kidding - of the youngest of the singing Von Trapp siblings who inspired Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

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    This generation of Von Trapps sing "Edelweiss" and "The Lonely Goatherd,” both from the musical inspired by their great-grandparents - the captain and the nun who fell in love and escaped the Nazis with their passel of kids - on Pink Martini’s newest album, Dream a Little Dream.

    Thomas Lauderdale played piano deftly and conducted the mini-orchestra, amused the audience in French and invited the audience to come on stage and dance.

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