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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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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.

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