Day 5 - Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, July 2, 2006

Andrey Henkin By

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This particular day of the Festival was more typical, if only that the 6 pm show your correspondent attended was an appetizer for the rest of the evening, not the best show, leaving plenty of energy through 11 pm. ALIGN=CENTER>

If the late night slot at the Gesu Creative Center is for small bands, that concept was refined further for its early evening performers. Canada's jazz legacy is a particularly rich one, whether it is musicians who have become known internationally or those who stay in Canada and contribute creatively locally. At 6 pm everyday, the Gesu presented Canadian musicians of all stripes (see the review of Yannick Rieu from Day 3, winner of the Oscar Peterson Prize, Peterson possibly the most famous of all Canadian jazzers). Bassist Michel Donato is part of the old generation of Canadian musicians, staying local and releasing records under his own name on Canadian labels. One such album was recorded with "European Friends and this project was presented on Day 4. The group's title is a bit of a misnomer, as tenor saxophonist François Theberge and drummer Karl Jannuska are both Canadian but live in France, and guitarist Michael Felberbaum was born in Europe but grew up in the States. But trumpeter Piotr Wojtasik is Polish, so there you go.
The music played by the quintet was ideal for their early appearance in the day's schedule: pleasing, relatively modern modally influenced post-bop forms. Certainly there was nothing earth shattering going on but the point seemed to present very melodic music, sans rough edges, that allowed for confident soloing by the ensemble members. The set was, like the album, a mix of originals by four of the five players with the highlight being a lovely minor-key piece that followed the set opener. Donato is not a flashy bassist and spent most of the performance laying down rich warm lines that supported the band effectively. Of particular note was guitarist Felberbaum, whose playing stood out from the group.
After a long break between sets, your correspondent headed over to the Contemporary Art Museum for the festival's most intriguing performance so far. The Maikotron Unit (sounds like a Voivod album doesn't it?) is a trio of very well-known Canadian free and freeish improvisers: Michel Cote (reeds), Pierre Cote (bass, cello) and Michel Lambert (drums). However, both Michel Cote and Michel Lambert, in addition to their "regular instruments, play the instrument that gives the band its name. Created in 1983 by Michel Cote, the maikotron is "a woodwind instrument, played with a reed and a tenor saxophone mouthpiece, but made up of many instruments at once: trumpet valves, the bell of a cornet, parts of a euphonium and a clarinet. Lambert plays what can be assumed to be the "trumpet version while Michel Cote plays a larger one whose range is closer to that of a trombone. The trio has been in existence since 1984 and the intervening 20+ years of playing experience show. ALIGN=CENTER>

The set was a handful of several relatively short (nothing over 15 minutes) discrete improvisations featuring different instrumental combinations. The first was a slow folky piece with cello, Maikotron (Lambert) and bass clarinet. The second, evoking the sounds of a dark forest, consisted of acoustic bass, Maikotron (Lambert) and contrabass clarinet. It was on this piece that the purpose of the maikotron seemed apparent—less about distinct notes and tonalities and more about processing columns of air in an almost electronic fashion. If the point of much free improvisation is to recreate the sounds of nature, this eerie, manic soup must have come from the nature of another planet. During this piece, Michel Cote switched to some perversion of a thumb piano, Lambert to drums and Pierre Cote to cello. The sounds of a bizarre factory ensued.

For the third improvisation, cello supported a disconcerting conversation between the two maikotrons, whose pace and sonority was reminiscent of a hand-held car racing game whose batteries are running low. (At this point, several people in the audience were laughing. To this correspondent, this was very serious music and those that laughed must be uncomfortable in such circumstances and can think of little else but to turn the performers and performance into some light circus fare.)

After such an unsettling trio, the next piece's instrumentation of bass clarinet, bass and drums was almost traditional, with a typical instrumental hierarchy and containing the evening's most defined melodies. For the end of the set, the initial instrumentation was reintroduced, this time with a quasi-melodic sentiment, except of course from the maikotron, which made the proceedings sound like listening to romantic music with the window open while someone below is mowing the lawn.
Sets like these are why one goes to festivals abroad. The chance to see such a compelling performance - one that would probably never travel outside of Canada - and one that is, even better, an unknown quantity, is extremely valuable. ALIGN=CENTER>

The final set of the evening was your correspondent's first at the Spectrum, which traditionally is a rock club. As a result, the Festival tries to book acts that have broad appeal and whose sound can fill the large space. Saxophonist Kenny Garrett may have been the most ideal choice for the space since Pat Martino brought his organ trio in a few years back. Garrett's quartet began playing even before the curtain was fully opened and for thirty minutes, over two songs, maintained a rather amazing energy level that elicited roars and cheers from the packed house. The intensity of the music recalled other saxophonists David Murray or David S. Ware but the tunes were vamp and riff-style pieces that allowed for multiple choruses of powerful blowing for the group (even the bassist!). The second piece was slightly mellower, but soon it too became a wailing maelstrom set over funk backbeats.

What everyone wants is crossover appeal and Garrett provides molten lava bursts of it. What was unfortunate was that he chose to end his first of two sets with two piano/soprano sax duets, whose aesthetic was almost that of pop ballads. Everyone in the audience expected this to be merely a short breather before more bombast but Garrett unceremoniously ended the set (after the whole band came back on stage). Crossover is one thing but momentum is another.

Photo Credit
Andrey Henkin

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