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Alto saxophonist/composer Tim Berne's usual dry, sarcastic wit was intact at his performance with his Snakeoil quartet, as were his song and band intros; his between-song riffs on social media had an edge to them, a challenge to the audience. But the weaving of Berne and Oscar Noriega's clarinets, the incisive drumming and percussion work of Ches Smith, and pianist Matt Mitchell's contributions, as successful as they were in melding intricate composition with opportunities for improvisation, displayed an odd joylessness, as if the Berne and company felt alienated from the specific performance situationthe room, the audience, the festival itself.
Drummer Antonio Sanchez's Quartet with alto saxophonist David Binney, bassist Matt Brewer, and British pianist John Escreet engaged much more decisively with the audience and one another in a memorable performance at Gésu on Saturday at 10:30. This was a group that played with forward drive at all times, Sanchez pushing proceedings funkily with power and grace. Binney was a fluidly expressive player with a sweet, singing tone, and Escreet was highly inventive in the way he darted in an around the compositional structures and the lines of his fellow musicians. Communication among improvisers is paramount to the success of a given performance, and on this night, Sanchez and his mates were having a stimulating musical conversation.
And that's all one can reasonably ask for from musicians. A big part of the experience of the Montreal festival is to engage in conversations with old friends about and between musical performances, be they jazz, reggae, blues, ska, Romanian gypsy, or West African trance music (to name but a few styles on the menu)and to listen to musicians doing the same. What else could one want?