• FIJM -- to the last

    July 6, 2010. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Tempus fugit -- almost two weeks in Montreal, a blur of mostly wonderful music -- and I missed so much!

    It's a testament to the quantity and quality of Festival International de Jazz de Montreal that so much is happening, often at the same time,  that one cannot get to it all.

    Here's some of what was great (according to cats I know with great ears) that I missed:

    Ahmad Jamal (said to be one of the best concerts of this year's jazzfest)

    Ahmad Jamal, photo courtesy of FIJM
    Ahmad Jamal, photo courtesy of FIJM

    Sonny Rollins (’nuff said)

    Sonny Rollins
    Sonny Rollins

    Manhattan Transfer getting the FIJM Ella Fitzgerald Award

    Paolo Fresu and Manu Katche Invitation concerts at the Gesu

    El Cigala, flamenco singer (said to have a voice soulfully deep)

    Lorraine Desmarais,  playing a solo gig at a church  (and always a favorite of mine)

    I was not game for the encounter concert of Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, and John Zorn.  I missed a very rare instance of a Montreal audience reacting like a Berlin audience.  Booing.  I've never heard an angry boo in 18 years of FIJM concerts.    I don't really know what they were playing, but someone shouted that they were not playing music, and John Zorn cursed the shouter.  Many walked out and demanded money back.  Others stayed and (I was told) enjoyed.

    You can see and hear much of what's been happening at the jazz fest on the website montrealjazzfestival.com ...

    New and especially wonderful this year is the mediateque on the third floor of the festival building, a permanent archive of the festival's history.  They have more than three thousand CDs of festival favorites and discoveries through the years, more than twenty thousand photos, also jazz books and (I didn't realize there were) hundreds of jazz magazines from around the world.  What's most wonderful is the video archive of concerts, specials, and interviews from and about the festival from the beginning.  On any of the video screens, one can flashback to artists alphabetically listed, starting with BB King from the jazzfest's first year.  Miles Davis performances.  Oscar Peterson performances, including his last with lifelong friend Oliver Jones.  Altogether, they have more than 360 concerts from the last 30-plus years, and I'll be able to see and hear so many of the concerts I've missed and enjoy again so many triumphs.

    I'm sorry that I missed the (so it was said to be) wacky vaudeville of Emir Kusticura and the No Smoking Orchestra on the big TD Bank stage last night.

    I could not miss (at the same time last night) the festival's Concert de Cloture, the official festival farewell, opening with winners of this year's TD Grand Jazz Award.  I was a judge again this year, and (from the eight Canadian groups who competed) we voted as winners the Parc-X Trio, three young fellows from the Parc-X neighborhood of Montreal.   They'd come by for an interview on our WBGO broadcast just before they played for the contest on the CBC Stage.   What delighted me especially was that they played as one, often shifting tempos or dynamics quickly, as if thinking together.  They won $5K from TD Bank, 50 hours of studio time, an album deal with Effendi Records, gigs at next year's jazzfests in Rimouski, Quebec, and Zacatecas, Mexico, a concert next year at FIJM, and, on the fest's finale, these young cats were awed to be opening for Dave Brubeck.

    dave brubeck and alain simard
    Dave Brubeck and Alain Simard, photo courtesy of FIJM

    He's played the festival often through the years, mostly with the Quartet, but also performing with the resurrected Octet, orchestral works, and a mass.  Honoring Dave in his 90th year, festival president Alain Simard presented him FIJM's Miles Davis Award -- the trumpeter sculpted in bronze from a Miles self-portrait painting.  "It's heavy," said Dave at the press conference.  "And so was Miles," he laughed.  Charming as always, Dave talked about his friendship with Miles and what keeps him active.  "I get these phone calls," he said, and soon he's composing.  He's especially pleased with the orchestral piece he and son Chris created in the last year, inspired by Ansel Adams photos of America -- performed last spring at Lincoln Center with the orchestra from Temple.  He's dealing with two painful fingers, one with a bone spur at the tip that he numbs with NuSkin, the other with an awkward bend that he straightens with a brace -- but nothing stops Dave playing.  "I walk out on the stage and I get that adrenalin," he said, as he showed on the concert, right away jumping into a medley of his great friend Duke's songs.  "Over The Rainbow" was a highlight, with Bobby Militello stealing the show (as he often does) playing flute as if a bird flying cartwheels through the rainbow's colors.  "I've been asked to play some of the tunes from the Time Out albums," he said and he played "Three To Get Ready."  After an inexorably climactic "Take Five," the Quartet came back for an encore.  Walking on the arm of a stagehand, Dave came back to the mic and said, as he's always felt when playing Montreal, "You're an audience that makes me want to play."  And he played, with that look of joy always on the face of Dave Brubeck at the piano, "Show Me The Way To Go Home."

    I'm going home tomorrow -- after a blast of Mardi Gras tonight, complete with ten floats from New Orleans rolling along Ste Cat , and a finale with NOLA master Allen Toussaint.

    -- Michael Bourne

  • Being "Montreal"

    July 4, 2010. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    I've come to think of "Montreal" as an adjective.  FIJM presents music every year that evolves the spirit, the forms, the styles, the elements, the very character of jazz.  Darwinian evolution indeed, because only the fittest survive.  I've heard so often at FIJM artists endeavoring to play jazz in new and even epochal ways.  Not all do, but those that do always delight me best at the fest.

    Ibrihim Maalouf plays FIJM

    Ibrahim Maalouf, Lebanese 4-valve trumpeter, playing what I'd call Semitic BeBop, solos like calls to prayer, or burning straightahead like Fats Navarro at the bazaar.

    Daniel Mille, French accordionist, lyrical breath from the bellows, neo-musette gracefully swinging.

    Chano Dominguez, Spanish pianist with a great trio, plus a singer chanting from the depths of his soul and a dancer stomping like a whirlwind, flamenco meets Kind of Blue.

    Punk Bop, quartet of Ari Hoenig at the drums, often playing lead (and even the melody of "Moanin") with bassist Matt Penman, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, pianist Tigram Hamasyan, criss-crossing rhythms, an interplay of musical dynamics as much as melodies.  It's actually physically exciting hearing musicians playing with such a very real feeling of renewing and re-creating what jazz was and is and is becoming.

    Caravan Palace, a classic-style swing band (violin, clarinet, acoustic bass and guitar) with a beat-box, swinging that much harder, hip-hop Django, with an acrobatic (and sweetly sexy) singer, plus dancers goofily jitterbugging .

    L'Orchestre International du Vetex, photo courtesy FIJM

    And then there's L'Orchestre International du Vetex, playing outdoors around the festival, playing as if Sousa down the rabbit hole: 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, a thundering tuba player, alto and baritone, an accordionist in a sparkling jacket and goggles, a drummer in a cocktail dress booming an almost relentless 4-beat on a bass drum wheeled in a surreal (Mercedes logo with a disembodied hand) pram, plus a bald (pink-headed from the sun) drummer crashing cymbals.  They dance, sometimes one by one, sometimes in a chorus, sometimes with the audience, sometimes just running around, solos from a melancholy saxist or a trumpeter blasting musical confetti,  a circus parade from Wonderland, actually from Belgium...and very Montreal.

    -- Michael Bourne

  • 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