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The final day of my coverage of the Montreal festival seemed to be underwhelming based on what had come before, but ended on a very nice note. Please continue to read the continuing coverage by John Kelman that will run through the end of the Festival. ALIGN=CENTER>
A final trip to the Gesu was made for another Canadian musician, alto saxophonist Christine Jensen (sister of trumpeter Ingrid). Jensen and her quintet (pianist Dave Restivo, guitarist Ken Bibace, bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Greg Ritchie) performed music from Jensen's newly released album Look Left to an enthusiastic crowd slightly smaller than Michel Donato in the same space the day before. And again, as was the case with Donato, the music played by Jensen was solidly energetic straight ahead music, with a slight edge that would make it appropriate for a '70s small group CTI session.
If comparisons had to be made, Jensen's work is similar to that of Greg Osby's more mellow music. With a very fine cast of musicians (the pianist and guitarist were previously unknown to this correspondent but Hollins and Ritchie have made names for themselves in New York), the feeling was one of polite restraint. Perhaps because it was a Festival audience at 6 pm, but there was a palpable sense that when this band feels comfortable, they can really cook. ALIGN=CENTER>
After spending some milling about at one of the outdoor stages for pianist Marianne Trudel (whose performance was a little too romantic in spots though she has a reputation as inventive improviser and had to vie for attention with the peals of a very loud brass band a few hundred feet behind), your correspondent went to the Contemporary Art Museum with trepidation for Carnival Skin. Featuring the inimitable clarinetist Perry Robinson, the group's recent album on drummer Klaus Kugel's Nemu label was effusive if a little wearying. My hope was that live, the concept would be easier to appreciate.
The quintetRobinson and Kugel with guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, bassist Hill Greene and trumpeter Peter Evansplays compositions that also contain very loose sections for raucous free improvisation. While structure in these kinds of situations is usually welcome, the actual result here was rather disconcertingly schizophrenic. Eisenbeil and Evans are the really avant-garde members of the group, the guitarist focusing on squeaky high-pitched clusters and the trumpeter relying heavily on slurs. Greene and Kugel, on the other hand, were fairly inside much of the time, playing like a tasteful rhythm section.
When these two camps collided, it forced either side to play in a manner that seemed uncomfortable. Of course, Robinson, as he has done for decades, was happy to play over anything throughout and was the Talleyrand to an otherwise chaotic Congress of Vienna. ALIGN=CENTER>
The final show of my time in Montreal was the first of four Invitation Concerts by the famed drummer Aldo Romano, who readers may know through any number of ways but most probably through his '60s work with Steve Lacy. For a performance at the Spectrum, Romano convened his African Flashback trio with reedplayer Louis Sclavis and bassist Henri Texier. The name refers to the tour the group undertook to Africa and the resultant albums for the French Label Bleu.
An all-acoustic trio at the usually boisterous rock hall was an interesting choice but the music of the set actually showed it to actually be a masterful one. The trio's music is not African per se, but rather tribal. And that can really refer to any group that uses music for daily activity and general celebration.
So though the players are highly accomplished jazz musicians, the music was contrastingly basicmotific bass lines, insistent drum patterns and stripped down highly melodic bass clarinet, clarinet and soprano sax parts. That, and the fact that no piece was longer than eight minutes made an evening of very spiritual and visceral music, with no intellectual pretensions.
Sclavis' tone on bass clarinet was that of a village elder, Texier played with the force of a tribal council and Romano supported the proceedings like a well-layed out community. This was music of thunderstorms and waterfalls and wind-swept plains. It could be loud but not in the way that Kenny Garrett was loud in the same space the night before. Here the volume was one of exuberant spirit and the audience responded as if part of some ancient ceremony, absorbing the music and releasing the force back at the musicians in a wonderous communion.