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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2017

John Kelman By

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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.

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