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

John Kelman By

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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. Rogers—who, 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 2005—is 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 (2013).

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 could—and often did—go just about anywhere.

While there's not been a follow-up recording—something that, hopefully, Lloyd will remedy sometime soon, as there's been significant evolution in the ensuing years—the 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 be—and, 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 drums—but not before, standing in front of them, he added a few extra splashes on the cymbals—picking 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 kit—the 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 instrument—perhaps 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 set—sadly, 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 Celebration—so 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 figure—pianist 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 set—two 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 ACS—a relatively new group that featured pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding—opened 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 intact—albeit 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 fame—despite 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.
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