WBGO Blog
  • Bourne's Montreal: Saxophones Galore & Organ Grooves

    July 1, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Saturday, and the multitude of fest-goers appears all around Place des Arts.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    My own multitude of things to do begins with an interview. Charles Lloyd amazes me. His memory is phenomenal, especially for someone who's been so many theres and done so many thats.

    Charles Lloyd with Michael Bourne and Simon Rentner
    Charles Lloyd with Michael Bourne and Simon Rentner

    Just talking about music, in 20 minutes he was remembering playing more than 70 years -- and remembering the countless masters and friends he's played with, learned from, been inspired by, or just known since then: Miles Davis, Chico Hamilton, Bela Bartok, Phineas Newborn Jr, Bobby Bland, Roscoe Gordon, Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Michel Petrucianni, Howlin' Wolf, and The Beach Boys. Among stellar musical others.

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    Photo by Denis Alix

    Charles seems to be quite comfortable at the center of his universe. And just for a twist, only minutes after listening to Charles tell a story about when he was 13 and was playing with Bobby Bland, a blues band on one of the bigger scenes plays the first of Bobby's greatest hits: "Further On Up The Road."

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    Photo by Jimmy Katz

    Montreal is just up the road from New York, a flight of an hour and change -- but it feels like Europe. Without the jet lag. Lots of music resounds from noon to midnight, indoors and outdoors. Highlights for me from Saturday night: Joshua Redman, with a quartet and strings at the Symphonic Hall, played mostly (and beautifully) ballads from his newest album.

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    Photo by Denis Alix

    Wayne Shorter was celebrating his 80th birthday with a 4-hour concert at a theatre next door. "It's a special purgatory for me," said Joshua to the audience, filled to spectacular rafters. "I can't go hear Wayne Shorter. And," he laughed, "why are you all here?" Joshua's quartet with strings at least played Shorter's "Infant Eyes" exquisitely, and Joshua's a cappella verse into "Stardust" was likewise.

    Wayne Shorter by ULB
    Wayne Shorter by ULB

    Gesu Centre de Creativité, or, as I always say, "The Jesus," is my favorite festival venue in Montreal, an intimate theatre in the Gesu church on a block off the Place des Arts. Whoever is playing at 10:30, the "Jazz dans la nuit" concerts, I go and I enjoy.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Hard to believe, but organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and drummer Bill Stewart have been playing together more than 20 years. And it shows in the lively interplay that, for an organ trio, swings more than grooves.

    Bill Stewart by Denis Alix
    Bill Stewart by Denis Alix

    "I Never Knew" was a charmer early on. "We've been playing this for years," said Larry, "but I don't know who wrote it." (Gus Kahn and Ted Fio Rito in 1925.) Jobim's "Luiza" was a gorgeous treat. And an encore of "The Acrobat" was especially... acrobatic.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Peter Bernstein by Denis Alix
  • Bourne's Montreal: Prizes For Charles Lloyd, Holly Cole

    June 30, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Charles Lloyd was honored with the jazzfest's annual Miles Davis Award, a very heavy statue of Miles playing.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    And right away Charles started telling stories... about knowing Miles and playing with Miles, about growing up in Memphis and playing gigs as a kid, with piano legend Phineas Newborn Jr, with hometown blues masters like Bobby Bland and Roscoe Gordon.

    Each of the stories whirled into another, delightfully. "You tell stories like you play," said the jazzfest's artistic director, Andre Menard.

    Charles_Lloyd@FIJM_Denis ALix007-9
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Charles Lloyd is one of this year's Invitees, playing three concerts with three groups: one with a quartet, another with the trio Sangam, and duets with guitarist Bill Frisell and pianist Jason Moran.

    Charles_Lloyd@FIJM_Denis ALix007-82
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Holly Cole was honored with the festival's annual tribute to a singer: the Ella Fitzgerald Award. She's performed at the Jazzfest 25 times through the years, and I've attended plenty of her concerts, each with a different feeling, all with her great style and, whatever she sings, serious jazziness.

    Holly_Cole@FIJM_Denis ALix008-34
    Photo by Denis Alix

    I remember especially an encore from a show in the 90's, a heart-breaking "Tennessee Waltz." I also enjoyed her last gig at FIJM, when the band was bluesier and her singing was earthier, a show feeling like a 50's movie, with Holly like Jane Russell as the chanteuse of a swank-ish joint in Macao.

    This year she sang three shows at the Theatre Nouveau Monde. "J'aime Montreal!" she beamed when handed the mounted microphone that's Ella's award. "I love the spirit of this city so much!"

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    She mostly sang songs from her newest album, Night, a record typically eclectically surprising. A doo-wop-ish (but hipper) "I Only Have Eyes for You." A brisk whirligig of "Charade." A dramatic "You Only Live Twice."

    She learned Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" ("If You Go Away") from her father, and he was there for her triumph. She swung "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," complete with a litany of other sensations of love: a poke in the eye, a stick in the spokes.

    So much of her signature is the unexpected twist of her arrangements, and her band played through all the twists with gusto. Several highlights featured guitarist (and electric mandolinist) Kevin Breitt, especially a funky "Waters of March."

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Joined at the climax by a gospel choir, The Praise and Worship Crew, she revisited one of her first hits, "I Can See Clearly Now." And most joyous was an encore of "Whistling Past The Graveyard."

    All the while each of her cats romped through ecstatic solos -- the electrifying Kevin Breitt, monster bassist George Koller, drummer Davide DiRenzo, saxophonist Johnny Johnson, and, with a final mini-rhapsody, her long-time pianist Aaron Davis -- Holly Cole smiled her heart out.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix
  • Bourne's Montreal: Day One With Pink Martini

    June 29, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    "Is this your first time?"

    She's a greeter, at the entrance below reception at the Hyatt Regency. She's one of the countless kids who work every summer at FIJM, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. Checking badges at the security posts. Checking bags for contraband beers. Grilling the hot dogs. Cleaning up the Herculean mess every night. Always cheerful. And so many of them not yet born when I first came here.

    "No," I said. "It's my TWENTY-first time."

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    FIJM is bigger than it was in 1992. Gargantuan. And that much more wonderful.

    Place des Arts now includes (somehow architecturally squeezed into where kids played and the jazzfest used to have little bistros) a grand and beautiful symphony hall.

    And the avenue alongside Place des Arts is now the year-round Quartier des Spectacles -- where the likes of Stevie Wonder and (this year) Feist can perform free for a hundred thousand folks dancing in the street. Even if it rains.

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    What was already evident, even when I first came, was how important the jazz festival is to the city's economy and (now world-wide) cultural identity as the City of Festivals.

    I can't think of any artists more ideal to open this (or any year's) festival than Pink Martini, artists as musically diverse as Montreal is ethnically diverse.

    I lost count of how many languages China Forbes was singing in, at least eight, and there's now a percussionist singing in Japanese. They played musical classics from everywhere. An orchestrally rhapsodic "Malaguena" for starters. "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas."

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    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    "Never on Sunday" in Greek. A romping dervish of a song in (I think) Arabic but reminding me of pop songs I once heard from the streets of Istanbul. A feature for the trombonist singing "She Was Too Good To Me" so tenderly, like Chet Baker. "Hey, Eugene" and other Pink Martini favorites.

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    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    Thomas Lauderdale, the virtuoso pianist and ringmaster of Pink Martini, welcomed the audience to come up and dance. And they came. A tall mannequin in killer shoes, showing off her curves. A suburban matron in sensible shoes, clutching her purse but otherwise bopping with abandon. Dozens of folks stumbling in the dark to get on the stage. Couples. Kids. All happy.

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    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    As one of the encores, China sang a lovely chanson song she's recorded with the chanteur, Georges Moustaki, and the audience sweetly sang along. And with the final encore, a full-tilt carnival of "Brazil," everyone all around and above in the W-P was standing, clapping, dancing.

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    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich