Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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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.
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