July 12, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.
"Tell everyone how good the musicians are in this city," said Oliver Jones about the big band playing on his farewell concert. Oliver even pointed out a favorite Quebcoise artist in the audience, pianist and composer Lorraine Desmarais. Some of the players with Oliver, long-time best of the jazz scene up yonder, also played at the jazzfest with Lorraine's big band and for the "Great Event" of Jamie Cullum. Some of them, including Canadian masters honored with the festival's Oscar Peterson Award, also played their own gigs. Ron DiLauro, trumpeter and (for the first time ever on stage) singer, celebrated Chet Baker at the Gesu. Francois Bourassa and Marianne Trudel played a flabbergasting (like shrapnel from an exploding hornet's nest) twin-piano tribute to Paul Bley at the Gesu, and Trudel's own group featured Ingrid Jensen, one of the best trumpet players anywhere. That she's now living in New Jersey means that Ingrid is one of the few players from above now able to play below the 49th Parallel. That so many of the superb Canadian players and singers I've enjoyed in Montreal rarely ever -- or never -- get gigs in the US is a bureaucratic shame of the governments on both sides of the Jazz Wall. That he so often praised his fellow musicians at his own tribute showed certainly why Oliver Jones is so loved in the Montreal (and all across Canada) jazz scene.
Oliver was "vraiment chez nous," happy to be at home, he said, after a farewell tour of Canada, including gigs in the Yukon. Now at the Maison Symphonique, with his trio and a big band, Oliver was playing his last gig at the jazz festival. "I remember his farewell concert...in 1999," said artistic director Andre Menard, welcoming everyone. I remember that first farewell also, a solo concert at Monument National. Oliver played a delightful recital, thanked everyone for his musical life, and then said "What would you like to hear?" Song titles erupted from the audience, and Oliver played a half hour of requests. I've been to the jazzfest 24 years and that's my all-time favorite memory–along with one of the festival's truly legendary events, when Oscar Peterson played his last concert in 2004. Oscar's sister Daisy was Oscar's teacher and also taught piano to the kid a dozen doors down the block, Oliver. They'd known each other all their lives but never played piano together until that night. I was there that night and for several more Oliver Jones concerts thereafter in Montreal. Now, he was saying he was seriously done with playing...after this one more time at FIJM.
Oliver's long-time trio played first, with Eric Lagace on bass and Jim Doxas on drums. Oscar's presence was a light that beamed through Oliver's life and through his swan song, especially when the trio played tunes of or inspired by Oliver's friend and inspiration: "Cakewalk," and "You Look Good To Me." Lively. Lyrical. After they played a buoyant "Honeysuckle Rose," Eric Lagace laughed that "we've both played that song a thousand times, but never together." Jim Doxas was in the spotlight for a calypso. Oliver's Gershwin medley was climactic, but the finale of every Oliver Jones show has been an anthem, Oscar's heart-lifting "Hymn to Freedom."
Christine Jensen, an always imaginative composer and arranger, fronted the big band for the show's other half (There's always a battle of the bands at the end of FIJM). This year's battle pitted the Glenn Miller band against the Cab Calloway band (I think there'd be a helluva "take no prisoners" jazz showdown if Christine's band battled the Maria Schneider band). Oliver and the big band played hiply-arranged standards: "The Way You Look Tonight," and "Swinging on a Star," a piece dedicated to Oliver's friend (and Montreal's jazz guru) Len Dobbin, more tunes (and memories) of Oscar, and a finale of Oliver's "Blues for Helene." "This is a true message," said Oliver before an encore of "Love Is Here To Stay."
I remember Oliver telling me that when he was a kid, he didn't play baseball; he listened at the window to Oscar practicing. I asked him at the farewell press conference if he'd ever regretted not playing baseball. "I'd have made more money," he said, but he's happy that he became a musician. "To play at home for you," he said to the audience that night, was his greatest joy.
© 2016 WBGO
July 10, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.
6PM...a great concert at L'Astral: trumpeter Jacques Kuba Seguin plays with his trio, including Frederic Alarie playing the bass of Scott LaFaro, and a string quartet, a tapestry of beautiful melodies.
8PM...a great concert at Monument National: trumpeter Erik Truffaz plays with his electro-rocking jazz quartet, playing magical moments, like a haunting prayer as if atop a mountain echoing through the clouds, or echo-plexing himself into a choir of himself, and then a boogaloo.
10PM...I meander the jazzfest, stop by Club Soda and say hello to the long-time bouncer as a Swedish group called Peter, Bjorn, and John is singing (so says the program) "decadent rock and shimmering pop new wave." I amble on.
10:30PM...Turkish Airlines is a new jazzfest sponsor, with a mini-expo promoting Turkish tours, and on the big Turkish stage Nigerian/Haitian rapper Wasiu is mostly babbling -- while at the corner of the Saints, Catherine and Urbain, one can also hear the French/American pop duo GinkGoa sounding rap-like from the Rio Tinto stage. "We don't like rap," says one of the young women at the TD "Comfort" kiosk. They have hand sanitizer and wipes for sticky passersby. They also lend games like UNO for folks to play on a nearby terrace. "We like rock," they tell me.
Maybe a couple hundred fest-goers have become a square around two young women twirling batons of fire. They also eat and spit fire as the square cheers. "Any trouble?" I ask a security guard. "No trouble," he says.
Up the stairs by the Maison Symphonique there's a new kids playground with a giant wooden sax and drum for kids to climb on. Late it is, but kids are everywhere, lots of toddlers in strollers oblivious to the noise. Also lots of older folks in wheelchairs, and lots of solo men looking as if lurking, and lots of women in groups laughing, whole families walk by, lots of all-ages couples walk holding hands, and one of the fest-workers empties a trash can, an Augean labour with maybe a hundred cans and cups in each bag. Two cops walk by, in shorts and looking like fest-goers but packing Glocks. "Any trouble?" again the question. "No trouble," again the answer.
11PM...Blues lovers, or World Beat lovers, or whoever happens to be around the Bell stage await a French group called Delgres that mixes Delta blues with the grooves of Guadeloupe. I turn the corner and hear Carlos Placeres, a Cuban troubadour singing Quebecois clave on the Hyundai stage.
I stop at the Terrace Sangria for a blanche and opt for empanadas again at L'Atelier Argentine: one is Carne with Black Angus beef and smoked paprika, very tasty, the other is Humita with sweet corn and red pepper, very yucky. I doubt that the hot sludge in buckets on the tables would've overcome the yuckiness.
11:30PM...I walk alongside Place des Festivals, with two makeshift restaurants, one Portuguese, one French, alongside the big TD stage. Devil's Tale is playing, a group that features Quebecois guitarist Adrian Raso with a Romanian gypsy brass band called Fanfare Ciocarlia, all dressed in black suits with red ties, long hair cascading from Sinatra hats. And tubas playing the leads. Quite raucously danceable, what looks like a few thousand fest-goers are dancing in the street, climatically to Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King."
Midnight...I'm almost cash-less. Canadian bills are slick and I suspect that money slips out of one's pocket. I have only a pocketful of loonies, Canadian one-dollar coins so named for an embossed floating loon. Canadian two-dollar coins are called doubloons. I don't have enough for the jazzfest hot dogs I like, but I'm curious and ask the kid at the grill how many hot dogs does he grills in a day. "300," he guesses. "400, maybe," he guesses. "I don't know, I'm only a humble...uh?" he wonders. "Grillmaster," I offer. "Grillmaster! I like that!" he shouts as he scrapes off another evening of grease.
I've been 24 years at the jazzfest in Montreal. Doug has been manager for 19 years of another favorite night-ender, the Dairy Queen. "What sells best?" I ask. "Blizzards," says Doug. "How's business been this year with the jazzfest?" I ask. "This was the worst year ever," says Doug. "Weather was shitty, and they don't have big names on the stage any more," says Doug, meaning the TD Bank scene. "They used to have Stevie Wonder," he says, but then, "That kid, what's his name? Jamie something?" "Jamie Cullum," I tell him. "Yeah, he was okay," says Doug as he hurries to handle a cream crisis.
Back at the Hyatt Regency from another meandering festival night, I almost stumble by a little girl dancing. There's no music playing, but she's just as happy dancing to the cool breezes of a night at Festival International de Jazz de Montreal.
© 2016 WBGO
July 9, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.
So much happening.
Every which way around Place des Arts.
This way a Canadian blues band on the Bell stage.
That way a Nigerian pop band on the TD stage.
And a festival of eats!
Along the back street of the festival, tents and bunkers.
Mexican tapas. Japanese sushi. Greek gyros. Argentine empanadas.
I opted for the latter, pretty good. And a rouge from a stand selling sangria.
Heineken is a sponsor, and new this year is a big tent with mostly New Orleans trad by day, guitarist Jordan Officer hosting jams at midnight, and beer always.
Streetnix played Place Heineken Sunday eve, but I heard them in the middle of a hot Thursday in the middle of the esplanade.
Fronted by the charming spokes-saxist Jennifer Bell, with trumpet, trombone, tuba, and drums, they swing through songs of Ray Charles or Jimi Hendrix, any and all tunes hiply played.
“My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now!” they sing as a zig-zag-striped rabbit on stilts dances by.
“Eat something healthy!” shouts a fruit vendor to the crowd on the steps.
“Go work your own corner!” shouts trumpeter Bill Mahar.
Music teachers and big band players in their year-round musical lives, Streetnix have played FIJM 29 years.
One of my annual delights, I have requested that next year (their 30th, my 25th) they’ll play for me the Raymond Scott cartoon classic “Powerhouse.”
Same block as the Gesu, the festival last year opened Club Jazz Casino de Montreal. It’s a parking lot of the builders SNC-Lavalin. There’s an oyster bar, a barbecue stand, a bagel stand, a bandstand. There’s no gambling — Casino de Montreal is the site’s sponsor, and each evening one can catch a free taxi to the actual casino.
I was at Club Jazz, my umpteenth year, as a judge for the Canadian band competition. They play for the TD Bank Gran Prix de Jazz: $5000, 50 hours of studio time, a mainstage gig at FIJM and a gig at the jazzfest in Rimouski, a coastal town where the St Lawrence river becomes a bay and then a gulf. Martin Roussel, my fellow judge for most of this century, is the producer of the jazzfest there. We used to quarrel between groups more artistic (me) or entertaining (him) but over the years we’ve come to agree more, always listening for “The One,” the band that’s good enough to win and that other groups will have to better. Some groups are talented but not extraordinary. Some groups don’t sound like they’ve played together enough. We want to hear musicians who know each other and know the music they’re playing. We actually have a prejudice against groups that play from charts. One group this year looked (and sounded) as if they were reading every note, including the solos! Brad Cheeseman, electric bassist from Ontario, fronted a quintet that was in the pocket from the jump and, almost (but close enough) unanimously, won the Gran Prix.
There’s a second prize, a “Rising Star Award,” for the “most original piece of music,” $5000 from the multi-media broadcasters Stingray. Stingray programmer Pierre-Jean Lavinge is another of the adjudicating regulars, and we were joined this year by Dominique Soutif, programmer of the Quebec hotel and entertainment “castle” Palais Montcalm, and Cuban pianist Rafael Zaldivar. Tara Kannangara, a singer and trumpeter from Ontario, played the last show of the competition, and just before her last song, we were all essentially done with our judicial notebooks. That was when she started singing “The House Where I Live,” a pretty folk-ish song, with a pretty trumpet solo between the vocals. And that very last song was the winner.
© 2016 WBGO
July 8, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Cyrille Aimee grew up in France near where Django Reinhardt lived and where an annual gypsy jazz fest happens. Cyrille played at L’Astral with her gypsy-swing quartet, mostly singing from her album Let’s Get Lost. She danced–shimmied, actually–as if electrified by the swing. "I'm in the Mood for Love," a duet with the bass, was a highlight, also "Well, You Needn't," at first coquettish, then whirled into a funky bump and grind.
"Django Unchained" was that night's show with the James Carter Organ Trio. James is always a commanding performer but was even more of a charmer at the Gesu, telling the audience which Django Reinhardt and bal musette classics they'd be playing "in a more urban sort of context." "Manoir de Mes Reves" sounded more like Jug than Django, like echoes of a 1950's Ammons and McDuff organ jam. Gerard Gibbs on the Hammond B-3 played as heartily as James. Alex White kept all the grooves at the drums.
None of the tunes (like "Anouman") were recognizable. None of the tunes were at all retro-gypsy. "We're gonna light up a spliff and spark it up!" laughed James, heralding a reggae twist. What was especially enjoyable (along with his frequent dancing) was how Carter's musical personality shifted on his three saxes. On the tenor he'd get funky in the pocket. On the soprano he'd get almost surreal, once playing a solo sound that lasted a whole chorus. On the alto he’d get funny, percussively clicking the sax keys, or swallowing the mic with the bell and playing the feedback. James Carter talked about “unchaining” Django with me and Simon Rentner for The Checkout.
© 2016 WBGO
July 3, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Yesterday, 7/1/16, was Canada Day. I didn't know. I rarely ever know at the Jazzfest. I've seen a photo of kids at a parade yesterday in Montreal, kids and grown-ups with red maple leaves inked on their faces, but not around Place des Arts. Around midnight, after an encore at the Gesu, Charlie Hunter wished everyone a happy Canada Day, but I heard no one in the happy audience cheer. Or even react. I've been to Montreal several years on Quebec Day. Everything was shut down, including much of the Jazzfest. Yes, the folks I know at the Jazzfest acknowledge that they're Canadian. Economically at least. Politically, more or less. But in their hearts, they're Quebecois.
One trouble about being a Canadian musician is that it's difficult, sometimes impossible, and always absurd that there's so much red tape across the 49th parallel. American musicians can come play in Canada relatively easily, but the governments on both sides of the national border often confound Canadian musicians from playing in the United States. Work permits can be a bureaucratic nuisance. And traveling down can cost more money than a gig is worth. It's a shame, really.
I've heard so many wonderful Canadian (and especially Quebecois) artists at the Jazzfest. One of my favorites played the festival this year with her big band. Lorraine Desmarais at the piano can be romantic, melancholic, purely melodic, or down to earth and swinging. I love the most when she's so swept up in the music that she leaps to her feet as if catapulted by the groove. When last at the festival, she played solo at the Gesu, a concert of musical portraits she's composed. I especially remember her portrait of an Argentine who taught Lorraine how to tango. An apparently quite sexy Argentine. And this year's big band show at L'Astral was all about "Danses Danzas Dances" (title of her newest album).
Each of her tunes was composed on and around the rhythm of a dance. And all of the rhythms jumped. Even a bossa nova became head-snappingly swinging. And a tune just called "Tango" was heart-pumpingly sexy. One other highlight featured the trombone section like a heavenly choir floating across Lorraine's piano. What's as great about her big band music is the big band playing her music, a Who's Who of the Montreal jazz scene. Lorraine herself was honored in 2002 with the festival's Oscar Peterson Award (for the best of Canadian jazz), and so were two cats in her big band: trumpeter/flugelhornist Ron DiLauro in 2014 and alto/soprano saxist Jean-Pierre Zanella in 2011. Also spotlighted was carnivorous tenor saxist Andre Leroux, and, really, Lorraine spotlights them all. Lorraine's concerts always have been highlights for me at the festival, especially this year enjoying so much Lorraine Desmarais dancing!
If one counts every musical event in a day, 44 happened on Day 3. I attended five, including Joey Alexander at the Monument-National. I was, like everyone, flabbergasted by Joey's playing on the album and at the WBGO gala, but Joey's trio gig in Montreal was my first time seeing and hearing him play a concert. And jeez, he's really good as all the fuss about his being a child, even better in his trio with bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Kyle Poole. Yes, he's got chops, but beyond the phenomenal physical technique of his playing, is what and how much he's playing. Coltrane's "Resolution" just for starters. Monk's "I Mean You" as an encore. The dynamics. The give-and-take of the group's interplay. The little twists and turns of counterpoints. And he knows how to thrill a sold-out audience. I only wonder if Joey Alexander can be as good or even greater when he's as grown up as the audience cheering him in Montreal.
I always want to end a day at FIJM with whoever is playing at the Gesu -- a performing arts center in the Jesuit church on Bleury, the block next to Place des Arts. Every evening at 10:30 groups play in the Salle de Gesu, literally the Room of Jesus, and almost always the groups are what I call "very Montreal" -- meaning unusual, surprising, shocking once in a while, always compelling, and different, like the very festival that the "Jazz Dans La Nuit" concerts conclude each evening.
The Charlie Hunter Trio is indeed typical of the groups who play the Jesus Room, which is to say not typical musically at all. Charlie on guitar, with Bobby Previte on the drums and Allan Ferber on trombone. "We make it up," said Charlie of the music they'd play. Certainly tunes they play on the album Let The Bells Ring On, but mostly Charlie looked at Bobby, mostly laughing as he scatted a tune or a shard of groove, and they'd take off. Bobby Previte played the tunes at the drums sometimes more than Charlie's guitar. I've often thought tap-dancers were virtual drummers with their feet, but Bobby drums like a dancer. Mostly fleet-ly. Even dervish-y. And all the while, Ferber's trombone was like a voice singing in and around the definitively "catchy" tunes. Charlie was singing at the climax, or laughing more than singing the Freddy King blues "I'm Tore Down." I've ended many a night at the Jazzfest in the Jesus Room, but rarely so happily as the Charlie Hunter Trio.
© 2016 WBGO