WBGO Blog
  • Bourne's Montreal: Zappa, Meet Zappa

    August 7, 2014. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    I first encountered Dweezil Zappa, who played FIJM at Montreal’s Metropole this year, in the womb.

    I met his father, Frank Zappa, on the 4th of July, 1969, in Indianapolis at a Holiday Inn.  I was interviewing Frank for a cover story in Down Beat.  Frank's wife Gail was great with child.  Dweezil.

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    I was nuts about Frank's uniquely jazzy/rocky/funny theatrical music, and I hung with The Mothers of Invention variously on the road from '69 into the 80's.

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    I'd never heard  Dweezil playing his father's classics until Montreal, and I was singing along from the jump.  "Call Any Vegetable."  "Suzy Creamcheese."  Mostly songs from the early Mothers albums and some of the best of Frank's  satiric ("I Am The Slime," about television) and surreal ("Montana," about dental floss) classics.

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    Dweezil's band was loudly orchestrated, almost as if the living albums with the volume turned up, and all in the band are virtuosic enough to whip it out — especially singer and saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez, whose animated  presence on stage reminded me of Frank's sexy (and very musical) Ruth Underwood.

    Except that he didn't play extended concerto-like improvs, Dweezil's guitar chops sounded very like his dad's.

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    I missed every other gig that night.  "Zappa Plays Zappa" was so cool I was flooded with great memories — and the contact high with all the other older Zappaholics in the crowd was quite bulbous.

  • Bourne's Montreal: The Best Of The Rest

    August 6, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    I enjoyed Montreal for 12 days. And of the festival's more than 800 concerts, I attended all or most of 40. That's not even 5 percent of the Festival International du JAZZ de Montreal. That's how big it is.

    Here's (some of) what else I enjoyed at FIJM 2014. At Gesu:

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    Photo by Denis Alix

    Gamak, the intensely (and very differently swinging) Indo-jazz of alto saxist Rudresh Mahanthappa.

    Now This,  the lyrical almost-dreamscapes of pianist Marc Copland, bassist Gary Peacock, and kaleidoscopic drummer Joey Baron.

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

    Dr. Lonnie Smith with his octet.  Playing 4 (or was it 5? or more?) keyboards.  He's one of the best (and one of the last) of the McDuff/McGriff/Smith generation on the Hammond B3.   He played like a tidal wave.  Or like a baby's whisper.  He played tunes, but really much more as if a sculptor of grooves.  He blew the roof off the Jesus.

    At L'Astral:

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

    Some of the best (often world-class) "locals" played the 6PM gig at L'Astral in the Maison du Festival, including pianist Vincent Rehel, trumpeter Jacques Kuba Seguin, and the lively kids-play-Pops group Misses Satchmo.

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

    Guy Belanger is a helluva harmonicat.  Comes from blues essentially, but he erases all the lines between blues, jazz, and whatever other genres get too often boxed.  On even what looks like a dimestore harmonica from his pocket, he can sound orchestral.

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

    Honored this year with the Oscar Peterson Award for a Canadian musician, trumpeter Ron DiLauro played Kind of Bluealmost note-for-note.

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

    Usually when a great (and frequently Miles Davis) album is performed, I feel that I'd rather listen again to the actual album — but Ron's sound is so exquisite (especially through the mute on "Flamenco Sketches" and "Blue In Green") that the masterpiece of Miles et al came alive again.

    So many good players on the Montreal scene never get heard much (if at all) below the 49th Parallel, and some of them (like Ron DiLauro) have played for decades with Vic Vogel.  Sorry that I missed his big band.  He's the only musician who's played all 35 years of FIM.

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  • Bourne's Montreal: Prizes Galore

    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.

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

    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!"

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    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.

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

    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”…

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  • Bourne's Montreal: Pink Martini Dreams

    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.

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

    "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.

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

    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.

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    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.

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