Festival International de Jazz de Montreal: July 2-5, 2010
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Montréal, Quebec, Canada
July 2-5, 2010
I arrived in Montréal mid-week, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal already in high gear. Closing off six square blocks of downtown Montréal, an area commanding six major outdoor stages and several indoor theaters and concert halls, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal presents dozens of free and ticketed performances each day over just under two weeks. Performances begin at noon and continue well past 2am, varying from intimate solo performances to the street- shaking, outdoor mega-concerts for which the festival has become so known. The accessibility of the festival allows downtown shoppers, tourists, and curious locals to stroll in and out of festival events at their leisure, maintaining a high level of energy and foot traffic throughout the more modest afternoons. Arriving on July 2, I had already missed Sonny Rollins, Smokey Robinson, Dave Douglas, Vijay Iyer, Gil Scott-Heron, David Sanchez, Manu Katche, and John Zorn's Masada, to name only a few but it would not be FIJM if there were not more music than you could possibly choose from, and there was still half a festival remaining.
As I walked the festival streets, the music seemed to pop spontaneously into existence around me. Jugglers, dancers, and other street performers punctuated the corners, while any mix of local and visiting ensembles entertained enormous crowds at the free outdoor stagesseveral performances seeming to begin just as another concluded. The effect was an ongoing party atmosphere that never did seem to end. La Parade du Festival, what I later learned to be a daily event, was one particularly memorable surprise. The Swing Tonic Jazz Band led the romping traditional New Orleans-style parade across rue Saint-Catherine, accompanied by giant paper mâché alligators, oversize instrument floats, swing dancers, dancers on stilts, and women in confusingly provocative giant lobster costumes, also on stilts.
No small amount of capitol is invested to create this enveloping atmosphere of jazz celebrationwhat the festival refers to as "Planet Jazz." Here is a festival that appears entirely bound to the business, government, and people of its city. The Place des Festivals and the $18M (CAD) Maison du Festival, unveiled at last year's 30th anniversary celebration, are now landmarks of downtown Montréal. With a budget surpassing $30M, the 2009 festival boasted some two million participants that contributed over $100M to the local economy. FIJM has long established itself as a model of large-scale economic and artistic success in jazz presentation, and it seems to solidify its hold on the imaginations and hearts of the Canadian and the international jazz communities with each passing year. All, it may be worth adding, while being carbon neutral since 2008.
- July 2: John Surman and Howard Moody
- July 2: Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures Sextet
- July 3: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette
- July 3: Tomasz Stańko Dark Eyes Quintet
- July 4: Bob Brozman
- July 4: Steve Kuhn, Joey Baron, David Finck
- July 5: Terry Clarke Trio with Don Thompson and Phil Dwyer
- July 5: Allen Toussaint's Bright Mississippi
John Surman emerged as a leader of the new British jazz of the 1960shis soaring, exploratory baritone saxophone a defining sound of the era. The fierce, short-lived The Trio, which featured Stu Martin and Barre Phillips, introduced Surman to a larger audience outside of Britain, and he soon earned a reputation as one of the most remarkable instrumentalists in Western Europe. Surman brought something of the power and intensity of John Coltrane's improvisations to the unwieldy baritone saxophone (a young Surman selected it at a pawn shop over a similarly-priced alto because he wanted the most for his money), which he appeared to master in short time. His work on John McLaughlin's debut, Extrapolation (Polydor, 1969) is exemplary of the period, and remains a cause for celebration some 40 years later. Having largely left the free playing of his youth for more atmospheric, pastoral experiments on Manfred Eicher's ECM, Surman owns an impressively diverse body of work, and his sustained value to contemporary jazz is beyond question.
Surman began playing with Howard Moody, an organ scholar at King's College at Oxford, in the mid-1990s. Commissioned by the Salisbury Cathedral to develop a duo featuring a full church organ, the pair released their debut album Proverbs and Songs in 1996 on ECM. As should be expected, the beautiful St. John's United Church, located not two blocks from the Maison du Festival, was immaculately attuned to the acoustic demands of the organ, and the duo appeared by turns relaxed and eager explore the room together.
Inside the main sanctuary, subtle lighting shot up the massive church organ, emphasizing the brass of the pipes and the glossy finish of the supporting wood frame. A single fluorescent track underneath the bottom keyboard silhouetted Moody, whose back was facing towards the audience. At only 8pm in mid-summer, enough sunlight passed through the stained glass windows to add depth and color to the darkened sanctuary. Surman, just to the left of Moody, was visible through a soft spotlight and stood erect as if facing a congregation. Hard to pass up the Jack DeJohnette Group with Rudresh Mahanthappa, but this had the makings of a true event (in fact, not pairing DeJohnette and Surman at some later point, the pair having a longstanding musical relationship, may have been a rare missed opportunity by FIJM).
Moody introduced his instrument with a variety of high pitched, distant sounding figures that explored the dynamic and tonal range of the organ. Surman's more familiar sounding soprano made a spirited entrance as the duo navigated a winding and adventurous composition in which brief windows of improvisation opened and closed at unpredictable intervals. The duo danced around each other in virtuosic rings, showcasing their gifts as improviser and accompanist, as well as the unique timbral balance of the duo. Surman and Moody so clearly enjoyed playing with each other, exchanging broad smiles at the piece's conclusion.
The following "Stone Ground," a selection from the duo's 2008 release Rain on the Window (ECM), took advantage of organ pipes that had not been heard from in some ten years. Moody and an organ technician serviced the instrument that morning and uncovered a large plastic refuse that was clogging much of the organ's lowest octaves. Having removed the debris, Moody thundered through these registers, the organ's bass traveling from deep within the walls of the church. Paired with Surman's baritone, the two painted in swatches of darkness, creating textures so dense that only the faintest hints of light seemed to escape. Surman shaped his improvisation with surgical precision, while seeming to obtain the highest level of creative freedom. The piece's enormous climaxthere may be few sounds more thrilling than Surman's arrival at the extreme highest register of his baritonewas supported by Moody's booming, un-analyzable chords, before the duo relented with a somber resolution.
Briefly, the duo shifted to Amsterdam in a musical tribute to the Netherlands' unexpected World Cup victory over Brazil, recreating how the street organs in the old city may have sounded. Surman then took a moment to explain that the next piece might best be understood as a musical game represented by Tom and Jerry. Surman improvised skittish lines on a wood flute while Moody played predator with deep, ominous steps on organthink if Messiaen were commissioned to score Jaws. Huge in sound with great strength and speed, Moody's cat was saber-toothed. According to Surman's celebratory flute closing, however, the mouse managed to survive. It may all sound a little too cute, but performed with such focus and strength of communication, it dismissed any criticism.
The duo abandoned the game as Surman switched to soprano for a profoundly affecting unaccompanied solo. Moody cued the entrance to the next composition with a repeating figure that propelled Surman's most intense soprano solo of the evening. Racing through octaves, Surman poured out thrilling melodic lines faster than the brain could process it. The audience responded with a huge ovation, clearly pleased by the mix of humor, adventure, and virtuosity.
Shifting tones again, the duo presented the spiritual "I'm Troubled in Mind," which Surman rather unlikely discovered in an attic in Norway. The mournful theme was transportingpainful to experience but beautiful in its pureness of expression. Here the duo departed from their recording, creating a major feature for Surman where the album simply states the melody and exits. Surman delivered a tour de force, a chill-inducing improvisation that was at once bleak and full of redemption.
Perhaps Surman's desire to match the organ in power lent the performance some of its great urgency. Comically feigning exhaustion towards the end of the evening, Surman noted that while Moody possesses some 4000 pipes and two bellows at his disposal, he had but one. This arrangement seemed to bring the absolute best out of Surman, however, creating a sublime performance that was like few items in music. The crowd recognized as much, pouring out ovations of "Mercí!" "Fabulous!" "Bravo!," and perhaps from the more American of the audience, "Well, all right!"
Operating under mentor Don Cherry's belief that "Style is the death of creativity," percussionist Adam Rudolph has, for over 30 years, explored the world's music, attempting to understand the underlying principles that dictate how it is expressed and received. Rudolph's studies in Ghana and North India were powerful influences on his early development, and the Mandingo Griot Society, which Rudolph founded with the Gambian kora griot Foday Musa Suso, helped pioneer the fusion of West African music and jazz. Rudolph also recorded the first fusion of American and Gnawa (Moroccan) music with sintir player and singer Hassan Hakmoun. Rudolph is so much more than a "world music innovator," however, as his best music seems to defy any such categorization altogether. In understanding music according to its most basic qualityvibrationRudolph has transcended the restrictions of style, even of harmony and rhythm, to create performances of rare mystery, beauty, and surprise.
Rudolph's Moving Pictures ensemble, whose lineup has traditionally included Hamid Drake, Federico Ramos, and Oguri, here performed at the GESÙ Centre de Créativité, a dark and intimate performance hall. This formation of the sextet featured Rudolph (udu drum, hand drums, thumb pianos, talking drum, bendir, selya flute, balafon, brekete, tajida, naqqara), Kenny Wessel (electric guitar, banjo), Ralph Jones (acoustic electric bass), Brahim Fribgane (percussion, oud), Graham Haynes (trumpet, flugelhorn, bamboo flutes), and Ralph Jones (reeds and woodwinds).
Rudolph opened the performance with four quick conga hits, counting off the dense, layered percussion foundation of "Oshogbo." The horns outlined the composition with asymmetrical hits while Wessle complimented with electric guitar swells. The band took turns improvising in and on top of Fripgane and Rudolph's orchestra of percussion, the music moving as much vertically as horizontally. Rudolph stood at center stage behind a half moon of free-standing percussion, lighting a fire under his ensemble. Dramatically, as the groove then seemed all but unbreakable: silence. The sextet's use of the newfound space was magnificent. The ensemble quietly explored new textures and broken rhythms, navigating the silence with controlled assurance. This contrast with the preceding activity colored the silencea critical component to the music. Don Cherry again, as he once spoke to Rudolph: "You have to respect the silence before you can respect the sound." These variations of density and depth of sound, performed with such spontaneity, were a great surprise and pleasure to experience.
The disjointed chromaticism of Wessle's electric guitar seemed at first a bizarre contrast to the more organic-sounding bamboo flutes and percussion. But in short time his role gained clarity, and his harmonic sophistication proved an indispensable piece of the whole. The Cassablancan Fripgane was also a major discovery. His oud was magisterial, to say nothing of his versatility. Possessing a seemingly endless supply of ideas, Fripgane's lengthy oud improvisation provided the meat of the unnamed 20-30 minute composition that climaxed the performance. Behind Fripgane, the ensemble moved deftly in and out of time, questioning the very nature of it. Finally, Harris delivered a triumphant repeating figure on bass that the horns later doubled, sending Fripgane's statement to its conclusion.
This was, however, foremost an ensemble performance. The major individual solos, fine though they were, never overtook the shared musical vision, as on the closing "Dance Dream Part III." Ralph Jones called the band to performance with a ringing wood flute solo, using a wide palette of multiphonics and other extended techniques. Wessle moved to banjo, adding a new timbre to the ensemble, and the moments of country-western-style finger picking made a terrific counterpoint. As the band shifted identities around him, Jones took up his soprano for a monstrous soloone of the finest individual contributions of the nightthat burned a hole right through the wall of percussion Rudolph had built. The real drama, however, was in the movement of the ensemble. Rudolph directed his band with a mix of musical and visual cues, building rhythmic and harmonic density out of empty space before clearing out completely, allowing Jones to switch directions again in a series of unaccompanied improvisations.
Rudolph's Moving Pictures was certainly among the most genuinely surprising performances in Montréal. Not every piece so rode the sky"Six Sided" felt rather shapeless as the band rose and fell over an unappealing looped electric guitar phrase. But this is hardly what sticks in memory. Instead, it is the mystery of the music, the group's clarity of purpose, and the joy of hearing something profound. Moving Pictures left the audience refreshed, believing again in the endless possibilities of improvisational music.
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette banded at Manfred Eicher's suggestion in 1983, taking on the Great American Songbook with the now classic Standards: Volume 1. From there, Jarrett began to incorporate select originals in the trio's increasingly popular performances, as if he wished to present his writing in the same continuum he paid homage to. With 1990's wonderful Changeless, the trio subverted the language it helped create, abandoning chord changes for static harmony, questioning the relevance of changes in contemporary jazz. Jarrett suffered the effects of a debilitating case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for much of the late 1990s, though the trio returned in the new century with a fascinating break: two albums of free improvisation ( Inside Out and Always Let Me Go). Alternately renewing itself and returning to the material on which it formed, the trio has constantly re-shaped itself and redefined its relationship to the jazz tradition. (A common assertion has been that the Standards Trio has tempered Jarrett's more extravagant and self-indulgent urges, the source material perhaps forcing a degree of deference on the pianist. Lost in this reading, however, is the reality that the 'Standards Trio' is as daringly original and thought-provoking as anything Jarrett has attempted in his storied life in music.)
Now performing almost exclusively in large concert halls and opera houses, the 'Standards Trio' took the stage at the near-3,000 seat Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at 7:30pm on July 3 to thunderous applause. Jarrett introduced the trio with a long, soulful introduction that was packed with clipped moments of genius. As a trio, however, the group struggled to find its footing. DeJohnette and Peacock took a back seat for much of the early evening, at times not sounding particularly engaged by the music. DeJohnette in particular offered only glimpses of the brilliance we have come to expect of him. When he did push the trio, stretching the time to its break behind a majestic Jarrett solo or layering long, unresolved lines of polyrhythms across his kit, the music immediately shot out of the atmosphere. These moments were too often the exception, however, and flat and uninspired for much of the first set, the trio for once sounded as if it were too comfortable with its own language (a touching reading of "Too Young to Go Steady" notwithstanding).
Perhaps it was the sunglasses Jarrett added during the intermission, but things changed quickly on stage. After an astonishing piano introduction that featured some otherworldly explosions of chromaticism, Jarrett introduced the melody of "All the Things You Are" to wild applause. A much more powerful demonstration of the band's gifts, the second set featured the trio playing with increased wit, sympathy, and emotional gravity. The band clearly delighted in each other's company, and played with an intimate looseness, in contrast to the more labored interaction earlier in the evening.
Perhaps inevitably, it could not last. While taking a second exaggerated bow at center stage, the (overly-enthusiastic?) crowd furiously applauding the trio, Jarrett observed a camera flash. Jarrett forebodingly approached a spotlighted microphone for his first announcement of the evening: "The person next to that person should take their [sic] camera away. Now I will shut up." Several audience members cried in response, "We love you Keith!"apparently believing all the man needed was a hug. Jarrett unceremoniously left the stage, and seconds later the house lights rose, squashing the scattered applause the remained. A sad and bizarre ending for the many fans who craved more than the 90 minutes of music they received. Jarrett's sensitivity and (at times) contempt for his audience has been well documented, so I will bring no more attention to it than this.
The sold-out GESÙ theater buzzed with anticipation for Tomasz Stanko and his Scandinavian Dark Eyes quintet. And rightly so. A giant of the music, Stańko is the pre-eminent exponent of Polish jazz of his generation, and certainly one of the great bandleaders of the last half century. Stańko possesses one of the unmistakable sounds in jazza trumpet tone at once fragile, piercing, and lyrical, backed by a generous imagination and intelligence.
Stańko studied music in Kraków and formed a key relationship with pianist Krzysztof Komeda in 1963. Stańko went on to perform with many of the great European free players of the day, including a stint with the Globe Unity Orchestra. In the late 1980s he worked with Cecil Taylor and Ted Curson, among others, before emerging somewhat unexpectedly with a magnificent string of releases for ECM in the 1990s, including Bossanossa and Other Ballads, Leosia, Litania, and From the Green Hill (his quartet with Tony Oxley, Bobo Stenson, and Anders Jormin simply must be heard). Not one to repeat his successes, Stańko has more recently worked with a younger generation of Polish musicians, exposing the exciting Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz, and Michal Miskiewicz to international audiences.
Featuring Alexi Tuomarila (piano), Jakob Bro (guitar), Anders Christensen (bass), and Olavi Louhivuori (drums), the Dark Eyes quintet masters a decidedly different tone, more cinematic, more rockish even, than its predecessor. In this quintet Stańko has found a highly compelling unit with which to perform new music, while still maintaining many of the same elements for which he is so beloved.
"Grand Central" opened the performance, the rhythm section's meditative introduction setting the atmosphere and building momentum towards Stańko's entrance. Already, it was apparent this was a band best experienced liveits dark energy filling each corner of the room, reaching heights unchallenged by the album. Alexi Tuomarila's vamp segued into a stunning, perfectly-paced solo that moved from a gentle minimalism to massive, harmonically dense flares. Stańko stood off stage, pleased to let his band speak for itself, his absence temporarily forgotten in Tuomarila's captivating performance. Finally Stańko entered with a lean, acidic statement that pushed the performance over the edge, the supporting band doing all it could to match Stańko's emotional intensity.
Stańko was extremely generous with solo space, allowing ample time for the audience to intimately get to know his players. So much so that it left me hoping to hear more from the great trumpeter himself. No matter though, his economical approach made each entrance, improvisation, and statement of theme all the more powerful. Each note was an occasion. At the time of his own staggering solo performance the audience sat enthralled, hanging on each wavering pitch and articulation, each daring rhythmic twist until the wholly satisfying resolution.
Finally, something must be said of drummer Olavi Louhivuori, who may have been the revelation of the festival. Louhivuori owns a wonderful touchintensely musical and warm, with the sharpness of a chef's knifeand proved a master colorist, always coaxing just the right sound from his instrument. Louhivuori and Stańko set a sharply controlled blaze in a breakneck duo, delivering all the physical excitement the audience could have hoped for. Stańko screamed in quick bursts through his trumpet while the drummer created mesmeric figures of great dexterity and power.
Answering the warm ovation, the quintet returned to the stage following a gently mournful statement from Stańko. Deliberately, his trumpet introduced a familiar theme: Komeda's "Sleep Safe and Warm" from the 1968 film Rosemary's Baby. Stańko, Bro, and Tuomarila each took turns over Christensen's static electric bass and Louhivuori's impeccable brushwork. The chilling reprise of one of Komeda's most enduring themes punctuated a truly great performance.
A virtuoso slide guitarist, impassioned showman, and tireless student of ethnomusicology, Bob Brozman presented his world of music and witticism to a lively house at Cinquième Salle.
Though always rooted in the American blues, Brozman's slide guitars resonate with the rhythmic foundations and aesthetic qualities of jazz, Hawaiian slack key, calypso, R&B, and raga, to only scratch the surface. Brozman has spent his life traveling the world, submerging himself in foreign language and culture, searching for the shared principles at the core of human art.
Picking up one of the seven custom made guitars standing on stage, Brozman introduced himself, speaking primarily in French, and launched into it. In just moments Brozman had summoned dozens of timbral effects from his steel guitarhitting it with rings, scraping his finger picks across its body, slapping his palms, all in the miniature spaces his virtuosic strumming and double and triple picked passages allowed. With seemingly boundless energy, Brozman scatted, spun his guitar, growled, sang, and offered his own percussive accompaniment to his quirky, blues-drenched compositions.
Brozman's humorous and largely improvised interludes jumped in meter and geography, and often lasted only a passing moment before disappearing back under the more conventional song structure that supported each stunning performance. How can so much music come from one man?
Brozman escorted the crowd through a wild slide improvisation ("I'll begin with the first note I learned, G. After that: I don't know what I'm doing!"), a Hawaiian guitar feature, and an audience participation piece ("I don't believe in concerts. I believe in evenings of life together as human beings.") that had the audience rolling and struggling for breath as Brozman subdivided the count to twelve. All of which was characteristically quirky and absolutely unclassifiable.
Brozman cued the next segment of the performance, explaining that he would move to his own brand of musical anthropology, demonstrating why people "need translators for language, but not for music." Brozman does not presume to play the music of the world, he later explained, but he offers instead his understanding of the lessons he has learned from it. The following "Death Comes Creepin'" was a major highlight of the performance, the raised emotional intensity proving how affecting a performer Brozman can be when he so desires. While he remained idiosyncratic as ever, Brozman did appear to shake off some of the silliness, singing soberly of poverty in America and his own fear of death.
Brozman's musical rebukes of United States political culture were effective enough, though his stage banter, and there was a lot of it, often lacked the same thoughtfulness. There appeared some pandering to his Montréal audience, noting their First World superiority and indulging in tired U.S. stereotypes whenever possible. His was not a self-deprecating humorBrozman (who lives in Northern California) so clearly believed he was the exception from those he mocked. For example: he is dangerous in the U.S. because he dares to read books in cafés that are not the bible, he told us on separate occasions. The effect was slightly condescending, and Brozman simply wasn't very creative here (don't forget to play the ignoramus with a southern accent!). His acerbic comments were not criminal in themselves, and certainly the bulk were in jest, they just too often lacked a redeeming wit.
More enjoyable was the compassionate Brozman, as in the closing "Look at New Orleans," a selection from his Post Industrial Blues (2007). When he howled, "If you want to know just what sorrow means, take a look at what happened to the people down in New Orleans," you could not doubt his empathy or the rawness of his emotion. A grim closing to a diverse evening that surely convinced National Guitars devotees and newcomers alike.
Steve Kuhn studied with Margaret Chaloff (Serge's mother) before moving to New York and seizing an opportunity with Kenny Dorham's group. A brief stint with the Coltrane quartet led to a period in Stan Getz's band, all before Kuhn moved to Stockholm for the duration of the 1960s. An understated and under-appreciated player, Kuhn has long eschewed flashy pianism in favor of more nuanced expressions of his genius.
Kuhn's longstanding relationship with bassist David Finck has been a joy to follow. The pair's special sympathy has been at the heart of Kuhn's Countdown, The Best Things, Promises Kept, and Remembering Tomorrow and Mostly Coltrane, which also featured Joey Baron. Mostly Coltrane was released in 2009 on ECM and this suggested the possibility of a concert of Coltrane compositions at GESÙ. How the trio might respond to the loss of Joe Lovano, who is giant on the record, would surely then be a focus.
Instead, Kuhn signaled the opening "If I Were a Bell" with the chiming introduction commonly associated with Miles' bands. As Baron and Finck entered with a gentle, up-tempo two-feel, it was apparent that the band would not spend the evening weighted down by the emotion of the Coltrane Quartet. Baron and Finck patiently pushed the time forward, Baron dropping some well placed bombs when Kuhn's deceptively complex double-handed runs called for them. Superficially straight- forward, Kuhn's performance nevertheless featured countless subtle harmonic inflections and brief time changes. The trio's rollicking buoyancy welcomed the audience in to the performance and helped turn the old standard into something quite magical.
Kuhn has long been interested in standards, and as a result his more individual voice as a composer has at times been lost. What a pleasure, then, to hear several of Kuhn's great works mixed into the performance, including his outstanding and impressionistic "Oceans in the Sky," the sure high of the night. Finck began, his arco bass replicating seagulls and other water birds in incredible ways. Slowly the bassist incorporated more lyrical phrases while continuing to interject delicate noises from the sea. Baron and Kuhn entered with some gentle atmospherics before launching into the majestic, sparkling melody. Rhythmically, the band surged beyond the meter, at once daring and rock-solid, clearly more comfortable challenging the audience in the context of Kuhn's own writing. Baron provided the greatest punch in Kuhn's impassioned and rich improvisation before dissolving his own solo into silence. From there Baron painted in disjointed, abstract imagesalways true to the spirit of the piece. Baron played the drum heads with his hands, bending the pitches with a wet thumb like light refracting through the water's surface. He scraped his brushes across his floor tom, recreating the waves on a beach. A study in percussion imagery, Baron exhibited a rare and impenetrable focus. A pity "Oceans" ever had to end.
The performance did not stun with virtuosity, but it had what you cannot buy: a group whose affinity for one another enabled them to transcend the established language of the piano trio to create musical magic. A wonderfully balanced and consistently inventive set. Hope they keep at it.
Each day from noon to midnight the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal offers a relentless series of free, open-air performances within the festival borders. The largest of which, Scène TD at the Place des Festivals, holds the most massive events, including the opening evening's Brian Setzer extravaganza. Scène CBC/ Radio-Canada is a much more modest space, located in a large courtyard that also held La Galerie du Festival, a mobile tent that exhibits festival-inspired artwork of years past, and a bistro that allows patrons to overlook the stage while dining. Here the Terry Clarke Trio with Don Thompson and Phil Dwyer performed in the early evening of an impressive Montréal heat wave.
Clarke's debut album as a leader, It's About Time, won the Juno award for Traditional Jazz Album of the Year. This is a scaled down version of that band, losing some of its star power in the absence of Greg Osby, Jim Hall, and Joe Lovano. Stripped down to its essential parts, however, the Clarke Trio is a lean, merciless vehicle for Clarke's brand of contemporary jazz.
Opening with an furiously dark mallet solo, Clarke wasted no time with pleasantries. The setting immediately rose to the forefront, as much of the sensitivity of touch was lost in Clarke's playing. But what the stage's massive speaker system sacrificed in clarity it gained in power Clarke's cross-sticked polyrhythms acting as a force of nature. Clarke's solo segued into the brisk "Village Green" by William Green, a major feature for tenor saxophonist Phil Dwyer, whose muscular and musicianly solo dominated the proceedings.
The performance was technically amazing, to be sure, but perhaps uncomfortable with the heavily amplified settingor perhaps distracted by the smells of the nearby friterie wafting through the crowd, a confusing, though not entirely unpleasant effectthe band appeared to charge its way through, at times forcing the issue of power, as if afraid to let the music speak for itself.
The trio ran through several originals, including Don Thompson's effusive "Days Gone By," which the bassist ably switched to piano for, and Dwyer's "Flanders Road," in which the saxophonist wasted no breath in his maximalist statement. Mid-way through the set Clarke took the microphone to introduce the next phase, a work he believed had never been performed on stage since it was written in 1958. Not quite accurate (David S. Ware has recorded and performed it live), but Sonny Rollins' Freedom Suite proved to be right in the trio's wheelhouse.
Interestingly, the band felt at once more comfortable and less derivative playing Rollins' signature material. The suite gave the band a clear focus that they clearly thrived on. And while all the same qualities were presentClarke's fire and brimstone single strokes, Dwyer's Olympian improvisations, Thompson's huge presencethe results were suddenly much more gripping. Dwyer, in particular, played with new sincerity, his ear for hidden harmony in the suite and his funky phrasing allowing the music to breathe so much easier.
The performance climaxed in the suite's third movement with some vicious trading between Dwyer and the ever-energetic Clarke. And despite the fireworks, the band swung harder too, finally appearing comfortable with itself. The three men succeeded wildly in capturing the spirit of the music while still infusing it with the distinctive qualities of the Terry Clarke Trio. In this regard, perhaps, it was closer to Ware's reading than you might expect.
Wearing an envy-inducing plum suit, Allen Toussaint introduced his Bright Mississippi band at the Théâtre Maissonneuve stage to an appreciative and knowledgeable audience. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton, reedman Don Byron, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, and drummer Herman Le Beaux rounded out the generous ensemble, and on the penultimate night of the festival, the performance had all the bittersweetness of a heartfelt good-bye.
A legendary composer and producer of R&B, soul, and jazz, Toussaint has renewed audience interest in his work as a performer with two major Nonesuch releases. Toussaint's contributions to the 2005 compilation Our New Orleans marked a rare occasion of Toussaint approaching his own rich songbook. "I hadn't tackled them on my own," Toussaint explained at the time of its release, "'Tackle' is a bad wordI hadn't caressed them on my own, except to listen from time to time in passing. I knew they existed, of course, but, no, I hadn't played them before. Even the gigs that I've done during my gigging days, I was playing whatever was on the radio at the time, boogie-ing and woogie-ing and the like. I hadn't been through this standard bag. I always loved those songs, but I had never been in a setting where that is what I would do for a while. Until now."
The Bright Mississippi (2009), meanwhile, sees Toussaint and his all-star band (selected by producer Joe Henry) taking on the jazz and popular music of Toussaint's youth. Toussaint approaches Joseph "King" Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, and Leonard Feather with absolute conviction, not merely infusing the music with traditional New Orleans soul and rhythm, but telling the very story of American music as he has known it.
Thelonious Monk's "Bright Mississippi" opened the performance, Toussaint joyfully dancing around the jaunty, heavily syncopated theme. It was Toussaint who immediately jumped out as the most adventurous of the ensemble, fluidly moving in and out of second line, ragtime, and stride piano, taking great detours through decades of jazz history on a romantic whim.
Piltch and Le Beaux played mostly supporting roles next to the four giants. Byron and Payton, meanwhile, were ideal foilsByron more immediately daring and vulnerable, Payton a rock and direct link to New Orleans. Payton commanded his instrument and the audience with equal skillable to send the crowd to uproar with one sustained, ballooning crescendo. Ribot was largely an underused weapon, given all he brought to the opportunities afforded to him.
Much of the evening belonged to Byron, to put it simply. He is just too good in contexts like this, and somehow only seemed to improve as the night wore on. "This man is full of marvelous color," Toussaint observed of Byron as he called him to the stage for a second piano duet. Toussaint's tenderness towards the younger reedman was moving, and Byron responded, supremely coloring Toussaint's music with harmonic adventures that left the rest of the sextet grinning with delight. After exchanging rounds of solos, neither man wanting the conversation to end, Byron surpassed himself with a long unaccompanied coda. A heavy pause proceeded his conclusion, the room savoring the moment in time.
The sextet closed with "Southern Nights," only the second vocal performance of the evening, and still a joy to hear after all this time. Toussaint took an extended interlude in the middle, telling the story of the song's originshis childhood trips to the country outside of New Orleans to visit his extended family. Told atop an effortless vamp, the story, which was beyond long, at some indefinable point moved from endless to enchanting. Toussaint shared charming memories of that blackened, breezy porch ("All the wisdom and love in the world was out on that porch.") and of his family. Judging by the grave expressions of his supporting band, certain jokes and phrases were part of a structure that has been repeated who knows how many times. By contrast, though, their great surprise and delight in other moments of Toussaint's monologue suggested the man was simply telling a story with whatever memories happened to rise to the top at any given moment. The effect was a nuanced, warm, heartfelt picture that lent increased weight to the final chorus.
Earlier in the performance Toussaint sweetly noted: "The night is gonna fly by and I want you to know that I don't take this for granted. Thank you for being here with us." Two generous hours of music later, the time did seem to disappear. An unforgettable, soul-satisfying evening of music.
Place des Festivals, Tomasz Stańko Quintet, Terry Clarke Trio: Jean-F Leblanc
Adam Rudolph and Allen Toussaint's Bright Mississippi: Dave Kaufman
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette: Denis Alex
Bob Brozman: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
Steve Kuhn Trio: Victor Diaz Lamich