Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2005, Day 1
For those who have never heard the tabla, or heard it in expert hands, it is a remarkable instrument. It can be tapped, petted, stroked, caressed, hit, pounded, rubbed or poked, each technique resulting in a wonderful new sound. Taken together, the tabla can be as expressive as any chordal or more traditionally melodic instrument. Towards the end of the "piece (called that because Khan would always revisit the same melody either at the beginning of his lead section or as counterpoint to Hussain's musings), Hussain played while explaining "the language of the tabla. He demonstrated how the instrument talks (a funny example of an exchange between a mother and her coming-home-too-late son, complete with slaps across the face) or can be descriptive. He recreated Indian rush hourwith trucks, scooters, cars, dogs and elephantand the obviously resultant traffic jam. He made his drums sound like a galloping horse (quoting the "Lone Ranger theme song in the process), a moving train and a jumping deer.
This was not only musically fascinating, it was a helpful touch for those who may not have been aware that that the instrument is considered much more than just a percussive tool. Hussain's humorous teaching showed why André Menard, one of the organizers of the festival, introduced him by saying it was a long-held dream to have Hussain play at the festival as part of the invited series. The exultant set ended with an Indian folk tune from Khan's native region featuring his plaintive vocals. Your correspondent was wowed, the duo was given a standing ovation and this portion of the festival programming started off wonderfully.
The other show of the evening was Octurn, an octet which were compared in the festival program to Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Your correspondent was drawn into jazz at an early age by that album so that was enough of an endorsement to check out this otherwise unknown (to me) band. Everyone knows the story of Miles' fusion experiments and how they changed the face of jazz in the '70s. Any group though that tries to nod in that direction though has to also take into account what the legacy of Bitches Brew isacid jazz and '80s vamp-based funk jams.
Octurn, a pianist, a Fender Rhodes player, electric bassist, drummer, baritone and alto players, trumpeter and guitarist, seem to take all the energetic elements of fusion and replace them with a polite sonic wash, creating the musical equivalent of vanilla pudding. Though the bassist and drummer were the most locked in, their insistent funk lines and jazz break beats didn't allow the music to breathe at all, the antithesis of Miles' own raucous groups. The group lacked a defined lead voice and spent most of their time meandering and playing uninspired solos (particularly the superfluous guitarist) rather than coalescing into a vibrant sound.
Leaving this show to rest up for the next day of the festival (at least three shows daily for the rest of your correspondent's stay), the late night free concert at the Scene General Motors (the largest of the free stages and site of the final festival blowout) seemed intriguing. Jaipur Kawa Brass Band exemplified what the festival programmers try to do with the public performances.
The ten-piece Indian "big band played Eastern and far Eastern music; some members danced and did what could loosely be described as "acrobatics . Dressed in ceremonial outfits, they drew a large crowd on a slightly humid night, most of which, including your correspondent, probably never had seen anything similar. Though it was difficult to appreciate the subtleties of their performance in the midst of the large crowd, the party-like atmosphere and the site of so many people listening to this obscure music was heartening. Another fine day at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Continue: Day 2