July 23, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
When Diana Krall first played the Montreal jazzfest 20 years ago, she was just getting started in her soon-to-be-skyrocketing career; she played a tribute to Nat Cole with Russell Malone on guitar, and Paul Keller on bass, in the bistro of the city's Comedy Museum, now long-closed.
That gig was one of the swinging-est performances I've ever heard. It's the concert I always remember first whenever I'm asked what have been my favorite musical moments through my 22 years at FIJM.
Every few years since then, she's returned to Montreal — each gig at a bigger venue - and every time, I catch the show.
This year, I got to reminisce with Diana during her Q&A with festival artistic director André Menard, which you can listen to here:
When still a newcomer, Diana played a lovely concert at Theatre Maisonneuve. Tony Bennett was singing that evening at the biggest venue, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Mid-way through his show, Tony called Diana onto the stage, sat her at the piano, held the microphone for her to sing, and in that moment virtually anointed Diana as a new keeper of the standards flame.
I was there that evening, and I’ve been there whenever she's played FIJM, including a show at the city's uncomfortably enormous hockey rink, the Bell Centre - where, as a surprise, her then-new husband Elvis Costello joined her onstage at the show’s climax.
Andre Menard, the festival's co-founder and always astute artistic director, suggested that Diana play a show solo for FIJM 2011, so she created a tribute to her beloved mom and dad.
Along with showing home movies and early cartoons, she decorated the stage with personal artifacts, including her dad's crank-up Victrola, and played songs of the 20s and 30s, from her dad's sheet music collection, that she practised as a child.
"I can still smell my dad's cigarette smoke," she said at the concert. Soon thereafter, she evolved the show into what became a tour of the album Glad Rag Doll.
For this year's mid-fest “grand event” or grand evenement, Diana bookended her tour for an audience of more than 100,000, mostly standing in the streets all around Place des Arts, with a group that included guitarist Marc Ribot and Karriem Riggins, the former drummer of her musical mentor, bassist Ray Brown.
Along with some of her favorite pop songs -- "Temptation" by Tom Waits, "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young, and several by Bob Dylan — she sang a deeply emotional "Let's Face The Music and Dance."
Husband Elvis Costello came on for the encores, which was inexorable, but not a surprise — he also played a solo concert, earlier that evening, at Montreal’s Symphony Hall. Having not seen each other, as both had been on tour, and with their twins away on a fishing trip, they actually flirted.
Then they sang duets - climaxed by a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet breath-taker, Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues."
© 2014 WBGO
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.
"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.
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.
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.
© 2014 WBGO
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
© 2014 WBGO