July 3, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
July 1st is Canada Day, and no one I know around the jazzfest in Montreal cared. Only shop that I observed shut down in the Desjardins mall was a salad bar. I didn't even remember that it's a national holiday until a fellow at one of the outdoor shows walked by with a small maple leaf flag sticking out from his shirt collar. Two little flags, actually. It was 7:20PM.
Two last gigs were played in the festival's band competition. Again in the rain. The Florian Hoefner Group from Nova Scotia played a hip variation on a folk dance from Newfoundland. Hoefner's "Newfound Jig" we judges voted the Stingray "Rising Stars" award ($5 grand) for the best new composition in the contest. Our close-to-unanimous winner of the Gran Prix TD was the quintet of Quebecois trumpeter Rachel Therrien. She'd been rained out on Sunday, but then performed inside for we judges in the Balmoral restaurant of the Maison du Festival. I felt that having a band play for people eating and drinking and talking was like basic training with live ammunition, like the "real" life of jazz musicians playing in joints. Therrien's group showed oodles of poise and spunk, especially Rachel's a cappella trumpet solo. They won $5 grand, 50 hours of studio time, and gigs at the jazzfests of Rimouski, Quebec City, and the 2016 FIJM.
Jamie Cullum is a kaleidoscope on stage. I've enjoyed him every time he's played Montreal. I called him (last time at the jazzfest, in Down Beat) "the Charlie Parker of pop." Jamie can do it all: play, sing, dance, be funny, jazz, rock, pop, all of the above delightfully -- but by the time the Gran Prix judges were done deliberating, Jamie's show was mostly done. I enjoyed him instead in L'Astral.
Jamie, when he's not performing, is a "presenter" (what the Brits call a DJ) every week on BBC Radio 2. "BBC Introducing" and PRS For Music Foundation were presenting three groups from the UK, all unknowns playing for the first time away from the UK. Jamie welcomed everyone jammed into (for free) L'Astral, and jammed some himself. He drummed on the piano's wood, strummed on the strings, played the actual keys, and sang a frenzied "Please Don't Stop The Music." He talked about recently becoming a father and sang a new song about his daughter dreaming. He talked about "BBC Introducing" broadcasting unsigned new artists and intro'd the groups: Malaika, a charming Irish singer/songwriter; Peter Edwards, a pianist with a trio that reminded me of the rhythmically propulsive Ahmad Jamal; and a trio called Mammal Hands.
I'm rarely surprised as much by music as I was staggered by what Mammal Hands played. None of the three really played melodies. They all played riffs -- intensely! Jordan Smart on the tenor sax often played motifs of 5-7 notes, repeated incessantly and more and more loudly -- while pianist Nick Smart likewise played more percussively and drummer Jesse Barrett mostly thundered. Mammal Hands was unique -- and exhausting!
© 2015 WBGO
July 1, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
A Montreal Jazzfest Haiku:
Sun breaks through the clouds
Fountains gush at the jazzfest
Kids dance in the street
Place des Arts is the biggest performing arts center in Canada, and, like the jazz festival, gets bigger every year. Also better.
They've not only terraformed a street, a hill, and empty buildings into the Quartier des Spectacles and year-round Maison du Festival, they're now reconstructing the abandoned buildings next to the jazzfest "house" into what will be centers as impressive for film and ballet. I'm architecturally amazed how they somehow squeezed an enormous Symphonic Hall where there used to be festival eats and a playland for kids. And at the center of Place des Arts, although mostly seen from above, there's also a massive rebuilding on the roof over the promenade to the halls and shops below. Don't know what that's for.
Along with the landscaping and streetwork, installing the fountains and erecting the light poles, two very nice restaurants were opened in the Quartier des Spectacles, one French, one Portuguese. I opted for the latter's lunch, the cholesterol special, steak with a fried egg on top.
Folks everywhere in red, white, and blue ... shorts, shirts, sneakers, make-up. Especially on young women. So much is happening in Montreal, jazzfest, clownfest, I didn't realize the Women's World Cup was being played at The Big O, the erstwhile Olympic stadium that became the Expos baseball stadium where today Germany and the US are playing futbol. I've been where the jazzfests (and entire cities) have shut down for the final game. Istanbul. Vienna. Perugia. I've been in Montreal when the final game was being played. However loud was the music around Place des Arts, the honking and hooting of soccer fans driving around was louder. Today, not as much soccer noise for the women as for the men many times -- even though the American women beat Germany.
Drizzle came again, and we wetly judged a couple of bands. Between the judgings, Kurt Rosenwinkel was playing solo at the Gesu. Solo but technologically surrounded. A computer. A synthesizer. A footbank of doohickeys amplifying, echoing, playing an electronic beat. All, again, playing melodies going every which way.
I wondered if the heavier rain might shut down the Grande Evenement tonight: the folk-ish, classical-ish, jazz-ish, pop-ish Barr Brothers. I was indoors anyway for a farewell to the festival. Vic Vogel is an icon of Canadian jazz, as a composer, as a pianist, as a big band leader, and as a beloved-but-grouchy character. He's the only musician who's played FIJM year after year from the jump, and, at 80, tonight's concert was to be his last with his band. Sadly, he was too sick to be on stage at the Maisonneuve. Happily, he was videotaped welcoming everyone and introducing his band.
I first encountered Vic Vogel twenty years ago when the Jazz Journalists Association gathered in Montreal for a conference during the jazzfest. Vic came in and grumped at all of us, wanting to know why we American critics don't write much (if at all) about Canadian musicians. We didn't have an answer, but we deserved his wrath. Most of us didn't know who he was -- or, really, much at all about jazz above the 49th parallel. I got to hear his band during the festival's 25th anniversary. Some of us, along with governmental movers and shakers, were boated to an island in the river. There, in a concrete arena leftover from the Olympics decades ago, Vogel's band swung heartily. I've heard him since through the years and especially remember a concert when he celebrated Dizzy.
Some of the cats have played with Vogel for many years, including two of his best soloists, alto saxist Dave Turner and tenor saxist Andre Leroux. Filling in for Vogel was a who's who of Montreal piano, including Lorraine Desmarais and Oliver Jones. Together, they played highlights from Vogel's bandbook, including several of his arrangements of jazz classics -- "Con Alma," "Strollin'," "Giant Steps" -- and a ferocious "Georgia on My Mind" with blues singer Martin Deschamps.
Rain was done when I came out. A harpist (from the Barr Brothers) was loudly plucking. I walked back to the Gesu for an exquisite concert of accordionist Richard Galliano and guitarist Sylvain Luc playing songs of Edith Piaf. I could almost hear the hearts of all the folks who'd grown up loving Piaf's records. And at the last, they heartfully sang-along.
© 2015 WBGO
June 30, 2015
Saxophonist Jimmy Greene's newest album, Beautiful Life, is dedicated to the memory of his 6-year-old daughter. Ana Márquez-Greene was killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Greene paid tribute to his daughter by composing and arranging a genre-spanning album to reflect the way she lived. A portion of the proceeds of the album will go to selected charities and a scholarship in Ana's name.
Jazz Night in America captured Greene's quartet presenting this music live at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
© 2015 WBGO