WBGO Blog
  • Miles of FIJM

    July 3, 2010. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Maison du Festival (House of the Festival) is an old building that's been resurrected as the permanent festival headquarters.  It's right next to Place des Arts, and in all the big windows are photos of the musical superstars who`ve played FIJM: Oscar Peterson, Leonard Cohen, Jobim et al.    Up in the top right corner of the gallery is Miles Davis, the artist who exemplifies the Montreal Jazz Festival more than any other.  His singular artistry.  His iconic style.  His re-inventing of jazz through so many epochal changes.  I remember Andre Menard, artistic director of the jazzfest, telling me that  he`s rarely been so awestruck as that first meeting when Miles came to play Montreal in 1982.   Miles played the jazzfest four years in the 80`s, and even now, almost 20 years since his passing, his presence radiates around the jazzfest.  Especially this year.

    Miles Davis"We Want Miles," a multi-media retrospective of his life and his art, his reality and his legend, is showing  at Montreal`s Musée des Beaux Arts and is the most definitive (and awestriking) retrospective of a musician I`ve ever experienced.   Collaborating with the Cité de la Musique and first presented in Paris, MBA`s show tells the story -- really, there`ve been so many, stories -- of Miles chronologically from his youth around St Louis through his life around the world.  Photos.  Videos.   TV interviews.  Press articles.  DownBeat covers.  Album covers, including alternates.  Manuscripts and notes from recording sessions.  More photos.  More videos.  His colorful clothes.  His actual instruments, including the flugelhorn Miles played on Miles Ahead that looks like a mutant cornet.  (Wallace Roney contributed several trumpets to the exhibition.)  And, resounding throughout, his music.  Cubicles focus on the most important albums and changes in his music.  Kind of Blue, with Trane`s tenor from the session.   Miles Ahead, with a video of Miles and Gil Evans with the orchestra.  Most compelling for me was a video of Miles at the Isle of Wight, the band with the future stars from the band -- Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette -- but it`s mostly Miles, close-up, sweating, intensely splattering bursts of melody through the groove.  An earlier display features a video of Miles and French stars of the latter 40`s, when Miles recorded the soundtrack to Ascenseur pour l`Echafaud and was appreciated greatly by the French intelligentsia -- while up against ignorance and racism back home.  An ironic video of a Miles interview from the 70`s  encapsulates the absurdity of the media about Miles, that even someone insightful and (relative to most TV journalists back then) hip as Harry Reasoner just didn`t get it.  He keeps talking about drugs.  He keeps asking about gossip more than the artistry of Miles.  Miles answers with a most devastating twinkle in his eyes.  And then there`s Miles as a painter.  Anne Eschapasse from the Musée des Beaux Arts sees his paintings stylistically between the abstract and the figurative.  They`re colorful, cartoonish, and seem to prefigure the graphological Basquiat paintings included in the show.  Miles himself said that "a painting is music you can see, and music is a painting you can hear."   "We Want Miles" you can see and hear at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through August 29th.

    -- Michael Bourne

  • Chano, Wallace, radio.vienna.string.quartet, Lorraine Desmarais wrap-up

    July 3, 2010. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Parting thoughts

    Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis as inspirations, a European connection, high production values, beautiful theaters -- this is the Montreal Jazz Festival. All came together on Monday night, June 27, at 8:00. The setting -- Theatre du Nouveau Monde -- is like a Broadway house in modern materials.

    Chano Dominguez
    Chano Dominguez

    The lead artist was Chano Dominguez, pianist from Spain, with his trio, a flamenco dancer and a keening singer. Twentieth century Spanish compositions led into Dominguez's "Flamenco Sketches," an homage to Miles's Kind of Blue through a new prism, with claps rather than snaps. Dominguez is on top of the beat and exciting; he raises off the bench. Joaquim Grillo is the brooding, twirling, black-booted dancer, unpredictable and a little violent as his heel smacks the floor. "Poinciana" was the second encore. An amazing concert! Read more

  • Beast and the Bees (?) at FIJM

    July 2, 2010. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Just as usual back home, I forget what day it is.  I've been at the Montreal jazzfest 8 days -- or 9?  (One sign you've been a long time in a hotel is when the maid doesn`t re-arrange the room back to the standard set-up but leaves the trash can and chairs where you moved them.)  We finished broadcasting on Wednesday, and you can hear many of the interviews -- Bobby McFerrin, Manhattan Transfer, among jazzful others -- on this very blog.   Have a look at the wonderful photos by David Tallacksen -- and props to him for engineering our broadcasts so superbly.

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    Now that they have several bigger stages outdoors, the jazzfest presents more outdoor extravaganzas.  Les Grandes Evenements.  Used to be one on the  Tuesday in the middle of the jazzfest.  Now they have three or more during the festival.  This year opened with more than 100,000 folks swing-rocking (or rock-swinging? ) to the big band of guitarist Brian Setzer.  This year`s finale will be a Mardi Gras party with Allen Toussaint, Trombone Shorty, and floats from NOLA.  Laurent Saulnier, VP of programming -- I call him VP of The Edge -- produces the mid-fest event, multi-media cross-musical blow-outs that don`t stretch the envelope musically.  Laurent`s shows set the envelope on fire.  Like the midnight shows at Club Soda, the mid-fest events offer electronics and dj`s, multi-culti rhythms, nouveau-divas, hip-hoppers, trip-hoppers, and whatever-they-call-new-groovers.

    Beast performs for thousands
    Beast performs for thousands

    This year came Beast, a Montreal twosome whose songs encorporate all of the above, plus (in projections and, eventually, costumes) bees.   Beast features singer Betty Bonifossi, first known for the Oscar-nominated soundtrack to The Triplets of Belleville.  I remember another grand event when the dj Champion was playing turntables and other electronic whizbangs under plastic sheets in the rain -- Betty was on a roof nearby out-singing the storm.  Bonifassi`s chops are flabbergastingly powerful and, even without amps, are louder than Joshua`s trumpet.  She sings through a double-mic, one with echo and other effects, but mostly needs no effects.  Bonifassi sings darkly, deeply -- I scribbled adjectives like "dramatic," " operatic,"  and always amazingly in tune.   Her musical other half is Jean-Phi Goncalves, drummer, electronicat,  and (through a police megaphone) rapper, with a stage presence as animated as the event`s projections of bees, gears, stars, and other  motion pictures.    I didn't know until after the event that he used to play with the group Plaster.

    Years ago at Club Soda, Laurent Saulnier challenged me to hear Plaster, a trio of keyboards, bass, and drums, all also playing electronics.  Through  mostly funky grooves, they improvised solos and riffs with noises and samples,  including a quote from a politician`s speech.  I realized suddenly, as they layered riffs on riffs, all with a foot-patting momentum, that what they were doing musically was very like the Basie band in the 30's.   Jazz, I'm thinking,  is a cultural consciousness more than a music.  Jazz, I've observed,  evolves, encorporates, and, generation after generation, changes.   Nowhere moreso than at FIJM.   I started listening to more of the "Edge" artists and soon could recognize which were doing something creatively new and which were playing what were already cliches and jive.

    Those in the media who whine that Montreal`s jazzfest doesn`t have enough jazz are not listening.  (I was asked once by a radio reporter "Why can`t you hear jazz at the jazzfest?" just as a New Orleans second line was strutting by with some barbecue.)  Plaster, even with all the technological devices, was swinging.  And year after year, the Montreal jazzfest is re-defining jazz.

    Beast was a different animal musically.  Industrial-strength rhythmically.  Metal without the hair and stupidity.  Goofy at times.  Sweet even.  Then dramatic.   And cinematic.  I rarely knew what Bonifassi was singing about, or what language Bonifassi was singing in, but the power of her voice was sensational.  One song that I knew was "Four Women" --- and second only to Nina Simone herself, Bonifassi shouted the song's anger to the heavens.   Goncalves at the drums was joined through most of the show by an electric bassist with a two-octave keyboard built into the bass, also a guitarist, two (sorry to say unheard and so useless) back-up singers, and an occasional (not kidding, even through all the music`s thunder) string quartet.   Most surreal -- and there`s always something surreal in one of Laurent`s mega-vaudevilles -- as Bonifassi was singing her lungs out, out came,  in colorful peasant costumes and singing beautifully, Bulgarians.

    Beast played an encore dressed as mutant bees.  I never connected with their apian fetish, but I and more than 100,000 in the Place des Festivals happily buzzed.

    -- Michael Bourne