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2013 Montreal Jazz Festival: June 28-July 2, 2013

John Kelman By

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"Last time we played here I made the mistake of wishing everyone a happy Canada Day; I was surprised—there 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 and Alive. Like Jensen, Phronesis packed L'Astral with an appreciative audience—a 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 sets—demonstrated, 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.

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