Day 9 - Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, July 6, 2006
As strong as the rest of Ensemble Misto is, Mirabassi's playing elevated the music to a higher level, not only through his own work, but by pushing the rest of the ensemble to "go for it in an even more committed fashion than they had earlier. Everyone on the stageincluding Trovato, whose harp work featured evocative textural swirls and thematic doubling with others in the ensemblewas in top form, but Mirabassi's sheer virtuosity, energy and passion are quite unique. He may be a less edgy player than clarinetists like Don Byron and Louis Sclavis, but his musical choice to be a more consistently lyrical player is just thata choice, and he deserves to be considered on the world stage in the same class as these other innovative players.
Given the set was so short and the performance so powerful, it's no surprise that the audience simply would not allow Ensemble Misto to leave without an encore. But given they only had one book for the performance, they had to repeat one of the pieces from late in the set. Tonolo and Mirabassi wound their way from form to freedom, however, showing that however detailed Blatti's music may be in its compositional approach, it also demands interpretation. Ensemble Misto's performance was as good a tribute to the composer's vision as one could hope for.
For a different kind of musical passionone more closely aligned with the American jazz traditionguitarist Pat Martino's 10 pm show at the thousand-seater Spectrum transported its audience in a strange place of awe, transcendence and sheer excitement. The show revolved around his latest release, Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery. Martino and his quartetpianist Rick Germanson, bassist Gregory Ryan and drummer Scott Allan Robinsondelivered a blistering performance that was so unrelenting that the break between the two 45-minute sets was almost a necessity to give the members of the capacity crowd a few moments to catch their breath.
Martino has always had an uncanny ability to build tension through repetition, whether it's a single note or a simple phrase. This use of repetition changed his playing from linear to rhythmic, giving the rest of the quartet something to grab onto and pushuntil the tension was so intense that when it finally released, the audience's enthusiastic response was equal parts incredulity and relief. That stylistic trick may be one of Martino's signatures, but no matter how many times you hear it, it's always exciting.
Germanson built solos that seemed to heighten every time around, until the audience was placed in the same position as with Martino. Ryan and Robinson made the perfect rhythm sectionadapting to whatever Martino and Germanson threw at them, but participating equally in driving the show. One of my very clear impressions of the performance was just how much Martino has influenced another guitar icon, Pat Metheny, in particular with respect to he raises the energy level to a high point and then resolves it in a way that makes the experience incredibly physical for his audience. But regardless of the project, Metheny is front and center, and his fine supporting playerseven though they are afforded solo spaceare somehow subordinate. On the other hand, Martino is a more democratic leader. He may have been front and center visually, but when it came to running down the set list, Germanson, Ryan and Robinson were absolutely equal participants.
These players swing hard, and hearing them approach the Montgomery material highlighted the unfortunate deficiency in the mix on Martino's otherwise excellent tribute record. And in performance, the groupa touring unit, rather than the mostly all-star collective on the discdug into the material with even deeper interaction than on record.
Martino's sound was as dark and bottom-ended as usual, but it managed to cut its way through the group anyway. He favors rapid-fire phrases, but he avoids the trappings of excess by relying on his remarkable ability to navigate the sometimes equally rapid-fire changes of the material. He did this on his own tribute to Jack McDuff, "Mac Tough, a tune that he has now interpreted in a fusion setting, an organ trio, and this more conventional mainstream lineup. It's proof that a good tune is a good tune, and that while context may change its complexion, the song remains at the end of it all.
Martino only paused once to speak to the audience at length. He recounted the story of how, back in the 1960s, he encouraged guitarist Les Paul to accompany him to a club to see Wes Montgomery. When they arrived, Paul was touched to find that Montgomery was a huge fan. While Martino had to get back to his gig with Willis Jackson, Paul stayed to hang with Montgomery. By the end of the evening, however, a number of guitarists had convergedMartino, Paul, Montgomery, Grant Green and George Benson"guitar heaven, as Martino put it.