Day 2 - Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, June 29, 2006
Day 2 began with a blast. Performing at the same venue and time slot as Brad Mehldau on Day 1, John Zorn's Acoustic Masada had one of the best sets in recent festival memory. Before the concert began, the Theatre Maisonneuve, which holds approximately 2000 people was sparsely filled, making Zorn's appearance there seem strange. This venue is usually used during the festival for a wide range of performers (Dee Dee Bridgewater plays Day 3 there for example) who have massive followings. Given the type of music that Zorn would present, it seemed Acoustic Masada (Zorn on alto, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums) would have been better suited for a Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal gig or maybe a late evening at the Gesu Creative Center. But just before show time, the hall was filled almost to capacity with one of the rowdier crowds this correspondent has seen at the Festival. Much like in his home base of New York, Zorn attracts a particularly eclectic crowd.
For the next hour, the whooping crowd was treated to Zorn's highest accomplishment - his Masada songbooks. But where, for example, the Masada String Trio is delicately beautiful, Acoustic Masada (and Electric even more so) is a raucous affair, a hyper energetic mix of Zorn's love of bebop and Jewish musics. The show was remarkable if only for the fact it seemed to go too fast for both the performers and the audience - not in length but in pace. Across 60 minutes, the quartet played quite a number of tunes, either featuring Zorn's bleating alto, Douglas' strident horn or some part of the wonderful rhythm section of Cohen and Baron. An example of how the hurtling momentum could not be stopped was when Baron broke his bass drum pedal during one portion of a song and Zorn seemed to have fun having the set continue uninterrupted (he would later break another one). Throughout, as befits a composer of his stature, Zorn knew what he wanted precisely, calling for more more more drums, or starting and stopping the various sections of each piece. For those who may not be completely enamored of all of Zorn's various projects (and his playing in them) should pay close attention to him in Acoustic Masada. Here he displayed his legendary bebop skills and his moments of screeching dissonance were always in service to some beautiful melodies. One particular highlight of his playing was a brief circular breathed segment into which Zorn somehow managed to intersperse percussive pops. After the performance was completed, the crowd gave such a loud standing ovation that the band came back for two sets of encores, including as Zorn put it, "in the tradition of Masada, a world premier . [Note: photography was disallowed at this concert.]
Going to three shows after such an experience was difficult. And while the three were well played, most of this correspondent's energy was spent by 7:30 pm. The next concert was the second installment of Bireli Lagrene's Invitation Concert Series. After an evening of solos and duos with accordionist Richard Galliono, Lagrene brough his New Gypsy Project to the Theatre Jean Duceppe, a smaller theater than Maisonneuve located directly below. The last several years of the Invitation Series have taken place at the charming old Momument National, just off the festival site. Its classic ambience was slightly missing. Lagrene's set was also energetic in its way, with lots of virtuosic playing by the leader. His articulation is near perfect and his recreation of a very old form was quite authentic. But since there was no real updating of that form, the point seemed to be to prove that the quartet (Lagrene with Franck Wolf on tenor and soprano saxophones, Hono Winterstein on second guitar and Diego Imbert on double bass), could play this music as fast and flawlessly as possible. It does seem that a certain flashiness is always expected from guitarists, especially one as indebted to Django Reinhardt and the addition of a second guitar, who grounded the proceedings with a constant rhythmic pulse in lieu of drums, made that flashiness easier to accomplish.