Le Festival International De Jazz De Montreal 2001 Part 1-2
A nice cat manning the Festival's airport kiosk name of Nicola got me a ride into town. I got the VIP treatment at the Hotel Wyndham Montreal, met old friends in the press room (Claudia, Natalie, Katia, Alain), new faces (Sophie, Myriam) and the estimable Andre Menard (Premier VP and Artistic Director). Double-cheek kisses, hugs, smiles, high fives all around. Got tix for evening shows tout suite. These Festival folks always keep it together.
After unpacking, I pulled out the map and roamed the site. Let's see: ten outdoor stages, seven indoor venues, and one nightly jam session in the bar/lounge of the Wyndham in a five-block radius. Whole shebang located downtown in Old Montreal. A real "village" atmosphere. Food/snacks-beverages-tchotske stands-underground-shopping-mall. It's all low-key; sponsor product placement (Labatt Bleue, General Motors, Grand Marnier)*far more feng shui-discreet than festivals Stateside. Multi-culti security forces stationed every which-a-way are young, low key and helpful.
Monday, July 2nd: 8pm caught Coffee Featuring Ernest Scott outdoors on the Gumbo Louisiane stage. Straight outta Lake Charles, LA, Coffee is a rockin' blue-eyed soul band. Scott tall, brown and round with laughing eyes and pearly whites - has a classic soul man thick-as-molasses baritone... and he knows how ta use it. Together they move the crowd, catching mad wreck with the classics (King Floyd's "Groove Me", Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On").
Trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard's Sextet's 8:30pm concert up the block at the Spectrum was 180 degrees-opposite. I respect his skills (mellifluous tone, mad technique) and artistic vision, but Blanchard's albums and live gigs have always been a bit too neat, clean, cool, colorless for my tastes. Unfortunately, tonight's gig was the same ol', same ol'. By the time Cassandra Wilson came on and sang the bejeesus out of four Jimmy Mchugh songs from Blanchard's new Let's Get Lost album, it was a case of too much too late.
9:30pm, pianist Jean Baudet's trio is midway through their set. Baudet is burning down the house. A fleet, improvisationally fluid player on the Paul Bley/Keith Jarrett tip, Baudet rains down dazzling torrents of corrugated notes. Too many notes, actually. A virtuoso no doubt, brother man needs to lay out a little more often, just play all the right notes. TDWR.
10pm: Femi Kuti is mashing up the massive (2500) sardine-packed into the Metropolis theater. Outside, weather is sweet; inside it's hothouse humid. The floor is rammed with non-stop ecstatic dancers. Onstage, the horns are crazy blapping, guitars going chinka-chanka-chunka, keyboards bubbling/spitting/choogling, percussion swishing-shaking-slapping left-right/right-left, drum 'n' bass be fiercely sweating the Afrobeat boom bap. Stage right, three African Queens (silk-entwined Afros, tribal-drama makeup, pink-red shim-sham-shimmy gear) busting joyfully sensual head-to-toe body shakes here, funky three-part harmonies there. In the center of it all is Femi Kuti. The spitting image of his late father Fela Anikulapo Kuti, he's off the meter - spitting very dirty alto sax solos, trading sweaty booty-grind moves, chanting-singing-rapping like a shaman - charismatic, iconic, stone immaculate.
Femi and the crew played for over two hours. All of the songs were taken from his Shoki Shoki CD. Everyone of 'em destroyed the originals (especially "Black Know Yourself", "Beng Beng Beng", "Sorry Sorry"). Still, the floor wanted to go higher. "Fela, Fela, Fela!" BAM! "Water No Get Enemy". Carnal/spiritual/tribal, slo-burn slamming, this version reeks of Fela, stanks like reincarnation. Still, voices shouted out in Yoruba for Fela's "Zombie". With a soupcon of dry sarcasm and a smile, Femi replied, "People from Nigeria are never satisfied." Rawk 'n' Roll! One of the best live bands on the planet (regardless of genre). The Festival high point?
Tuesday, July 3rd: It's a down low white cumuli/blue sky kinda day. Save for the odd tourist poking about, the main drag (rue Sainte Catherine) is deserted...Montreal is at work. It's the calm before the storm. Tonight at 9pm, over 100,000 punters will be nicing up the area for the Festival's traditional block party blowout Le Grand Evenement. It's a full on spectacle (butt-booming sound system, flood/searchlights, and humongous video projections). Last year it was Brazilian bloco legends Olodum (50-odd drummers and percussionists, singers, rappers, dancers on two stages). This year its gonna be Groove Alla Turca.
The brainchild of Istanbul's Burhan Ocal (check Istanbul Oriental Ensemble: Caravanserai; Network Medien) and Philly Harmelodic funk bass pioneer Jamaladeen Tacuma, Groove Alla Turca plays a sublimely wigged-out fusion of Turkish rhythm/melody/harmonic, Harmelodic swing, blues-soul-funk-hip-hop grooves. Their debut Birds & Blues (Doublemoon Records) is off the meter - Natacha Atlas wailing, Miles Griffith rapping, Jack Walrath trumpeting, tambourine-oud-darbuka-saz-kanun-ney-violin-clarinet-trombone-alto-tenor-flute-guitar-traps criss-crossing over-under-around. Mad brilliant, but a mere soundcheck compared to the live gig. Too bad I missed it (no more VIP laminates).
Feeling empty, I opted for a lonely walk of shame up rue St. Denis. Block after block of cafes, bistros, bars, trendy restaurants, and African-Asian-vegetarian eateries. Too dark, bright, crowded, loud, ordinary, and expensive. 40 minutes in, I found my oasis: Bambou Bleu (3985 St-Denis, 514-845-1401). Spacious dining room, white tablecloths, big bay window, diffuse lighting, Vietnamese cuisine. Empty save for a two party table. Kismet! I ordered the 12.95 seafood combination (cup of sweet shrimp-crab-noodle soup, two greasy but yummy shrimp rolls, three exquisitely grilled brochettes du shrimp-salmon-scallop, glazed fried banana desert).
By the time I got back to the Wyndham, the jam session in the bar was swangin'. Roy Hargrove and Quintet mate Jesse Davis (alto sax) were mixing it up with the house band (Steve Amirault Trio). No matter what mood Roy was swinging or what blues Jesse was bopping; the local aces never failed to run with it. Someone at the said, "Jamaladeen is jamming at the Spectrum." He was wrong - a DJ, Burhan Ocal, whirling dervishes and Jamaladeen were freestyling. What a scene - JT deep into a Hendrix-Ornette-George Clinton spirit-cosmic space where all things frammed, flanged, skronked, popped, shredded are exalted, Burhan and various Groove Alla Turcas kicking Turkish boogie down beats, DJ flowing Goa trance grooves, dervishes, dance massive: mental. Got so gone that I forgot to pull out the Canon. I'll never know what came before, but it sure felt like a bravura encore to me. Like I said, it was a blue sky day.
Wednesday, July 4th: Independence Day. But I'm not back in Brooklyn. So, no fireworks on the East River, parades, picnics or backyard barbecue. Nonetheless, a hedonistic blowout in the name of patriotism is always deriguer. The perfect way: six concerts in six hours. 6pm: Arto Lindsay at Spectrum. The bespectacled king of skronk guitar, nerdy-voiced bilingual (English-Portuguese) singer-writer of off-kilter songs ("Your OK"), ill interpreter of Prince/Al Green, well-schooled in tropicalismo, MPB, and punk funk, Lindsay and band (featuring Melvin Gibbs, bass; Vinicius Canturias, guitar/vocals) played infectiously eccentric no-fixed-address New World fusion pop.
7:30pm: Caught in downpour en route to the Roy Hargrove Quintet at Monument National. Bad omen. Roy and Jesse strike sparks; band smolders and smokes but never a bonfire. 8:45pm: change to dry clothes. 9pm: Kenny Barron & Regina Carter; Spectrum. Folks were exiting, grumbling "Boring...classical bullshit...self-indulgent." They were wrong. Kenny Barron's extended piano solo reinvents Monk's "Misterioso" as a Third Stream evocation/homage to John Lewis and the MJQ and it sucks? Au contraire mon amis. Barron and violinist Carter are all about slow-burning nuance and in-the-moment spontaneity.
9:45pm: Manu Chao at Metropolis. I could hear the music soon as I walked thru de door. With every forward step, the decibels and Fahrenheit intensified. In the big room, pure pandemonium. So humid the camera lens was fogged up, so loud the air was throbbing. Arms waving, bodies undulating, bouncing and oozing sweat screams-shouts-laughter. Onstage, the Radio Bemba band is bashing a ferociously heavy-heavy ska-rockadelic beat. Smack dab in the middle, head cocked back, guitar riding low, legs spread wide in classic rock god stance, is Manu Chao. Every gesture provokes a collective outburst, every leap/lurch/hop generates aftershocks, every call gets a response, every string chop is t'under 'n' lightning. The cat is possessed, the band is possessed, and we are gone. Save for a touchstone verse or chorus, every song is freestyled to the point of absolute reinvention. "Bongo Bong" as speed-punk ska, "Me Gustas Tu" as schizzy dancehall/go-go soundclash, "Clandestino" as one-nation-under-a-groove rock anthem ("Marijuana, ee-le-gal!"). This concert (including 35 minute "encore") was un-fuckin'-believable. Festival highpoint?
Thursday, July 5th, 1am: Bugge Wesseltoft at Spectrum. The buzz band of the Festival, this Norwegian four-piece (Wesseltoft, Fender Rhodes, synth, sampler, Ingebrigt Flaten, acoustic/electric bass; Anders Engen, drums, Jonas Lonna, turntables) are the poster boys of the European "future jazz" movement (St. Germain, Nils Petter Molvaer, Erik Truffaz). While jazz critics have declared them rightful heirs to the whole Miles Davis-Headhunters-Return To Forever ism-schism (check the new Moving on Jazzland Records), Bugge Wesseltoft's live set proved them to be solidly in Larry Heard's jazzalacious deep house music camp. Vamps, improvisations, melodic hooks and grooves that never strayed far from the pocket. "Future jazz"? Dunno. Party music? Hell yes!
July 5, 2001: Spectrum, 2:00am. Euro-DJ tag team Dzihan & Kamien are winding down a head ringing, body shimmering, feet loosing set. Spinning off of Bugge Weseltoft vibe, D&K worked a deliciously subversive reggae-dub/dancehall-deep house-hip-hop-Goa-trance-techno mojo 'til it tore the roof off the sucker. Ten minutes later, I'm making my way through the rammed Salon Jeanne-Mance (the bar at the Hotel Wyndham Montreal). Another great jam session is in progress. It's just Russell Malone playing his guitar (mellow tone soft-shoe). Roy Hargrove is in an N'Awlins froggy blues state of mind. Russell sings (!). Can't remember the tune, but I do remember the voice. Molasses-smoked baritone, whispery intimate, a tint of melancholy. He should do it more often. What came next - a ripping jam that featured bravura Mingusesque bass solo from Christian McBride - was an anti-climax. Last call. Bedtime.
2:00pm: Walking up St. Denis with fellow journalist Michelle Mercer. Can't find a place to eat. My suggestion: Moules Et Cie (77 Ave, Des Pins; 514-496-0540). My favorite spot to grit in Montreal. Mussels and frites to die for. Place has changed since my last visit. Half of the place is now a sushi eatery. Today, the only customers were a sharply dressed elderly couple on the moules side. Before I can sit down, the distinguished gentleman introduces himself, his wife (100% class) and engages me in a tete-a-tete. Turns out he pioneered designer skiwear back in the late '40s. Irving of Montreal (saw the label). Exclusive to Sacks Fifth Avenue (biiig bucks). Now 72, Mr. Irving manufactures Kevlar vests for the NYPD (among others). Gave me his card and a swatch of Kevlar. Said to keep in touch. Montrealers are like that.
The Moules Mediterrane - juicy, melt-in-your-mouth mussels, sour-sweet saffron broth, translucent, tangy scallions, golden crisp frites - was off the meter. Ditto for Michelle's Moules Poulette. The house verre vin rouge was superb. It gets better. Total bill (three wines) came to $43.88. Canadian.
3:45pm: Interview with Diane Nalini. Who she? She's a twenty-something Montrealer, Rhodes Scholar, Doctor of Applied Physics (lunches with Stephen Hawking!), Oxford Fellow, speaks four languages, soon come big time jazz chanteuse. The day before, Nalini and ace Canuck jazzbos Mike Rud, Dave Watts (guitar, bass; respectively) rendered a hustling/bustling noontime shopping mall (Place du Complexe Desjardins) silent and spellbound. Tall, thick, lustrous hair pulled back, ocher complexion, laughing eyes, warm smile. Mellifluous contralto, emotively nuanced, rhythmically pliable, seductively melodic, phrases like back in the day (Billie, Ella, and Carmen). Chile could sang. In French ("La Mer" AKA "Beyond The Sea"), Portuguese ("Carolina"), English (Stars Fell On Alabama", "How Long Has This Been Going On?"). Old wine in sparkling new bottles. Think Sade with jazz chops.
Nalini's first gig was singing along to Ella in the family living room. She was three years old. A professional since '91, Nalini produced her debut recording After Dusk in 2000 (www.dianenalini.com). 10 tracks, including those aforementioned and two fine Nalini originals ("The portrait On The Wall", "After Dusk"). Festival highlight?
8:30pm: James Carter, Spectrum. Been following James Carter for a looong time. First saw him in Julius Hemphill's saxophone opera Long Tongues, He brought down the house with an absolutely nuclear five-minute tenor solo. Like John Gilmore (Sun Ra). He was not yet 16. Tracked him from there to Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, the Kansas City Band (spin-off from the Robert Altman film Kansas City) and a slew of wicked solo albums on DIW and Atlantic. What I love most about JC - the double-tonguing, circular breathing, over-blowing, brashness, showboating, frenzied, cluttered solos - drives a whole lotta people crazy. But that's cool 'cause he's always in it to win it. He ain't ever safe, y'know?
Tonite, though, I'm down with the playa haters. Tonite, our man from Detroit is rocking the tunes from his Chasin' The Gypsy deelio. Y'know the avant-freaky homage to Django Reinhardt's spirit-cosmic that's become a genre transcending international pop hit cause celebre? On record, the unlikely mix 'n' matchup of remade-remodeled/sliced 'n' diced noblesse oblige gypsy swing and Carter's mack daddy honk is the most beautifullest thing. Perfect balance. Live, the vonce gets whack. The band (acoustic guitars/bass, drums, and accordion) is playing too clean, too damn cute with the Hot Club gestalt. Scenery. Props. Manqué. Second bananas. JC (resplendent in pinstriped zoot suit, two-tone Stacy Adams and a white beret-cum-chef's hat) is slurring-blurring-freaking his ass off. No connection, no symbiosis, no rapturous frisson. Guest (and cousin) Regina Carter managed to bring the spirit back for three tunes but once she stepped off it was déjà vu all over again. Sometimes enthusiasm and passion ain't good enuff.
9:30pm, Joao Gilberto, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Arrived in time to catch the final 30 minutes of Gilberto's set (including 15-minute encore). There he was, centerstage. Shimmering in the spotlights. Encircled by monitors. Face dappled with shadows, guitar cradled, body slightly hunched. Iconic. That Voice - seductive, poignant, droll. That Guitar - bossasambanova blue-jazzy strums of Heaven. The Songs - "Corcovado", "Bim Bom", "Felicidade", "'S Wonderful", "Desafinado", "Mahna De Carnaval" - Magic. But this lot still wasn't satisfied. Scattered shouts for "La Femme du Ipanema!"; "The Girl From Ipanema!" coalesced into a asylum choir (causing the maestro to start/stop a song three times). As the disgruntled punters filed out, Gilberto played on oblivious. True to his legendary rep as a cranky s.o.b., Joao waited 'til the spot was way sparse to drop a most loverly "Ipanema".
Friday, July 5th, 1:30am: Meanwhile back at the jam session, Carter is getting his Wardell Gray freak on. It's a rollicking disorder at the border with Misters Hargrove, Malone and McBride. Mad looser-tighter-freer and en pointe contextual than on the Spectrum gig, JC regains face. Good omen for tomorrow night. Prince!
5:30pm: Sky clear, palm itching; time to go bargain bin record shopping. First stop: soundcentral (182 Ste-Catherine est; 514-393-4495). A store that specializes in vintage hardcore-punk-metal underground vinyl and uber-indie CDs, soundcentral is the perfect place to find off-the-wall (and cheep!) used CDs. Bingo: primo 16-track club compilation ("What Is Love", "Macarena"), $2.99; all killah 18-track reggae comp, $3.99. C, Dement (388 Ste-Catherine ouest; 514-866-7616) was deeper still: four CDs (including a Paul Mooney comedy joint and a Def Jam 18-track comp) for $11.46. Remember, that's all Canadian currency.
6:45pm, Enrica Rava Quartet featuring Ray Anderson, Salles du Gesu. Full disclosure: I've dug the shit outta Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava's steez since the album he did with Argentinean bandoneon macher Dino Saluzzi (Volver, ECM; '88). I missed most of Rava's set (too caught up in the bargain hunt). Nonetheless, what I heard was so damn fresh that reportage of those final 15 minutes is in order. Walked in on Enrico soloing. White, leonine 'do, slim torso, elbows akimbo, knees slightly bent, back arched, eyes shut, trumpet three degrees south of the mic. Very Miles Davis-on-the-back-cover-of-Jack Johnson iconic. The voodoo he was running down - elliptical, rhythm-shifting clusters of smeared/slurred blue notes, dramatic blaps/baps (punctuated by two-steps-backwards-one-lurch-forward) - strictly personal. Rava's sound - piquant smoke. His tone - burnished titanium. His phrasing - crisply mercurial. An unselfish leader, ER sealed his deal midway through Pheeroan Aklaff's gob smacking Afrolistic drum solo. Rather than cut Aklaff off prematurely, Rava quietly brought him back home with a trio of well-timed extrapolations. Italy, Europe...no. Enrico Rava is one of the best trumpet players in the world.
9:10pm, Prince & NPG, Salle Wiifrid-Pelletier. Arrived in time to see some cat dressed in white from 10-gallon skypiece to boots, popping the bejeezus out of a white electric bass. I ask a fellow journalist who he is. "I don't know but he's boring as shit (or words to that effect)." I took a closer look. "Hey, that's Larry Graham. He's a muthafuckah; played with Sly. He invented that shit." "I don't care who he is, he's terrible!" "Terrible? Larry Graham never played a bad note in his life!" Cat wouldn't back down. The guy next to me was two thumbs up and laughing.
Anyway, Larry soon stepped off. After a few hardy "Larry Graham, ladies and gentlemen, Larry Graham.", Prince strapped on his guitar (the Telecaster from Dirty Mind/1999 days) and kicked the NPG band off into some stank cog sinister jizz fission mystery dance. It was crazy - spirits of Stevie Wonder's "Contusion" channeled through Miles Davis' "Perfect Way" by way of "Ballad Of Dorothy Parker". From then until intermission, the jamstorm never let up "Girls & Boys", "Hot Thing", "Talkin' Loud & Sayin' Nothin'"). Things got so outré that most of the people missed the genius segue from a poignant "Forever In My Life" to a two verse/two chorus vonce on Joni Mitchell's "A Case Of You" Prince threw in the mix. A 10-minute freestyle cipher built to a thunderous crescendo then silence. Standing ovation. Prince said, "Don't thank me, it's Him. See you in 10 minutes."
The scene in the lobby made me laff. I don't speak French but judging by the vocal tones, facial tics and hand gesticulations, a heap of folks were either pissed off, extremely puzzled or flat out over the moon. Prince must have been feelin' 'em 'cause when he walked onstage for the second half he was wearing an impish grin. Grabbing the mic he asked, "Who was that on the stage 10 minutes ago? You want to rock and roll?" BAM!! The world went Day-Glo. Prince one-step beyond your wildest wet dream. Two-and-a-half hours of feverish medleys ("Let's Work"/"Uptown"/"Controversy"/"I Wanna Be Your Lover"; "Do Me BABY"/"Scandalous/The Beautiful Ones"), buckwildin' funk ("Sexy Dancer", "Housequake", "Little Red Corvette", "Cream") and showstopping ballads ("Diamonds and Pearls", "Nothing Compares 2 U" [Roy Hargrove cameo]). Larry Graham returned with a volcanic version of "The Jam" (Graham Central Station original). Then he and Prince (that Telecaster) caught mad wreck for seven amped-up minutes. Then gone. Pandemonium.
The encore? The most delirious, heavenly majestic, misty-eyed, collective body swaying/arm waving version of "Purple Rain" I've ever experienced (and I've seen Prince 10 times). I can still hear 3,000 voices singing "Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo, Ooo-ooo-ooo-oo, Ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo" over and over 'til the lights came on. Festival highlight? YEEEAAHHH BOY!!! The after party at the tiny Jai Bar was a rare chance to catch Brotha Man up close. All good 'n' a bag o' chips but anti-climatic.
The Montreal Jazz Festival is arguably the best of its kind in North America. It's got the total package: jazz, blues, world music, cutting edge shit you'll never see/hear in the lower 48, cosmopolitan atmosphere, Old World charm, open-minded/enthusiastic audiences and cost-effective exchange rates. You owe it to yourself to check it out.