Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
June 28-July 7, 2013
After taking a year off to curate an All About Jazz Presents: Doing It Norway
at Norway's 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival, it was great to return to the city that hosts what must surely be the largest jazz festival in the world. Where else can an artist like Stevie Wonder
open up the festival with an outdoor Grand Spectacle
, in front of nearly a quarter of a million people? Or guitarist Pat Metheny
finish his world tour in support of Pat Metheny
's last record, 2005's The Way Up
(Nonesuch) with a powerhouse outdoor show
in front of over 125,000? The answer is? Only in Montréal, Canada, the city that, for the duration of its annual jazz festival, closes off six square blocks of the downtown core and turns it into a place where, whether you're there for a day, a weekend or a week, it's like living in a jazz bubble; everything that's needed is right there, within easy walking distancehotels, restaurants and indoor ticketed venues, while the numerous outdoor stages provide additional world class performances, free of charge. In fact, while plenty of people from around the world make Montréal an annual destination for the breadth of artists who, sometimes, put on events that can only
be seen in Montréal in ticketed venuesranging from the multi-room Place des Arts to more intimate spots like L'Astral, the club situated in the festival's Maison du Festival that opened during the festival's 30th anniversary in 2009, or Gésu, a room that's seen everyone from Norwegian pianist Ketil Bjornstad
and guitarist Eivind Aarset
individually) to American guitarist Bill Frisell
there are those who come to the festival solely for the outdoor events, and walk away equally happy.
This year's line-up was, as ever, representative of the broadest possible purview that jazz has to offer. Celebrating its own anniversary this year, the By Invitation
series opened with a tremendous three-night run by saxophonist Charles Lloyd
. Three outstanding shows brought his current quartet, last heard on Athens Concert
(ECM, 2011); his more improv-heavy trio with drummer Eric Harland
and tabla master Zakir Hussain
, responsible for 2006's remarkable Sangam
(ECM); and an evening of duos and trios featuring Lloyd Quartet pianist Jason Moran
documented as a duo for the first time this year on Hagar's Song
(ECM, 2013) and a first-time encounter with guitarist Bill Frisell
, who'd delivered his own solo performance at L'Astral the prior evening.
Pianist Vijay Iyer
was the festival's second invitée, but with so many venues, so many choices, it's impossible to cover even a small percentage of the 800 concerts taking over the festival's 10-day run. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel
's New Quartet performance overlaps with pianist Steve Kuhn
's outstanding trio with bassist Steve Swallow
and drummer Joey Baron
(who gave the 2013 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival one of its best shows of the year
just a few days earlier); Lloyd's Sangam
show intersected with a spectacular 80th birthday celebration for saxophonist Wayne Shorter
, that included, in addition to his now 13 year-old quartet, performances by Dave Douglas
and Joe Lovano
's Shorter-inspired Sound Prints group (which also gave a knockout performance
in Ottawa last year) and Trio ACS, a new constellation with pianist Geri Allen
, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington
and bassist Esperanza Spalding
will have to decide between one guitarist/vocalist and another, Boz Scaggs
, who performed just a few hundred meters away in another of Place des Arts' beautiful theaters.
It's also a treat to see all the construction taking place on Rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, when last visiting FIJM in 2011
, largely completed, too. Two years ago, the street was completely torn up, making it difficult to get from one side to the othernot a problem for those who knew that there was an indoor tunnel from the shopping mall abutting the Hyatt Regency Hotel that goes directly into Place des Arts, but still something that disrupted the jazz bubble that year. Now, with work mostly done, the whole outdoor festival area is back to being a beautiful place to hang between shows, where, along with the free shows at the outdoor stages, it's possible to see mimes, brass bands parading down the street, and so much more. The first day of the festival may have been marred by some heavy rain, but the clouds began to lift on the second and, by the third day, the weather had returned to the sunny, warm summer climate that's always made this the perfect time of year for a visit to FIJM.June 28: Charles Lloyd Quartet / Ravi Coltrane Quartet
Two very different saxophone-led quartets opened the 2013 festival's series of shows at Place des Arts' Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. First, at 19:00, Charles Lloyd delivered the opening show of his three-night By Invitation
series run with his quartet of the past seven years, first heard on 2007's Rabo de Nube
(ECM, 2007), followed by Ravi Coltrane
at 21:30, bringing a completely different group than that heard on his most recent recording, Spirit Fiction
(Blue Note, 2012).
Lloyd's career, since first recording hooking up with ECM Records on 1990's Fish Out of Water
his first five quartet dates, all with Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson
, recently documented on his Old & New Masters Editions
(2013)seems to have been on a relentlessly upward trajectory with no end in sight. From special projects, like his home-recorded duo set with Billy Higgins
, Which Way is East
(2004) (recorded just a few short months before the drummer/multi-instrumentalist passed away), to collaborations with everyone from guitarist John Abercrombie
and bassist Dave Holland
to pianist Brad Mehldau
and Greek singer Maria Farantouri, Lloyd's output for the label has been exceptional in both its consistency and
its ongoing series of surprises. When the saxophonist put together his current quartet, with pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers
and drummer Eric Harland, who knew that it would ultimately become his most impressive quartet everand that's no mean feat, given his superlative quartets with Stenson and, of course, the group that started it all, his 1960s quartet with pianist Keith Jarrett
and drummer Jack DeJohnette
that made Lloyd the closest thing jazz had to a true pop star at the time, with Atlantic Records releases like 1966's Dream Weaver
and 1967's Forest Flower
(both on Atlantic).
That Lloyd's current quartet has evolved into his strongest yet was supported by its stellar Montréal Jazz Festival performance. This was a group so completely in-tune with each other that its members effortlessly moved around within the broader skeletal context of the compositions, reinventing them each and every night. With a group of relatively young players (Rogers and Moran the elders at 38; Harland the youngster at 36), Lloyd has a quartet that, nevertheless, has such broad experience and encyclopedic knowledge of the traditionand that includes Lloyd's own contributions to that traditionthat it can effortlessly move from free-flowing rubato tone poems to fervently swinging bluessometimes in the same song.
Lloyd opened the set with his taragatothe nasally, single-reeded Hungarian wind instrumentbut also devoted plenty of time to his main axe, the tenor saxophone, even pulling out his flute for one piece. Many of the songs in Lloyd's 90-minute set began with Lloyd alone, motivically driven to find a way into the music for the rest of his group, but always focused on
the music and not his inimitable virtuosity. On tenor, his control over multiphonicsoccasionally injecting the slightest harmonic overtonewas in some ways more remarkable than those who are more extreme in their use of such extended techniquesagain, always in service of the music.
That's not to say that he didn't impress with the kind of cascading flurries that were something of a signature, or the seeming non sequiturs
that were just like Lloyd when he's speaking, an artist with such a rich legacy that he can instantly shuffle from high school with Booker Little
to playing with Bobo Stenson. In performance, Lloyd may move from one musical thought to another in the space of a nanosecond, but it would suddenly become crystal clear that, as distanced as they might have seemed on the surface, the connection between them was ultimately revealed ...just not so overtly as to be immediately obvious.
Moran has evolved into the perfect foil for Lloyd; ever-thoughtful, he could oftentimes be seen hovering over the keys, waiting for the right moment to inject just the right chord to either support where the group was going or suggest a new destination. Sometimes it was a single chord, held onto almost interminably untilas Rogers and Harland simultaneously (and magically) picked up on the same signalthe three players would break the tension by resolving into a visceral groove or dissolving into rubato free play.
Rogersheard recently in Hamburg, Germany, where he appeared
with saxophonist Joshua Redman
's quartet (also playing Montréal, but here with a string ensemble to perform music from the saxophonist's latest Nonesuch recording, 2013's Walking Shadows
) at the 2013 ELBJazz Festival
contributed singing solos and, in contrast, more rhythm-focused features that, when combined with the loose, free-flowing Harland, was what made Lloyd's quartet as much about implication as it was explicit delivery. Time ebbed and flowed and melodies appeared out of nowhere, as in the beautiful medley that somehow resolved into a most tender reading of "Somewhere," from the 1957 Broadway play West Side Story
Lloyd played the melody with such vulnerability that the poignant hope expressed in the song's lyrics weren't necessary to feel
them; it's that very ability to get to the absolute core of a songwhether it's a standard, a pop tune or a Lloyd originalthat's made the saxophonist's current quartet so definitive. Whether it was the result of Lloyd winning the festival's annual Miles Davis Award
immediately prior to the start of the show, the phase of the moon or some other random occurrence, Lloyd's freedom to explore three very different contexts over three nights commenced with an opening performance that will easily rank as one of this year's bestand act as an early bar-raiser for the saxophonist's entire By Invitation
series; it would also make a terrific live album, if only it were being recorded.
A little less than two hours later, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane took to the same stage with a quartet that signalled a significant shift for this progeny of two jazz giants: saxophonist John Coltrane
and pianist/harpist Alice Coltrane
. That he's managed to come out from under the shadow of such legends has been an accomplishment in and of itself, but with a slowly growing discography, including last year's superb Spirit Fiction
, he's also made clear that whatever direction he's taken is unequivocally his own.
Coltrane's last three recordings, beginning with 2005's In Flux
(Savoy Jazz, 2005), have largely been based around a core quartet featuring pianist Luis Perdomo
and bassist Drew Gress
; for his Montréal performance, Coltrane eschewed his traditional piano-led trio completely, recruiting guitarist Adam Rogers
, bassist Dezron Douglas
and drummer Johnathan Blake
heard just a week ago in Ottawa
with trumpeter Tom Harrell
for a set that mixed his own originals with compositions by Rogers and occasional collaborator, trumpeter Ralph Alessi
Rogers' "Phrygia," dating back to the guitarist's Allegory
(Criss Cross, 2003), opened the set in modal territory. Rogerswho, after emerging with other now-notables including saxophonist David Binney
and guitarist David Gilmore
in Lost Tribe in the '90s (with a reunion currently rumored), continued to shape his own career as well as working with saxophonist Chris Potter
's Underground (heard last on the 2009 Artistshare release Ultrahang
) and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington's collective with saxophonist Greg Osby
and bassist Jimmy Haslip
, which released Structure
(ACT) in 2005is a player who's always been deserving of broader recognition. Beyond being the harmonic driver for this quartet, his warm-toned, unmistakable voicings created a constant source of push and pull for the rest of the group and, if his instrument didn't quite have the intrinsic range of a piano, it also allowed for an openness that, as intense as the set became at times, still managed to allow it more opportunity to breathe.
Douglas is a relative newcomer, but has already established himself as both a rock-solid anchor and an impressive soloist on albums by trombonist Steve Davis
and pianist Cyrus Chestnut
. A muscular bassist, he helped drive the more propulsive tunes while being equally capable in Coltrane's more impressionistic reading of the late Paul Motian
's "Fantasm," first heard on the drummer's 1982 ECM quintet recording, Psalm
and, like Lloyd, recently collected in an Old & New Masters Edition
box called, in his case, simply, Paul Motian
While "Fantasm" appears on Coltrane's Spirit Fiction
, it was the only tune the saxophonist performed from that record. Instead, Coltrane drew from broader sources including his collaboration with Dave Liebman
and Joe Lovano on Saxophone Summit's Seraphic Light
(Telarc, 2008) ("The Thirteenth Floor"), as well as "One-Wheeler Will," written by Alessi for Coltrane's son on Cognitive Dissonance
(Cam Jazz, 2010), on which the saxophonist doesn't perform but does contribute photography.
Coltrane also performed a new untitled original and a thoroughly updated look at Charlie Parker
's "Segment," on which Blake took an incendiary solo, in sharp contrast to his more subdued work with Harrell just a week earlier. Focusing largely on tenor, Coltrane did turn to both soprano and what looked like a sopranino; on all three his tone was warm and, in particular on soprano, not anything like the nasally tone his father adopted as he was trying to imbue his music with the spirit of India. Coltrane may not be the legend his parents became, but he's gradually, methodically built his own career, and if this switch to a guitar-based quartet is any indication, he's about to make a significant shift in direction that will hopefully continue.June 29: Charles Lloyd Sangam / Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration
It was a night to celebrate, in more ways than one. When saxophonist/flautist Charles Lloyd released Sangam
(ECM, 2006)a loose, improv-heavy live set in the unorthodox combination with master tablaist/percussionist Zakir Hussain and his regular quartet drummer Eric Harland, it was met with immediate critical acclaim. And why should it not? This was Lloyd, the spiritual seeker, paired with two others of a similar disposition, in a freewheeling context that couldand often didgo just about anywhere.
While there's not been a follow-up recordingsomething that, hopefully, Lloyd will remedy sometime soon, as there's been significant evolution in the ensuing yearsthe trio, now also named Sangam, continues to perform occasional shows most years and, as part of the saxophonist's By Invitation
series at the Montréal Jazz Festival, it seemed like a logical choice. But the near-capacity crowd at Place des Arts' Théâtre Jean-Duceppe couldn't have predicted just how far-reaching this trio could beand, ultimately, was, in its near 90-minute set.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of how Sangam functions is that, with the exception of Hussain, who remained seated, cross-legged, on the riser that contained a wide variety of tablas and additional hand percussion, both Lloyd and, even more surprisingly, Harland were completely unencumbered by their traditional roles. As the set began, Lloyd started at the piano, playing an indigo melody on his own. Hussain gradually entered, first with a single chime that he struck and, moving from one microphone to the next, created a delicate stereo panning effect out in the house. Harland remained almost completely still, seeming to absorb the music around him until, a few minutes in, he picked up a small cymbal and walked over to the piano, to Lloyd's left, placing the cymbal on the strings and beginning to add a second set of hands to the 88 keys.
Lloyd slowly stood and, as he moved away from the piano, Harland took his seat and, with both hands now on the keyboard, began moving the music to an even darker place, even as Hussain, by now on tabla, turned increasingly busy as Lloyd moved to the drum kit to begin adding his own series of punctuations and spare grooves to those from Hussain. Drone-based, Hussain also began to sing a gentle, plaintive melody as Lloyd left the drumsbut not before, standing in front of them, he added a few extra splashes on the cymbalspicking up his flute and beginning to engage with Hussain on a thematic level, contributing simple, flowing lines which the percussionist would, at times, mirror in unison, other times in consonant harmony. With Harland moving back to his kitthe changes in instrumentation almost like sleight-of-hand, since attention was drawn continually to the different musicians, only to find the last one to which attention had been paid had now moved to another instrumentperhaps the most surprising aspect to the piece was how the three suddenly came to a complete and definitive close. This may be music made in-the-moment, but clearly by three players with eyes and ears wide open.
It was that kind of open-mindedness that made the first hour of the setsadly, having to leave to dash to Théâtre Maisonneuve, just around the corner (and still in Place des Arts) for the three-group Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebrationso eminently compelling. It didn't really matter what instrument each of the musicians was playing, the collective whole became continuously greater than the sum of its parts. There were times when the music became more percussion-focused, with Harland responding to Hussain's tabla (the Indian percussionist's fingers moving, at times, so fast as to be a blur as he layered complex rhythmic lines that Harland turned polyrhythmic with his own injections) in consonance, other times in call-and-response, all the while Lloyd delivering strong, occasionally deeply blues-drenched lines on either tenor saxophone or taragato, with Hussain, once again occasionally adding his own vocal harmonies.
It's hard to imagine that one melodic instrument (for the most part, the only exception being when Harland was on piano and Lloyd on one of his horns or flutes) and two percussion instruments could create such appealing and accessible music that flowed from points of barely perceptible delicacy to greater demonstrations of firepower. Hussain, in one particular spot during the set, demonstrated just how melodic
his tablas were, while Harland did the same with his kit. They may not be instruments considered melodic on the surface, but between Llloyd, Hussain and Harland, there was plenty of melody to go around, in another set from Lloyd that will be remembered by Montréal fans for a long time to come.
Meanwhile, moving to Théâtre Maisonneuve, it was one of the many opportunities to experience why the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal isn't just the world's biggest jazz festival, it's also one that provides rare opportunities to experience things few other festivals offer. Wayne Shorter is on tour this summer with his now-longstanding quartet, in support of his first record in eight years, Without a Net
(Blue Note, 2013), but fans in just five cities (four in the United States and just this one in Canada) were given the chance to experience this triple bill celebration of the renowned saxophonist's 80th birthday.
Before Shorter took the stage to an instant standing ovation and the crowd singing a song, en Français
, to signify their recognition of this legendary jazz figurepianist Danilo Pérez
, bassist John Patitucci
and drummer Brian Blade
picking up on it immediately, while the saxophonist just stood there with a soft smile on his face, as the trio segued into the first piece of the settwo opening acts paid their own tributes: one with imaginative re-imaginings of Shorter compositions; the other performing original material inspired by Shorter's lifetime contribution to jazz.
Trio ACSa relatively new group that featured pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spaldingopened its set with an imaginative look at one of Shorter's more memorable compositions for the fusion supergroup Weather Report
, that he co-led with keyboardist Joe Zawinul
for fifteen years: the title track to 1974's Mysterious Traveler
(Columbia). That Weather Report was an unapologetically electric
group from the start, while Trio ACS was absolutely acoustic, only meant that its interpretation of the tune would be considerably distanced, even though its signature chordal underpinning and oblique but eminently singable melody remained intactalbeit played by Spalding in unison with Allen, in the absence of any kind of horn.
There's been considerable controversy about Spalding's rapid rise to success. The naysayers look unfavorably at her winning the 2011 Grammy Award
, not for best new jazz artist but best new
artist, period. "It's only because she's a good-looking woman," some said; others objected to the relative newcomer's rapid rise to famedespite her gaining considerable cred for work with saxophonist Joe Lovano
and his Us Five group on 2009's superb Folk Art
(Blue Note, 2009) and, again, on 2011's Bird Songs
(Blue Note, 2011), and more recently with everyone ranging from guitarist Lionel Loueke
to drummer Jack DeJohnette
suggesting that there were others far more deserving than she.
Be that as it may, and acknowledging that the diminutive figure with the huge head of hair is, indeed, cute as a button, what she demonstrated yet again (having already done so in numerous Montréal Jazz Festival appearances in the past five years) was that she's far from a mediocre bassist getting by on looks; instead, Spalding proved herself a truly impressive player with absolutely nothing for which to apologize, and completely capable of keeping up with the more seasoned players around her. Anchoring the trio, she locked in with Carrington while, at the same time, acting as a melodic foil for Allen, whose playing just keeps on getting better with each passing year and every new project. The three first came together as part of Carrington's The Mosaic Project
(Concord, 2011), and perhaps that was the genesis of Trio ACS.
Regardless, what the trio demonstrated, in its near-hour long set, was both respect for and healthy irreverence towards Shorter's music, as it wound its way through a series of inventive arrangements that, as if there were any doubtthe group introducing its members in round-robin fashion, with Carrington introducing Allen, Allen introducing Spalding, and Spalding introducing Carringtonmade perfectly clear the trio's love and respect for a musician who has moved the music forward (and continues to do so) relentlessly, in a wide variety of contexts, and with the kind of fearless invention that's needed to keep it from becoming a mere museum piece. Moving from abstract impressionism to more overt expressionismand with Spalding, in particular, proving her mettle both pizzicato and con arco
Trio ACS may be new and may be, at least at this point, a tribute band, but it's one in the best possible definition, and one for whom a live recording of this music would be most welcome.
When multiple award-winning trumpeter Dave Douglas
and saxophonist Joe Lovano performed with their nascent Sound Prints group
at the 2012 TD Ottawa Jazz festivalthe second of just three North American dates before the group headed for Europe that summerit was clearly a quintet with plenty of promise, upon which much was already being delivered. With a book of original music inspired by Shorter, this quintet that also featured pianist Lawrence Fields
, rising bass star Linda Oh
and perennial favorite (and, seemingly, the world's happiest drummer) Joey Baron
, it was already a strong and fearless group predicated on knotty writing and unfettered free play. There were some weaknesses, most notably in the young Fields, who appeared competent but not completely up to the strength of those around him.
A year later, with plenty of touring under its belt, much has changedmost notably with Fields, whose performance demonstrated greater strength and confidence, both as an accompanist and a soloist, rendering last year's assessment perhaps premature and unfair. With his 2012 Ottawa show being only the pianist's second gig with the groupand surrounded by such strong playersa year later it's become clear that Douglas and Lovano must have seen something
in this young pianist, and that something is now being revealed much more clearly to everyone else.
Like Trio ACS, the only thing missing from Sound Prints is a record, although an early morning conversation with Douglas outside the Hyatt Regency Hotelafter a 5:30am fire alarm forced the building to be cleared (thankfully the weather had turned and it was clearer, drier and warmer)revealed that Lovano and the trumpeter had been hoping Shorter might write something for the group, a dream that came true when, after the previous evening's show, Shorter presented him with a new piece of music. Of course, based on newer material like Shorter's "Pegasus"the centerpiece of Without a Net
that teams his quartet with the Imani Windsa new piece of music for Sound Prints will most certainly be a challenge. Be careful, they sometimes say, what you wish for, though if anything's a certainty it's that whatever challenge Shorter presents to Sound Prints, it'll manage it while, at the same time, adding its own emergent signature.
As for the quintet's performance at Shorter's birthday celebration? Everyone was on fire. Lovano seemed incapable of standing still, beyond his own solos moving around the stage; the same could be said for Douglas, who was in particularly fine form last night, effortlessly building solos from small building blocks into more serpentine linear form that moved from low register growls to stratospheric screams of outrageous power. Baronas responsive and imaginative as he was just a few days earlier in Ottawa with Kuhn and Swallowdrove this set of original music split roughly 50/50 between Douglas and Lovano. He also had, in Oh, a partner whose muscular, powerful tone belied her diminutive size. Everyone soloed with ears open, making the end result a collective with the capacity to roar, but equally capable of bringing things down to a whisper at the drop of a hat.
The idea of one group doing its own arrangements of Shorter tunes, the other original material inspired by the saxophonist, worked particularly well as it set the stage for the now-octogenarian's arrival on the Maisonneuve stage. Beyond the standing ovation and audience singing to show its appreciation, what Shorter demonstrated in his set, at just under an hour, is that while some artists rest on their laurels when they enter their senior years, others not only continue to push their music forward, they actually manage to break new ground.
Shorter's Without a Net
is not just notable for it being his first album in eight years, but also for his return to Blue Note, the label where he made so many important recordings during the '60salbums like Juju
(1964), Adam's Apple
(1966) and Super Nova
(1969), and tunes like "Footprints," "Virgo" and "Sweat Pea." Since forming his current quartet, which first toured in 2001 and released its first album, Footprints Live!
(Verve) the following year to considerable acclaim, Shorter has been characteristically careful about his releases, eschewing any kind of regular schedule and, instead, putting them out when he's got the material and the inclination to do so, the result being a small but significant string of superlative late period recordings including 2003's Allegria
(Verve)his only studio recording of the new millenniumand Beyond the Sound Barrier
That Shorter has chosen to only record his quartetpianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Bladein live contexts is clearly because it's on the concert stage where this exhilarating and endlessly imaginative group belongs, and works best. He's not the only artist to do sopianist Keith Jarrett
hasn't set foot in a recording studio with his 30 year-old Standards Trio in decadesbut unlike the veteran pianist, Shorter not only revisits earlier material with arrangements that sometimes render them nearly indecipherable, he also contributes new material, as he has on Without a Net
. His live performances are largely continuous affairs, the group segueing from one song to the next with sometimes the slightest of gesturesgestures that can come from anyone in the group, as Shorter lit up with a gentle smile partway through his Montréal set, when Pérez delivered a line that signaled the entire group to shift.
This is not music for the faint-at-hearta nearby "fan" walked out in something of a huff fifteen minutes into the set, upset that Shorter wasn't celebrating his 80th birthday by looking back and interpreting some of his better known material in the same way he did when he first recorded it. The only thing that's a certainty at a Shorter performance is this: if he does
look back, it'll be with the most forward-thinking mindset.
Shorter might seem taciturnoften standing still, waiting for the right moment or, based on his facial expressions, sometimes just flat-out enjoying what his younger group is up tobut when he put a horn to his lips and began to play (during the first half largely on tenor, switching to soprano for the second), it became clear that the same reserve he's demonstrated in his releases applies to his approach to performance, contributing nothing but the right phrases each and every time, never playing too much or
Meanwhile, Pérez, Patitucci and Blade were animated throughout the set. That Pérez's own projects are so radically different only speaks to his innate flexibility; here, he was abstrusely expressionistic, matching Patitucci, who proved as capable of dexterous contributions as he was hanging onto a single note and milking it for all it was worth. Blade was as unfettered as ever, a textural powerhouse who was as likely to be pushing out a briefly thundering groove, before the group's focus shifted on a dime, as he was injecting crashing crescendos that were as absolutely perfect in their moments as Shorter's sparer contributions.
Perhaps the only signs of Shorter's advancing age were his slower gait, relatively short set and lack of encore. Still, with a performance this deep, this intense and this profound, Shorter could be forgiven for his set's brevity. And, as the entire evening pushed past the three-hour mark, this 80th birthday celebration was something for which Montréal fans should feel privileged to have attended; from Trio ACS' inventive arrangements of Shorter material spanning his long career and Sound Prints' thrilling homage to Shorter's own assertion that he's still here and still moving forward, it was a night that seemed to move from one high to anothera night, with absolute certainty, to remember.June 30: Charles Lloyd Duos: Jason Moran and Bill Frisell
After an evening so filled with such energy and intensity, the following night was the perfect balm, as Charles Lloyd wrapped up his three-night By Invitation
series with a show titled Duos
, but which ultimately turned out to be something more.
For the first half of their roughly 90-minute performance, Lloyd and Jason Moran demonstrated why their first recording as a duo, Hagar's Song
(ECM, 2013), was such a wonderful surprise. The two have been playing together in the saxophonist/flautist's quartet for nearly seven years, and have developed a language that's become increasingly profound with each passing year. Moranfirst emerging in the late 1990s with saxophonist Greg Osby
and his own Soundtrack to Human Motion
(Blue Note, 1999)has proven himself as encyclopedic a player as fellow pianist Craig Taborn
, with a deep understanding of the tradition that makes him the ideal partner for Lloyd, whose musical interests have always run far, wide and deep.
In performance, Moran and Lloydsticking, for this evening, to just tenor saxophone and flute, and leaving his taragato in its casedelivered a forty-minute set that ran the gamut, as they did on Hagar's Song
, from bold impressionism to near-stride traditionalism, all with the interpretive telepathy that only comes from considerable time spent in the studio and, in particular, on the road. Lloyd was particularly impressive on flute this evening, as Moran matched his partner's flurry-filled phrases with trilling lines of his own. And when Lloyd turned more contemplative, Moran was right there with the sparest of accompanimentand when playing a cappella
, proving that it really is time for a follow-up to his fine 2002 solo outing, Modernistic
(Blue Note). The real surprise of the evening was when guitarist Bill Frisell entered the stage, Lloyd advising the audience, "This is a first meeting; please be kind." Not that he needed to ask; Frisell has always been an incredibly malleable player, capable of fitting into any context. When the three began to play, it turned out that this was not to be simply the duos advertized in the program, but more often than not a trio, with Moran only leaving the stage a couple times, including when Lloyd introduced "Voice in the Night"a tune he first performed in quartet with Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo
on Of Course, Of Course
(Columbia, 1965), also featuring bassist Ron Carter
and drummer Tony Williams
(telling the audience "they're here in spirit"). In the context of that duet, Frisell was his usual self: a sensitive and astute accompanist and lyrical yet distinctive soloist who delivered chordal passages that moved from simple triads to unexpectedly skewed dissonances.
Frisell's own work is sometimes criticized for moving too far away from the jazz tradition and being too much aligned with the Americana that's actually been a fundamental since the very beginning, but when the context is rightwhether it's here with Lloyd, or in the nearly three-decade trio with Joe Lovano and Paul MotianFrisell not only demonstrates his jazz chops are as strong as ever, but that they're always
a part of the picture, in some way, shape or form. In an2011 All About Jazz interview
, he expressed some frustration at the pigeonholing of his career into various artificial "periods"ECM, Downtown, Americanaand here, with Lloyd, he demonstrated why. At this point in his career, Frisell's voice is instantly recognizable, regardless of the context, and it's because he's managed to build one predicated on a wide variety of musical interestsnot unlike Lloyd who, while considered more closely tied to the jazz tradition, has performed with everyone from the Beach Boys to Canned Heat. For musicians like Lloyd, Moran and Frisell, it's all music
, and if there's any artifice to be found in the musical spaces they inhabit, it's certainly not self-generated.
An underlying premise proven in Lloyd's two-part encore, when he first performed an absolutely beautiful version of Bob Dylan
's "I Shall Be Released," with both Moran and Frisell. Lloyd introduced the tune by explaining how Levon Helm had just passed when he went into the studio to record Hagar's Song
, his voice actually beginning to break with emotion when he referred to the founding member of The Band as "a dear friend." It was a tremendously touching moment; later, after the show, he said "I shouldn't really talk like that to the audience; I'm not that capable." To the contrary; feeling and sharing what was clearly a deep sense of loss only made the performance of "I Shall Be Released" and the evening closer, Brian Wilson and Tony Asher's "God Only Knows," all the more compelling, as Lloyd, Frisell and Moran played both songs straight from the heart.
Of course, straight from the heart is the only way Lloyd really knows how to play; he's based his entire career on it and, for three nights in Montréal in three utterly different contexts, he demonstrated why he's built such a strong reputation. Every note, every phrase, every song Lloyd played was imbued with spirituality and emotional resonance, and these three shows also highlighted his thoroughly astute instincts in choosing his musical partners, whether it was Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland in his quartet, Zakir Hussain and Harland in Sangam, or Moran and Frisell in the final evening of duo and trio performances. It was a particularly exceptional By Invitation
series, and one that will surely go down in the festival's history as one of its best.July 1: Christine Jensen / Phronesis
For Canada Day, the venue of choice was L'Astral, the club built by L'Equip Spectra, the umbrella organization that runs the Montréal Jazz Festival, in its Maison du Festival. The idea of a jazz club in Montréal that runs year round when, just 200 kilometers to the west, Ottawa has been unable to sustain its own Café Paradiso (which closed last summer) only serves to demonstrate the difference between these two cities. Sure, Montréal is a bigger city, that a national capital with a greater metropolitan area sizing up at about a million people cannot sustain even one regular jazz club is both a mystery...and a disappointment.
Meanwhile, at L'Astral, saxophonist Christine Jensen
put together a group of, as she put it, "some of my favorite people"sister Ingrid Jensen
(trumpet), pianist Gary Versace
, bassist Fraser Hollins
and drummer Jon Wikan
for an 18:00 show that demonstrated the strength of the Canadian scene and that Christine is not just one of its finest players, but one of its most thought-provoking and
evocative composers. Versace is, of course, American, and Ingrid lives in New York with husband Wikan, but with the exception of Versace it was still a Canadian-born band, even if not entirely Canadian-based. Christine and Hollins, however, remain steadfast Canadians and, even more to the point, Montréalers, and are easy proof of the country's world-class contributions to the music. Christine's last recording, Treelines
(Justin Time, 2010), was a big band affair and, as she introduced the band before kicking the 75-minute set off with two of her own originals"Blue Yonder" and "Margaretta," linked together by Versace's delicate a cappella
segueshe said that if she were to choose all of her favorite musicians it would have to turn into a big band.
Jensen's next record, she revealed in discussion after the show, will, in fact, be another big band recording"ten times better than the last one," she said, which makes it something to really look forward to, since Treelines
was certainly exceptional enough, representing her ongoing growth as a composer/bandleader. Always a compelling writer, capable of strong lyricism combined with harmonic invention and plenty of narrative twists and turns, Jensen's music not only impresses on a first encounter, but reveals more with each and every listen.
Ingrid is four years older than sister Christine ("I was born in 1966; there, I said it," said Ingrid as she introduced the following two tunes, her own compositions), but what's palpable every time they play together is that, despite both living in a tough world, rather than demonstrating sibling rivalry they are the epitome of sibling simpatico. Musicians that play together for years (or decades) often develop a personal language (saxophonist Dave Liebman
and pianist Richie Beirach
being one good example), but the Jensens share something that goes even deeperan empathic ability to anticipate each other's every move while simultaneously capable of surprising each other. When the audience gave the group a standing ovation at the end of the set and refused to leave without an encoredespite, with another group coming up in less than two hours and the stage needing to be resetthe two sisters came onstage alone, performing a brief encore that demonstrated just how deep their shared understanding goes as they moved around the melody, at times in unison, other times diverging into lovely harmonies.
The sisters also clearly shared a deep respect for each other and their band mates. And the fun they were clearly having together onstage was infectious. Both possess a bone-dry wit; when Ingrid introduced the two tunes following Christine's opening compositionsone, "Dots and Braids" named after an aunt and another fine Canadian musician/composer, pianist David Braid
she assured the audience that, at some point in the past, when Dave Brubeck
heard her playing the other tune over the telephone (her arrangement of the late, great pianist's "40 Days"), his manager informing Jensen that it had brought him to tears, it was "out of joy," she said, "not because I'd ruined the tune."
Catching up with Versace after nearly a decadebringing the requisite soul to John Scofield
's Ray Charles
tribute at a performance across the Ottawa River
in Gatineau, Quebec in the fall of 2005, just seven months after he'd shown a completely different side with Indo-Pakistani guitar explorer Rez Abbasi
at the somewhat grotty but still kind of funky The Bayouit's clear that the keyboardist has come a long way in the ensuing years. Performing with everyone from John Hollenbeck
on the drummer/composer's superb "covers" album, Songs I Like a Lot
(Sunnyside, 2013)to being fundamental to the success of guitarist/composer Joel Harrison
's equally fine Search
(Sunnyside, 2012), Versace (also a member of Maria Schneider
's orchestra, where he more than likely met Ingrid) is no longer a second-string player hired when others aren't available; instead, he's now being enlisted by artists ranging from Matt Wilson
and Claudia Quintet
to Cloning America as a first-call player, and with good reason. At Jensen's show, playing acoustic piano and a little bit of Fender Rhodes, Versace demonstrated both his intrinsic virtuosity and deep sensitivity to both the needs of the music and the action going on around him, whether soloing or as an accompanist.
Hollins and Wikan have certainly honed their own language over the years, and the only real problem is that they're not better known beyond their own circles. Hollins, as a soloist, demonstrated the same kind of allegiance to the material as Versace, often building solos very directly from a composition's primary theme; as an anchor, his robust tone and perfect choices gave everyone else the freedom to explore, with complete trust that, no matter how great the risks they took, he'd always be there as a focal pointeven giving Wikan the freedom to play with time and groove, turning Christine's "Margaretta" from its initially ambling waltz-time swing to a more backbeat-driven bit of near-funk.
Ingrid has long been known, beyond a clear mastery of her instrument, for her tasteful use of effects; at her Montréal performance she used her effects sparingly but with great results, occasionally adding a touch of wah or a hint of looping. Christine, switching between alto and soprano saxophone, has been gradually emerging as not just a composer of note, but a performer as well, her solos at L'Astral possessed of a wonderfully warm but dry tone and deep compositional focus that went deep into the material for new avenues of expression.
It was a terrific set that demonstrated the benefit of long-term relationships in the case of the entire group, and the intuitive possibilities of sibling partnerships. Christine's new big band record is due in October, but ever the student looking to expand her reach, she'll be studying for eight months with John Hollenbeck; Ingrid's last record as a leader, At Sea
(ArtisrtShare, 2005), was nearly a decade ago, and if her performance with Christine demonstrated anything, it's that it's well and truly time for a follow-up. It was a tremendous set that, in its unassuming honesty, was yet another highlight of the 2013 FIJM.
Since emerging in 2007 with its debut, Organic Warfare
(Loop), and more importantly its 2009 Loop follow-up, Green Delay
has garnered significant attention in the UK and mainland Europe. Bassist Jasper Hoiby
, pianist Ivo Neame
and drummer Anton Eger
the drummer replaced, for just one recording, 2010's Alive
(Edition Records) (selected as "Best Jazz Album of the Year" by both Jazzwise
and, even more significantly, MOJO
), by American Mark Guiliana
have, since then, gone from strength to strength, their last recording, Walking Dark
(Edition Records, 2012) further cementing the group's reputation as a modernistic piano trio with youthful appeal to a broad demographic.
"Last time we played here I made the mistake of wishing everyone a happy Canada Day; I was surprisedthere were boos, tomatoes being thrown...I'll not make that mistake again," Høiby joked, once again playing on July 1, introducing the group and the first two tunes"Happy Notes" and the even brighter "Love Song," which also (and curiously) followed each other, back-to-back, on both Green Delay
. Like Jensen, Phronesis packed L'Astral with an appreciative audiencea step up from its 2011 appearance at the festival, where it played a free concert at the outdoor CBC Festival Stage
, but demonstrated the same kind of energy and empathy, evolved as it has with two years of regular touring under its belt.
Ostensibly led by Høiby, it may be London-based, but only Neame is British, with Høiby from Denmark and Eger from Sweden, so it's a multi-national affair that's often compared to the late Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson
's trio, e.s.t.and, at least superficially, with good reason. As Eger's fugue-like "Seeding"which closed out the first of two setsdemonstrated, Phronesis' music was, not unlike e.s.t.'s, as informed by classical concerns as it was the jazz vernacular. Unlike e.s.t., however (and with no disrespect intended) , there's a little less conceit, a lot more strict playing, and a greater sense of humor, especially with Eger, whose facial expressions, physical gestures and comedic timing during solos were worth the price of admission.
The entire trio clearly operates with a certain playful mischief as part of its modus operandi
, even if Neame seems largely inanimate, and it was clearly felt by the Montréal audience. Neame may have been the most visually reserved, but his playing was as fundamental to the trio's ability to move from rubato free play to more fiery rhythmical constructs as were the muscular Høiby and, at times, almost impossibly frenetic Eger. It was a set filled with strong playing, light-hearted humor and periodic moments of darker exploration, as on Neame's "Charm Defensive." Whether Phronesis will build the same North America success that e.s.t. was beginning to achieve is yet to be seen, but based on its Montréal appearance, it's certainly well on its way.July 2: Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet
With summer being most jazz musicians' busy time, it's no surprise that groups sometimes find themselves unable to maintain a consistent line up throughout their festival tours. Replacing one musician is challenging enough to a group if it's built its own voice, but losing two might seem an insurmountable hurdle. Not so, however, for guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel
, whose 21:30 set at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe was a perfect way to close out five nights of coverage at the 2013 FIJM. He may have come with bassist Ugonna Okegwo replacing Eric Revis
and Kendrick Scott
taking the place of drummer Justin Faulkner
, but both have played with the guitarist before, and if there were any bumps in this road, they sure weren't noticeable.
Sometimes, in fact, the energy of dealing with adversity can make a performance even better, and Rosenwinkel's New Quartet certainly delivered a powerful and memorable show that consisted largely of material from his latest release, Star of Jupiter
(Wommusic, 2012), a major leap forward for the 42 year-old guitarist who has become as influential on the next generation of aspiring guitarists as Pat Metheny did when he released Pat Metheny Group
(ECM) in 1978.
The only tune not from Star of Jupiter
was the opening "Our Secret World," which first appeared on Rosenwinkel's electronica-inflected Heartcore
(Verve, 2003), and later, on Our Secret World
(Wommusic, 2010), his large ensemble collaboration with Portugal's Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos
. Rather than wearing the small microphone pinned to his shirt that he used in his 2004 appearance
at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, he used a regular microphone, into which he often doubled his lines, but processed along with his guitar to create a unified sound that has, over the years, evolved into something as unmistakable and instantly recognizable as those who influenced him when he was coming up.
Another point about his 2004 Ottawa appearance worth noting: when the soundcheck was over, Rosenwinkel remained on the stage of the Library and Archives Canada theater until as close to "doors open" as possible, working on ideas that have since become both fully realized and completely integrated into his overall approach. That Rosenwinkel's a master of his instrument goes without saying, but the same way that guitarists like Metheny, Allan Holdsworth
and Bill Frisell have shaped their own inimitable languages, so, too, has Rosenwinkel, with remarkable sweeping lines that seemed almost impossible, except that they were being played, with precise articulation, in front of the Montréal audience's very eyes.
That Rosenwinkel often opens his shows with "Our Secret World" suggests it's a good warm-up tune for whatever group he's surrounded himself with onstage, but it was clearly more than a warm-up; it was a workout that brought the quartet completely together. Also featuring 29 year-old pianist Aaron Parks
whose own star has continued to rise since he first appeared with Terence Blanchard
a decade ago and, more recently, with the collective James Farm
, whose 2012 performance
at Germany's Enjoy Jazz Festival was a highlight of that yearRosenwinkel then moved into material from Star of Jupiter
, starting with the almost soulful "Welcome Home," but with its odd meters and unexpected accents, something a little less danceable and a lot more cerebral. Parks, on piano, didn't inject the electronic keyboards he does on the recording, but still provided the ambiguous harmonies that gave the tune its push and pull, tension and release.
"A Shifting Design" came next, its idiosyncratic head ultimately settling into a bright-tempo'd swing, with Okegwo and Scott joined at the hip as Rosenwinkel managed to sing along with his outrageously complex yet clearly (at least, to Rosenwinkel) lyrical lines. Parks introduced "Heavenly Bodies" alone with an impressionistic solo, and if it's not something normally obvious, the melody to this waltz-time ballad suggests a hint of John McLaughlin
also under Rosenwinkel's covers, though it eventually evolved into a heavier place that could be called fusion in its strong backbeat and occasional power chords, but was equally something else entirely.
Throughout the set, Okewgowho was seen in an almost diametrically opposed context
in Ottawa with trumpeter Tom Harrell the week beforeproved his mettle, righteously swinging "Homage A'Mitch" while driving the closing title track to Star of Jupiter
with a Latin groove bolstered by Scott's groove-centric but relentlessly frenetic support. The drummer's equally unrelenting outro solo brought the tune back to its theme to close out the set on a powerful and decisive note, but only after Rosenwinkel delivered a soaring solo that clearly spoke with his complex language but still managed to evoke a hint of the American Midwest that's been such a longstanding undercurrent for Metheny, one of Rosenwinkel's early influencesalbeit one long since subsumed into the younger guitarist's own vernacular. One of Metheny's signatures is music that sounds easy but reveals its greater complexities under the hood; for the most part, Rosenwinkel's music was unmistakably challenging, yet still managed to remain accessible and thoroughly exhilarating throughout the set.
After a well-deserved standing ovation, Rosenwinkel returned with a perfect encore, the gentle "Under It All." His a cappella
introduction wasjust as it is on the record (but, of course, completely different)impressive, suggesting that Rosenwinkel may well have a solo guitar recording in him. Who knows? The one thing Rosenwinkel has been with his discography is surprising, following a powerhouse live record (2008's The Remedy
) with a gentle trio record of standards (2009's Reflections
(both also on his Wommusic imprint); then moving from a large ensemble record (Our Secret World
) to what, in Star of Jupiter
, may be his most fully realized recording to date. Whatever strikes Rosenwinkel next, the only certainty is that it will be well worth hearing.
Leaving for home on July 3, there were still another five days of concerts to go at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, but despite a relatively short stay, and despite limiting the number of shows seen, it was proof, once again, that FIJM is a festival like no other, a place where, for five days, it was possible to ignore what was going on in the world and live in a jazz bubble. There's always a bit of culture shock going home from FIJM, but that only makes returning to the festival all the more desirable. With FIJM turning 35 in 2014, there's no doubt it'll be another year to remember.Photo Credits
Page 8 (Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran): Dave Kaufman
All Other Photos: John Kelman