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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2017
Montréal, Canada
June 29-July 3, 2017

It's always a thrill to return to Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM). Deemed the biggest jazz festival in the world by the Guinness World Book of Records, it only takes one step out into the six square blocks closed off in the city's downtown core to believe it. Multiple outdoor stages make it possible to attend the festival for its entire 11-day run without spending a penny and still see a bevy of world-class acts along with local, provincial and national ones (not to mention mid-afternoon shows by school big bands that demonstrate arts education in the province of Québec remains a gold standard for the country). Add the multitude of ticketed indoor venues, where a seemingly countless number of performances —in venues sized from a few hundred to nearly three thousand—stream simultaneously, and the decision- making process of who to see becomes all the more a challenge. It's not so much a matter of deciding who to see; it's more about having to make the regrettable choice of who not to see.

Three outdoor Grand Spectacles—one, opening the festival, one midway through, and one on its closing night—at the massive Scene TD stage, situated on the Place des Festivals, a large concord opened a few years back when the festival also opened its Maison du Festival, which houses the festival's offices, press room, festival museum and L'Astral club venue—have been known to draw as many as a quarter million people, stretching along the Place des Festivals and pouring out onto the perpendicular Rue Ste. Catherine. As daunting as that may sound, FIJM, now in its 38th year, has truly written the book on large crowd management—from ensuring easy ingress/egress, health services (especially important on hot summer days), security that's largely invisible until the rare occasion when they're needed and more—make it a safe and enjoyable experience.

Of course, credit also has to go to the people who attend the festival—many from Montreal and surrounding areas, but also large numbers coming each year from around the world. Yes, beer is served in copious amounts, but having covered the festival since 2005, not once has there been anything but a massive party experience; everyone is there to have a great time, and that fights either don't ever break out—or if they do, they're handled so quickly and tactfully by the festival's security, that they're almost never seen—is a testimony to the festival and its attendees. Rarely, since Woodstock in 1969, have so many people gathered for a musical event with such a positive atmosphere. And while inclement weather, which has been hitting this area of the country for the past couple weeks, can and does have an impact on the number of people attending outdoor shows, equally remarkable is how many people come, with umbrellas, ponchos and other weather-appropriate clothing. Nothing barring a hurricane, it seems, is going to spoil the fun of those who come into downtown Montreal to enjoy eleven days of jazz, blues, world music and more.

And, while other jazz festivals have made recent decisions to broaden their programming to extend beyond even the furthest reaches of the jazz continuum, FIJM has always been about a broader purview. Quebec and eastern Ontario, for example, was where progressive rock got its foothold in North America during the 1970s, and FIJM continues to bring some terrific progressive rock acts through its doors, in recent years including Van der Graaf Generator, Steven Wilson...and this year, the now-octet lineup of King Crimson, a band whose 2014 revival has already gone well past its original plans and shows no sign of slowing down.

But for those who want FIJM to be a pure jazz festival, every night has more than enough acts, ranging from lesser-knowns to big names like, this year, the HUDSON Project, with Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski and Larry Grenadier, on a double bill with the great Charles Lloyd. The festival's longstanding By Invitation series continues to provide multi-night features for artists to dream, and put together performances that are often one-of-a-kind, never to be seen again. This year, the three invited artists were The Bad Plus, on their own and collaborating, on two additional nights, with the inimitable saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and similarly distinctive guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel; guitarist John Pizzarelli also brought three distinct shows to the same, wonderful 400-seat Gésu; as will saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, who closes the series with three exciting- looking performances.

After a roster in 2016 that was, to be honest, a little light, Festival International de Jazz de Montréal has made a major comeback this year, with one of its broadest and most enticing lineups in years. And so, with just five nights here, it was no small challenge to pick and choose from amongst far too many acts to see. But, as the reviews that follow suggest, there may have been many missed opportunities, but those taken were all well-worth attending...beyond so, in fact.

June 29: UZEB R3union, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier

Can a band that has been away from the scene for more years than it existed during its run from 1976 to 1992 return, draw a crowd and not only come back as strong as it ever was, but actually improve? A hardcore fusion group that, first emerging from the relatively small city of Drummondville, Quebec, achieved international prominence—first as a quartet until 1987, when it trimmed down from a guitar/keys/bass/drums quartet to its most famous (and best) lineup of über-guitarist Michel Cusson, bass phenom Alain Caron and virtuoso drummer Paul Brochu—UZEB easily sold out Place des Arts' 2,982-seat Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Expectations were high. Could the trio that released the uniformly excellent Noisy Nights (1988), UZEB Club (1988) and World Tour (1990) recapture the magic and power of its best years, and remain relevant 26 years after the 2006 release of its 1992 swan song, The Final Concert (technically not it's absolutely last concert, but who's counting?)?

In a word: Yes.

True, after an impressive but in some ways unnecessary opening act from Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and his admittedly talented trio, the crowd gave Cusson, Caron and Brochu a standing ovation as they hit the stage around 9PM, in the same venue where The Last Concert was recorded, breaking into ear-shattering applause as the trio launched into the funkified title track to UZEB Club, complete with Brochu's electronic drum intro. There was a little hesitancy, in particular on the part of Cusson—who, after leading the post-UZEB group Wild Unit for a few years moved more decidedly into film and television work, though he never gave up live performance entirely.

But by the trio's second tune, Noisy Night's more up-tempo "New Hit," everything began to fall into place, as Cusson regained his "sea legs" and delivered a solo that not only brought back memories of his blinding chops and effortless instrumental command, but also the growth and further maturity that would be expected/hoped for from a musician of his caliber. After opening the night on his fretted electric bass, slapping and popping the strings with similar ease and deep groove, Caron moved to fretless—which he used for the majority of the group's roughly 100-minute set (with three encores)—for a solo that, like Cusson, demonstrated that there's been plenty of evolution in his playing as well. It's too easy to mention the bassist that, perhaps, most popularized the instrument, Jaco Pastorius, but Caron has always possessed a style all his own, less reliant on relentless 16th-note pulses and more fluidly vocal-like.

By the time UZEB had trimmed down to a trio, guitar and bass synth technology had become as much a part of the band's sound as Brochu's electronics. But here, while Cusson had a laptop that allowed him to layer other textures beneath a guitar tone that ranged from clean and warm to gritty and overdriven, there was far less overt reliance than back in the day, when he managed to move between straight guitar tones and a bevy of synth textures with a precision and impressive speed matched only, perhaps, by Steve Morse, making it sound as if there were still a keyboardist in the band.

Cusson also used to employ far more guitars, including a Godin acoustic guitar that was a major feature of the group's look at Charles Mingus' evergreen "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," also from Noisy Nights. But here, Cusson relied strictly on two Fender (or, perhaps, Fender-like) Stratocaster-styled instruments, and while his acoustic playing on the original was in many ways a trademark of the tune, on electric he was able to change colors and deliver a solo that was actually a sonic improvement over the original (take that, Jeff Beck!).

Caron, too, used emerging synth technologies with his electric bass back in the day, in addition to a broader range of instruments including piccolo bass and double bass. Here, armed only with a fretted and fretless electric bass, he still managed to emulate the sound of his piccolo bass by using a harmonizer during his solo on the atmospheric ballad "Après les Confidences," managing to accomplish something few bassists can: make his instrument positively soar...and sing.

Following the two opening tunes of the set, the question "what were the five stations on a riser behind the band?" for was answered when a five-piece horn section joined the trio onstage—trombone and trumpet, alongside alto, tenor and baritone saxophones...in some ways, UZEB meets Wild Unit (but stylistically still unequivocally UZEB) for a new tune, "Junk Funk." Perhaps the only complaint about the show was that, in the massive space of Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, some of the nuances got swallowed up in the boomy hall; still, UZEB fleshed out to an octet was an inspired way to introduce a new tune and, while the horn section left after "Junk Funk," it returned for the rest of the set starting with a version of UZEB Club's "Loose," a composition filled with changes and knotty yet still somehow singable melodies.

But before the horn section's return, the trio also delivered definitive versions of UZEB Club's Latin-esque "Perrier Citron" and the greasy "Slinky"—one of only a few tunes culled from the group's time as a quartet, 1983's Fast Emotion, with Brochu taking his first extended solo of the night, blending electronics with kit work that only further cemented his ability to combine unshakable groove with terrific tone and monster chops that were always a means to an end, rather than the end itself. Cusson, back in the day a very visual player, began to get some of that back as he delivered yet another mind- blowing solo, stepping to center stage and brightly lit.

With the horns back, the octet moved into the home stretch; along with "Loose," Noisy Night's "Cool It" was rendered even sleazier at a slightly reduced tempo, while the closing medley of "Mr. Bill—Wakeup Call—Funkaleon"—the first and third culled from Noisy Nights—was a clear highlight (and one of many show-stoppers), being an incendiary mid-piece duo with Brochu and Caron, back on fretted bass.

By this time, the group was in full steam, with Cusson and Caron tightly positioned center stage with Brochu...barely a foot or two between them. The magic was back, and when the band finished, another of the many standing ovations it had already received led to three encores, including its biggest hit, the buoyant "60 Rue des Lombards" and a closing version of Noisy Nights' funky "Spider," which bucked the usual convention of bringing a set to a close with a slow tune that leaves the audience sated and ready to go home. Instead, this expanded version of UZEB left an audience that would have happily stayed all night, as Cusson delivered a closing solo of mind-boggling lightning speed and gritty chordal excursions.

It was unclear whether or not the show was being recorded; certainly there were no video cameras to be seen, so if it was being recorded it would have been audio-only. With a couple dates in France in early July, and a fourteen-date Quebec tour beginning in August, there will be at least a few more opportunities to record this most welcome comeback. What comes after? Who knows. But if these shows turn out to be the extent of UZEB's return to activity, then it only makes its FIJM performance that much more cherished. They may not have performed together for a quarter century, and they may have grey (or less) hair, but with their FIJM performance, Cusson, Caron and Brochu made clear that there's still a place in the world for UZEB.

June 30: Ingrid & Christine Jensen, with Ben Monder, L'Astral

With her star increasingly on the ascendance beyond not just her hometown of Montréal and not just her home country of Canada but on the international stage as well—both on record and in concert—it was time for saxophonist/composer/educator Christine Jensen to receive special recognition from Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Before her 6PM set began, festival co-founder André Ménard informed the audience that she was the 2017 recipient of the Oscar Peterson Award, "for contribution to Canadian music." It was an award long overdue and well-deserved for an artist whose reputation has been built as much on her strength as a composer for groups ranging from small ensembles to large jazz orchestras as it has been as a performer.

Sister Ingrid Jensen was also on-hand for a performance by the same group that appeared on the siblings' recent Infinitude (Whirlwind, 2016). The trumpeter/composer/educator has made the United States—specifically New York City—her home for many years alongside husband/drummer Jon Wikan, another member of the Infinitude quintet that also featured the unparalleled guitarist Ben Monder alongside another Canadian gem, double bassist Fraser Hollins). Ingrid's résumé is filled with significant collaborations, from Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue to Geoffrey Keezer...and, perhaps, most germane at this moment, the great pianist Geri Allen, whose unexpected passing at the too-young age of 60 just a few days ago has been on the minds of everyone touched by her music, from musicians to fans alike. Suffice to say, FIJM has done very well by awarding Christine the Oscar Peterson Award this year, but would ultimately be remiss if, sometime in the next few editions, it were not to present Ingrid with an award as well.

Beyond individual instrumental acumen—and as demonstrated by their last FIJM performance in 2013, with the identical lineup barring Monder, whose chair was occupied by the broad-minded keyboardist Gary Versace—much has been written about the simpatico shared by the two siblings, but it's an irrefutable experience that was made all more vivid in performance were, when the saxophonist and trumpeter played unison lines, it truly felt like a single voice.

Their 80-minute 2017 set at L'Astral—an intimate club setting that, seating roughly 350 people but capable of handling nearly double that for standing room shows, and opened during the festival's 30th anniversary—drew almost exclusively from Infinitude: "Infinitude with attitude," as Christine quipped with characteristically dry wit during one of her brief introductions.

The sole exception was Ingrid's heavily reworked arrangement of Woody Guthrie's "This Land" (a tune whose melody Guthrie took from the Carter Family's "When the World's on Fire"). In her introduction to Christine's wistfully atmospheric, melancholically rubato and open-ended "Garden Hour," which segued into "This Land," the trumpeter described it—not actually naming the song, but instead challenging the audience to figure it out for themselves—as "a sixties song, initially more happy but becoming more sinister to reflect the country I live in." It was the kind of introduction that seems to be finding its way into the sets of so many musicians living in the turbulent United States these days.

Ingrid also took a moment to reflect on Geri Allen's passing. The trumpeter had performed with the pianist—most notably on drummer Terri Lyne Carrington's all-woman The Mosaic Project (Concord, 2011)—and also worked with her in an educational capacity, describing Allen as someone who "lives through everything she touched"; that teaching with Allen at a summer workshop for young women was "a life-changing experience"; and that "we're all still reeling, but none more than those who knew her. Still, she touched anyone who had the joy of hearing her."

Dedicating the set to Allen, the trumpeter's lyrical and spiritual ballad "Hopes Trail" moved from time-based lyricism to a freer rubato middle section, returning again to time before segueing into "Old Time"- -a composition from another sorely missed artist, Kenny Wheeler, last heard on the trumpeter's final album, Songs for Quintet (ECM, 2015) but, at its core, a rework of the Canadian expat's title track to Azimuth's final recording, How It Was Then... Never Again (ECM, 1994). The Jensens couldn't have evoked a better, more appropriate reflection on Allen's penchant for deep melodism and irrepressibly adventurous spirit.

With Hollins delivering the initial theme to "Hopes Trail," and a solo predicated on his muscular tone but still tender touch, the quintet's version of "Old Time" was far fiercer than either Wheeler's version or that of Azimuth—the trumpeter's collective trio formed in the mid-'70s with keyboardist and longtime musical partner John Taylor and Wheeler's more often than not vocalist of choice, Norma Winstone—and featured an impressive solo from Wikan, whose résumé includes work with both Jensen sisters, but also time spent with guitarist Torben Waldorff, Darcy James Argue, Jay Thomas and Denise Donatelli.

Inspirations, awards and dedications aside, the quintet was wrapping up a short, very intense week-long Canadian festival tour and so were playing at a level that made every tune from Infinitude both tighter and looser than their corresponding recorded versions. Still, the gentle atmosphere that defines so much of the recording was maintained...no mean feat in a venue with clinking glasses and the other ambient noise endemic to a club environment. Still, not unlike Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan's Small Town (ECM, 2017)—also recorded live, in New York's heralded Village Vanguard— during the Jensen sisters' set, the old saying "you could hear a pin drop" was equally true, as the audience was enthusiastic, appreciative...and attentive.

This was music that, whether in its calming quietude or more fiery moments, completely commanded attention, from the potent draw of its compositions—beyond "Old Time'" and Ingrid's arrangement of "This Land" and her own "Hopes Trail," featuring four by Christine: along with "Garden Hour," the double-punch of the album-opening "Blue Yonder" and "Swirlaround"; and "Octofolk," whose ostinato of three ascending, two-note phrases provided another context for Wikan to solo with tremendous control over dynamics before the lightly swinging main body of the piece, combined with a knottier, metrically challenging theme, led to another brief solo from Hollins.

Monder's sole compositional contribution, "Echolalia"—first heard on his 2005 Sunnyside album Oceana, but arranged for the completed different setting of Infinitude's horn-driven quintet—began with the guitarist's inimitable and unrelenting ability to build dense layers through complex voicings, finger-picked at seemingly impossible high speed, slowly emerging as he brought it in through his use of a volume pedal. But as the horns entered to deliver a theme sung, on the original, by Monder's longtime collaborator Theo Bleckmann, it soon opened up to a demonstration of the fullest possible breadth, in one solo, of Monder's ever-evolving approach.

A true musical/guitaristic polymath, Monder may have first emerged in the shadow of Frisell, but he's long transcended such comparisons. Whether using a dark tone with delay creating greater breadth, or a densely textured overdrive as he used on his "Echolalia" solo, his ability to execute broad intervallic leaps, rapid fire phrases, complex chordal passages and sweeping phrases built horizontally across his neck but then moving effortlessly up and down the fretboard, he demonstrated, once again, that he's a virtuoso with few peers, and a player who manages to deliver a wide range of dynamics without ever falling prey to the trappings into which so many guitarists fall: excessive volume and superfluous signature phrases. Instead, Monder managed to create an array of colors, harmonies and melodies that never overpowered his bandmates.

A quality also true of Wikan, who managed to ebb and flow along with the dynamic demands of the music while still astutely balanced with the rest of the group—and while it's sometimes the consequence of a good sound engineer at the front-of-house board, sitting so close to the stage as to hear what was coming from the stage rather than the PA system, this quintet's onstage volume felt completely comfortable...and intrinsically well-balanced.

As for the Jensens? Whether on alto or soprano, Christine continues to build a personal style that mirrors her distinctive compositional voice. Ingrid employed electronics far more than during her 2013 FIJM show with Christine, but never to excess and always with impeccable taste. Whether it was looping what looked like a red plastic pan pipe at the start of the set-opening "Blue Yonder," using a wah wah pedal to create darker textures than even her broad ability on trumpet could achieve, or bringing out a variety of mutes, she was as much a colorist as a "conventional" burnished-toned trumpeter.

But it was when the sisters played together—playing scripted lines that seamlessly flowed from unison to broader harmonies that orbited in out and around each other, or freely improvising in tandem—that the real magic happened. And while the set, with no time for an encore, was far too short, there was so much magic between the Jensens—and with their honed and clearly connected group—that it was more than plenty good enough.

June 30: Charles Lloyd Quartet, Le Festival à la Maison symphonique

Opened just three years ago during a major renovation to the multi-venue Place des Arts, where UZEB performed just two nights prior (but in the larger Salle Wilfred-Pelletier), the 2,100-seat Le Festival à la Maison symphonique, for one of PdA's larger halls, couldn't have been more perfect for the return of Charles Lloyd to FIJM, following a three-years absence and his three-day By Invitation series. The show was billed as the tenth anniversary of his "New Quartet" but, while bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland were on-hand, pianist Jason Moran was not.

Instead, though Moran is, indeed, on Lloyd's new quartet recording, due out mid-July, Passin' Thru (Blue Note, 2017), for the saxophonist's FIJM performance, Lloyd recruited pianist Gerald Clayton, who first appeared with the reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalists at Wrocław, Poland's 2013 Jazztopad Festival, where Lloyd's Wild Man Dance suite—a commission from the festival and featuring an entirely new sextet for the veteran Lloyd—was premiered, recorded and ultimately released on Blue Note Records, representing his first for the label after a 25-year run with Munich's lauded ECM Records.

While it may not have been a tenth anniversary celebration, and Clayton is a substantially different pianist to Moran, it in no way marred what was booked as double bill with HUDSON, the new, electrified group featuring Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski and Larry Grenadier. While skipping HUDSON, having just seen the group a week ago at the 2017 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, it was good fortune, then, that Lloyd's group was first up. But if that in any way suggests that Lloyd was "opening" for HUDSON, think again. The original bill had HUDSON on first, to be followed by Lloyd; but in some ways switching the two acts on the bill made a lot of sense...and this was not an opening act and headliner; this was a double bill of equals.

Before getting to the music, this relatively new concert venue was spectacular. Sally Wilfrid-Pelletier has always been considered, along with the 1.450-seat Theatre Maissoneuve, to be one of PdA's premiere halls, but as UZEB demonstrated two evenings prior, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier can be a challenging room, especially with groups that are either electric or feature a drummer that can, on at least some occasions, lean to the loud. The sound in Le Festival à la Maison symphonique—designed more, to some extent, for classical music—was absolutely pristine. Even when Lloyd's quartet began to turn up the intensity, every note, every strike of a cymbal, every chord, every deep-in-the-gut double bass note was crystal clear; and even when Harland soloed and ratcheted up the intensity even further, Lloyd's show left the question of how UZEB—expanded, as it was, to an octet with five horns and featuring plenty of electricity—might have sounded, had it performed in Le Festival à la Maison symphonique.

Lloyd's set—surprisingly long for a double bill at nearly 105 minutes including encore—weighed heavily on material from the upcoming Passin' Thru: three of the main set's tunes were culled from this new album, recorded on tour in Europe in the summer of 2016, including "Dream Weaver," "Tagore on the Delta" and the title track. But only "Tagore" is actually new; "Dream Weaver" has a long history, first appearing on his 1966 Atlantic album of the same name and featuring his stellar first quartet with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette, though his recent quartet also released its own take on the 2011 live ECM collaboration with Greek singer Maria Farantouri, Athens Concert (coincidentally, also Lloyd's first recorded encounter with Wild Man Dance lyra player Socratis Sinopoulos). "Passin' Thru" dates even further back, also performed by Lloyd's first quartet but first appearing on Chico Hamilton's 1963 Impulse! Records album of the same name.

The set's single cover, Thelonious Monk's "Monk's Mood," was first released by his recent quartet on Mirror (ECM, 2010), while the set-opening "Requiem" was performed by an earlier quartet on 1992's Notes from Big Sur (ECM, 1992)—collected with Lloyd's four other ECM recordings featuring Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson on the 2013 Old & New Masters Edition box set, Quartets. The encore, "Blow Wind," also showed up on Athens Concert.

Only the mid-set "Defiant" was a brand new and as-yet unrecorded Lloyd composition. And, just as the Jensen sisters' show immediately prior was dedicated to Geri Allen so, too, did Lloyd dedicate his set to the passing of an artist who may not have been as big a name amongst the larger jazz audience...but amongst musicians she was clearly well-known, well-respected...and well-loved. Of course, Allen also recorded and toured with Lloyd, appearing in his quartet with Rogers and Harland on Jumping the Creek (ECM, 2005) and participating in a particularly strong performance with the saxophonist at the 2007 PDX Jazz Festival in Portland, Oregon. And so, Lloyd's connection with Allen was a personal one.

As for "Defiant," the third tune of the set, when the piece was over, Lloyd stepped up to the microphone, saying "I normally don't like to speak between songs but that was a recent composition I wrote, inspired—if that's the right word—by the US condition." Someone in the audience immediately yelled out "Move up here!," to which Lloyd responded, "It's nice to be welcome somewhere." The deeper significance of that response was not lost on Lloyd's fans.

If the amount of evergreen material in Lloyd's set suggests any kind of retro vibe, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, Lloyd and his quartet literally reinvented everything...as, no doubt, they do each and every night on the band stand. Quite possibly the freest, most explorative set ever seen with Lloyd—and over the past several years there have been many—it wasn't quite as outside as the music heard on Passin' Thru; Clayton was undeniably a fine addition to the group, with great ears and an ability to move from tender lyricism to more jagged angularity, but he's not quite the encyclopedic pianist Moran is.

Still, the chemistry amongst this version of Loyd's quartet was nothing if not deep...if for no other reason than Harland being involved in multiple projects with the saxophonist beginning with Jumping the Creek, but also in Lloyd's exceptional East-meets-West trio with tabla master Zakir Hussain documented on Sangam (ECM, 2006) but a trio Montréal fans were able to experience during Lloyd's 2013 By Invitation series.

Rogers has been associated with the saxophonist in the Moran/Harland constellation since its inception, first heard on the 2007 debut Rabo de Nube (ECM), and so also has plenty of history—and chemistry—together with Lloyd and Harland. If the complexion of this quartet with Clayton rather than Moran was, by definition, a different one, it was certainly no less compelling, as the entire group played like a single organism, flowing like a living, breathing entity. Clayton may not possess the chemistry intrinsic to Lloyd, Rogers and Harland's longer-standing musical relationship, but he was still plenty well connected to the rest of his bandmates.

Everyone was impressive, with plenty of individual moments to shine in the spotlight, but as irrepressibly intuitive and masterful as Harland's playing was, as equally empathic as Rogers was, possessed of a gorgeous tone and ability to intuit the perfect choices for every moment, and as compelling and, at times, breathtaking as Clayton was in filling some very big shoes left by Moran, it wasn't just that Lloyd's name topped the marquee; he's rarely, in the numerous performances heard over the past decade, sounded this fine...or this free.

Rather than bringing numerous horns, such as the alto saxophone and taragato, as he has in past performances, Lloyd relied solely on tenor saxophone for most of the set, barring the new, often (but not consistently) backbeat-driven "Tagore on the Delta," where he picked up a previously (seemingly) hidden alto flute, that longer, warmer cousin of the concert flute. Not dissimilar to the softer tone he's evolved on tenor saxophone—just one of the many contrasts to the drier, sharper-toned John Coltrane, to whom Lloyd is all too often and unfairly compared—Lloyd's tone on flute was like a soft cushion.

But focusing, as he largely was, on tenor saxophone, Lloyd built solo after solo throughout the set, often predicated on rapidly ascending and cascading phrases—though that, in and of itself, was too simple a description—his left and right shoulders alternatively rising and falling as his body moved in perfect synchronicity with the music.

It was, for Lloyd and his quartet, a night where conventions were summarily dissolved as they worked the charts with reckless abandon, whether time-based or rubato, truly reinventing compositions that have, in some cases, been part of the saxophonist's repertoire for over half a century. With Lloyd about to enter his ninth decade on this plane in 2018, he continues to evolve at a time when so many others his age are slowing down or resting on their laurels. Not that Lloyd doesn't deserve to do just that, but on the basis of his 2017 FIJM performance—made all the better for the absolute clarity of sound in Le Festival à la Maison symphonique—it seems clear that Lloyd is one of those musicians for whom the search is ongoing, and for whom the journey is far more important than the destination.

July 1: The Bad Plus By Invitation With Kurt Rosenwinkel, Gésu

On the evening of Canada's 150th birthday celebration, as The Bad Plus closed its three-day By Invitation run—its first night, on its own; the second, with the ever-masterful alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and, for its final evening, a hotly anticipated encounter with one of modern jazz's most magnificent guitarists, Kurt Rosenwinkel—bassist Reid Anderson, the group's spokesperson, quipped "We were delighted to hear of your Canada day habit of buying CDs...and we'll come out afterwards to say hello, so if six or eight of you would hang around we'd feel really good about ourselves."

Well, they may, indeed, have wanted to sell CDs, since it's at after show merchandizing tables that so many artists now sell more of their albums than anywhere else in these days of Spotify, YouTube and other revenue-draining streaming services; but as far as feeling good about themselves? They ought to have felt pretty darn good about their 100-minute set (including encore) at the beautiful, intimate 400-seat Gésu theatre—for the first time, competing with another venue (Place des Arts' three year-old Le Festival à la Maison symphonique) as the best-sounding and most comfortable venue used by the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.

Full disclosure: when The Bad Plus first emerged with a major label deal on Columbia Records with 2003's These Are the Vistas, the extraordinary media hype (cover stories on just about any jazz periodical around) seemed, well, a bit excessive. Fourteen years later, however, and now associated with Sony's revived Okeh imprint, The Bad Plus have not only managed longevity; they've also successfully transcended all the hype, evolving into a group far more capable and significantly more appealing. More often than not, it's not the music that's the problem; clearly, it's the listener.

Inviting Rosenwinkel was—as Mahanthappa no doubt was the previous evening (sadly, missed)- -an inspired choice. Friends all, Rosenwinkel, Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King delivered a set that, to a full house—which, based on the number of people turned away, could easily have been moved to a larger venue—was high on non-superfluous virtuosity, surprising (for those only familiar with TBP's early albums) grace...and the kind of chemistry that only comes from many years spent on the road and in the studio.

Of course, the latter characteristic can't be said about Rosenwinkel's appearance, as it seems to be a first encounter (or, at least, a first formal encounter); but, as their Montréal audience discovered just moments into Anderson's "Love is the Answer"—a song that dates back to TBP's 2001 eponymous debut on the Spanish Fresh Sound New Talent imprint—if there wasn't a longstanding simpatico between the trio and guitarist, there certainly seemed to be plenty of immediate chemistry and, even more, no shortage of sparks flying around the stage...even if they were somewhat subdued in a tune largely driven by the normally boisterous King, who only switched from brushes to sticks and more energy when Rosenwinkel took his first solo of the night.

And what a solo. It's been four years since last seeing the guitarist with his own quartet at the 2013 FIJM and, while his own show the following evening was a question mark, given the significantly different approach he's taken on his new album Caipi (Heartcore, 2017), one thing that was perfectly clear throughout his performance with TBP was that he's a musician who truly continues to evolve year-after-year...irrespective of the music he's playing. Recalling his sound check before delivering a festival highlight at the 2004 Ottawa Jazz Festival, once Rosenwinkel had finished setting things up with his quartet, he continued to practice, practice, practice...beyond, in fact, when the festival wanted to open its doors, until he got what he was working on just right.

It's impossible to know, without speaking to the guitarist, how things are 13 years later, but it sure feels like he continues to work at evolving his concept. Always a particularly fluid player, Rosenwinkel was in particularly fine form with The Bad Plus, creating remarkable phrases that leapt across his strings horizontally, but also moved with ease up and down the neck, executing remarkable leaps and chordal voicings that were as personal to him as Ben Monder's were the previous evening, in his performance with Ingrid & Christine Jensen.

But this performance was not just about how strong Rosenwinkel was, and how much he brought to TBP; this was a quartet of players equally matched but constantly pushing and pulling each other throughout a set that drew on These Are the Vistas—specifically Anderson's irregularly metered "Big Eater" and Iverson's particularly satisfying "Guilty"—and 2004 Columbia follow-up, Give's "Dirty Blonde" (another Anderson tune), to Iverson's pre-Bad Plus composition "Neon" ("Ethan's favourite gas," Anderson also added, dryly), from the pianist's The Minor Passions (Fresh Sound New Talent, 1999) and, culled from TBP's collaboration with saxophonist Joshua Redman (the aptly named The Bad Plus and Joshua Redman (Nonesuch, 2015)), Anderson's slowly building, show-stopping set-closer "Silence is the Question," which ultimately peaked...and then slowly faded to black.

Iverson—a long-avowed, atypical non-fan of Bill Evans who, instead, cites Thelonious Monk as a primary influence in his early days, performed with a perfect blend of power and elegance, his solos motivically building, idea upon idea, with spontaneous construction. Anderson, always a rock solid anchor, soloed with a similar combination of delicate lyricism and robust tone. King, who often tended to overwhelm the group in its early days, was still a forced with which to be reckoned, but has evolved into a far subtler drummer, even though he was still capable of frenzied accompaniment when called for. Together, they seemed to be communicating on a far deeper level than back when they were the much- hyped critics' darlings. Sometimes it's better for time to pass, for the music and the musicians to evolve, and for the music to speak for itself.

Which it most certainly did throughout the set. For whatever it may be worth, experiencing TBP fourteen years after it's over-hyped days, in particular with Rosenwinkel, was enough to make a true believer out of even the most jaded. The disappointing news is that Iverson has decided to leave The Bad Plus after roughly 17 years—finishing out his 2017 commitments before being replaced (if that is even an appropriate word) by Orrin Evans, a fine pianist in his own right, with his own fine track record, but who will, no doubt, significantly alter the trio's complexion.

Still, with the band's announcement clearly presenting this major change in a most positive light, while it's unfortunate that there won't be another opportunity to catch the original lineup on its own after this evening's epiphany, the next time the group comes to a nearby festival on its own, it will still absolutely remain high on the list of "must-see" events.

July 2: Kurt Rosenwinkel, Caipi, L'Astral

After such a strong set the previous night with The Bad Plus, expectations were high—and, for those who'd not yet heard it, so was curiosity—for Kurt Rosenwinkel's first FIJM performance since his stellar New Quartet show in 2013, touring in support of his equally superb Star of Jupiter (Wommusic, 2012).

This year, guitarist/vocalist Rosenwinkel has been touring a new album, Caipa, that he described, during his packed, 100-minute performance at L'Astral, as "Brazilian, jazz, rock and other things." And, indeed, with a brand new sextet that featured three musicians from Brazil (guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Pedro Martins, bassist/vocalist Frederico Heliodoro and percussionist/vocalist Antonio Loureiro), along with German pianist/keyboardist/vocalist Olivia Trummer and American drummer Bill Campbell - Guitar, there was plenty of Brazilian vibe to be found, along with some higher-powered rock energy, plenty of the sophisticated jazz language that has defined Rosenwinkel since he first came onto the scene in the mid-'90s...and, indeed, more.

But wait a tick: Kurt Rosenwinkel? vocals? Yes, Caipi —a reduction of the Brazilian (Portuguese, actually) word caipirinha—a Brazilian cocktail made with cachaca, lime or lemon juice, sugar, and crushed ice—represents not just the usual evolution expected from one of his generation's most impressive guitarists and musical conceptualists; it's an album of songs, some sung by Rosenwinkel, some by Martins and some by Trummer, but with five singers on hand, plenty of unison and octave unison parts were shared during the thirteen songs that made up the guitarist's set. And, while Rosenwinkel may not have a particularly memorable voice, he proved to certainly be a fine enough singer... not just with good pitch and an appealing tone, but capable of singing a song's melody while executing his often frighteningly constructed guitar phrases and sophisticated chordal voicings.

In fact, what was perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his L'Astral performance was that this was music that represented a completely new direction for Rosenwinkel—and kudos to the guitarist for having the cojones to make such a dramatic shift in direction, an even more monumental musical move than his 2003 electronica-centric album, Heartcore—and yet, from the very first moments of the propulsive groove that opened the set's first tune, Caipi's title track, the complexion of the collective blend of these six fine musicians (all leaders in their own right) still sounded like nobody else but Rosenwinkel.

And this was not a typical Rosenwinkel performance, with copious solo space for the guitarist to explore; again, these were songs and, besides sharing solo duties with everyone in his band, for the most part Rosenwinkel's solos—like the best song solos—were relatively limited, and kept completely within the context of the tunes, the majority of which were culled from Caipi, but also featuring a couple of new songs as well.

It may have been a bold new move for Rosenwinkel, but it was an absolutely successful one. As he told the audience during one of his introductions, he'd actually been thinking about this project for the past decade, writing material that, when it felt like a Caipirinha song, which he began describing as "a Caipi song," the guitarist would put it away until he finally had enough material to make the album. The first on his own new Heartcore Records imprint, to make that even clearer, despite dressed in his usual attire, with a cap on his head and a checkered shirt—as he wore the night before with The Bad Plus —for this show he also had a Heartcore T-shirt, worn over his long-sleeved button-down shirt.

Beyond Rosenwinkel's consistently inventive, imaginative and, for most guitarists, head- scratching solos, there were also some fine spotlight moments for the rest of the band, in particular Martins, who took a couple of solos that, while clearly his own, did suggest that he's either studied, studied with or absorbed by osmosis some of Rosenwinkel's approach to harmony, melody and tone. That said, he also added plenty of other colors to the set, including reverse-attacking lines made broader through the use of delay; occasional looping; and rich chords created with volume pedal swells and plenty of delay and reverb.

The younger Martins also added some rock energy and exhilarating visuals to the set; at one point towards the end of the set, Rosenwinkel stepped back from his position front and center stage, moving closer to Martins as he faced the other guitarist and the two played with a commonly seen rock pose. But pose it may have been, these were no poseurs; this, and the entire visual appearance of the group, was entirely natural...never contrived.

Tummer proved a fine pianist whose acumen became increasingly apparent during the show as she blended lyrical virtuosity on grand piano with a wealth of colors from a synthesizer positioned on top of it. Loureiro, who worked hand-in-glove with Campbell—no mean feat in itself, as it takes real skill for percussionists and drummers not to step on each others' toes—was given a strong solo spot over a fervent ostinato, just as Rosenwinkel was afforded the same later in the set, over an ostinato-based set of power chords delivered with gusto by Martins.

While his role was largely to anchor the group—especially when Campbell and Loureiro were creating complex polyrhythms for songs that, nevertheless, avoided irregular meters—Heliodoro did get one opportunity to strut early in the set, proving himself to be a fine soloist as well. And following the ostinato that drove Loureiro's solo, Trummer introduced "Recognized"—a new song co-written by the pianist and Rosenwinkel—with an a cappella solo that began, motif-driven, by the very same notes of that ostinato, creating a lovely sense of symmetry and continuity as she gradually expanded upon them, ultimately leading to the band's return and the next song commencing.

Those of a superficial mindset might compare some aspects of this music to Pat Metheny's Brazilian period, beginning with 1984's First Circle (ECM) through to The Road to You: Live in Europe (Geffen, 1993)—and there's no doubt that, in his very earliest days, the influence of the older guitarist loomed large over Rosenwinkel. Still, that's long since been subsumed within his increasingly personal, instantly recognizable approach. Rosenwinkel has, especially since his Verve debut The Enemies of Energy (2000) and 2001 follow-up The Next Step, asserted his own style, one which has become as influential to the next generation(s) of guitarists as Metheny was on his own.

It was a set that may have been a radical departure for Rosenwinkel but, based on the enthusiastic responses he received after each and every song and the clear disappointment when, after "Little B," a set-closer that built to a transcendent climax and conclusion, it was clear that no matter how loudly the crowd applauded—no matter how much they hooted and hollered—there was to be no encore, Rosenwinkel and his Caipi band's performance ended on the perfect note, leaving the audience hungry for more as they moved en masse to the merchandise table to pick up copies of the album.

With a performance this unexpected yet this strong, where Caipi goes, beyond the new material, has yet to be seen. But based on this show, it will be something well worth following; as strong as this set was, with the group well-honed after a Canadian tour, it can only get even better.

With King Crimson coming up on July 3 and then moving on to Toronto for the band's July 5 gig—reviews of both shows appearing in Part 2 of this coverage—in the meantime, as ever, it was a total pleasure to be at Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal for another year. From a press room staff that truly made every journalist feel, when dealing with them, that they were the only one in town to the volunteers who kept the streets remarkably immaculate, the FIJM staff really knows how to make an event this size a truly warm and welcoming experience. Returning next year is a given.

Meanwhile, off to Toronto...and a second night of Crimson. More to come...

Photo Credit: Dave Kaufman

Part 1 | Part 2

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