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

John Kelman By

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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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