Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2008: Days 6-8

John Kelman By

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Days 1-3 | Days 4-5 | Days 6-8 | Days 9-11

McCoy Tyner Trio with Ravi Coltrane/Bran Van 3000 Catherine Russell/Steely Dan Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra/McCoy Tyner Big Band Festival International de Jazz de Montréal Montréal, Quebec, Canada July 1-3, 2008

Now nearing its thirty-year anniversary, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal continues to create a universe unto itself. With six square city blocks closed in the city's downtown core, it's an eleven-day party that's marked by high spirits and complete safety—an unprecedented combination in a city this size.

The festival had to recover from the loss of Le Spectrum this year—a legacy venue that's been a part of the festival since inception. But with a new center planned near the site that will ultimately house the festival's offices and include new performance venues, while there was some adapting to do for the 2008 edition, it's now a certainty that things will not only recover, but will actually improve.

The festival is divided into two halves, with the middle day traditionally quiet on the ticketed show front. This year, however, not only was there one of the mammoth free outdoor spectaculars that the festival programs on the first, middle and final evenings, but there were some high profile indoor ticketed shows as well, including the first of two nights by Steely Dan, and the first of three nights by piano legend McCoy Tyner, one of three luminous guests comprising this year's By Invitation series (the other two being pianists Hank Jones and Dave Brubeck). The series allows its artists to bring a number of different contexts to the festival, and Tyner's ran the gamut from his working trio, augmented by saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, to a solo performance and his closing night with a big band, featuring trumpeter Christian Scott, who leads his own show later in the week.

Chapter Index
  1. July 1: McCoy Tyner Trio with Ravi Coltrane
  2. July 1: Bran Van 3000
  3. July 2: Catherine Russell
  4. July 2: Steely Dan
  5. July 3: Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra
  6. July 3: McCoy Tyner Big Band with Christian Scott

July 1: McCoy Tyner Trio with Ravi Coltrane

In the pantheon of jazz pianists, there are only a few who are instantly recognizable by first name: Herbie (Hancock), Chick (Corea) and, more recently, Brad (Mehldau). But before any of these names became household names, at least in the jazz world, there was McCoy. First coming to public attention as a member of saxophone pioneer John Coltrane's classic quartet of the '60s, responsible for classic albums including the seminal A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964), Tyner's powerful attack and dense clusters were the perfect foil for Coltrane's own layered sheets of sound.

Since leaving Coltrane in the mid-'60s, Tyner has gone on to create a sizable and significant discography with its own share of classics, including Time for Tyner (Blue Note, 1968) and Expansions (Blue Note, 1968), the latter reissued as part of a larger box, Mosaic Select 25 (Mosaic, 2007). A lengthy stint with Milestone through the 1970s grew Tyner's discography even more significantly, placing him in a variety of contexts but with his bold modal innovation continuing to evolve and expand. There is only one McCoy.

Moving slowly but looking less gaunt than he did at his 2006 performance at the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Tyner's performance at the Théâtre Masionneuve of Place Des Arts with his working trio featuring bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt was a short but very sweet performance that found the pianist less the long-distance runner he used to be, but a still powerful sprinter. Even if the solos were relatively brief, he was in fine form, sounding just as powerful in inspired bursts as he did over forty years ago with John Coltrane.

Opening the show with the trio, Tyner required no time to establish the voice that has influenced so many others. Dramatic flourishes were juxtaposed with aggressive block chords, as Tyner ripped into his first solo with surprising energy. Cannon, a no less powerful soloist, worked hand-in-glove with Gravatt. Gravatt, who came to attention as the second drummer to go through fusion group Weather Report's revolving door on I Sing the Body Electric (Columbia, 1972) and Sweetnighter (Columbia, 1973), is only recently back on the scene, after decades away from music as a correctional officer at a prison. Based on his effervescent style, which combined bold power with surprising elegance and a light touch on a ride cymbal (that was nearly vertical and raised far above the rest of the kit), it's as if he never went away.

Tyner then introduced Ravi Coltrane, saying "I've known him since he was child. His father was my teacher," and a lifetime bond that went beyond the music was clear throughout the hour-long set, with Tyner and Coltrane playing as much to and for each other as for the capacity crowd. While the tenor player demonstrated an ability to create waves of sound like his late father John, he also displayed a strong penchant for melody, weaving lines through the changes rather than creating expansive sheets of sound. Literally leaning into the notes, his was a warmer and, at times, more visceral tone. As his own albums, including Flux (Savoy Jazz, 2005) and, more recently, Seraphic Light (Telarc, 2008), with Saxophone Summit, prove, he's evolved his own voice and has stepped out from under the shadow of his father.

He may be slowing down, but Tyner knew an appreciative audience when he saw it, coming back for not one, but two encores. The first, a barnstorming trio tune that demonstrated the power of an audience to energize those onstage, was the highlight of the evening, with Cannon and Gravatt creating a relentless groove that bolstered Tyner's dynamic attack. The final song of the night was a more relaxed, mid- tempo swinger that, with Coltrane returning to the stage, was a perfect closer to a show that, while short in duration, will undoubtedly be remembered by those in attendance as one of the festival's high points.


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