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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2017: July 3-4

Mark Sullivan By

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The first of two acts billed as a "Programme double," the Panamanian pianist/composer Danilo Pérez brought his longtime band mates bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz. The opening tune began with unaccompanied piano setting the tone—a common approach for this trio. The entire band built slowly—muting inside the piano, muted bass, drum kit played with the hands—until a full crescendo. The piano then set up a new ostinato pattern, joined by the band. I didn't catch the name of the piece, but it had the feel of a suite. "Expeditions" was introduced as a new song. Briefer than the opener, but it too was multi-sectional. "Providencia" got an especially infectious Latin groove going—lots of nodding heads in the audience—and had a big, repeated rhythmic finish.

It being Independence Day in the United States, Pérez gave a little speech about the power of music to build community, a theme which he elaborated on later in the set. He described Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" as an appropriate choice. It gave the rhythm section a chance to shine, with Street's bass solo accompanied only by Cruz's drums. After band introductions, they launched into an astonishing son montuno, which the band was demonstrably delighted by: they were clearly enjoying themselves immensely, as was the audience. It included an unaccompanied section with the pianist playing a straight montuno pattern with his left hand while commenting with clusters played by his arms, the back of his hand, etc. At the end the drums and bass traded eights, bebop style. Tremendously exciting.

Pérez announced a Thelonious Monk medley in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday this year. He began with an exploratory solo version of the beautiful ballad "Round Midnight," then the whole trio launched into "Evidence." Solo again, the pianist wove several tunes together, notably "Well, You Needn't" and "In Walked Bud" (Monk's tribute to the great bebop pianist Bud Powell) before the group joined in for a final Latin groove. An exciting end to a joyous performance.

Still Dreaming

Still Dreaming was inspired by the quartet Old and New Dreams (all former Ornette Coleman sidemen). In this version tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman takes the role of his father, Dewey Redman; cornetist Ron Miles stands in for Don Cherry; double bassist Scott Colley for his mentor Charlie Haden; and drummer Brian Blade in place of Ed Blackwell. This new group (which Redman joked was "a tribute to a tribute: kind of messed up") intends to capture the spirit of the original, rather than playing all old repertoire.

They demonstrated this by opening with two of their originals. "Blues For Charlie" was written for Charlie Haden by Joshua Redman. Redman begin it playing solo, joined by Colley's bass, then the rest of the band. Clearly a blues, but treated very freely. Until it was back-announced Scott Colley's "New You" had me convinced it was an Ornette Coleman tune I couldn't quite place. It had a characteristic start-and-stop theme, and inspired a wonderfully frantic sax/cornet duet break near the end. Redman spoke about his long history with the festival, and the recent Canadian sesquicentennial, along with U.S. Independence Day. Like Danilo Pérez he could not resist making reference to current U.S. politics, which seem to make an event like this festival increasingly unlikely in the U.S. The next selection came from the original band's book: Don Cherry's "Guinea," originally recorded on Old and New Dreams (ECM, 1979). It was fittingly introduced by unaccompanied cornet, the band joining in for the jubilant world music-inspired theme. An altogether joyous performance. They continued with another old selection, Dewey Redman's "Walls-Bridges" (Redman joked that it was OK to applaud the bridges, but not the walls).

Scott Colley's new piece "Haze and Aspirations" featured his beautiful unaccompanied opening. The band concluded the set with two Joshua Redman compositions: "It's Not The Same" and "Unanimity." They left the stage, but the audience would not be denied. For an encore they played Charlie Haden's "Song for Ché" ( a classic from the first Liberation Music Orchestra album), which led into the first and only Ornette Coleman composition: "Ramblin'" from Change of the Century (Atlantic, 1960). A fitting end to a marvelous performance. This band's interaction is a marvel to hear. They truly have the spirit of the Old and New Dreams quartet: all the freedom, and all the joy.

The Neil Cowley Trio

Britain's Neil Cowley Trio had the late "Jazz dans la nuit" slot at Gesù. With a primary instrumentation of acoustic piano, double bass and drums, they look like a conventional jazz piano trio. But they are not called "post-jazz" for nothing, because what you see is definitely not what you get. They frequently integrate electronics into the sound, and even when they're not, their minimalist rhythm patterns have a rock feel. Think of a gentler version of Nik Bärtsch: music based on pattern repetition.

The first two tunes both had pre-programmed electronics opening; rhythmic in one case, atmospheric in the other. At one point bassist Rex Horan switched to synthesizer bass, giving a more powerful sound than double bass—he then stayed on keyboards for the end of the piece, for a full electronic-acoustic hybrid. The third piece began with contrapuntal piano lines, eventually building to an ostinato which drummer Evan Jenkins played an exciting solo over. Cowley has a hilarious deadpan announcing style. In addition to a good deal of self-deprecation, he mentioned that most of the group's set was from the recently released album Spacebound Apes. His piano playing was finally spotlighted with a short, unaccompanied spot with a hymn-like sound, a marked contrast to the frequent driving rhythms. Later in the set he did actually play a couple of brief piano solos with a jazz feel: but still no walking bass, and no bebop in sight.

Photo Credit: Benoit Rousseau
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