WBGO Blog
  • Dispatches from Montreal: Tony Bennett and More

    July 1, 2011. Posted by Michael Downes.

    Michael Bourne has spent his week in Montreal interviewing countless musicians at the world's largest jazz festival. Here are some highlights:

    Bourne Bennett

    Tony Bennett --

    Anouar Brahem --

    Marrianne Trudel --

    Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey--

    Lorraine Desmarais --

  • Montreal: Regina Carter .. have violin, will travel

    July 1, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Often a performer's first stop is the Jazz Festival press room, where they sign THE POSTER.

    Regina Carter's next stop, before her sound check, was at WBGO-in-Montreal. I asked her about the traveling. Regina carries the violin on her back, and Alvester Garnett - her husband and band mate - straps a cymbal case to his. They came up from Newark on a flight with WBGO's Thurston Briscoe.

    Here she plays "Artistiya" from the album Reverse Thread. Regina's dance/momentum is building at the fadeout.

    On Reverse Thread, Carter musically traces the sound of jazz to African folk tunes through the strings of her violin, the percussion, the kora or -- here in Montreal -- the Colombian harp, bass, and the natural-breathing music of the accordion. She talks about the kora --> harp substitution in this clip.

    -- Becca Pulliam

  • The Montreal Jazz Festival: Day 4, 6/27/11

    July 1, 2011. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    We happened into Sophie Desbiens, erstwhile handler of the festival press, now working on a flabbergasting exhibition of Indiana Jones at the Science Center on a quai of Montreal`s Old Port. I`ve known Jacques-Andre Dupont for years as the producer of FIJM festivals within the festival, especially the annual guitar expo. "I`m delegating this year," he said at the Indy show. He`s produced the show, "Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology." George Lucas, producer of the Indy movies, asked various exhibitors to present ideas. "We didn`t want to do a props show," said Jacques-Andre. "We wanted to show the real archaeology."

    Indy1_E

    Equipe Spectra, producers of the jazzfest, got the show, and indeed the show, presented with National Geographic, includes displays about real-life Indys: photos of famous archaeologists (the "rock stars" of National Geographic, the audio guide tells you) and artifacts they unearthed through the years in Mexico and Peru. Especially fascinating are the Nazca lines, enormous drawings ploughed into the earth that could only be seen by someone in space.
    Science, however, is not what you`re immediately blown away by. Steven Spielberg kicks off the first of the Indiana Jones movies with one of the greatest thrills ever on screen: Harrison Ford running from that giant ball. You see also the design for how that giant ball rolled. IND-018_Props_Graal_editedAnd you see the actual golden idol that Indy was running with. And the actual golden ark! And the hat! And the whip! All the costumes, props, drawings, and other moviemaking memorabilia from the four Indiana Jones movies, including the last movie`s crystal skull, come from the movies. "They have real museum curators at Lucasfilm," said Jacques-Andre. They`ve picked clips from the movies perfectly: Karen Allen punching Harrison Ford, Nazi faces melting (still scares my grandson) when they look into the Ark, alongside the grails, Sean Connery`s notebook, Cate Blanchett`s sword, and the kid`s vintage Harley.

    k.d. lang sang with her rock/country/whatever band Sis Boom Bang in the big hall. I was late from judging and missed what everyone says was her soul-staggering performance of Leonard Cohen`s "Hallelujah," but I was staggered aplenty myself by all the songs I heard. lang`s voice is phenomenal -- as iconic, sez Tony Bennett, as Billie Holiday`s or Edith Piaf`s. So purely (and all the more powerfully) she sings. So enraptured on the stage (and enrapturing) she is. Having fun, and funny. As she strapped on a banjo, she warned the audience that a potential tide of women might rush the stage. "I have discovered," she said, "that the banjo is a chick magnet." "Constant Craving" was the highlight for me. And some wacky down home stomping. "We`re pretty good," she said, thanking everyone for coming, "but we`re only as good as you in the seats."
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    Esperanza Spalding played the Maisonneuve. On stage before a curtain was a comfy chair with a light and a table with fruit and a bottle of wine. Out she came from the dark, turned on the light, pulled off her shoes, poured herself some wine, and, in the comfy chair, listened to strings from the darkness. Up came the curtain and strings were playing, two violins and a cello. Esperanza walked, barefoot, to the bass center stage, and she howled. Hauntingly, like a wolf, but more melodiously legato, and with a groove. Esperanza`s (in effect) chamber musical re-created her Chamber Music Society album with mostly worldless chanting. Beautiful, the music was. Surreal, the performance was. Still, after a while, the dreaminess became sleepiness, and one ached for music more propulsive. "Wild Is The Wind" was the only standard, sung (somewhat) wildly. "Inutil Passagem" was the highlight for me, with Esperanza and the solo singer in her group creating a McFerrinesque bubbling, as if surf splashing on Jobim`s lonely beach.

    --Michael Bourne

  • The Montreal Jazz Festival: Day 3, 6/26/11

    July 1, 2011. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Babies! Everywhere! In strollers. On shoulders. Underfoot. Running! Everywhere! I`ve never seen so many little kids. Or so many pregnant women. All around the Montreal jazzfest, a whole new generation of jazz lovers is blossoming.

    Pizzadelic, St Denis, darker, different beer. (Boreale rousse. I drink the very good Quebecois "red" beer of Montreal.) One traditional pizza: chevre et noix, goatcheese and walnuts, tomatoes and black olives. One new pizza: Diabolito, cheddar (!) and spinach, merguez sausage and black olives.

    We have the best view ever from the Hyatt, high and overlooking all of Place des Arts. We can see and hear (muffled only somewhat by the window) all the events on Place des Spectacles. We can see the cross Maisonneuve planted atop Mont Royal. We can see the Olympic stadium where I enjoyed Expos baseball in French. "Circuit! Circuit!" ("Seer-Kwee" for a homer.) Les Expos now are all-American Nationals in DC. And the stadium, with the iconic angled tower, looking like an open stapler, is a giant sculpture on the skyline.

    Down below on the Place des Spectacles, I could see one of my musical treats every year at the jazzfest: Streetnix playing in the street, as they have for ... ever at the jazzfest. Jennifer Bell on alto sax, Bill Mahar on trumpet, Dave Grott on trombone, Christopher Smith on tuba, and Jim Doxas with a snare on a strap. They play (delightfully) everything, as Jennifer says, from A to Z, from Adderley to Zeppelin. They marched with Mingus, "Haitian Fight Song," and a moment of Charles Ives-ness happened: Streetnix playing Mingus meeting Swing Tonic (or Tonic Swing, one or the other word on their hats) marching to New Orleans. They circled each other and together whipped up "Caravan."

    George Wein and the Newport All-Stars played in the Jesus Room, with Randy Brecker, Lew Tabackin, Anat Cohen, Howard Alden, Peter Washington, and Lewis Nash. They played jazz standards we`ve all heard countlessly, but brightly as if new, and all ways swinging.

    George was honored at the jazzfest this year with the Prix Bruce Lundvall, honoring not a musician but someone who`s contributed mightily to the music. Andre Menard, FIJM artistic director, laughed in his intro that George is obviously a musician, but he`s contributed especially as the godfather of all jazz festivals. wein-smallerGeorge remembered when Andre and FIJM president Alain Simard first talked with him about starting the jazzfest in Montreal. And now, after 32 years, Festival International de Jazz de Montreal plays on. George is very proud of his festive offspring and also thanked, in the audience, Bruce Lundvall.

    George delights in having Lewis Nash at the drums, and Lewis played a solo with brushes, sounding like a velvet machinegun. Lew Tabackin danced on the tenor sax and danced literally as he played. Anat Cohen stole the show with "Memories of You." Anat`s command of the clarinet is formidable, at once muscular and beautiful.

    Anat`s quartet played late at the Jesus Room. I love that she meanders the stage as the band plays, laughing when she hears a phrase she likes or feels a groove she likes. Anat`s "twisted" (she said) arrangement of "Jitterbug Waltz," danced jitteringly. "Last Night When We Were Young" featured Bruce Barth at the piano, exquisitely. "You made me cry," Anat said to Bruce. Howard Alden was welcomed as a guest on a romping "After You`ve Gone" and a lovely Anat/guitar duet of "Nuages." After scorching a climax, they came back with a Brazilian encore, (I think it was) Pixinguinha`s "Um a Zero." "It`s about soccer" said Anat, an artist I`ve enjoyed for a while but never have experienced so wonderfully -- as often happens -- at FIJM.

    -- Michael Bourne

  • FIJM Day Two 6/25/11

    June 26, 2011. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Ben L'Oncle, photo: Jean-F Leblanc
    Ben L'Oncle, Photo: Jean-F Leblanc

    Il pleut. For five minutes, rain. For ten minutes, rain. Or, suddenly, bright sunshine. For five minutes. Montreal was meteorologically schizoid this day. And two of my shows were outside.

    Some of my favorite eateries have gone, but Moishe's lives on -- founded 1938 in the Jewish section of St Laurent, just along the block from the world-renowned smoked meat (Quebecois pastrami) of Schwartz's. Moishe's is old-fashioned, elegant-but-not-dressy, and indeed Jewish: rye bread, pickles, and serious cole slaw on the table just for starters. I always have the sirloin steak and the famous Monte Carlo potato (baked, then mashed, back into the skin, and baked again). One of the great dinners of Montreal.

    I'm a judge (umpteenth time) for the Grand Prix de Jazz, now sponsored by TD Bank. Ten groups from across Canada compete for $5K, studio time and a record deal with the label Effendi, a gig on the big TD stage at the end of the jazzfest, also gigs at the festivals in Rimouski (on the Quebec coast), in Zacatecas, Mexico, and next year in Montreal. We're wrangled by Genevieve Venne, very professional and very nice. What's always somewhat weird about judging is that we're seated up front at the outdoor stages, clipboards in hand, scribbling notes as the band plays and sees us, then, after 30 minutes, we all get up and walk out. The Jon Roney Trio, piano, electric bass, and an edgy drummer, played first. Nine more groups to hear over the next week.

    Ben L'Oncle Soul played the first of three Grande Evenements on the place des Festivals, once a main street alongside Pace des Arts, but now a year-round performance venue, with light towers, a grassy knoll, fountains by day, and space enough for 100K or so festgoers standing and usually rocking. Ben L'Oncle Soul, a French pop star, sang (mostly in French) 60's-sounding soul songs and one Motown standard, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," looking like James Brown meets Pee Wee Herman: funny hat, red pants, jumping around the grooves, with dancer/singer/sidekicks in knickers.

    Brad Mehldau played solo at the Jesus (the Gesu cultural center in a church just off the Place des Arts), the best (sez me) of all the Montreal festival venues, small-ish and intimate, ideal for solo piano. Brad Mehldau was phenomenal from the first, playing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and, as on most of the concert, creating a rush of sound from repeated notes or phrases. So much of what (or how) he played sounded to me like powerful water -- now an eddy, now a whirlpool, at the climax a deep and frightening Charybdis. I was remembering Ira Gitler calling Coltrane's playing "sheets of sound." Mehldau was playing "tides of sound." Including some serious riptides -- although, ironically, intense as his playing became, he actually felt "subdued" by the piano. "It's kind of an old lady," he said of the piano. "I really want to tear it a new asshole." He played instead a "subdued" and lovely "Blackbird." "My Favorite Things" and a very dark "Hey, Joe" were other song he played that I knew. "I think I played something by Radiohead," he said. What he played at the end, one of his several encores, was like nothing I've ever heard from a piano. No devices. Nothing electronic. With hands, arms, and power Mehldau whipped up a maelstrom of sound, almost deafening, and through the storm came a melody, each note like a bird escaping the storm. Festgoers kept screaming for more, but, after hearing music so overwhelming, I'd heard more than enough.

    Brad Mehldau plays duets with Joshua Redman Sunday evening, but that's one of the many concerts I have to miss. I'll be hearing plenty of other music elsewhere at the jazzfest. And that's a hallmark of Festival International de Jazz de Montreal: that you don't get to hear as much great music as you get to hear.

    --Michael Bourne