July 4, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
And on the Place des Spectacles, Streetnix was playing "Summertime." The Miles and Gil arrangement. Distilled for alto sax, trumpet, trombone, tuba, and drums. All of them in shorts. Everyone having fun.
Professors. Professionals. Year round they teach and play in a variety of bands. And every year since I first came to the jazzfest they've been a favorite ritual of mine.
I first heard Streetnix play in an abandoned amphitheatre leftover from the Olympics. They played, and the Vic Vogel big band played, to celebrate FIJM's 25th anniversary. I've heard them sometimes on empty lots turned into jazz venues. Really, lots of lots. And always hip. "From A to Z," as saxophonist Jennifer Bell says. "From Adderley to Zeppelin." I remember once quite literally. They played "Mercy Mercy." They played "Black Dog." In recent years, Streetnix have played on the festival street and they've marched together with a NOLA-style brass band.
This year they've been playing at one end of the Deambulatoire. Always fun. "My Feets Can't Fail Me Now." Always hip. "Stairway to Heaven." Yes, more Z!
"Bon soir," said John Pizzarelli, and my immediate thought was "Don't say sorry that's all the French I know." I hate that unfunny insult I've heard too often from performers, especially when performing in mostly Francophone Montreal. And he did say something to that effect, but to a much funnier (and actually respectful) affect. He talked about learning American schoolboy French, especially phrases in French that you learn and repeat in class but rarely (or never) speak again in real life. One exception was one I learned in the sixth grade. "Ou est le bureau de tabac?" "Where is the tobacco shop (but really meaning the newsstand)?" Decades after the sixth grade, I was in Paris and needed a token for the phone, and I knew I could get a token at a newsstand, so I asked someone (in American-accented French) "Ou est le bureau de tabac?" -- and I was stupefied, flashing back vividly to grade school. John's question asked about the zoo, and the audience roared, all of them also flashing back to grade school.
John thereafter was even funnier. About half of his concert was virtual stand-up. He talked about the songs. He wondered why the song "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" is sung so often upbeat. It's a sad song. "It's a song about a guy who missed the Saturday dance." John therefore sang sadly. And amusingly. He told stories especially about his upcoming album of Paul McCartney songs, about McCartney in a letter wanting John to record some of the post-Beatle songs, about McCartney being there as John recorded songs -- that John then sang at the theatre of Monument National in Montreal. "My Valentine" with a bossa feeling was a highlight. So was a Lennon-McCartney classic that John recorded when he first played the jazzfest in the early 90's, "I've Just Seen a Face." John's chops as a comedian, especially his razor-sharp timing, are as good as his masterful guitar playing. "John Pizzarelli Sings McCartney & More" was one of the most entertaining shows I've attended at the jazzfest, but he ended very differently, very touchingly, with a solo encore of a song as a memorial for the recent racist killings in SC, the Rodgers & Hammerstein song about bigotry, "You've Got to Be Taught."
Lorraine Desmarais played the late show, a beautiful (and biographical) solo piano recital in the Jesus Room. She's composed through the years pieces inspired by musicians and others she's loved in her life. Oscar Peterson inspired an Oscar-like flurry of notes. Chick Corea inspired a Chick-like quirky groove. Lorraine was a classical pianist when she started, and her variation on a Chopin classic was especially lovely and loving. Another highlight was a tango, inspired by a sexy tango teacher named Alberto. Lorraine sometimes gets so worked up when she plays that she'll often physically leap up. When remembering Alberto, as her fingers played the tango, her body danced the tango. Oliver Jones was an inspiration and was in the audience. Lorraine as an encore played Oliver's "One for Chuck."
© 2015 WBGO
July 3, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
July 1st is Canada Day, and no one I know around the jazzfest in Montreal cared. Only shop that I observed shut down in the Desjardins mall was a salad bar. I didn't even remember that it's a national holiday until a fellow at one of the outdoor shows walked by with a small maple leaf flag sticking out from his shirt collar. Two little flags, actually. It was 7:20PM.
Two last gigs were played in the festival's band competition. Again in the rain. The Florian Hoefner Group from Nova Scotia played a hip variation on a folk dance from Newfoundland. Hoefner's "Newfound Jig" we judges voted the Stingray "Rising Stars" award ($5 grand) for the best new composition in the contest. Our close-to-unanimous winner of the Gran Prix TD was the quintet of Quebecois trumpeter Rachel Therrien. She'd been rained out on Sunday, but then performed inside for we judges in the Balmoral restaurant of the Maison du Festival. I felt that having a band play for people eating and drinking and talking was like basic training with live ammunition, like the "real" life of jazz musicians playing in joints. Therrien's group showed oodles of poise and spunk, especially Rachel's a cappella trumpet solo. They won $5 grand, 50 hours of studio time, and gigs at the jazzfests of Rimouski, Quebec City, and the 2016 FIJM.
Jamie Cullum is a kaleidoscope on stage. I've enjoyed him every time he's played Montreal. I called him (last time at the jazzfest, in Down Beat) "the Charlie Parker of pop." Jamie can do it all: play, sing, dance, be funny, jazz, rock, pop, all of the above delightfully -- but by the time the Gran Prix judges were done deliberating, Jamie's show was mostly done. I enjoyed him instead in L'Astral.
Jamie, when he's not performing, is a "presenter" (what the Brits call a DJ) every week on BBC Radio 2. "BBC Introducing" and PRS For Music Foundation were presenting three groups from the UK, all unknowns playing for the first time away from the UK. Jamie welcomed everyone jammed into (for free) L'Astral, and jammed some himself. He drummed on the piano's wood, strummed on the strings, played the actual keys, and sang a frenzied "Please Don't Stop The Music." He talked about recently becoming a father and sang a new song about his daughter dreaming. He talked about "BBC Introducing" broadcasting unsigned new artists and intro'd the groups: Malaika, a charming Irish singer/songwriter; Peter Edwards, a pianist with a trio that reminded me of the rhythmically propulsive Ahmad Jamal; and a trio called Mammal Hands.
I'm rarely surprised as much by music as I was staggered by what Mammal Hands played. None of the three really played melodies. They all played riffs -- intensely! Jordan Smart on the tenor sax often played motifs of 5-7 notes, repeated incessantly and more and more loudly -- while pianist Nick Smart likewise played more percussively and drummer Jesse Barrett mostly thundered. Mammal Hands was unique -- and exhausting!
© 2015 WBGO
July 1, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
A Montreal Jazzfest Haiku:
Sun breaks through the clouds
Fountains gush at the jazzfest
Kids dance in the street
Place des Arts is the biggest performing arts center in Canada, and, like the jazz festival, gets bigger every year. Also better.
They've not only terraformed a street, a hill, and empty buildings into the Quartier des Spectacles and year-round Maison du Festival, they're now reconstructing the abandoned buildings next to the jazzfest "house" into what will be centers as impressive for film and ballet. I'm architecturally amazed how they somehow squeezed an enormous Symphonic Hall where there used to be festival eats and a playland for kids. And at the center of Place des Arts, although mostly seen from above, there's also a massive rebuilding on the roof over the promenade to the halls and shops below. Don't know what that's for.
Along with the landscaping and streetwork, installing the fountains and erecting the light poles, two very nice restaurants were opened in the Quartier des Spectacles, one French, one Portuguese. I opted for the latter's lunch, the cholesterol special, steak with a fried egg on top.
Folks everywhere in red, white, and blue ... shorts, shirts, sneakers, make-up. Especially on young women. So much is happening in Montreal, jazzfest, clownfest, I didn't realize the Women's World Cup was being played at The Big O, the erstwhile Olympic stadium that became the Expos baseball stadium where today Germany and the US are playing futbol. I've been where the jazzfests (and entire cities) have shut down for the final game. Istanbul. Vienna. Perugia. I've been in Montreal when the final game was being played. However loud was the music around Place des Arts, the honking and hooting of soccer fans driving around was louder. Today, not as much soccer noise for the women as for the men many times -- even though the American women beat Germany.
Drizzle came again, and we wetly judged a couple of bands. Between the judgings, Kurt Rosenwinkel was playing solo at the Gesu. Solo but technologically surrounded. A computer. A synthesizer. A footbank of doohickeys amplifying, echoing, playing an electronic beat. All, again, playing melodies going every which way.
I wondered if the heavier rain might shut down the Grande Evenement tonight: the folk-ish, classical-ish, jazz-ish, pop-ish Barr Brothers. I was indoors anyway for a farewell to the festival. Vic Vogel is an icon of Canadian jazz, as a composer, as a pianist, as a big band leader, and as a beloved-but-grouchy character. He's the only musician who's played FIJM year after year from the jump, and, at 80, tonight's concert was to be his last with his band. Sadly, he was too sick to be on stage at the Maisonneuve. Happily, he was videotaped welcoming everyone and introducing his band.
I first encountered Vic Vogel twenty years ago when the Jazz Journalists Association gathered in Montreal for a conference during the jazzfest. Vic came in and grumped at all of us, wanting to know why we American critics don't write much (if at all) about Canadian musicians. We didn't have an answer, but we deserved his wrath. Most of us didn't know who he was -- or, really, much at all about jazz above the 49th parallel. I got to hear his band during the festival's 25th anniversary. Some of us, along with governmental movers and shakers, were boated to an island in the river. There, in a concrete arena leftover from the Olympics decades ago, Vogel's band swung heartily. I've heard him since through the years and especially remember a concert when he celebrated Dizzy.
Some of the cats have played with Vogel for many years, including two of his best soloists, alto saxist Dave Turner and tenor saxist Andre Leroux. Filling in for Vogel was a who's who of Montreal piano, including Lorraine Desmarais and Oliver Jones. Together, they played highlights from Vogel's bandbook, including several of his arrangements of jazz classics -- "Con Alma," "Strollin'," "Giant Steps" -- and a ferocious "Georgia on My Mind" with blues singer Martin Deschamps.
Rain was done when I came out. A harpist (from the Barr Brothers) was loudly plucking. I walked back to the Gesu for an exquisite concert of accordionist Richard Galliano and guitarist Sylvain Luc playing songs of Edith Piaf. I could almost hear the hearts of all the folks who'd grown up loving Piaf's records. And at the last, they heartfully sang-along.
© 2015 WBGO