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Live Reviews

Our Man in Montreal: The 23rd Montreal International Jazz Festival (Part 2-2)

By Published: March 12, 2004
So, upon rising we took in a couple of Montreal’s more famous tourist attractions ( the Biodome , and the botanical gardens ).

Now, rare is it that the wife and I get to spend time together without child, but tonight was the night. The usual activity when such opportunity arises is restaurants. The rarer "date night" choice is live music. Never before have we combined the two in the last three and one half years, so it was a big night. Restaurant choices get pretty tough without benefit of reviews-preferably detailed reviews ­ which are as lacking in the restaurant biz as the music biz. Although I greatly appreciate improvisation as a musical tool, it’s no fun trying to wing it when it comes to the right place to eat. Luckily, Canada’s venerable free weekly, The Hour, has quite the online archive over at www.hour.ca . If you read French extremely well, there is another fine resource at Montreal’s French-speaking weekly, Voir (point your browser here ). There are no English translations to be found in Voir, so even though I can read French more than a "petit peu", the Hour’s site was still the way to go for me. Luckily, we like fish, so the review for "Le Poisson Rouge" at their food archive caught my attention. Did I mention detailed reviews were hard to find, and that accurate ones were even more incredibly hard to find? This review was supremely accurate and wound up understating just how good and just what a value this place was. I had the skate with hazelnut butter and my date had the tilapia with a red wine sauce. Formidable! Oh, yeah...bring your own wine! This town is too good to be true! Just for the record, (and maybe my first link to uncorked ) we paired a Chateau St. Jean chardonnay with our dishes, which nicely stood up and provided a fruity yang to the yin of the not overtly rich sauces. The French have this thing called "Table d’Hote", which is kid of like Prix Fixe here in the states. So we got appetizers (which is entrée in French..tres confusing), soup, main course and dessert for- get this- 32 Canadian each (like 20 bucks)...now that’s just plain ridiculous, especially since I haven’t had a meal that good at more than twice the cost in Massachusetts in the past five years or so.

After that, it was over to jam-masters MMW shack (in this case, Montreal’s primo rave-up palace, Metropolis) for their third annual Montreal party with special guests. This year’s were a special treat - first-time collaborationist/colorist Trilok Gurtu and frequent co-conspirator and Jammy perennial Charlie Hunter. Gurtu was an inspired choice, and I’ll bet Billy Martin, who would also be an anointed master percussionist if we in the west had such a system, played no small part in coordinating MMW’s slot at the Fest with Indian Jedi Gurtu’s appearance the next day.

Hunter played the entire second set, and Gurtu played only his tablas and other incidental percussion for most of it, but it was the numbers they both jammed on, including "Open", "Jelly Belly", "Start/Stop" and "Toy Dancing", that provided the evening’s high points. Was Gurtu enhancing MMW’s trippy vibe or they his? How were Martin and Gurtu so completely avoiding stepping on each other’s toes? How can a human being move his hands that fast? These and other questions were answered in the music. Hunter had to do an enormous head change for this gig after getting off his 6 to 8pm rare solo slot (BTW, Charlie has got to do another pressing of his web-available only solo guitar record) at Salles du Gesu . He went from playing all of his seven-excuse me-it’s actually eight, now- strings and playing all the parts, especially his trademark, mind-boggling, carpal syndrome inducing bass lines, to playing only the top four, for the most part, with MMW - sort of a Joe Pass to Pat Martino mental switcheroo for which Sir Charles rose to the challenge. Chris Wood way more than ably filled up the low end of the sonic territory, much of the time on his relatively new, natural wood-toned Fender electric. Medeski certainly seemed like the de facto bandleader that night, switching from B-3 to acoustic to clavinet with aplomb and executing some very accentuated, authority-filled, slick moves with the right hand/right wrist. But it was Martin who, for the last tune, stepped to the mic and announced from the stage that while he wanted to do the encore tune with these extremely special guests, it was the, "last time he wanted to hear this song". The boys haven’t played "Bubblehouse" since, even at their sets at the annual High Sierra Music Fest in California, at which they played both days, July 5th and 6th, following their appearance in Montreal (tough commute), so it appears we witnessed a rare bit of jamband history during the last hour of the 4th. All indications are that "Bubblehouse" will follow "Dark Star" into the stuff of jam legend.

On the 5th, I caught Trilok with his own band at the Spectrum. Change is about in Trilok’s world. He’s certainly changed up his concept of late, mixing Indian and African concepts, with vocals, for his "African Fantasy" and "Beat of Love" projects. He’s stripped down his touring unit to a vocalist, Sabine Kabongo, and a keyboarist/sequencist/ samplist, Jerry Lipkins. This streamlines things musically, as well as practically (for Trilok’s words regarding these developments, and more, check for the coming interview ). He’s made profound changes his drum array, a subject that could make up an article in and of itself. He’s pretty much tossed the former western/Indian hybrid kit that we were all just getting used to (that setup is depicted well here ). He no longer sits on the floor, opting for a standard drum throne. Gone is the trademark vertical bass drum, replaced by a conventional bass drum pedal put to a pad triggering a sampled bass drum sound. Gone is the array of standard toms, replaced by flattened out, saucer-like, amoeba-shaped, huge-sounding, tom inventions of his own design. The tablas are elevated such that he can slide over to them from the kit and play them while still on the throne. The water songs, bird calls, and the remainder of the ancillary noisemakers are there, but their use has been changed by yet another device from the brain of Gurtu, a transmogrifier of sorts, operated not unlike a theremin, through which, it appears, a percussion device may be passed so its sounds may be morphed and amplified.



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