July 31, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
I’m a judge for the festival's annual week-long competition of jazz groups from across Canada. They compete on outdoor stages for the TD Bank Grand Prix: money and three festival gigs.
I have a ritual with my long-time frere de jugement, Martin Roussel, director of the jazzfest at Rimouski (334.9 miles along the St. Lawrence seaway north-east from Montreal).
When we hear, sometimes more than half-way through the contest, a group good enough to win, we show an index finger: "That's One!"
Whoever plays thereafter will have to be better, and this year the TD "One" was a swingingly interplaying piano-bass-drums trio from Ontario, The Pram Trio.
There's also a special prize for the best composition, granted by the satellite television service Galaxie.
This year, we voted the Galaxie prix to Montreal bassist Rick Rosato, composer of a tune without a title - only called “New Untitled”…
© 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
July 18, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
FIJM 2014's opening night Evenement D'Ouverture happened on the biggest stage, the TD Bank stage, at the end of the Deambulatoire.
When the festival first presented these "Grand Events," some 20-some years ago, they were always mid-fest. Through the years, Grands Evenements, have often attracted more than 100,000 fest-goers in the street.
Sometimes these have been jazz-ier concerts: Uzeb, a local legend fusion trio, a Louis Armstrong tribute, a Balkan extravaganza, a Turkish extravaganza, a 3-hour non-stop blast with fest fave Pat Metheny, and twice with that other Montreal phenomenon, Cirque du Soleil.
And then came Laurent Saulnier, a new VP of programming I have called "VP of the Edge" for having expanded the festival's musical spectrum and virtually redefined jazz.
Hip-Hop, electronica, nueva Latino, and a spectacular variety of multi-media have all become a familiar presence at the jazz festival. Especially enormously in the street. And none more definitively than Woodkid.
Out of blackness on the stage came white light, turning the stage (and the world) black and white. Images appeared on the jumbotrons either side of the TD Bank stage. Videos appeared with cameras rolling along forests or up mountains. Out of the darkness came the growls of bass trombones.
And onto the stage bounced a kid in a baseball cap. Bearded, with a beaming smile. Looking like he wanted to play Frisbee. Woodkid.
I'd never heard of him, but Woodkid has become a sensation through the theatrical and video designs and animations he creates for the likes of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and other million-selling pop stars. He's also a composer and singer, although I never understood a word he was singing, and his songs never really sounded melodic.
What he created was a full-tilt multi-media spectacle, with the music (mostly brass and strings, also orchestrated electronics, plus two thunderous drummers and a choreographed parade of hooded drummers) mostly meant to pull everyone into the darkness and then burst into the light.
Almost like a haunted (but fun) house
And what was all the more fantastic was that everything pulsed and shifted suddenly, light and sound turning all on a razor-edged dime.
"How do you actually do all of that?" I asked him the next day. "Just the timing of it all is insane!"
"Yes" he said and he shrugged and he smiled. "And it's hard hearing what we're doing from the delay of the speakers."
I've never heard or seen anything like Woodkid.
Except that I've come to expect something as different, as weird, as wacky, as what I call "very Montreal" every year at FIJM.
Meanwhile, plenty more was happening that same opening night:
Ranee Lee and Cecile McLorin Salvant singing at the festival's year-round jazz joint L'Astral,
Cassandra Wilson singing at the Theatre Maisonneuve,
Angelique Kidjo singing at the dancehall Metropolis,
Charlie Hunter joining the Harry Manx Guitar Bazaar early in the Salle de Gesu,
"Tarantino In Concert" continuing in the Cinquieme Salle,
"Newport at 60" with Anat Cohen and Randy Brecker playing at the Theatre Duceppe,
Canadian singer/songwriter Daniel Lanois with Emmy Lou Harris in the big Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier,
Roy Hargrove playing the late show in the Salle de Gesu,
Not to forget the ten other jazz and whatever gigs in and around Place des Arts.
And that was just for starters …
© 2014 WBGO
July 17, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
FIJM 2014's opening night Concert D'Ouverture featured the OSM (Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal) playing Gershwin classics in the city’s still-new Symphony Hall.
The OSM opened with Gershwin’s "Cuban Overture," which was not quite as lively as it ought to be played. They maybe could've used more Cuban drummers. They have oodles of Cuban musicians living in very international Montreal.
Classical pianist Alain Lefevre played some charming Previn-esque originals in a trio with two of the jazz scene's masters, bassist Michel Donato and drummer Paul Brochu.
"Rhapsody In Blue" climaxed the first half, with Lefevre playing more jazzfully than classically, across the bar lines and feeling improvisatory -- although the linchpin of the orchestra was a clarinet soloist whose name I never knew.
Lefevre certainly knew, and as the orchestra was cheered, Lefevre walked through all the horns to shake the clarinetist's hands.
© 2014 WBGO