Festival International de Jazz de Montreal: July 2-5, 2010
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.
July 3: Tomasz Stańko Dark Eyes Quintet
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.