Day 3 - Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, June 30, 2006
One of the greatest successes of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM) is to have become a mainstream event. While jazz in itself remains quite marginal in today's musical landscape, the festival is a popular event. On the third day of the festival, Friday June 30th, which will be covered in what follows, there were thousands of people massing themselves in front of the many outdoor stages enjoying music by musicians they had never heard of, all this despite a couple of showers early in the evening. Furthermore, indoor concerts, and the pop music syndrome cannot be invoked since all of them were resolutely jazz, were well-attended.
The evening started in a sold-out Gésu with Montreal saxophonist Yannick Rieu who was first presented with the Oscar-Peterson award, an annual distinction given by the FIJM to a Canadian artist. The concert was announced as "Yannick Rieu Trio 2 x 3 = 5 with special guest François Bourassa". Concretely, there were two working trios on stage: one was composed of Rieu, Adrian Velady (double bass) and François Bourassa (piano) and the other of Rieu, Guy Boisvert (double bass) and Michel Lambert (drums). However, it really was a shape-shifting quintet since the five musicians only played together for the opening and closing pieces. In between, various sub-groups were featured. While this exploration was interesting for the many facets it put forward, one can't help thinking they passed by a great opportunity. Indeed, one doesn't often come across such a combination of instruments and the unexpected possibilities it contains surely would have been a more challenging listening experience. It also would have most likely brought more spontaneity and risk in what was a very restrained and controlled execution. Playing that concentrates exclusively on melodic developments can be fine for ballads and standards such as "Like Someone in Love", but Sonny Rollins' "Freedom Suite (Part One)" deserved more punch and would have gained from variations of intensity and dynamics. Nevertheless, their performance was warmly acclaimed by the crowd who requested an encore.
The next concert, being part of the Jazz contemporain Series, was the foreseeable exception to the popularity rule. While the music presented in this series is usually of a lesser accessibility, there are other reasons to explain the presence of barely 40 people, but let's not digress too much... This concert took place at the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal at 9 pm and marked the return of Thom Gossage's "Other Voices" to the festival. In addition to Gossage on drums, this Montréal-based project includes Rémi Bolduc on alto saxophone, Frank Lozano on soprano and tenor saxophone, Steve Raegele on electric guitar as well as Miles Perkins on double bass. Compositions from the quintet's just-released third CD constituted the core of the performance. Among those: "Onus", "Ya Ya In Ha Ha", "Old World" and "February". There is a great effort of organization in the quintet's music so that it goes much further than the often-seen succession of themes and solos. A single piece usually contains multiple rhythmic and melodic materials while leaving enough room for improvised solos. Unfortunately, the solos put forward the weakness of this ensemble. While all the musicians involved are accomplished technicians and skilled performers, they are not great improvisers. The singular vision, the sonorous research and the uniqueness that separates the good from the great really were missing. Because of this, the collective sections presented more interest. There was a complexity and richness the latter not necessarily being the consequence of the formerin the organization of the music that lacked in the sections devoted to solos.
The next and last stop of the evening was at the Spectrum for the Pharoah Sanders Quartet. There were many question marks surrounding this concert. Whom would the legendary tenor saxophonist play with? The information did not seem to have been made available beforehand. [Editor's Note: the group was William Henderson on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums] What would he play? Ballads? Free jazz classics? In the end, the audience was served with very traditional free jazz. The concert opened with a 30-minute piece played according to the rules of the art. After a theme, Sanders took a long solo while the piano, double bass and drums maintained the melody and rhythm in the background. After that, it was the pianist's turn followed by the bass player and finally the drummer. Sanders then took another short solo and the theme was played again as a conclusion. The second piece was a ballad, albeit played in a muscular fashion, and followed a similar structure minus the drums solo. The main problem of the concert was neither that the Pharoah Sanders Quartet played free jazz with all the indulgence it can implythis is probably what he does best after allnor that they opted for very traditional structures. In a way, to play free jazz is probably as valid as be-bop or any other historical form of jazz. It rather was that the execution was uninventive, uninspired and thus seemed formulaic for the most part. Business as usual as they say... but the crowd seemed to like it!
Victor Diaz Lamich