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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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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.
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