July 1, 2008. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Lunch on the terrasse, plateau of the Place des Arts where they have boutiques, games for kids, sponsor outlets, and eats. I was joined by one of my loved ones in Montreal, Catherine Simard, daughter of Alain Simard, president and co-founder of the jazzfest. Catherine endeared herself to me years ago when she was my virtual minder during the 25th anniversary jazzfest. We were supposed to catch a boat from the Old Town out to an anniversary concert on an island in the St Lawrence where the festival actually began almost 30 years ago. When we got to the dock, the boat was pulling out. I'll never forget Catherine -- in flip-flops! -- running along the dock shouting to the boat. Which actually stopped and came back...for me. Since then she's worked in most of the departments of Spectra, the arts company that produces the jazzfest and so much more. This year she's responsible for marketing, and the sponsor logos hanging ariound the Place are her work. I said years ago that she's not the "heir apparent" because she's Alain's daughter. I believe Catherine will be a boss some day because of her smarts, her charms, and her willingness to do whatever the work is -- whether she's running an enormous jazzfest or running in flip-flops ...
Public Enemy was playing Metropolis. I know nothing about them, except that they're among the first doing hip-hop. I have never heard them, and was not going to their press conference, but Marie-Eve Boisvert, boss of the salle de presse (and another of my loved ones), said "You should go. They're interesting." I recognized Flavor Flav from posters in the subways for his TV "reality" show, and he was as amusingly goofy as he looks. Chuck D, the other singer, was indeed interesting. He talked about politics, racism, and other seriousness that they've sung about, and he was also insightful about the music business, always speaking with a remarkable forthrightness and yet also with a very quick wit. "Our press conferences are more entertaining than most hip-hop shows," he said, and I believed him. I'm sorry I couldn't go to their show. I was booked to various of the other 39 musical events happening today from midi to minuit.
I was especially aware today of how many people come every day, countless thousands of people, all ages, all colors, all cultures, all having a good time. I saw babies dancing in the street, also little old ladies dancing in the street. I'd see whole families dressed in the saris or scarves or hats of wherever they came from. Montreal often seems even more international than New York, especially in the musicians and everyone listening to them at FIJM.
© 2008 WBGO
June 30, 2008. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Day Four Sunday June 29th
Amy's favorite for brunch, Cafe Cherrier, with Amy, Becca, and Michele. I don't have to walk a dozen blocks to my own favorite for brunch, Eggspectation, now that they've opened another creperie on the corner of Place des Arts.
Almost to the minute at 6, thunder rumbled, and rain fell just as the quintet of guitarist Reno de Stefano started playing. I hate umbrellas but I needed to be under to write notes for the judging, but I didn't have much to write. Most of the groups in the competition are younger players, but all the cats in DeStefano's quintet are jazz vets, or, as I noted, "grown-ups." They've been around. They know how to play tunes on the changes hiply. They swing. They can't win the prize.
Avi Granite 6 is a definite contender. Even as they walked out, I could see the "thing" was about to happen. Granite plays guitar with a front line of alto, tenor, and trombone. They played out but tunefully right from the jump, and the groove from the bass and drums was always propulsive. Each of the players was a solid soloist. Granite himself played guitar as if playing beyond the strings, as if playing the very electricity of the amp. They often looked quite serious yet were often whimsical, especially the trombonist. Avi Granite 6 is the group to beat.
Woody Allen played to the multi-thousands of the big hall, Salle Wilfrid Pelletier. I wondered if so many came because they expected him to be funny. Except for saying hello and saying they'd be playing music from New Orleans, he was there to play clarinet. When he first played, he was squeaky, he articulated notes somewhat awkwardly, and some in the audience tittered, thinking maybe he was being funny. He was not. Woody Allen is a tremendously adequate clarinetist, but he plays with considerable spirit, as do they all in what was called Woody Allen and His New Orleans Jazz Band. They played and sometimes sang (everyone but Woody) blues and songs from the 20's. When they whipped up the second line, Woody's clarinet sounded best and truly soared above the romping and stomping. Woody thanked everyone, said this was his first time ever in Montreal. "Playing this music for you was a treat for us," he said. And at the finale, the multi-thousands stood and roared for more. "I don't think they expected a reaction like this," said Michele. Woody and the guys came back out, nodding thanks, and Eddy Davis, banjoist and the actual leader of the band, nodded his head toward the bandstand. So they played not only more, but a lot more, including an ecstatic "Saint Louis Blues."
We were in a room overlooking the big GM stage on the Place and, even in the rain, the crowd was dancing to a reggae/funk show called Jamaica to Toronto. Michele lives in Portland, so she's used to the rain. We walked through the "spitting" to the Club Soda, but as we passed one of the tents for SIMM, the festival's free Salon des Instruments de Musique de Montreal, 50 or 60 folks were thundering on hand drums. Steve's Music Store in Montreal was conducting a drum-along. Everyone who came in, including us, was handed an African hand drum and welcomed to join in the rhythmic rumble. Invigorated from the drumming, we came to Club Soda for one of the midnight shows. This was where, two years ago, as I wrote in the piece I posted on the WBGO blog last week, I realized how much jazz is re-defined at the Montreal jazzfest. You can hear the full-tilt New Orleans trad of Woody Allen and then hear the electro-klezmer-hip-hip of the group Socalled. I'm not kidding: klezmer rap. I was the oldest in the house, but, as always in Montreal, I was game ...
© 2008 WBGO
June 30, 2008. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Day Three Saturday June 28th
Rainy but not raining, what Michele says folks in the Northwest call "spitting." Were it not wet I might've enjoyed the first group to be judged, a generic quartet fronted by saxist Jerrold Dubyk. All of these groups are good enough to be up for the prize, but only a few have that unique "thing" (tunes, grooves, presence, a character or sound) that elevates them into a winner. Dubyk's group was more or less the same as about half the groups in the competition -- except for the electric bass player's solo, which was only notes up and down the scale. "I don't want to be prejudicial," I said to some of the other judges, "but that was the worst bass solo I've ever heard." And they expressed consensus.
Group #5 is a contender: WAZA, a trio with electric keys, electric bass, and an electrifying drummer. They played solid and quite compositional grooves, especially from the drummer. They were fun to listen to, as if listening to really hip toys. After a thunderstorm of funk from the bassist, Nancy, one of the judges, said "Now that was a bass solo!"
Hank Jones was joined for duets by Brad Mehldau, and the interplay was wonderful. Hank played melodies or only changes elegantly while Brad danced around and through -- danced like Barishnykov.
"Night in Tunisia" they played at first fragmented, but then Dizzy's tune blossomed. Hank's solo of "The Very Thought of You" was so deeply beautiful that Brad mostly listened, enraptured. Hank was again whimsically witty about which song they'd play next, or which piano they'd play. "Just One of Those Things" was a joyful finale, and I could hear the lyric: "it was great fun!"
© 2008 WBGO