WBGO Blog
  • Bourne's Montreal: Ambrose And Tigran

    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.

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    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.

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    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.

    Photo by Marie-Claire Denis
    Photo by Marie-Claire Denis

    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.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    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."

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    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.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    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.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix
  • Bourne's Montreal: Who Is Woodkid?

    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.

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    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.

    Photo by Marie-Claire Denis
    Photo by Marie-Claire Denis

    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.

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    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.

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    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."

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    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:

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    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 …

  • Bourne's Montreal: Cubans And Clarinets

    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.

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    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    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.

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin

    "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.

    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
    Photo by Frederique Menard-Aubin
  • Bourne's Montreal: A New Jazz Day Dawns

    July 16, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    FIJM's first jazz day begins at 11 a.m. with La Petite Ecole du Jazz, an annual “little school” of jazz for kids set up in the middle of Montreal's enormous Complexe Desjardins mall.

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    And all through the day, noon-midnight, shows happen outdoors: school bands, street bands, gypsy bands, blues bands, and plenty of singers.

    What was once an artery of traffic alongside Place des Arts is now the avenue-long Deambulatoire, the walkway of Place des Spectacles — where something is always happening.

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    Mountebanks (jugglers, tumblers, stilt-walkers, and other colorful clowns) perform.  Periodic fountains burst up from the street for kids to wetly dance around and in.  And all the while, countless thousands of folks eat and drink, meander and listen.

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    I’m amused especially when a NOLA-style brass band, the Swing Torque Jazz Band, plays trad classics at one end of the street, while at the other end is a group that’s been playing the festival for most of FIJM’s 35 years: Streetnix.

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    Streetnix plays everything -- from Mingus (“II BS”) and the Average White Band (“Pick Up The Pieces”) to pop songs (“La Vie en Rose”).  And then they march down the walkway into an Ives-ian showdown with the Moldy Figs.

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    When the two groups meet in the middle of the Deambulatoire, full-tilt New Orleans brassiness ensues as the crowd sings along and dances.

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  • WBGO & 2 GATEWAY FREE CONCERT SERIES: LAKECIA BENJAMIN ON WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6, 2014 AT 12PM

    July 15, 2014. Posted by Carmen Balentine.

    WBGO and the Gateway Center invite you to its FREE concert series occurring once a month during lunch time. Come celebrate summer and WBGO's 35th Anniversary with saxophonist and bandleader Lakecia Benjamin on Wednesday, August 6 at 2 Gateway Center Plaza, Newark, NJ at 12pm.

    Photo by Elizbeth Leitzell
    Photo by Elizbeth Leitzell

    Charismatic and dynamic, Lakecia Benjamin has played with Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, The Roots and Macy Gray. Her music is immersed in the vintage sounds of James Brown, Maceo Parker, Sly and the Family Stone and the Meters as well as classic jazz.

    A streetwise New York City native born and raised in Washington Heights, Lakecia Benjamin has become one of the most highly sought-after players in soul and funk music. She first picked up the saxophone at Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, after which she joined the renowned jazz program at New York's New School University. By that time she was already playing with renowned jazz figures like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman, which led to gigs and tours with a wide array of artists such as Rashied Ali, the David Murray Big Band, Vanessa Rubin and James "Blood" Ulmer. With her deep jazz roots, she was soon in demand as an arranger and horn section leader, landing stints with acclaimed artists.

    Benjamin has also had the honor of performing at the White House at President Obama’s inaugural ball. She’s performed on four continents and her extensive recording credits include saxophone and arrangements for Santigold, Maurice Brown, the Clark Terry Big Band, Krystle Warren and Talib Kweli, among others. Benjamin's unique new contribution to the future of soul and funk is sure to win you over

    Come and enliven your day with WBGO & 2 Gateway as celebrate 35 years, the beautiful summer and great music. Bring your lunch, friends, family and connect with WBGO, your jazz source for a festive afternoon. All are welcome.