Montreux Jazz Festival: Montreux, Switzerland, July 3-5, 2011
July 3-5, 2011
The 45th Edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival included many iconic profiles, bonded in unique partnership, and rare as the sunset air. Those collaborated chords ensured Montreux remains at the pinnacle of performance packaging, as the festival continued a streak atop European "must see" musical destinations.
The 2011 program retained a global eye on legends of jazz and other popular genres, while including more commercial (i.e.: younger demographic) and novelty acts. Bobby King, Carlos Santana, Sting, Paul Simon and George Benson led a star-powered charge that compiled a reported 87% of tickets sold, with complete sellouts for 18 of 32 events. Beside Benson and a pumped-up David Sanborn, the rejuvenated Return to Forever IV, Esperanza Spalding and the Miles Davis Tribute project were among currently touring jazz giants that kept Montreux's itinerary true to traditional billing.
There was a different vibe across the grounds, a bit more intense; than in recent years. That could be a result of social issues, it could be the heavier accent on guitar feedback this season. Personal observation indicated more miscues than usual, either by booking or performance, but those few hiccups were a tiny price to pay for a standard range of available shows as worthwhile as Montreux maintains. Better to see a striving artist miss than a stagnant artist muddle.
Meanwhile, life amidst bemused locals goes on at a typical, casually efficient pace. The population or perimeter has not increased like the rapidly growing festival'sdaily activity more than doubled. Many in the region's diverse population flocked to observe the tourist party and catch typically fine free performances. Visitors were treated more like tasty migrating geese than intruding hordes.
Jazz conservatives considering a costly visit should be forewarned that excluding the free "Music in the Park" series staged outside, the amount of acts that could be even thinly stretched into a jazz mold was less than 40% this year in Montreux's primary venues. That 40% still constitutes a majority however, and whatever your preference the majority of the music was once again excellent.
It seems many artists have a special respect for the Montreux spotlight, and it's probably not too cynical to assume an awareness factor that a Live at Montreux DVD could be selling before they're back in their room after a show. There is an intangible time capsule affect here, as in yes, this could be the current apex of hunter and gatherer civilization, and this is the soundtrack to our marketplace. Whether it was the crowds or the performers, there were more per capita moments of roaring approval this year than in recent memory.
With much improved public walkways it's easier and more pleasurable to catch multiple shows, back and forth between venues. Due to tightly limited two-way traffic around the hilly waterfront locale, most patrons passed between tour busses, shuffling equipment convoys and entourages, adding to the communal environment. Even amidst limo stands or pricey pavilions there were no jazz snobs to be suffered.
In July, snow capped peaks still illuminate distant horizons across the water while daylight remains until after 2300 hrs on ornate Swiss clocks that decorate stately facades. Multiple maintenance crews labor at all times, keeping up appearances, including many clean public facilities. The many canine visitors get prominently marked litter bags every five meters and woe be the tourist, rightfully so, who fails to scoop poop.
The Funk Ensemble
The flow of human traffic is lined by hundreds sharing romantic views either with intimates or the general, highly congenial swarm. For the most part, it's a very relaxed and refreshing locale, even in crammed spots where non-invasive, group hoedowns are encouraged by elevated DJs for everything from obscure world beats to Michael Jackson hits. Montreux Jazz is a crowd, dancing.
Though certainly on the high end of the cost meter, demand still far exceeds supply at Montreux. While you often get what you pay for, whatever you get isn't usually cheap in Switzerland. There was a lot of good, free music again this year, especially as the Jazz Café featured many hot ticket new bands and the always reliable park band shell provided a balance of jazz that trumped most rockers, between tradition and abstraction. Good balance. If you arrive early enough, say the third set after a 2 pm start, you can stretch comfortably in the grass with a view of the stage that remains great under varying conditions and humanity.
July 3: Guitar Masters Guide the Way
This edition's first weekend was ignited by titanic tag teams featuring King and Santana on separate stages with multiple, rotating guests like John McLaughlin, who sat in during King's Saturday set after revisiting the John Coltrane and Sri Chinmoy-inspired Love, Devotion, Surrender (Columbia, 1973) with Santana, the previous evening.
There was also a higher percentage of amped-up guitarists scheduled than in many years, but for the most part Montreux has always embraced a rocking ethic, with previous invitees running from Alice Cooper to Led Zeppelin. In an area with numerous monuments honoring historical artistic figures, Freddy Mercury's centrally poised statue sees more fans pose alongside it than any other landmark.
Observing close proximity sales stalls in a central area that stretches for approximately 550 meters, Montreux's reported attendance figures averaging around 20,000 guests per day for a total near 230,000 visits appear accurate. As the first full week began, it looked like numbers were up by thousands on the festival grounds, a couple hundred people down for some of the Miles Davis Hall sets, and always packed as usual at the premium shows in Auditorium Stravinski, which tightly holds approximately 4,400.
King is King
Ultimately, the Swiss Alp summit meeting was elevated even more. Every six-string slinger in the weekend's vicinity joined the marquee guitar gurus in a superstar Sunday tribute jam featuring King, christened "Greetings to the Chairman of the Board." It's doubtful Frank Sinatra would object to King inheriting that title, especially after the tribute in King's autobiography, including how Sinatra gained King entrance into previously segregated Las Vegas clubs. Now, as King sat centered amidst younger colleagues calling out tunes and tempos, the title seemed appropriate. Chairman of the Sounding Board might have fit better.
The lineup was amazing on paper and on key, with guitarists Santana, McLaughlin, Robert Randolph,Susan Tedeschi,Derek Trucks, Ladell McLin and Philipp Fankhauser, plus keyboardist Silvan Zingg. New York's Shemekia Copeland, daughter of late Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland, shared most of the vocals behind King's narration, with Tedeschi also singing with admirable southern US grit.
After more formal set lists on previous nights, the players looked relaxed and at home. King and Santana got down to business so informally it seemed they'd forgotten how much of a thrill it was for most of the audience to watch their interaction on stage.
The show ran uninterrupted, like a righteous river, well over two hours from beginning to end; much of it along a rolling, medium paced backdrop that showcased King's impeccable travelling squad. Tonight they kicked back in autopilot, supporting extended foundational riffs from King's repertoire like "Everyday I Get the Blues."
BB King Jam
The band, under trumpeter/director James Bolden, showed how seamlessly they could switch gears with guitarist Charles Dennis, bassist Reginal Richards and drummer Anthony Coleman carrying everyone like a chartered yacht. As King rattled off themes that drifted outside recently observed set lists, it was a perfect example of how unrehearsed spontaneity can lead to profound, one-of-a-kind interludes. Walter King and Melvin Jackson on sax, keyboardist Ernest Vantrease and trumpeter Stanley Abernathy rounded out the noteworthy band.
It was non-stop, soft-charging and effective music. King held court in a swinging swarm that passed the baton spotlight through five or six long jams of relaxed rhythms. King seemed capable of maintaining the moderate pace all morning long, to huge ovations, as everyone with a working device took videos. For much of the show, a fifth of the fans clapped along while actually keeping the beat.
King didn't display much of whatever guitar prowess he retains, but his iconic personality made an easy connection with fans there to love him and catch a glimpse of a legend. King understood and justifiably capitalized on his role, very relaxed while perched in the bandleader throne for his own serenade. When he did jump in, King favored staccato bursts over stretched frets as if he was working between what other players did. It was hard to differentiate who strummed what sometimes, but always a rare symphony in blues major. Though King rarely picked a solo string, his rambling vocal presence was clearly a beacon of light into the orbits of other stars.
"When you get to be my age, you do like I do, just sit here and look out and tell other people to play," mused the 86 year-old.
King was in comfy, living room sofa mode, but he also maintained a determined vision of how the ensemble should perform. The interaction as King gently drilled the troops or allowed pieces to develop became a master class in metered mechanics as the group jelled. The gigantic band was not as precise as some other acts, simply due to basics like practice time, but moments when the collective peaked were priceless nuggets. Even around 100 to 250 US dollars a face value ticket, it seemed like a bargain at any exchange rate.
The moment McLaughlin strolled out to join King and Santana at center stage was truly electric, of body and soul. McLaughlin and Santana immediately reconnected with merging signature sounds from proceeding nights and eras. It was cool to see major players alternating multi-song backup roles. The probably unrehearsed collective followed shared leads, sometimes with a sequential, seat to seat nod, sometimes amidst multiple vibratos.
Santana was wired in Caravanserai (Columbia 1972) mode while McLaughlin pitched fourth dimensional feedback fuzz until they paired so purely that a suddenly electrified King snapped to instinctive attention and won a couple subsequent six-bar quick draws himself. It was hard to verify if or when King, Santana and McLaughlin had played together, so for the sake of accuracy let it stand that this was a rare, precious handful of time in the annals of guitar glory.
The show offered a unique opportunity to see a subdued, still brilliant Santana roam casually outside his standard set list in salsa blues. His charisma is still as remarkable as his skill, even modestly employed. Wife Cindy Blackman Santana, observing backstage, heeded King's call to join in on the drums. There was a strong family vibe all night.
There were also interesting takes on the delta and the dancehall. The most audience friendly moments, at least according to crowd response, occurred when either guest vocalist Copeland or Tedeschi took the microphone. Tadeshi and her Allman Brothers Band-member husband Trucks opened for King on this European tour. They responded expertly to every familiar move he made, and proved worthy of King's repeated compliments by helping him look good.
The grand finale was an amazing, half hour long wang-dang-doodled medley of "Fever"and "Spoonful," revved up three beats. Santana lit the closing fireworks and presented King some incredible bursts of "Fried Neckbones" for a sonic sendoff. King's slow, sincere farewell was almost lost amidst the thunderous ovation as he made a poignant, fragile exit to "The Thrill is Gone." Fitting irony, perhaps. There were many thrills. Soon to be available DVD aside, they would remain for the lucky inside Auditorium Stravinski tonight.
Nothing officially said so, but there was much chatter about this being an off into the sunset type retirement situation for the declining monarch. Of course, that's been said for years. For now, King can still pack and please a sizeable, distinguished hall. He has some magic left, and he left some for Montreux.
Harmony Happening Down the Hall
A slick trio of soulful, fresh R n' B singers brought Motown for the future to Miles Davis Hall as Bilal, Aloe Blacc and Raphael Saadiq laid the funk on smooth and hard for a succession of sets that probably had the highest percentage of overall audience dancing for the week.
Even after six string saturation from King's neighboring guitar cornucopia, Saadiq made a strong impression with his own unique, sweetly southern USA styled phrasing. Blacc, riding an international wave of success with his single "I Need a Dollar," sang with enough positive energy to dispel any one-hit-wonder type tags. Soon, he may need an accountant. Indeed, there were many riches on every night to be had as the wealth was well spread from hall to hall.
In the Jazz Café, crammed full of early revelers, propulsive singers Imany and Selah Sue were a perfect example of free shows rivaling expensive events for a good time. Considering the amount one might eat and drink on that plan, it shows why free venues are packed with busy concession stands. The emerging women were a perfect fit in the often noisy, multi chambered confines, and they registered with the fans; not true of all acts booked for the Café this year.
July 4: Geneva Fireworks
Weekdays saw a slight ease in the weekend crush. There is always a gleeful progression along the lakeshore walkway: just as the primary venue has been redesigned, so have some of the lively little temporary terraces and makeshift global village cantinas. Gaze out at the shimmering shoreline near the small central marina during festival nights. From some points, near the small rocky reef, it looks as if a well rendered sculpture of Miles Davis smiles at passing women in the waxing moonlight.
Thousands of little plastic Heineken cups litter the scenery all night but are no more than a brief blotch by dawn. Gardens and sales booths are restored in close condition to immaculate floral walkways, waiting to be buried again by mid-afternoon. Onsite donation boxes for an animal welfare recycling project got a big boost.
Monday, a virtually non-noticed Fourth of July here, was the first night Auditorium Stravinski clearly featured a jazz format. The Lee Ritenour-led quartet may have been a victim of shuffled schedule snafus. Founder Claude Nobs and producer Quincy Jones were honored at the US embassy in the nearby capital of Bern for showcasing acts that "represent the American lifestyle." Travel time may have caused an almost 30-minute delay for their introduction that led to a shifting crowd. Maybe it was a bad sign. Ritenour's session was technically fine, but a bit tedious by then. Something was missing for Montreux magnitude.
Special guest keyboardist Dave Grusin, another very capable artist, was not dynamic either. Ritenour employed some pedals to decent effect covering some older tunes, but it was the rhythm section, drummer Sonny Emory and bassist Melvin Davis, that kept his team in the ballgame. A brief scan of the hall found more than a few folks engaged in conversation, ignoring both courtesy and the stage.
At this level the fine line between exceptionally proficient and exceptional performance is what generally makes top dollar tickets and talent a relative bargain in the long run. The audience seemed satisfied enough, but not inspired. This quartet would soar the next night with Joe Sample, but nobody knew it at the time.
George Benson has been on a remarkable run these days, usually one of the very best performers to grace whatever event he commands. Benson has long held one of the sweetest signature sounds around, and his enthusiasm is contagious. After the festival opened with more experimental, ensemble themed shows, this was definitely mainstream jazz tradition and it was definitely great. Once more, his smooth scat and staccato strung hybrids stood out.
Many in the audience caught Benson's excellent Nat "King" Cole tribute last season, and were anxious for another installment of updated nostalgia with what was billed as the first live orchestration of Breezin' (Warner Bros., 1976). Future standards like the perfect opener "Affirmation" or crowd levitating title track provided an interactive history lesson about how Benson, like Cole; has become a pillar of what's classified as American music.
The updated effort, smoothly conducted by pianist Randy Waldman, featured uncredited strings that deserved notice for their crystal clarity. The marquee theme "Revisiting the Moment" echoed accurately, nearly note for note. Some of Benson's picking amidst strummed chords sounded vital as oxygen. For a wonderful while it was US bicentennial summertime again, and true or not those days or 35 years later, life seemed a breeze indeed.
Well, not exactly everything for Benson when he played Montreux back then. "They turned the air on here tonight," said Benson as he smiled and wiped his brow. "They didn't in the old place. Claude wanted it to look like we were working harder than we were." Benson made every note or break look easy. Playing something a thousand times has that affect.
Like King's men the night before, Benson's band were the unsung heroes. This time it was long time assistants Michael O'Neill (guitar), Stanley Banks (bass), Oscar Seaton (drums), percussionist Dio Saucedo and keyboardists David Garfield, Thom Hall and Ronnie Foster doing the honors.
When Breezin' initially came out, Benson had not developed into nearly the prime performer he is today. Now may be an even better time to catch some definitive cuts. "We learned a lot of lessons on that album," reflected Benson. "My reasoning is always play for the audience." Ask anybody who saw him in Montreux and they'll tell you. The great George Benson does that and more, indeed. Watch, listen and learn.
Missed Opportunity for Many
Sweat can shine as much as polish. Robert Randolph is a well-rehearsed, widely-traveled peddle slide guitarist who keeps his high-volume music coming from the gut. He impressed people unfamiliar with him during a supporting role with King the night before, and snuck up on those wise enough to stick around for his relatively late scheduled show. The hall had been packed for Benson, but only a couple hundred wise patrons remained for most of Randolph's sizzling set. Thousands of ticket holders discarded what was probably one of the best shows of the festival, nearly comparable to Benson's in terms of musical apples and oranges.
Randolph and the Family Band (Brett Haas on guitar, Danyell Morgan on bass, Alaina Terry on keys, Carlton Campbell on drums) ripped the house up. Everybody but the earthquake drummer sang a soulful chorus to Randolph's happy harmonies in a loud, hard-edged revival manner. It's no easy trick to pull off cheerful-type blues based anthems, but by the early morning end of the show, every person in the too small but well-amped audience was on their feet moving, ready to testify. Browsing Randolph's recent, gentler recordings may be misleading as to the band's almost raucous stage presence. Call it heavy metal gospel.
A trademark song like Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" almost always diminishes when compared to the original but Randolph pulled off the challenge. Substituting speed for hallucinogens, almost keeping the original urgency, Randolph channeled the voodoo child. Many effects on epics like "If I Had My Way (I'd Burn This Building Down)" were basically indistinguishable from whether Randolph was on a mutated six-string or his personal pedal steel. What mattered was the sweet, down home sting of Randolph's delivery.
Most of the show was at one speed: scorching. Speaking afterward, many folks unfamiliar with Randolph were now committed converts. He was probably the revelation of the week. Even on sleepy, somewhat besotted 3am busses, people gave big respect, adding loud, praising accents to his name in French or German.
Rock on the Water
Incoming raunchy prospects The Pretty Reckless get accelerated hype and scrutiny from 17 year old, tabloid tabbed front woman/girl Taylor Momsen. She toned down her "wild child" act and was all business in Montreux, before around 500 would be teen banshees and a few dozen curious geezers. On stage at least, songs like "Light Me Up" showed growth beyond reality show type roots, and there are probably few, if any performers her age with comparable rock chops behind them. Hype on TPR is more fact than gossip. Once Momsen gets beyond flashing the jailbait factor, this band could raise some really decent noise. That is, if they it doesn't live up to its name.
Momsen might envision an enduring role model like Melissa Auf Der Maur, whose deep droning bass chords carved Godzilla footprints for both Hole and Smashing Pumpkins. In concert, it becomes obvious that Auf Der Maur's contribution to those bands was more than minimal. Almost a third of the mostly teen crowd bailed after Momsen's appearance, but many of those that stayed now had ample space to float and dance frantically to Auf Der Maur's heavy harmonies. For a set of mostly album cuts, the twin guitar performance bordered on experimental "metal machine" type songs, with lyrics and a beat. Auf may be an alternatively acquired taste, but for the 250 folks who caught her act, it was an entertaining flavor. Worthy of a bigger audience.
Melissa Auf Der Maur
A larger crowd returned for a hearty set by Guano Apes, a popular German crew that had moderate regional success in these parts years back before disbanding in '05. If the well done Montreux gig was any judge, the reunion was a good idea. Guitarist Henning Rumenapp was textbook solid while bounding bassist Stefan Ude climbed every prop on the flashy stage. With catchy howler Sandra Nasic and stickman Dennis Poschwatta elevating people's heart rates, the hook-filled set generated consistent high energy and bodes very well for the comeback to continue.
One of the most anticipated Jazz Café shows featured Brit sensation Anna Calvi, a songwriting guitarist who has already been worshipped by major press. After a big buildup and big attendance, exit interviews indicated the 50-minute show was a letdown compared to most of her recent efforts. Many of Calvi's moody riffs didn't catch on with the noisy crowd. Perhaps the material was too "artsy" for a party club set.
Calvi did rally for a strong finale and proved she deserved at least some of the previous accolades with a great, distorted solo on "Love Won't Be Leaving" and a closing homage to Edith Piaf's version of the '50s hit, "Jezebel." The swarm was finally hooked, and switched from apathy to ecstasy. It was such a big finish the last ten minutes was like a different show. The question is, was it enough?
Maybe the grind of media bombardment, a heavy touring schedule since last year and releasing her debut album is taking a toll Calvi's team should consider. Then again, there are few professional musicians who haven't been in the same boat of demands and dreams.
July 5: A Very Non-Standard Night of Standards
On Tuesday, there was another huge ensemble tribute, this one for producer Tommy LiPuma's 75th birthday. Many of LiPuma's most successful protégées appeared for segments lined-up after brief equipment modifications. In contrast to King's backyard type gathering, this was a more formal affair. In terms of talent, the multi-segmented show was a festival in itself.
"If it wasn't for these artists I'd probably still be cutting hair in Cleveland," nodded LiPuma, sounding touched by the attention. One overheard couple complained the event was more like an awards show than a concert. The revolving door format worked for a majority most of the time, but there were some breaks in the action that subdued a crowd which was ready to roar.
Opening the show was the same Ritenour crew as a night before. The same, except totally different. Maybe it had been jet lag or the ear of the beholder. Maybe they saved something for Tuesday or for LiPuma. Maybe Ritenour didn't want to get blown off the stage again by Benson. Instead, tonight the group sounded fantastic, run after run. A more animated Grusin switched one hand to piano and the other to keyboard while Emory and Davis remained a flawless foundation.
"Stolen Moments" has been rendered so many times, so many ways, it's tough to find a respectably novel approach. The Ritenour band did each other proud with a guitar based but not shackled take that showed yearning and fulfillment, and made the short list for best single festival performance. In addition to his fine bass playing, Davis delved into some wicked wah-wah scat.
One of LiPuma's Blue Thumb label acts, Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, came up next. Hicks showed some of the wear and tear he was notorious for, but must be quite a survivor based on accumulated debauchery. His three song, loose twenty-minute set was actually a good fit, with '70s FM cornerstones like "Canned Music," and "I Scare Myself." Violinist Sid Page and the current Licks earned their title. Hicks fondly uttered the best line of the night: "Tommy was the consummate producer. I think he even bailed me out [of jail] a couple times in LA."
For better or worse, it seems there was never canned music in Hicks.
Next, the evening's primary backup band arrived, and quite a band it was with bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash, keyboardist Ricky Peterson and piano professor Joe Sample on jazz history. This great group grew even better when Sample illuminated past eras with a story and a tune. His American Rag chronology and solo interpretation of "Caravan" were worthy of an honorary degree.
It looks like David Sanborn plays so naturally nowadays he could probably jump off a horse or out of a parachute and launch immediately into a blazing solo or whispering hint. His version of "Smile," always nice to hear near the little tramp composer's resting place, might as well have floated down from the clouds. Sanborn stayed on stage over much of the night and was an outstanding contributor to the program's vitality. He has sounded hungrier for exploration during the past couple European tours, much to the good of his music.
That Randy Crawford was particularly popular was no surprise, but her unexpectedly rowdy reception almost seemed as if a six pack of divas popped out on stage behind her. The vocalist, who worked with Sample in The Crusaders during the 70s and reunited with him for a pair of albums during 2007-08 fit so well with the house band it sounded like they had toured together forever. True pros. Crawford stood sublimely subdued, barely changing position for around 15 minutes, sounding smooth as silk but a little too soft.
Crawford's delivery was too natural to sound restrained, but she seemed to let just enough of her voice go to please the listeners, a bit more in progressive selections. "Rio de Janeiro Blue" was effective as an appetizer. "Me, Myself, and I" didn't really evoke or evolve the era of Lady Day. Then a surprising, excellently felt version of "Imagine" hit the mark much truer to John Lennon's melancholy musing than many overblown covers, and made Crawford's appearance stand out.
Just when Crawford, Sample and the crew opened up the kicks and got the place buzzing, intermission was announced. Kill that buzz.
The crowd was quite restless by the time Leon Russell opened part two of the show. They were more restless after Russell finished, around six or seven minutes later. Like Russell's documented health problems, the mini-set was frail. Russell went through a forced sounding version of "Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms" and a sometimes indecipherable "Stranger in a Strange Land."
It was a strange, almost sad land on stage. Russell's personal, unlisted support band never really got a chance to warm up. After previous masters, the abrupt backing quartet sounded pretty rudimentary. Russell's keys were as hazy as his voice. Luckily, he was just getting primed for his part in the finale.
Another break for equipment changes, so close after intermission, seemed to drain the crowd, most of whom had been standing in the crowded, humid hall well over two hours. There was a quiet mood around the concourse that indicated people hung around just to make sure they got their money's worth.
Diana Krall glided out to one of the biggest ovations of the evening and earned the reception with a nicely swinging "Do I Move You (adding 'Tommy')." It was the peak of personalization. A fruitless stab at Joni Mitchell's "Case of You" fermented too slowly, but overall Krall's piano trio format with McBride and Nash was one of the week's hidden gems.
Maybe it was nothing more than the luck of sequencing, but almost 45 minutes straight of relatively low-key, back-to-back piano sets from Krall and Dr. John seemed a bit too subdued. Both could have growled a little moreor at least cooed a unique duet if they preferred.
A high number of slower songs has absolutely nothing to do with musical quality, but it's certainly a factor in how lively a place gets. It may be too picky or hyperactive to note, but some fans walked out looking like they were leaving a lecture hall more than a concert hall.
Dr. John's rendition of the bittersweet "My Buddy" was an illustrative example of this. Plenty of applicable verse and heart, but after Russell's underwhelming cameo and Krall's reserved turn at the piano, dozens of folks poured out of the packed auditorium either to stretch, catch some of the show on a large screen near the bars, or take a little walk to get jostled in fresh air.
It looked like a considerable number of folks remained for just a glimpse of the good doctor. Mr. Rebennack's persona at the piano alone justified that. If Doc had prescribed a faster introductory song (assuming he had a choice) the place would have gone loco, but instead he lulled them further into contemplation, not boogie land.
The show was well over three-and-a-half hours long and mostly a blast, but at weak spots sometimes it seemed like three days. There can be too much of a good thing.
It would be up to Benson to rouse the masses from statues into swingers. He did, with a beaming grin and mischievous, pencil thin mustache curving up like a bent fifth string. Musically the closing 45 minutes or so of LiPuma's gala would be hard to beat for the rest of the summer, by anybody; anywhere. Benson and Sanborn played so well together one has to wish they have a longer, more formal partnership someday soon. Sanborn didn't hog anything but maintained strong leads throughout. He acts proud to be among crossover stars and made sure to push the effort. Meanwhile, Benson deserved a festival MVP.
The highest point jelled as the ensemble of Sanborn, Sample, Benson, Russell and the full support band did back to back extensions of "This Masquerade" and the closing "On Broadway." Not even the best Swiss clock could keep time like these guys. The monumental medley lasted half an hour. Funkified jazz at its most deliciously driven. It looked like Dr. John came back to one of the numerous keyboards for a bit, but current proximity and an overflow hall that you could barely move in made that unverifiable.
It was also hard to distinguish the glowing white Russell's playing among multiple keyboards, but it certainly looked like the reclusive old session man was coming alive during his career resurgence. Team captain Benson offered plenty of praise and gratitude to Russell for "putting him on the map" and tried in vain to nudge the near motionless Russell to share a chorus, but Leon was contributing effectively while locked into his own private zone, and the words got in the way.
From left: David Sanborn, George Benson
The grand finale erased uneven earlier portions of the show. The departing crowd was cheerful and animated even under sardine stairwell conditions. Maybe some of the concert dragged a bit, but it remained a powerhouse experience. Life has tough choices, even facetiously. Rather to watch some of the best musicians on the planet focus on flawless delivery, or let them get a little sloppy as they jack up the heat. Decisions, decisions. With a line up like this, there were plenty of both.
Maybe LiPuma's birthday was an appropriate time capsule of a successful producer's life. Shuffle the gold and the dust until things all come together. Gladly, all's well that ends well played.
The most consistent stars of Music in the Park are the magnificent, giant trees not far from the band shell. Just a glimpse of Laura Marlin and her audience's reaction makes her a newcomer to watch. Blaringly heralded bands like The Vaccines make some drooling UK music coverage look more than a little anxious. Of all the Davis Hall shows, it seemed Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and Orleans made one of the most lasting impressions on both the crowd and promoters with their rousing revue. Expect Shorty in a bigger room here soon.
Jone's Global Gumbo projects should be, if not already, an annual tradition. In fact, they should have a related, opening day parade down the main street in front of the convention complex, always themed on the diversity of music Montreux represents. It could end at a lakeside kickoff show. Perhaps like many other cities do during special occasions, Montreux could ease the oppressive parking enforcement. Looking around, it's comical to believe the city is that desperate for funds.
At a festival like Montreux, watching a bit of the ticket or concession stand cash flow that goes on hour after hour gives an idea of the huge revenue involved. Considering production costs, that flow has to be deep and constant for quite a while before most merchants get near breaking even. Festival publicity said Montreux had achieved the goal of a 10% increase in food and beverage sales.
There seems to be an overwhelmingly accepted new business model throughout many Western European music festivals that multiple DJ sets are the way to schedule after hours, running until dawn. Perhaps the theory of dispersing the masses into nearby annexes after headlining shows is a way to keep the consumers spending on site while affording time to chill.
Where many of the shows sell out, inner-connected club settings also provide places for those who couldn't get tickets. So far so good, but sooner or later even paradise probably has a tipping point. That might be the case these days along Lake Geneva.
To many previous accolades, Montreux must now add a negative point. Even the elite aren't immune to infestation of idiots. The party ran all night, but this year there was a cost. Crowd skirmishes and arrests were seen, during presumably isolated incidents. Still, this observer has only witnessed three such volatile scenes at widespread festivals, and all were incidents at Montreux this year.
Our odds on public gathering probability say there will be approximately one harmless but distracting butthead and one potentially dangerous scumbag per 2,500 concert goers. The odds of a festival attendee witnessing any problems remained unlikely. Chances of personally getting hassled anywhere in the general 20 kilometer Montreux-Vevey area still seem almost impossible.
As Montreux Jazz continues to upgrade and expand it will be interesting and crucial what occurs with growing attendance numbers. Let's hope the scene remains free of violence, unnecessary inflation, or the totally wasted. One wonders what Nobs and Jones might think, or even know, about the behavioral blemishes. Too bad it's become naive to expect consistent civility anywhere.
The statistic that matters is that almost all of the performers at MJF were excellent, with a high percentage of greatness on display, sometimes in rare collaborations. Jazz traditionalists may shudder that, even worse than Deep Purple closing the festival, there was a hip hop program in Stravinski Hall. Whatever your artistic preference or philosophy, reality showed those concerts were among the most high energy and well received. "Hey ho," old Igor himself might have said, "give me more." This jazz revolution will not be categorized.
You really couldn't go wrong any night. Jazz proved supreme in the musical scheme. Montreux jazzes it up as well, and probably better, than any place on the planet.
Maybe a debate on Montreux 2011 simply comes down to something the well-schooled drummer and teacher Sonny Emory related during one of many afternoon workshops at elegant Petite Palais, conducted by guests like Ritenour, McLauglin, Sanborn and himself.
It was another beautiful afternoon in the gardens around the concert halls. The discussion shifted to musical priorities, preferences, and what kind of music best suits Montreux.
"Groove is paramount," testified the highly spirited Emory, with persuasive conviction. "The kind of music doesn't really matter. If it grooves, it's good."
Montreux Jazz remains the reliable paramount of groove.
Page 1, BB King/Carlos Santana: Lionel Flusin
Page 1, Chillon Castle: Samuel Bitton
Page 1, The Funk Ensemble: Odile Meylan
Page 1, Aloe Blacc: Daniel Balmat
Page 1, Anna Calvi: Muriel Rochat
Page 2, Lee Ritenour, Robert Randolph: Lionel Flusin
Page 2, Auf Der Maur: Daniel Balmat
Page 3, Sonny Emory: Odile Meylen
Page 3, Crawford,Leon,Krall,John,Sanborn/Benson: Lionel Flusin
All Photos: Courtesy of Montreux Jazz Festival