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On Day 2, after having written yesterday about the lucky weather, we had rain intermittently throughout Friday. They were thankfully brief spells and the general enthusiasm for the outdoor concerts was undiminished, if slightly damp.
One outdoor concert brought the music to ground level in the form of Accoules Sax, a Marseilles based mini-marching band. They paraded up and down Rue Saint Catherine, the main strip through the festival site. Their music was exuberant with tight funky beats and jumpy horn lines. A nice crowd gathered and followed them around during their early afternoon performance. Try something like that in New York!
It is hard to think in terms of days of the week when attending a festival, but yesterday was Friday so the biggest names of the festival were scheduled. Two acts, the Dave Holland Big Band and the Charles Lloyd Group, have played the Festival before (Holland a mainstay this century) and were assured crowd pullers.
The Theatre Maisonneuve, Montreal's Alice Tully, was the site for the Dave Holland Big Band, a larger venue than the Monument Nationale, where this large ensemble was born several years back. Since then, the band and its leader have made two records (one for ECM and one for Holland's own Dare 2 label), been heaped with no end of critical acclaim and awards, and have become an almost ubiquitous component of any summer festival.
The concert was delayed for over thirty minutes when drummer Nate Smith's airplane wasn't allowed to land because of the inclement weather. The awarding of the Prix Miles Davis to Dave Holland for his achievements (probably needs another shelf by now) preceded the commencement of the show. Festival organizer André Menard gave the prize, named in honor of Holland's old boss interestingly enough, to Holland who responded by saying that he had received the Miles Davis prize once before, when the trumpeter asked him to join his band in 1968. Holland also complimented Davis on his ability to bring good groups of musicians together '" a statement that can be applied to Holland and his current working groups (quintet and big band).
The material for the ninety-minute set included pieces from the band's beginning ("Razor's Edge and the encore "Blues for C.M. from their debut), their current album ("Free for All , "Ario and trombonist Robin Eubanks' "Mental Images ) and related material (a piece written for the band by Kenny Wheeler, "Pick Up Sticks and piece recorded earlier by Gateway, "How's Never ). As stated above, this band is considered the top working big band around today and has the performance schedule, awards and press to prove it.
The roster, even with some turnover, is fabulous: saxophonists like Mark Turner, Antonio Hart and Gary Smulyan (who was the closest to your correspondent's seat and consistently impressed), trombonists like Eubanks and Josh Roseman and a trumpet line with Duane Eubanks and the unsung heart of the project '" vibraphonist Steve Nelson. New-ish drummer Nate Smith has now comfortably filled the role held once by the fiery Billy Kilson. The band is perfect and one would be hard pressed to find a tighter ensemble of any size going today. These days, without Kilson, the band is less incendiary, more of a slow burn but no less precise.
During the performance, Holland did some extended bass intros, a rare chance to hear him outside of his support role in the band. That may be one of the few criticisms that can be leveled at the group; Holland is one the most accomplished bassists of the past decades, but his playing is not in the forefront here. Perhaps that is the point, but when compared to ensembles like those of Mingus (the subject of "Blues for C.M. ), Holland seems too deferential to his ensemble. As a bandleader, he has created a new template for modern big band music, a simplified, more soloist-centered version of what Kenny Wheeler does. And he certainly has the soloists for it, particularly Hart on alto. One just wishes occasionally that Kilson's almost ragged approach were still there. The band is perfect, maybe a little too perfect and just missing the sublime.
The second show of the evening was Charles Lloyd's quartet with pianist Geri Allen, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Eric Harland. When Lloyd played in Montreal a few years back, it was with Allen, bassist Marc Johnson, drummer Billy Hart (replacing the recently departed Billy Higgins) and guitarist John Abercrombie. That group really fit the model of the "ECM Sound. With the new players (all whom, apart from Grenadier, recporded this year's Jumping the Creek), particularly the remarkable Harland, the group has added a deep soulfulness to its concept. Allen and Lloyd are the perfect foils for each otherboth play with rich expressiveness that belie the unusual phrasings and voicings both employ. Grenadier is a more forceful bassist than Johnson and Harland is up there with Brian Blade in terms of creative time keeping. The set was almost all originals and included two encores, a rare treat for the capacity audience at the Spectrum. The pieces were "Tone Poem" from 1999's Breathtaking, the classic Lloyd tunes "How Can I Tell You", "Third Floor Richard" and "Dreamweaver", Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas", Jumping the Creek's "The Sufi's Tears" and Silvio Rodroguez' "Rabo de Nube", done by Lloyd on 2002's Lift Every Voice.
Something about this particular hall gives every performance there a rock concert feel. Certainly a performer like Lloyd, who performed at rock venues in the '60s, knows how to propagate that sensation. In fact, much of the playing during the evening recalled the early days of San Francisco rock with a certain floating dreaminess, Lloyd in the Jerry Garcia role (he did play with the Dead in 1967). Lloyd's sound on tenor is a cool one, not in the hipster sense but more in a hippy spiritual way that ends up communicating his deep wells of essence. His alto flute playing is West Coast mystic. The one piece where he was featured on soprano sax was Middle Eastern and may have been a prelude for the next day's collaboration with Zakir Hussain as part of the invitation series. The rousing ovation that finished the show was responded to by a typically elevated response from Lloyd about the band's attempt to communicate their spirit to the audience and how gratified he was that we all brought our spirits to them. Again, try that in New York!
Earlier in the day, your correspondent had a chance to speak with Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson, who was to play solo that evening in a double bill with Fred Hersch. He stated that he doesn't play solo all that often, less because he prefers a trio format than that the opportunity doesn't come very often. He also somewhat debunked the notion of a Nordic Sound (more of a Norwegian thing anyway though he has played with all the guys ostensibly responsible for it) and his adherence to it. Keep in mind that Stenson may be the only musician to have played with both Stan Getz and Don Cherry!
Sadly, scheduling misinformation had your correspondent thinking he was on second, thus there would be plenty of time to get to the show after Charles Lloyd. This unfortunately was not the case and only the tail end was heard, a slow languorous piece that sounded very much like a loooooose interpretation of "Round Midnight (it was a quarter to 12, after all). Rather than sounding Nordic, it was steeped in the blues with some classical flourishes. Given that small snatch and the standing applause at the end of the set, one can only assume the performance was memorable. Ah, the jazz festival lifestyle of running around!
Continue: Day 3