Our Man in Montreal: The 23rd Montreal International Jazz Festival (Part 1-2)
While the music of King Chango falls far from the Jazz tree, they incorporate some elements of it (as well as any other style you can name) into their music, which is indeed a melting pot. "Melting Pot" is also the title of their most well-known tune, which, like the rest of their set, flew by with such wild stylistic variety and rapidity, I was on my heels, judgmentally speaking, for hours afterward, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure I enjoyed them. Kind of Manu Chao (who played last year)/Mano Negra-ish, if you know those artists. I'll say this- if you're into punkish ska, straight up punk, Latin rhythms, roots reggae, trip-hop dub, Venezuelan roots music or Latin drum 'n' bass, there's something in there for ya.
On day two of my stay (July 3rd), I made sure to check out my fellow countryman (by ethnicity, anyway), Italy's Peppino D'Agostino , who, while pigeonholed as a "New Age Guy", has managed throughout his recorded career to stay away from the genre's more obvious musical pitfalls. As it turns out, he provided my first taste of true Montreal inspiration, and believe me, it was musical "inspiration through perspiration" as Peppino's athletic moves and multiple alternate tunings produced not only a very enthusiastic response from the audience, but a noticeable puddle of liquid on the stage floor.
Like Kawasaki the previous afternoon, Peppino performed on the aptly named "Contact" stage, which is indeed the most intimate of the festival's free stages, giving the audience full opportunity to closely observe the intense concentration and subtlety of the coordination of the (sweaty) right and left hand techniques needed to pull off his percussive brand of guitaristic wizardry. As Peppino pandered to what turned out to be a partisan crowd ( Montreal is heavily populated with Italians, and has one of North America's busiest and most genuine Little Italies), by playing his version of "O Solo Mio", a pleasant melancholia ensued on my part. I found my thoughts drifting to the early departure of a Peppino's former contemporary, Michael Hedges, whose spirit is carried on between the hearts, hands, wood and steel of standard-bearers like D'Agostino. While he remains somewhat underrecognized, Peppino is easily that good.
After Peppino, the Lousiana stage, fittingly enough, hosted "Los Hombres Calientes" from New Orleans, featuring percussionist Bill Summers, formerly of the Headhunters, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and drummer Jason Marsalis of the flying Marsalises. Irvin and Jason are just over the US drinking age, yet front a sophisticated African, Latin funk band featuring an acknowledged African, Latin funk master (Summers). I can't say it better than our own review of the record, which says, "Los Hombres Calientes mixes cha chas, congas, sambas, African call and response, Cuban vocal chants, bop, and Latin percussion in a savory multicultural stew." In addition, they are one of indie jazz's greatest success stories, breaking the Billboard charts without benefit of major label clout. Mayfield and saxophonist Victor Atkins, the featured soloists over this bountiful, fragrant stew, were very impressive and succeeded in being "Caliente", although the audience was already "tres tres chaud". Their non-cover version of "Chameleon", sacrilegiously overplayed by less able units, was not only crowd pleasing, but tremendously, overpoweringly, afforded maximum groove power in the able hands of one of its original performers, Bill Summers, whose presence throughout was regally funky.
Here's the spot for me to underscore a major point. This story just relates what I did while I was there. The official website of the Festival has a handy feature called "My Festival" which allows you to prioritize events according to your particular time constraints and print out an itinerary without benefit of a Palm Pilot. Entire sub-aesthetics, or mini genre-specific festivals, are available within bigger festival, to the savvy festival-goer. According to the festival publicists, Equipe-Spectra, over 400 journalists attended the event and are anticipated to eventually weigh in on different stuff.
For instance, given different circumstances, I would have preferred to attend the previous week, when the festival hosted some very high profile Norwegians near and dear to these ears, including the scintillating Nils Petter Molvaer, who for some unknown reason didn't combine his trip to North America with any US dates. Molvaer couples jazz with his own brand of electronica, which at times is somewhat dark. In my opinion his latest disc, this year's NP3, issued on Emarcy/Universal is not only his best, but more importantly his most groundbreaking. It currently has no US distribution, but is available in Montreal stores for less than it will ever cost stateside!