WBGO Blog
  • FIJM At Last

    July 7, 2010. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Myself and three other scribes in Down Beat wrote fourteen pages about the Montreal Jazz Festival last year -- and altogether we reported on maybe 5% of what happened.  FIJM 2010 offered another 800 performances on more than  20 stages in and around Place des Arts,  No other jazzfest presents more.  Or (sez me) is better at it.

    I've written about most of my favorite shows already on the blog, but here's a retro of my faves:

    Day One, June 25th: the opening event on the TD Bank stage, with 100,000 or so folks, dancing to the rockabilly swing of Brian Setzer.

    Day Two, June 26th: Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf at L'Astral.

    Day 3, June 27th: French accordionist Daniel Mille at the Gesu.

    Parc-X Trio, photo courtesy FIJM
    Parc-X Trio wins the TD Grand Jazz Prize, photo courtesy FIJM

    Parc-X Trio played the winning performance of the TD Grand Jazz Prize.  I was a judge.  We also appreciated the groups of saxophonist Cameron Wallis and trombonist Darren Sigesmund -- the later getting the Galaxie Prize as the contest's best composer.

    I especially enjoy arguing with fellow judge Martin Roussel from the jazzfest in Rimouski.  He'll have more than 50 concerts September 2-5, including some of Quebec's best -- Vic Vogel, Lorraine Desmarais, Alain Caron -- plus last year's FIJM contest winner (from BC) pianist Amanda Tossoff.

    Day 4, June 28th: Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez in the festival's flamenco series at Theatre Nouveau Monde.

    Day 5, June 29th: L'Evenement Special, the annual multi-media (and always edgy) spectacular of FIJM programmer Laurent Saulnier, always played free for 100K+ in the Place des Festivals: the trip-rock twosome Beast.

    Streetnix performs at FIJM
    Streetnix performs at FIJM

    Day 6, June 30th: Streetnix, my favorite of the festival's street bands, have played FIJM (saxophonist Jennifer Bell thinks) 23 years -- playing jazz (and sometimes rock or Raymond Scott) classics with the spirit of a NOLA second line and always amusingly.  Bill Mahar played "La Vie en Rose" on a coachman's horn -- looks like a shrunken French horn -- and "The Haitian Fight Song" featured 6' 7" (there was a contest to guess how tall) Christopher Smith on the tuba.  I was all the more amused by the typical jazzfest crowd, squatting or dancing in the gravel of the CBC Stage, photographing relentlessly, or meandering through for only a tune or two -- like the parade of miscellaneous Asian tourists or the woman with 8-10 (couldn't count, too fidgety) 3-year-olds on long pink ropes.

    Bobby McFerrin in the Theatre Maisonneuve, with composer/conductor Roger Treece and a local choir, re-created Bobby's Vocabularies album -- although the concert's highlight was Bobby's vocal variations on "Itsy Bitsy Spider" climaxing with Bobby conducting choir and audience through an  impromptu kaleidoscope of voices.

    French guitarist Christian Escoude played exquisitely the verse of "Stardust" before kicking off a swinging chorus, just for starters at the "Gypsie Planet" concert in the Theatre Maisonneuve.  Escoude showed his Romany blood, and his players included (showing his musical blood actually genetically) Django's grandson Daniel Reinhardt.

    Day 7, July 1st: "Punk Bop" in the Gesu, the best (for me) surprise of the festival, a jazz quartet playing pretty much straightahead, but with a refreshing (and somewhat nuclear) feeling for the dynamics of rhythm more than melodies.   Ari Hoenig at the drums often played the lead and was sensational, swinging so hard.

    Day 8, July 2nd: Robert Glasper played three Invitation concerts in the Gesu, including jamming and laughing with trumpeter Terence Blanchard.   Glasper quoted "Sleigh Ride" frequently for a chuckle,  but mostly was impressionistic at the piano.  Glasper and Blanchard deconstructed "Autumn Leaves" and, with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Kendrick Scott, climaxed with an arrangement of "Footprints" that became a master class of dynamics.  Blanchard sometimes played through a device that multiplied his trumpet, or he'd end a sequence with an electronic !

    Just a couple blocks from Place des Arts is the St James Church -- where Howard Moody resurrected an enormous church organ.  Four keyboards, plus foot pedals and about a hundred stops.  Several thousand pipes, from tiny whistles to 20' bellowers.  They discovered some of the pipes were clogged with plastic bags.  Moody, unplugged, played everything from the whispers of a pixie to seismic tremors, all with the charming soprano/baritone saxist John Surman.   They opened with what sounded like lovely  "Rain on the Window" and, as a tribute to the Dutch soccer team in the World Cup, re-created circus-like tunes of a street organ in Amsterdam.   One piece featured Surman's penny whistle like a bird stuck in a barn, with Moody's organ as a dyspeptic (and flatulent) bull.  They ended with spirituals -- a lovely hymnal "The River Is Wide" and a darkly soulful "I'm Troubled" -- with an encore of a joyous wedding march.

    Caravan Palace, photo courtesy FIJM
    Caravan Palace, photo courtesy FIJM

    That same evening's finale was a "concert surprise" on the big TD stage with the delightful hip-hop-swing group Caravan Palace.

    Day 9, July 3rd: John Scofield and the Piety Street Band in the Maisonneuve.  He's been playing Montreal since the first year with Miles Davis.  He's one of the players I've heard countlessly around the world and always plays best in Montreal.  Sco's New Orleans gospel group was perfectly in tune with this year's Mardi Gras spirit.  Sco's solo guitar on "Angel of Death" was frightening, and the "Big Army (of the Lord)" climax featured John Cleary's piano possessed.

    Day 10, July 4th: I celebrated America's birthday in the press room, wearing Cardinals red and singing to the press corps  "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" -- "le vrai" national anthem.

    FIJM artistic director Andre Menard said that if one could distill New Orleans into one person, it would be Allen Toussaint.  Toussaint played the first of three concerts in the Gesu, a solo recital.  Mostly, he reminisced, telling stories (and playing with a lyrical groove) his hits.  "Java."  "Mother-in-Law."  "Workin' in a Coal Mine."  Montreal's audience is always hip, as Toussaint observed when folks spontaneously sang along, including the whoop of "Coal Mine."  When he talked about how his songs became hits after covers by Bonnie Raitt, The Stones, et al, I only then realized how many of the hits were Toussaint's.  "Southern Nights" was a money-maker when covered by Glen Campbell, but on the recital, all the while playing the lyrical refrain, "Southern Nights" became a memoir of Toussaint's childhood.  He remembered growing up in New Orleans, remembered especially trips to visit relatives in the country, remembered the porch and the outhouse, remembered the laughter and the love of his family, but especially remembered how, without all the blinding lights of the city, the stars in the southern skies magically sparkled in the nights.

    cyndi
    Cyndi Lauper, photo courtesy FIJM

    That same night, Toussaint sat in with Cyndi Lauper, singing the blues at the festival's mostly seat-less joint Metropolis.  Chops she's got vocally, if not truly bluesfully.  Maybe something sounded...off about her show because she looked so silly in leopard pajamas with enormous hair.  "She looks like Phyliis Diller," said my Other Half.  Charley Musselwhite played harp in her band and was a treat, but Metropolis is always crowded, standing is not fun for anyone old, they sell undrinkable beer, and one sweats without actually dancing to the grooves -- so, the two songs with Toussaint were enough.

    I missed Toussaint the next night, re-creating his Bright Mississippi album with trumpeter Nicholas Payton and clarinetist Don Byron.   I was attending the festival's Concert de Cloture with the festival's contest-winning Parc-X Trio and the musician who turned me on to jazz and changed my life, Dave Brubeck. Brubeck's performance with the Quartet was, as always, majisterial.

    Toussaint starred on the festival's final night.  FIJM ended unusually on a Tuesday and so became a Fat Tuesday.  Andre Menard attended this year's Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  He'd never been before and was flabbergasted.  He actually acquired ten floats from the parade, trucked to Montreal for a parade on Ste Catherine, Main Street of the jazzfest.

    Giant heads of kings and queens!

    photo courtesy FIJM
    photo courtesy FIJM

    Also jesters!

    clown float
    photo courtesy FIJM

    A samba band!   A brass band!   A marching band of  drummers!   A stilt-walking crawfish!   Commedia clowns!  Scantily-dressed dancers!   (Beads everywhere but no toplessness.)  Bagpipers!  Carnaval drummers!  Giant marionettes of clowns!

    photo courtesy FIJM
    photo courtesy FIJM

    Girls turning somersaults! Girls throwing frisbees!  Mardi Gras Indians!  Giant heads of Dr John and Harry Connick Jr!   More giant puppets!  Another brass band!  And a trad band!   All ending at the corner of Place des Arts.

    Spectacle de Cloture, photo courtesy FIJM
    Spectacle de Cloture, photo courtesy FIJM

    Countless folks along the street.  Countless folks in the Place des Festivals.  And in the middle of the crowd, Zachary Richard on a platform played zydeco.  Soul Rebels Brass Band marched through the crowd, blasting funk, and were joined on the TD stage by the evening's other headliner, Trombone Shorty.  Shorty's own show was a sweaty whip-up of soulful grooves, including Shorty's NOLA-flavored "Shout" a la James Brown.

    Allen Toussaint -- "The High Priest of New Orleans Music," as his saxophonist shouted -- at last played a show of his own and other New Orleans classics.  "Yes We Can Can."  "Southern Nights."  Don Byron joined in a second line romp of Monk's"Bright Missisisppi."  A Pops-finale of "The Saints."   Some, but not all of the crowd, were dancing.  So much heat.  So much humidity.  Everyone, after a dozen great "Northern Nights" of music, was pooped.

    And then ...  a sky full of fireworks.

    Festival International de Jazz de Montreal happens next June 24th through the 4th of July, 2011.

    I'll be there.   My 19th ...

    "A la prochaine festival!"

  • FIJM -- to the last

    July 6, 2010. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Tempus fugit -- almost two weeks in Montreal, a blur of mostly wonderful music -- and I missed so much!

    It's a testament to the quantity and quality of Festival International de Jazz de Montreal that so much is happening, often at the same time,  that one cannot get to it all.

    Here's some of what was great (according to cats I know with great ears) that I missed:

    Ahmad Jamal (said to be one of the best concerts of this year's jazzfest)

    Ahmad Jamal, photo courtesy of FIJM
    Ahmad Jamal, photo courtesy of FIJM

    Sonny Rollins (’nuff said)

    Sonny Rollins
    Sonny Rollins

    Manhattan Transfer getting the FIJM Ella Fitzgerald Award

    Paolo Fresu and Manu Katche Invitation concerts at the Gesu

    El Cigala, flamenco singer (said to have a voice soulfully deep)

    Lorraine Desmarais,  playing a solo gig at a church  (and always a favorite of mine)

    I was not game for the encounter concert of Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, and John Zorn.  I missed a very rare instance of a Montreal audience reacting like a Berlin audience.  Booing.  I've never heard an angry boo in 18 years of FIJM concerts.    I don't really know what they were playing, but someone shouted that they were not playing music, and John Zorn cursed the shouter.  Many walked out and demanded money back.  Others stayed and (I was told) enjoyed.

    You can see and hear much of what's been happening at the jazz fest on the website montrealjazzfestival.com ...

    New and especially wonderful this year is the mediateque on the third floor of the festival building, a permanent archive of the festival's history.  They have more than three thousand CDs of festival favorites and discoveries through the years, more than twenty thousand photos, also jazz books and (I didn't realize there were) hundreds of jazz magazines from around the world.  What's most wonderful is the video archive of concerts, specials, and interviews from and about the festival from the beginning.  On any of the video screens, one can flashback to artists alphabetically listed, starting with BB King from the jazzfest's first year.  Miles Davis performances.  Oscar Peterson performances, including his last with lifelong friend Oliver Jones.  Altogether, they have more than 360 concerts from the last 30-plus years, and I'll be able to see and hear so many of the concerts I've missed and enjoy again so many triumphs.

    I'm sorry that I missed the (so it was said to be) wacky vaudeville of Emir Kusticura and the No Smoking Orchestra on the big TD Bank stage last night.

    I could not miss (at the same time last night) the festival's Concert de Cloture, the official festival farewell, opening with winners of this year's TD Grand Jazz Award.  I was a judge again this year, and (from the eight Canadian groups who competed) we voted as winners the Parc-X Trio, three young fellows from the Parc-X neighborhood of Montreal.   They'd come by for an interview on our WBGO broadcast just before they played for the contest on the CBC Stage.   What delighted me especially was that they played as one, often shifting tempos or dynamics quickly, as if thinking together.  They won $5K from TD Bank, 50 hours of studio time, an album deal with Effendi Records, gigs at next year's jazzfests in Rimouski, Quebec, and Zacatecas, Mexico, a concert next year at FIJM, and, on the fest's finale, these young cats were awed to be opening for Dave Brubeck.

    dave brubeck and alain simard
    Dave Brubeck and Alain Simard, photo courtesy of FIJM

    He's played the festival often through the years, mostly with the Quartet, but also performing with the resurrected Octet, orchestral works, and a mass.  Honoring Dave in his 90th year, festival president Alain Simard presented him FIJM's Miles Davis Award -- the trumpeter sculpted in bronze from a Miles self-portrait painting.  "It's heavy," said Dave at the press conference.  "And so was Miles," he laughed.  Charming as always, Dave talked about his friendship with Miles and what keeps him active.  "I get these phone calls," he said, and soon he's composing.  He's especially pleased with the orchestral piece he and son Chris created in the last year, inspired by Ansel Adams photos of America -- performed last spring at Lincoln Center with the orchestra from Temple.  He's dealing with two painful fingers, one with a bone spur at the tip that he numbs with NuSkin, the other with an awkward bend that he straightens with a brace -- but nothing stops Dave playing.  "I walk out on the stage and I get that adrenalin," he said, as he showed on the concert, right away jumping into a medley of his great friend Duke's songs.  "Over The Rainbow" was a highlight, with Bobby Militello stealing the show (as he often does) playing flute as if a bird flying cartwheels through the rainbow's colors.  "I've been asked to play some of the tunes from the Time Out albums," he said and he played "Three To Get Ready."  After an inexorably climactic "Take Five," the Quartet came back for an encore.  Walking on the arm of a stagehand, Dave came back to the mic and said, as he's always felt when playing Montreal, "You're an audience that makes me want to play."  And he played, with that look of joy always on the face of Dave Brubeck at the piano, "Show Me The Way To Go Home."

    I'm going home tomorrow -- after a blast of Mardi Gras tonight, complete with ten floats from New Orleans rolling along Ste Cat , and a finale with NOLA master Allen Toussaint.

    -- Michael Bourne

  • Being "Montreal"

    July 4, 2010. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    I've come to think of "Montreal" as an adjective.  FIJM presents music every year that evolves the spirit, the forms, the styles, the elements, the very character of jazz.  Darwinian evolution indeed, because only the fittest survive.  I've heard so often at FIJM artists endeavoring to play jazz in new and even epochal ways.  Not all do, but those that do always delight me best at the fest.


    Ibrihim Maalouf plays FIJM

    Ibrahim Maalouf, Lebanese 4-valve trumpeter, playing what I'd call Semitic BeBop, solos like calls to prayer, or burning straightahead like Fats Navarro at the bazaar.

    Daniel Mille, French accordionist, lyrical breath from the bellows, neo-musette gracefully swinging.

    Chano Dominguez, Spanish pianist with a great trio, plus a singer chanting from the depths of his soul and a dancer stomping like a whirlwind, flamenco meets Kind of Blue.

    Punk Bop, quartet of Ari Hoenig at the drums, often playing lead (and even the melody of "Moanin") with bassist Matt Penman, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, pianist Tigram Hamasyan, criss-crossing rhythms, an interplay of musical dynamics as much as melodies.  It's actually physically exciting hearing musicians playing with such a very real feeling of renewing and re-creating what jazz was and is and is becoming.

    Caravan Palace, a classic-style swing band (violin, clarinet, acoustic bass and guitar) with a beat-box, swinging that much harder, hip-hop Django, with an acrobatic (and sweetly sexy) singer, plus dancers goofily jitterbugging .

    vetex
    L'Orchestre International du Vetex, photo courtesy FIJM

    And then there's L'Orchestre International du Vetex, playing outdoors around the festival, playing as if Sousa down the rabbit hole: 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, a thundering tuba player, alto and baritone, an accordionist in a sparkling jacket and goggles, a drummer in a cocktail dress booming an almost relentless 4-beat on a bass drum wheeled in a surreal (Mercedes logo with a disembodied hand) pram, plus a bald (pink-headed from the sun) drummer crashing cymbals.  They dance, sometimes one by one, sometimes in a chorus, sometimes with the audience, sometimes just running around, solos from a melancholy saxist or a trumpeter blasting musical confetti,  a circus parade from Wonderland, actually from Belgium...and very Montreal.

    -- Michael Bourne