Day 8 - Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, July 5, 2006
Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is the opportunity to hear the unexpected. Sure, there are plenty of big names to attract audiences from around the world, but it's the surprise of discovery that makes it worth returning to, year after year. For the second half of this year's festival, a series called Suono Italia brings attention to many of the artists on the Italian EGEA label which, along with Cam Jazz, is ensuring the vibrant Italian scene is well-documented.
But the difference between EGEA and Cam Jazz is that, while Cam's focus is primarily on Italian artists, the label is becoming increasingly international in its roster. EGEA, on the other hand, remains largely focused on the wealth of Italian artists, with international artists including trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, pianist John Taylor and woodwind multi-instrumentalist Paul McCandless only appearing on the label in the context of those Italian artists. The label also has a very defined aesthetic, which involves a distinctive Mediterranean feeling. The music is rarely jagged or edgy, almost always accessible and easy on the ears. But accessibility needn't imply lack of substance, as two shows at the Cabaret Music Hall demonstrated at the series' opening last night.
Clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi has been a fixture on the Italian scene for many years, and is beginning to gain recognition outside his own country, although he's sadly underexposed and undervalued in North America. Brazilian guitarist/composer Guinga is equally deserving of broader recognition, and the duet record they released a couple of years back, Graffiando Vento was a remarkable confluence of Guinga's compositions, his masterful nylon-string guitar work and Mirabassi's passionate clarinet playing. But as compelling as the record was, in performance the experience becomes even more profound.
Like fellow Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, Ginga writes tunes that mix a clear knowledge of jazz and classical traditions with the multitude of folk forms found in his home country. But unlike Gismonti, whose oblique compositions reflect a certain rawness, Ginga's writing is polished and deeply lyrical. A perfect match for Mirabassi who, while possessing undeniable improvisational prowess, always serves the song and, even in his most extreme flights of fancy, respects the melodies that are the core of Guinga's compositions.
Guinga is the consummate accompanist, but never takes a backseat to Mirabassi. At times sounding like twoeven threeguitarists, he manages to provide moving bass lines, chordal support and melodies that are either doubled or harmonized by Mirabassi. When the compositions are fully through-composed, as many of them are, Guinga has the ability to suggest larger orchestrations by shifting his support, leaving the completion of ideas to be made in the minds of the listeners.
Mirabassi's passion for Guinga's music was made clear early on in the performance, when he explained to the capacity audience that they don't play together often, but when they do it's the most emotional experience he's ever had. It was also clear in his body language when he playedrarely able to sit still, Mirabassi would often move from a sitting position to standing, swaying in ways that almost suggest his body movements help to articulate his ideas more fully. Despite, at times, being challenged by Guinga's serpentine melodies that required full concentration on the charts before him, he was also clearly completely engrossed in the performance, and that total immersion was clearly felt by his listeners.
Guinga's approach is so listenablemuch like the bulk of EGEA's releasesthat one might think of the music as lightweight, but closer inspection reveals a command of voicings and complex but uncommonly lyrical melodies that are anything but insubstantive. And while the music was strong on formno free playing to be found hereboth Guinga and Mirabassi had opportunities to expound on compositions that ranged from spry and joyful to more gently beautiful and, at times, almost painfully melancholic. One of the highlights of the show was when Mirabassi left the stage to give Guinga the chance to sing a song dedicated to one of his daughters. Although now fully-grown, when he wrote the song some two decades ago it was to her as an infant, and while his speaking voice was rough his singing voice was full and clear.