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

John Kelman By

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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 doubt—the group introducing its members in round-robin fashion, with Carrington introducing Allen, Allen introducing Spalding, and Spalding introducing Carrington—made 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 expressionism—and 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 festival—the second of just three North American dates before the group headed for Europe that summer—it 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 May Han 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 changed—most 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 group—and surrounded by such strong players—a 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 Hotel—after 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 Winds—a 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. Baron—as responsive and imaginative as he was just a few days earlier in Ottawa with Kuhn and Swallow—drove 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 '60s—albums 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 millennium—and Beyond the Sound Barrier (Verve, 2005).



That Shorter has chosen to only record his quartet—pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade—in 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 so—pianist Keith Jarrett hasn't set foot in a recording studio with his 30 year-old Standards Trio in decades—but 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 gestures—gestures 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-heart—a 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 taciturn—often standing still, waiting for the right moment or, based on his facial expressions, sometimes just flat-out enjoying what his younger group is up to—but 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 too little.

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 another—a 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. Moran—first 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.

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