Day Five of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal was a day for conclusions. It marked the end of the Canada Day long weekend, typically the fest's busiest time; and with a lighter load of events scheduled for Tuesday (Day Six), it also signaled the transition into the second half of this year's festivities.
More than anything, however, what this meant for your embattled correspondent, on the final day of his coverage, was a last chance to catch guitarist Mike Stern's portion of the Invitation Series. Beginning Wednesday, Stern (this year's Miles Davis Award recipient) would be passing the torch to bassist Richard Bona for four more shows at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. And so it seemed perfectly poignant that Stern and Bona would share the stage this evening, along with special guests Roy Hargrove on trumpet and Dave Weckl on drums.
Due to the demands of putting on a show each and every night, participating in the Invitation Series usually means going on without a net. Rehearsal time is scarce, which often imbues the performances with a sense of openness and vitality. Such was certainly the case on this night. With four superior improvisers at the helm, the mood on stage was free and looseeach song a mere vehicle for invention. Add to that a personal relationship between the playersall four appear on Stern's most recent disc, Who Let The Cats Out? (Heads Up, 2006)and the recipe for fun was tried and true.
One of the signatures of both Stern and Bona's performance style are their unwaveringly sunny dispositions. Gone are the gravity and rules of certain jazz forms, leaving in their wake a sound that shakes the senses in a light and uplifting way. You could almost call it a "karmic sound."
And that's precisely what the audience was treated to throughout the evening's set. As Stern ascended into the Fender Strat-osphere, Bona wowed with his virtuosic bass lines and accompanying harmonics. Hargrove, for his part, broadened the scape with seemingly endless solo progressions, while Weckl held the fort using his customary mix of speed and precision. To be sure, this was not the kind of show for pondering or platitude, but rather a display of sheer effervescence.
Last up on the night was another visit to Salle Gésu for the 10:30 PM performance by the Tord Gustavsen Trio. Widely considered Norway's premier jazz pianist, Gustavsen first revealed himself to Montrealers as part of an all-Scandinavian billing at the 2003 festival. This time around, however, the stage belonged to him alone, along with his usual sidemen, bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad.
With the successful release of their CD Being There (ECM, 2007), it seemed that the trio had earned themselves a significant following in these parts. The theater was filled with an expectant crowd, many of whom could overheard in their hopes for live interpretations of one or many of disc's tracks. The group did not disappoint.
Among the many stellar moments that followed, perhaps most memorable of all was the opener, "At Home. With its rich, almost haunting tone, the song conjured images of Norwegian hinterlandits rising peaks blanketed in snow, gleaming glacial springs and the echoes of peaceful remoteness. These visions being familiar to many Canadians, it's little surprise the composition struck a profound chord with the audience.
Overall, the band's set moved between this unique brand of melodic sparseness and a kind of controlled swing that drives straight into the listener's psyche. The resulting mood was one that effectively drew the audience into a place of great fragility and depth, where the eyes and ears are no less than completely transfixed.
Not to be outdone by the Keith Jarrett Trio on Day Four, Gustavsen and company were eventually called out for not one, not two, but three encores.
A stirring end to my correspondence...
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