Day 10 - Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, July 7, 2006
Goldstein is a remarkable musician and arranger. He may not show up on the larger listening public's radar, but many people have heard his work. He has created new arrangemments of classic material by Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman for the SF Jazz Collective; participated in both the recording and tour of guitarist Pat Metheny's Secret Story (Geffen, 1992); and arranged/conducted the music on trumpeter Chris Botti's To Love Again: The Duets (Columbia, 2005).
But too few people recognize his talents as a player, and at last night's performance he showed why Tonolo had recruited him for the project. Fully conversant with the sometimes folkloric nature of the writing on Italian Songs, Goldstein also comes from the jazz tradition, and he brings that harmonic sensibility to the accordion. The accordion is often the butt of musicians' jokes, but in the hands of Goldsteinand, for that matter, the other accordionists who have performed at the Suono Italia series this yearit's a totally relevant instrument, not just for the cultural nature of the Italian music which EGEA emphasizes, but for music in general. Goldstein found ways to broaden its textural possibilities, and when he took a solo, it was passionate and undeniably jazz-centric.
Tonolo's generally deadpan persona on stage may suggest a lack of emotion in his playing. But while he does favour strong melodism, and even when he goes to the border of his musical box and stretches a bit beyond it, the material always reflects a strong relevance and a deep commitment. But more than any other Suono Italia show thus far, the performance by Tonolo and his group were as much about playing and soloing as the actual meat of the compositions. The band even swung at times, with Leveratto and Kramer providing a soft but insistent pulse throughout. Neither the bassist nor the drummer received many opportunities to solo, but when they did, they were just as concerned with the core of the material as Tonolo, Goldstein and Birro.
Birro proved himself an astute acompanist and soloistlike Goldstein and Tonolo, fully conversant with the language of jazz and culturally-informed material by Italian composers including Enrico Morricone, Paoli and Peiro Piccioni. While some of the material Tonolo's quintet played was sourced from Italian film scores, this performance focused on the improvisational potential of the material, much the way trumpeter Enrico Rava did on La Dolce Vita (CamJazz, 2005). This was a significant contrast to Ensemble Misto's performance the previous evening, which was more about interpreting Enrico Blatti's detailed compositions than improvisational interplay.
The group also differentiated itself in the interaction that went on throughout the performance. Most times the chemistry was understated in nature, and Kramer often reacted, but so subtly that it was felt more than heard. And the way that Birro and Goldstein worked together as accompanists during Tonolo's solos demonstrated the kind of open ears that prevented them from stepping on each others' harmonic toesa clear challenge that any group with more than one chordal instrument faces.
One of the show's highlights was a folkloric duet between Tonolo and Goldsteinperhaps the most visual song of the set, evoking images of small Italian villages under a hot Mediterranean sun. Like many other songs during the 75-minute performance, which was well-received by an audience which would not take no for an answer by the end, the melodies often seemed familiar, but with slight twists and turns that took them to unpredictable places.
The show's closer was a curious piece that, by juxtaposing free improvisation with stronger form, demonstrated the breadth of these fine players in a way that the more overtly melodic material did not. It may not have been jagged or abstruse, but it showed that Tonolo and his group can expand EGEA's Italian-centric aesthetic and take more risks.
One of the advantages of living in Ottawa, which is very close to Montreal, is the crossover factor between the Ottawa and Montreal jazz festivals. It allows a unique opportunity to see the same group days apart, and discover just how much of the music is scripted and how much is truly spontaneous. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris and his band Blackout put on a terrific performance in Ottawa on June 27 at the festival's main outdooor stage, even though it was poorly attended because of inclement weather. Still, they had the small audience buzzing afterwards, giving everything they had despite the less-than-perfect conditions. Their performance at the Montreal festival's Gesu theatre was even more exciting and open-ended.