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Live Reviews

Montreal Jazz Festival, Days 4-6, July 2-4, 2011

By Published: July 7, 2011

July 2: In the Country

In the Country also suffered from being scheduled as part of a double bill—though more so, perhaps, than Aarset. With the set change between the two groups taking longer than the scheduled 15 minutes, and extending well past 1:00AM, the performance was marred by a number of people leaving throughout the set—no doubt for the simple reason that public transportation was ending before In the Country's set did. This was a trio whose 2005 debut, the beautifully (and aptly) titled This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat, was described by the label as its first "jazz record," but it was clear from the first moments of its set that this was not your typical piano trio. Even comparisons to groups like The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus
The Bad Plus

band/orchestra
are both inept and inapt; other than its configuration, there's very little to connect pianist Morten Qvenild, bassist Roger Arntzen and drummer Pål Hausken—friends who met in university and, while involved in other projects, always come back to In the Country as a priority—with the quirkier, high volume and high octane American trio.

From left: Morten Qvenild, Roger Anrtzen, Pål Hausken

Not that In the Country didn't get loud—there were moments in the hour-long set where the collective volume took a leap as they trio headed for freer territory—but those moments felt all the more loud for the near-silence that was an equal part of the group's sound. With a new CD/DVD package just out—Sounds and Sights (Rune Grammofon, 2011)—the group continued its strange love affair with song, even as it twisted the form and introduced strangely skewed ideas and textures, equal parts Qvenild's electronic manipulations, Arntzen's effected double-bass and Hausken's fluid use of mallets on his kit rather than conventional sticks. The set culled material from its three previous records, including a song introduced as the title track to Whiteout (Rune Grammofon, 2009) but actually the countrified "Doves Dance," from the same album, though the tumultuous middle section certainly felt more like a whiteout than birds in flight.

A feeling that confirmed In the Country's cinematic approach to music, though the group is equally disposed to greater intimacy—in particular on the vocal tunes, where Qvenild's almost whispered melodies combined with Arntzen's and Hausken's equally soft delivery to create harmonies of fragile vulnerability.

Sights and Sounds, in addition to being the trio's first live recording, also represents the first time, In the Country has interpreted music from other sources. A closing version of guitar hero Mark Knopfler's title track to Dire Straits
Dire Straits
1977 - 1995
band/orchestra
' massive hit record, Brothers in Arms (Warner Bros., 1985) was curiously idiosyncratic, yet retained the melancholy power of the original, as Qvenild combined light touch and a temporal elasticity that created a near-swirl of sound. Arntzen played with Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
b.1937
bass, acoustic
-like simplicity, while Hausken kept his touch so light during the verses that, much like fellow Nordic drummer Jarle Vespestad, he seemed almost to be breathing on the skins rather than hitting them. Dynamics were so impeccably controlled that when the trio began to ratchet up the volume, mid-song, the result was even more dramatic, highlighted even more when the trio brought the song back down to near-silence.

Morten Qvenild

The last date on a North American tour that saw the trio in Rochester, Washington (DC), Oakland, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and New York before making its way to FIJM for the first time, this isn't the first time In the Country has played in North America, but it's the longest tour to date, and if CD sales are any reflection, the fact that the group had sold out all its copies of Sounds and Sights before arriving in Montréal means that it's gradually building an audience, on this side of the Atlantic, to mirror its growing reputation beyond Norway and into the rest of Europe. The audience had diminished by the end of its set, but those who toughed it out into the wee hours of the morning were rewarded with a performance of gentle honesty and conviction that was a perfect ending to yet another great day at Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.


July 3: Christian McBride's Inside Straight

It's been a couple years since Christian McBride
Christian McBride
Christian McBride
b.1972
bass
released Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue, 2009) with his new Inside Straight quintet, but the in-demand bassist ((Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
, Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
, Terri Lyne Carrington
Terri Lyne Carrington
Terri Lyne Carrington
b.1965
drums
has been getting a lot of mileage out of it ever since. And why wouldn't he? Paying homage to the great 1960s era of Blue Note, with a lineup that's especially reminiscent of collaborations by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
Bobby Hutcherson
b.1941
vibraphone
and saxophonist Harold Land
Harold Land
Harold Land
1928 - 2001
sax, tenor
, Inside Straight is, well, straight-down-the-middle mainstream jazz; but, played with a vigor and relaxed camaraderie, it's perfect jazz festival fare.

With a slightly altered lineup—longtime musical partner, pianist Peter Martin
Peter Martin
Peter Martin
b.1970
piano
replacing Eric Reed
Eric Reed
Eric Reed
b.1970
piano
, and firebrand young drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. replacing Carl Allen
Carl Allen
Carl Allen
b.1961
drums
—McBride's quintet still retained two of its biggest strengths: saxophonist Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
b.1961
sax, alto
and up-and-coming vibraphonist Warren Wolf
Warren Wolf
Warren Wolf
b.1979
vibraphone
, Jr. If Kind of Brown smokes, then McBride's 6PM performance at Gésu positively caught fire from the get-go, with a more in-your-face version of "Brother Mister," a blues that was one of a half dozen songs culled from the album but which, blowing session that it was, McBride liberally stretched, giving everyone in the band a chance to warm up and flex their individual and collective muscles.

Wilson, who's appeared on hundreds of recordings by artists like Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass
, Chick Corea and Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
b.1956
vocalist
, not to mention a small but strong discography as a leader for Criss Cross, Stretch and MAXJAZZ, brought his own combination of head and heart on alto and soprano, co-leading the frontline with Wolf, who first emerged with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt
Jeremy Pelt
Jeremy Pelt
b.1976
trumpet
in 2005 on Identity (MAXJAZZ), and appears poised for greater things. McBride cited The Huffington Post when introducing the vibraphonist, who called him "the Mike Tyson of the vibraphone," and with a two-mallet approach that, at times, seemed more like a blur than two arms hovering over the keys, they were absolutely right.

Ulysses Owens

Owens is another relative youngster, with only a couple of recordings under his belt—most notably singer Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
Kurt Elling
b.1967
vocalist
's tribute to John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
and Johnny Hartman
Johnny Hartman
Johnny Hartman
1923 - 1983
vocalist
, Dedicated To You (Concord, 2009). He's also a member of Elling's current touring band, but has had to sub out on the singer's recent dates, in order to play with Inside Straight; a tough choice, but for a drummer who clearly wants to let loose and blow, an easy one to understand. And while some of McBride's tunes have their share of challenge—in particular the encore, "Stick and Move," with its series of stops and starts, and ultimately a solo vehicle for Owens, who drew huge rounds of applause from the packed house—they were ultimately little more than appealing context-setters for the group to get loose and kick it.

McBride was, as ever, a powerhouse with a huge sound and the kind of frightening dexterity that's made him such a double threat on electric bass as well, but here it was acoustic all the way—mostly pizzicato but, on the set's sole ballad, proving equally capable with a bow. As ever, an affable spokesperson who doesn't read from a script, McBride made constant reference to the late Montréal Expos baseball team—"Do y'all miss The Expos," he asked at one point, garnering hoots and applause from the audience, but losing them later when, as he was introducing the band, he revealed, "I'm from Philadelphia—that's why I miss The Expos," which got him his only "boos" of the evening, but all in good spirit, of course.

Walter Wolfe, Jr.

Closing the set with a far more energetically soulful version of Used 'Ta Could" than on Kind of Brown, McBride proved that it's possible to look back at the jazz tradition without shtick—remain absolutely reverential and respectful without losing modernity. Martin's solos were largely centrist, but the occasional skewed harmony gave them tremendous lift, as McBride picked up on them to provide additional push on the low end. With the musicians amiably wandering the stage when they weren't playing, it was almost like being in a living room with a bunch of friends just having a good time running down some tunes—but at the highest level possible.

Nearing the three-year mark, McBride's inside Straight may be nearing the end of its shelf life—unless McBride decides to release another recording with the group, and if he does, he'd be best off to use this current incarnation—but it's not showing any signs of fading away. If anything, the band has, with touring over the past couple years, honed itself to a lean, mean mainstream machine, and if straight-ahead jazz has a future, it's with groups like Inside Straight, retaining all the reasons that made this music great in the first place. Swinging like a mofo, it was an exciting set that McBride's FIJM audience won't soon forget.


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