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

John Kelman By

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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 segue—she 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 deeper—an 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 encore—despite, with another group coming up in less than two hours and the stage needing to be reset—the 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.

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