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Live Reviews

Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2005, Day 4

By Published: July 5, 2005
The music began quietly with McLaughlin slowly easing into "Anna from the Shakti songbook. It quickly took off though; McLaughlin and Hussain are equally fast on their respective instruments so the music can be played at any pace and stop and start on a dime. McLaughlin then took a rare solo turn on a lovely and original interpretation of Stella by Starlight much to the surprise of the audience. So far, the crowd was enthusiastic but still a little hesitant. The next piece changed all that. When McLaughlin broke into the chord progression of the Mahavishnu classic "You Know You Know and Hussain kicked in on tabla AND snare drums, the Monument Nationale erupted. This version exceeded the one played as an encore by Remember Shakti at the Montreal fest a few years back. The two were locked in, McLaughlin adding blistering Indian scales to the song and Hussain having fun with his rock drumming. This tune, though a relatively brief 12 minutes, may have been the highlight of the entire festival.

After this triumph, Hussain invited Shakti co-percussionist Selvaganesh (who played khanjira, or Indian tambourine, on Day 2) and Sultan Khan on sarangi to join him and McLaughlin for a first-time-ever collaboration. The quartet improvised over a North Indian raga that featured lovely exchanges between Khan and McLaughlin and Hussain and Selvaganesh. Khan was somewhat filling the role that L. Shankar had in the original Shakti group but played with a melancholic, almost forlorn air. What made this show a particular standout is how McLaughlin, a Brit jazz musician who played with Miles Davis, insinuated himself into the native music of his three bandmates. Indian music is challenging and complex, full of spirituality and fire'" perfect for McLaughlin. But throughout, despite the whooping crowd, the performance's air was relaxed and loose, like a jam session among friends with us, the audience, peeking in. And since each musician is a technical master, even at top speed every note is important, every phrase interconnected. At this tempo, things can, and often do, become academic posturing. Here, with these four musicians, it was nothing short of exultant.

The final tune of the set was a trio with Hussain, McLaughlin and Selvaganesh, notable for the trading (both on percussion and vocally) between the two Indians, all masterfully supported by McLaughlin's sharp comping. After a wild ovation, the quartet returned for another Shakti tune as an encore, adding Bhavani Shankar on the pakhawaj (he also played on Day 2). The triple rhythmic attack, particularly during a segment with decreasing bar lengths (á la One Word from Birds of Fire), was stunning, McLaughlin and Khan letting the percussionists do most of the talking.

Your correspondent has been coming to the Montreal Jazz Festival since 2000. During that time, many great concerts have happened and many legends have had their own Invitation Series. But never has a crowd at any venue for any show given a five-minute screaming, standing ovation, begging for the musicians to return to the stage. They did, full of happiness and humility and joy at an evening of wonderful, life-changing music.

Thanks to André Menard, Zakir Hussain, all his invitees and the Montreal Jazz Festival for concerts that will no doubt move into the history of jazz, the history of music.

Continue: Day 5



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