A Camera's Eye View: Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2009
I really expected a media battle for space while attempting to capture a purposeful image of a legend as certified as Brubeck. I know his music like the number of roads leading out of my hometown. Brubeck's music led me through high school and college.
I knew his red hot and cool periodthe cool tone of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and the smooth ride. The music swung with barely a pulse. Brubeck at the time wasn't a favorite among jazz critics who were fixated on the re-harmonizing of jazz by pianist Bill Evans, the express train fingers of Oscar Peterson, the Duke was still aroundso was Teddy Wilsonand Keith Jarrett caught fire with Charles Lloyd. Herbie Hancock was making waves with Miles. Wynton Kelly was still saying all of the right things. The argument was that Brubeck was too rigid, or that he didn't swing long and far or hard enough. Then Time Out (Columbie, 1959) hit, and "Take Five" suddenly became a monstrous hit. Now every kid with an instrument had to master five-four meter. Even the old guard left behind by the dance era, who could read their way through the encyclopedia Britannica, could not get a handle on the peculiar beat, let alone hold it in place.
I had tried on a couple of occasions to catch a decent image of the man I so admire, but failed. The face always seemed to turn towards the shadows. I decided that this night had to be different!
As soon as Brubeck appeared with saxophonist Bobby Militello escorting him to the grand piano, I knew the night would be generous. Brubeck wore what seemed a cream colored jacket and a broad smile. None of us knew he'd lost a son a couple of days before. There was no evidence of that in his composure and comfort behind the piano. Throughout, the smile remained stationary.
The playing was solid Brubeckbig chunky chords and hard swing. I moved a few feet one direction, then to another, trying for a clear view of the hands. This could not be accomplished without standing dead center in the auditorium and offending two thousand plus paid attendees. I kept returning to the face, and what a beautiful face with all of the native features of birthright still in place.
Shorts: Joshua Redman; Joe Lovano; Chris Botti; Wayne Shorter; Al Jarreau; Miles from India; Kenny Werner Quintet; Jamie Cullum and Madeline Peyroux
Joshua Redman is always a difficult subject to capture. He is all about movement, much like Kenny Garrett. The sound came from all regions of the body. His legs rise and fall as patterns dictate while his head bobbed and weaved and his skin looked as if it was ready to blow. The horn was only half the instrument.
Chris Botti performed in a finely tailored suit. His essence is in the details, which I surmise are predetermined. The music was sumptuous and easily savored with no hard edges or unexpected dissonance. The lens embraced him. Botti moved about like a well choreographed line dancer. The shoulders aligned perfectly with the instrumentthis is poster stuff.
Wayne Shorter and the camera have never been best of friends. This has nothing to do with an aversion to being photographed, but more to do with his quiet nature and manner, in which Shorter brings his music outward. This night, he showed very little body movement, little expression and traveled no distance across the stage. What happened, happened in place. The lighting is always withdrawn during Shorter's affairs.
What happened between the other musicians was an entirely different thing. On this occasion, pianist Geoffrey Keezer filled in for Panamanian counterpart Danilo Perez. From this vantage point, the brief period spent in the company of Shorter and Keezer was the highlight of the festival because their interplay was so real, it was unreal. Keezer kept agitating the harmonic tension, goading Shorter to answer in ways unimagined.
For Al Jarreau, Montreal was not a venue to show off big chops. The voice sounded stressed and bit behind the curve. Still, with everything in place the master's night was full of surprises, and for us on the sidelines a feast of image gathering.
Miles from India was big fun and big sound. The ensemble consisted of sitars, tablas, saxophones, three drummers, brass and plenty more, yet this should have been more compelling. There was plenty to extract from the wired expanse, yet not much in the way of prolonged excitement. Saxophonists Bill Evans and Rudresh Mahanthappa pushed the hardest yet the weight of too many competing players may have been inhibiting. Three kit drummers in total synch did not catch fire. I kept thinking Mahavishnu Orchestra and all of those jarring interludes and how they so magically broke space between soloists.
Kenny Werner is a pianist's pianist. He was also visually appropriate and musically bold and inventive.