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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019

John Kelman By

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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Various Venues
Montréal, Canada
June 27 -July 1, 2019

Forty years. Not a lifetime, perhaps, but a remarkably long time for any festival to not only continue to exist but, despite increasing challenges, to thrive. An even greater achievement when it's the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, which has grown from its humble beginnings In 1980 into the largest festival of its kind in the world. A festival that closes off six square blocks of the downtown core for twelve days each year, to create a music bubble where, between indoor ticketed venues and a series of free outdoor stages, and between hotels, restaurants and shops, it's possible for attendees to literally ignore the rest of the world for a brief time (if they should so choose) and immerse themselves in something positive, free of the trials and tribulations that dominate world news, day in, day out.

FIJM has never been a festival about purity; still, it's long considered itself a jazz festival first while never shying away from bringing acts either tangential or even completely disconnected to a genre where purity, in truth, is a myth. Jazz is, after all, a genre of inclusion rather than exclusion, whether it's indigenous folk music from countries far away, urban elements like hip hop, electronics innovations or any of the other many stylistic markers that have cross-pollinated with jazz, especially over the past 50 years but, truthfully, since its inception.

Still, there are those who bemoan the harsh reality that to exist as a jazz festival, it's not just important but necessary to bring completely unrelated acts into the programming mix. And this year's 40th Anniversary FIJM is no different than any of its previous ones. For every Brad Mehldau or Steve Gadd there's a Peter Frampton or Alan Parsons. For every Tord Gustavsen (one of a number of ECM Records artists in the program, celebrating the lauded, award-winning label's 50th anniversary), Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah2 or Gilad Hekselman there's a Blue Rodeo or Sue Foley, and for every Ravi Coltrane, Antonio Sanchez or Joshua Redman there's a Victor Wainwright or alt-J.

The bottom line? With a litmus test introduced in the 2011 All About Jazz article When is a Jazz Festival (Not) a Jazz Festival, the Festival international de Jazz de Montréal continues to pass with flying colors. For those who don't want to hear about the festival's non-jazz programming, there wasn't a single day during this year's 11-day run, where there weren't so many choices in the jazz arena that choosing what to see was no mean feat.

Steve Gadd Band
Monument-National
June 27, 2019, 8:00PM

Take the first official day of the festival (there was an opening "Party Surprise 40e" the previous evening, one of the festival's Grande Événement outdoor shows that have, in some years, seen as many as a quarter million people on the streets): from the Vijay Iyer/Craig Taborn piano duo that opened the ECM 50th celebration and Brad Mehldau's current quintet to Norah Jones, Susie Arioli and Melissa Aldana, that would have been a tough enough call.

But for the first of five evenings covering this year's Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, the clear choice had to be the Steve Gadd Band. Not just because the veteran 74 year-old jazz, rock and pop drummer, who's appeared on so many recordings that it's time to stop counting, rarely tours, let alone with his own project; but because of the band he's been playing with, for the most part, for the past several years—and who have all played together, in recent years, in singer/songwriter James Taylor's touring band.

Beyond Taylor, pianist Kevin Hays, has been (relatively) quietly amassing a significant résumé that includes, in addition to his own work as a leader (over 20 releases since 1990), he's been recruited for sessions or gigs with artists, amongst the many, who include Bob Belden, Benny Golson, Eddie Henderson, Chris Potter, Joshua Redman and Mark Turner.

But while it's relatively easy to find Hays on the road, either with his own band or as a member of another, it's the other three members of Gadd's band—all busy west coast session players who only occasionally hit the road and rarely seen in this neck of the woods—that made catching this show all the more essential.

Trumpeter/flugelhornist Walt Fowler first made his name, alongside his two brothers (bassist Tom Fowler and trombonist Bruce Fowler) in Frank Zappa's mid-70s band and, again, with brother Bruce in the iconic progressive composer/guitarist's last band of the mid-to-late '80s. But in the ensuing years, he's been heard with artists ranging from Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Chad Wackerman, Brandon Fields and Scott Henderson to Allan Holdsworth, Toto and, yes, The Muppets. Between a glorious tone and chops that are there when needed (but never substituted for the needs of the song), Fowler is, indeed, a musician's musician.

Similarly, bassist Jimmy Johnson has nothing to prove when it comes to instrumental mastery. He may be relatively easy to find on the road with James Taylor and, before the guitarist's untimely passing a couple years back, Allan Holdsworth, but beyond that he's spent far more of his long career recording with everyone (amongst many others) from Stan Getz, Billy Childs and Vince Mendoza to Albert Lee, Roger Hodgson and Paul Brady. An electric bassist of staggering virtuosity, he's also a player who knows when just one note is required. An impeccable groove-meister, he's a perfect fit for the similarly disposed Gadd.

And then there's guitarist Michael Landau, like his band mates a musician too few people know by name but almost certainly have heard. Beyond a small discography as a leader that includes Organic Instrumentals (Tone Center, 2012) and the more vocal-oriented Live (Tone Center, 2007), in addition to regular appearances with Taylor, Landau has graced hundreds of recordings by everyone from Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks and Bonnie Raitt to George Duke, Joe Sample and Boz Scaggs. While often pigeonholed as a blues-centric, Hendrix-informed player, the truth is that Landau's reach extends much farther, with a particularly rare attention to tone, color and detail that matches his often-times sparse yet visceral approach. Still, it would be a mistake to suggest that Landau cannot turn more virtuosic when the time is right.

With a quintet of virtuosos, in fact, it might be reasonable to expect a chops-heavy show with extended soloing. But ever since he first stepped out into a collaborative project with Stuff in the '70s, Gadd's own projects have been more about groove, more about song, more about group interaction and more about relatively constrained solo space that encourages everyone to make the most of those very short passages...no small challenge. With only one personnel change—Hays replacing original keyboardist (and fellow Taylor band alum) Larry Goldings for Steve Gadd Band (BFM Jazz, 2018)—this is also group, together since Gadditude (BFM Jazz, 2013), with plenty of intrinsic chemistry.

Largely drawing on material from Steve Gadd Band (while also culling material from past Gadd and Gadd Band albums), which features compositional contributions from everyone in the band (and then some), the group opened, briefly, in abstract territory before launching into the lightly funky "Where's Earth," a Gadd/Hays/Landau composition that largely set the pace for the evening at one of the festival's oldest venues, Monument-National. What was most initially striking was just how quiet the band was, and yet it in no way impacted the potency of its delivery. Even if Gadd largely focused, as he did here, on just snare, high hat and bass drum, he propelled the band with a relaxed and deceptively lazy groove. It may look easy, but few drummers can deliver a behind-the-beat backbeat like this; rather than encouraging people to stand up and dance wildly, it was subtler, with much of the audience swaying in their seats, their heads "chicken-necking" in time.

And groove was, indeed, the order of the day, with Johnson's warm tone and slippery lines anchoring the band, and only occasionally resorting to overt displays of virtuosity. Still, when he did, as with the band's unique take on The Crusaders saxophonist Wilton Felder's "Way Back Home" towards the end of an 11-song set that ran about 100 minutes (encore included), it left no doubt about his instrumental strength and broader capabilities.

Trading off with a Landau, whose gritty tone, visceral bends, whammy bar inflections and occasional forays into light-speed phrases were matched (and raised) by Johnson, it was a tune, first heard on the group's CD/DVD combo, Way Back Home: Live in Rochester, NY (BFM Jazz, 2016), that ultimately led to an extended feature for Hays.

It was just another example of how this group could turn a simple idea on its side, with no bass-driven pulse for almost the entire song. Instead, propelled simultaneously by Johnson and Landau's Steve Cropper-infused chords over Gadd's simple but driving snare, high hat and bass drum, it was largely about intimation rather than anything more overt. Gadd finally took one of just a handful of solos during the set (making them all the more meaningful), building with effortless inevitability and a strong sense of composition for a crowd, which clearly included a healthy number of drummers that hollered, whooped, whistled and clapped so relentlessly that Gadd, who typically introduced every song of the set, had to wait a lot longer before his audience finally quietened down enough for him to be able to speak.

There wasn't a weak song in the set. Still, amongst its many highlights? Landau's darkly balladic "Auckland by Numbers," its form making clear that the guitarist's language is far more sophisticated than his general reputation might unfairly suggest. With Fowler's burnished flugelhorn doubling the melody alongside Landau, it also provided an opportunity to hear the guitarist weave singable melodies through more sophisticated harmonies, all the while employing the swelling lines and, in particularly, chords that he often bent up to with his whammy bar. His solo was a lesson in simplicity, space and tone, where each and every note counted more than any more virtuosic demonstration ever could. Fowler, too, contributed brief but absolutely perfect connective threads, a similar instruction in the value of "less is more" and subtle dynamics that were a significant aspect of the entire show.

Fowler's "Duke's Anthem," a ballad first heard on the aptly titled 70 Strong (BFM Jazz, 2015), was another delicate high point. Written for the great George Duke, who passed away too young in 2013 and was another fixture on the Los Angeles scene, its gentle groove, and lyrical melody formed a lovely eulogy that was as soulful as the late keyboardist, both in his work but also as a person. With Landau, Fowler and Hays all taking tasty, soul-drenched solos, its soft dynamics created some of the evening's most painfully beautiful moments.

"Auckland by Numbers" and "Duke's Anthem" needn't suggest, however, that the set was largely defined by its ballads. Fowler's "Timpanogos," Steve Gadd Band's closing track, was this evening's second, a somewhat Latin-inflected composition that may have possessed a relaxed, ambling groove, but intimated at greater power to come later in the set. Between Fowler and Landau's similarly tasty timbres defining the melody and Hays' Fender Rhodes solo just one of many impressive features for this often overlooked pianist, it also demonstrated a rare quality that defined the entire group. More often than not, when a musician writes a song it's meant as a feature for him/herself. And while it's true that Fowler did, indeed, improvise towards the end of the song, it was clearly all in service of the song.

The attention to rhythm and feel may have suggested music that was, in fact, deceptive at its core, with plenty of sophistication to be found but couched in ways that made it completely accessible. Still, Larry Goldings' closing "Sly Boots," from 70 Strong, made clear just how effortlessly the entire band could play with time. Alternating between a driving 6/4 pulse and 4/4 rhythm that, with the same underlying tempo, shifted the feel significantly, it was an exhilarating set-closer that, following solos over its riff-driven vamp, led to a closing Gadd solo that closed the main set with a major climax. From initial explorations of the potential of a single snare drum to subsequent thundering toms, reminiscent of his '70s work with Chick Corea on Polydor albums like 1974's The Leprechaun (in particular, "Nite Sprite") and 1978's The Mad Hatter, it would be unfair to suggest that Gadd saves the best for last. Still, he certainly knew how to bring a set to a definitive conclusion.

Still, Montréal audiences are known for their enthusiasm, and this night was no different. Just about lifting the roof off Monument-National, it was clear that there would be no way for Gadd not to return for an encore, the band delivering something completely unexpected: a take on Bob Dylan's minor hit, "Watching the River Flow," initially released as a single only, but subsequently included on the iconic singer/songwriter's Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II (Columbia, 1971) and later included on the bonus discs in the The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 (Columbia/Legacy, 2013) megabox, it was a feature for Hays...the singer.

Hays proved a more-than-capable singer whose bluesier approach had little to do with Dylan's inimitable vocalizing; it also turned into a swinging, walking blues for Landau's final (and, yet again, impressive) solo of the night and a feature from Hays where he scatted along with his grand piano lines. The song was firmly anchored by Johnson's unshakable yet ambling lines and Gadd, who did more with the bell of his ride cymbal, a bass drum and a snare than many drummers do with massive drum kits.

Gadd's kit was, in fact, relative basic, with his snare (he kept a couple onstage), high hat and medium-sized bass drum augmented by two rack toms and one floor tom, in addition to four additional cymbals. Not a small jazz kit, to be sure, but still a more modest one than used by many. Gadd also had an electric metronome onstage to his left, where he'd dial in the precise tempo for each song in an earphone, before counting in the band. While there can be a certain excitement generated by counting a song in with an approximation of the tempo used, say, on a recording, it's also a crapshoot, sometime just too slow or fast enough to completely lose the groove,

With Gadd and his band so deeply committed to feel, to dynamics ranging from subtle to more dramatic, and from solo approaches that favored tone, spontaneous compositional form and the value of space (which made any move towards greater virtuosity all the more dramatic), it's no surprise that Gadd wanted to make sure the tempo was precisely what it needed to be.

It was a stunning performance from a group of veterans with nothing to prove but still plenty to say. Whether they were drummers, bassists (sitting beside Canadian singer Nikki Yanovsky's current bassist), horn players, keyboardists or guitarists, or whether they were simply fans of one of the last half century's greatest drummers, the Steve Gadd Band delivered for its audience on all fronts...and then some.

Tord Gustavsen Trio
Gesu
June 28, 2019, 6:00PM

If Steve Gadd's show was, amongst other things, a clear lesson in the value of dynamics, Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen's early evening performance at the exceptional Gesù venue was an even deeper, more sublime exploration of dynamics and the greater potential of relatively slow tempos. As a roughly 400-seat theater inside a church that has great sight lines and is one of the best sounding venues used by FIJM, it was the perfect venue for the pianist, no stranger to FIJM but who hasn't come with a trio in eleven years,

Gustavsen was one of the third wave of Norwegian artists, also including Nils Petter Molvaer, Trygve Seim, Trio Mediaeval and Frode Haltli and given broader international, exposure by Munich's ECM Records, first emerging in 2003 with Changing Places. One of the label's more successful artists of the new millennium, Gustavsen's résumé reaches farther back, including work with singers Kristin Asbjørnsen, Solveig Slettahjell and Silje Nergaard.

When he emerged on ECM with Changing Places in 2003 however, he immediately established a reputation for himself as a pianist exploring a narrow area of tempo and a range of dynamics so subtle that just the slightest elevation was surprisingly dramatic. While these characteristics might seem limiting for some, Gustavsen's primary touchstones, including Norwegian folk music and hymns, European classicism, American gospel music and the nexus between Caribbean music and New Orleans jazz, provided the pianist a firm foundation over which he and his trio could slowly evolve.

Gustavsen, double bassist Harald Johnsen (tragically, passing away in 2011 at the too-young age of 41) and drummer Jarle Vespestad slowly expanded their purview into newer terrain on 2005's The Ground and 2007's Being There, the trio's growth not unlike the expanding ripples from a stone thrown into a pond.

That a subsequent album with his quartet (featuring, in addition to Vespestad, double bassist Mats Eilertsen and saxophonist Tore Brunborg) was titled Extended Circles (ECM, 2014) came as really no surprise to any familiar with the pianist. It was, indeed. is as clear a definition of Gustavsen's overall approach to slowly building upon the new ground covered with each successive release.

Whether interpreting music ranging from Johan Sebastian Bach to the late Leonard Cohen, cresting spontaneous compositions drawn from the ether or contributing his own darkly lyrical compositions, Gustavsen's playing has also evolved over his nearly two-decade relationship with ECM. Never one to rely on overt, excessive virtuosity, he"s nevertheless a masterful player capable of more expansive, prodigious displays, but only on occasion and only when it feels right. His control over dynamics—not just going from a whisper to a roar but with inflections that are all the more dramatic for their nuanced subtlety—has become even more focused, more firmly controlled over the years. And if he began to introduce subtle electronics into the mix just a few short years ago, not unlike many other Norwegian musicians including Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset and Hakon Kornstad, they've gradually become a natural extension of the grand piano that is his main instrument: more like a physical extension of his body, his mind and his soul.

With The Ofher Side (ECM, 2018) representing his first trio album since Being There (but releasing four additional recordings featuring different lineups in the years between them), and with Johnsen now gone, Gustavsen recruited double bassist Sigurd Hole to round out his new trio, still including Vespestad. A longtime member of Eple Trio, featuring drummer Jonas Howden Sjøvaag and (ECM label mate with trumpeter Mathias Eick) Andreas Ulvo, Hole has released, so far, five albums with that trio, including the particularly special In the Clearing / In the Cavern (NORCD, 2012).

The double bassist launched his own Elvesang imprint in 2018, bravely making his first release for the label a solo bass recording, Elvesang, released the same year. Recorded in a small wooden church, as the All About Jazz review describes about an album that placed amongst the year's best recordings:

"A wooden church may, for some, be far from an ideal recording facility, but it was clearly the perfect place for Hole to shape Elvesang. The intrusion of outside sounds, ranging from thunder and bird sounds to gentle rain on the roof, only add to the album's overall nature-driven ambiance, made all the more so by the room's lovely natural reverb. It may be a bold move for Hole to make his first release under his own name a solo bass record, but even when it reaches beyond melody to more adventurous texture and color, Elvesang is an album of profound beauty and, more often than not, calming quietude. A recording that trades nuanced, delicate evocations for the merely obvious, Elvesang is all the more impressive—and captivating—for it."

Unfortunately, Hole was unable to make this transatlantic tour for family reasons, and so Gustavsen has been forced to recruit more than one substitute. That the pianist's Montréal show would be the first and only appearance by Gjermund Silseth (Mari Boine, Karl Seglem, Hildegunn Oiseth) made the performance all the more special. He may not share the intrinsic chemistry that has evolved between Gustavsen, Vespestad and Hole since the younger double bassist joined the trio, but he acquitted himself with confidence and creativity as a member of a trio where listening and engaging at a deep level with his trio mates is a necessity. Silseth also delivered a series of fine solos throughout the set, ranging from brief passages to his extended a cappella feature near the main performance's conclusion.

During a first-time performance of the trio's imaginative interpretation of a rural Norwegian folk song, Silseth demonstrated tremendous facility con arco, as he seamlessly moved between normal registers and delicately executed harmonics, with copious reverb causing many of his phrases to sustain through subsequent lines to create a more expansive melodic and harmonic tour de force. Cheers The only constant in all of Gustavsen's ECM recordings, Jarle Vespestad is a drummer who would surprise Gustavsen fans, were they to investigate his other work. Beyond being a charter member of the innovative noise improv group Supersilent, alongside trumpeter Arve Henriksen, keyboard wizard Ståle Storløkken and producer/engineer/guitarist/electronic manipulator Helge Sten (AKA Deathprod), Vespestad left that group after 12 years and eight albums but remained a member of multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensen's completely unfettered, progressive/jazz-leaning band of effortless complexity and instrumental mastery, Farmers Market, last heard on its particularly potent Slav to the Rhythm (Division Records, 2012).

That most recent Farmers Market album, compared to his work with Gustavsen, only serves to demonstrate the full breadth of Vespestad's capabilities. On one hand, he's muscular and virtuosic; on the other, all about subtlety and nuance. Vespestad seems to ferociously attack his kit with Farmers Market; with Gustavsen he often plays so quietly that it feels like he's barely whispering on his kit. Moving from turbulent rubato to firm groove, Vespestad used a reductionist kit with just a snare drum, bass drum and single floor tom, alongside a high hat and two cymbals.

While, in his early days with Gustavsen, he sometimes used small chains to evoke the quietest of colors from a cymbal, other times using a "stick" made of cardboard to match the pianist"s softest touch, these days, in addition to his hands/fingers, Vespestad employs a variety of wooden sticks, brushes and mallets. With the significant contribution of his sound engineer, Vespestad was able to evoke deep-in the-gut timbres from his cymbals (sometimes sounding like gongs), or the most delicate tone from his floor tom (other times, a thunder-like complexion), as he struck it with a mallet, only to immediately mute it with the palm of his hand.

Vespestad rarely solos, and last night's show at the wonderful Gesù theater inside the Église de Gesù was no different. But when he took an extended improvisation during the same Norwegian folk song that featured a cappella features for Silseth and, ultimately, Gustavsen, he demonstrated just how much was possible, even with such a small kit.

Gustavsen has come so far since those early days with ECM near the turn of the millennium. He's still exploring relatively slow tempos when there are tempos at all; like many of his Norwegian colleagues, Gustavsen and his group are all masters of rubato playing. Still, these days he's as likely to investigate dynamic and turbulent maelstroms as he is more delicate elegance. The pianist occasionally expanded into brighter tempos as well, but while nuance and understatement remain fundamental cornerstones to his playing and overall aesthetic, Gustavsen has become a much more potent player as well. The pianist took full advantage of his instrument's entire range, sometimes barely touching the keys but elsewhere attacking them with sheer physicality as he stood up, swaying, at times, with a clear or inner pulse.

The set, lasting slightly over ninety minutes, was largely drawn from The Other Side, though with more muscle at times and even broader dynamics during, for example, the rubato tone poem "IIngen Vinner Frem Til den Evige Ro," the pianist's collaborative interpretation of a Norwegian traditional folk song. His trio set also featured, as with The Other Side, imaginative looks at a number of compositions by Johan Sebastian Bach, including back-to-back looks at a profoundly lyrical "Schafes Bruder," supported by Vespestad's pliant pulse and Gustavsen's slowly building solo; and an equally melody focused but more brooding "Jesu Meine Freude / Jesus, del Eneste," blending one of the Baroque-era composer's six most recorded motets with a Norwegian hymn composed by Oscar Löfgren and inspired by an early 20th Century sermon at an Oslo church, which turned into one of the concert's most flat-out gorgeous moments.

In addition to interpretations of hymns and Bach compositions, Gustavsen included originals like The Other Side's melancholic opener, "The Tunnel," and a rare look back in time with Being There's closing "Wild Open," which rendered his gospel and church roots most clear, both driven by Vespestad and Gikseth's gentle rhythmic support.

But one of the set!s highlights was the pianist's look at Leonard Cohen's "Came So Far for Beauty," from the Canadian's Recent Song's (Columbia, 1979). Gustavsen delivered it with both appropriate reverence (the melody and changes largely intact) while, at the same time, taking it to places Cohen could likely never have imagined. So far unrecorded by Gustavsen on any of his albums, there is a recording made at the BBC in 2017, where the pianist delivers a moving, sixteen-minute solo piano medley of Cohen"s tune and The Ground's "Tears Transforming."

Gustavsen's use of electronics ranged from deep register support of his piano and reverb to sustain lines, to gentle synth washes and, at one point in the set, a blending of grand piano (left hand) with a higher register (right hand) synth line that initially doubled the piano but then diverged into two different, improvised contrapuntal melodies. While utilizing electronics more than ever before, he nevertheless avoided any kind of superfluous excess; instead, his use was consistently tasteful and largely organic in execution and sound.

The pianist also demonstrated a growing interest in middle eastern tonalities, which popped up throughout the set while, at the same time, augmenting Gustavsen's existing musical foundations.

Having seen Gustavsen many times since he first appeared in Montréal in the early 2000s, this trio performance may be his best yet, all the most surprising for it being Gjermund Silseth's one and only date collaborating with the pianist. Still, in many ways that only made the performance that much more special, as what it lacked in intrinsic chemistry it more than made up for in the kind of energy that comes from a first live encounter.

Clearly the audience agreed, responding so loudly that, following the trio's single encore, it was equally encouraged to do another. Sadly, while Gustavsen's trio didn't play a second one (with Silseth onboard, it may not have had another piece to play), its three members did come back on stage for one final curtain call. A regular at FIJM, there's little doubt that this was a performance that the sold out crowd will likely not soon forget.

Manu Katché
Monument-National
June 29, 2019, 8:00PM

First garnering international attention touring and/or recording with significant pop/rock artists like Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson and Sting, and with jazz musicians including bassist Kyle Eastwood and pianists Herbie Hancock and Yelena Eckemoff, drummer Manu Katche's star has remained on the ascendance. But while he released a couple of jazz/funk solo albums including It's About Time (BMG, 1992) and the Stick Around (Zilgjian, 1999) EP, it was when he began a relationship with ECM Records as a leader, following a series of albums and tours with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, culminating with the double-disc live set Dresden (ECM, 2009), that the veteran drummer's name as a solo artist truly took off.

Following a string of four recordings for the groundbreaking label (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) that began with 2006's Neighbourhood and ended with 2012's Manu Katché (not including the 2015 compilation, Touchstone for Manu), the drummer packed up his sticks for ostensibly sunnier climes with ACT for 2014's Live in Concert, the first of three recordings for two different labels (moving to the French Anteprima imprint for 2016's Unstatic) that also found Katché grabbing a seat in the producer's chair.

This isn't always a good idea. Many musicians are, indeed, capable of self producing, but just as every writer needs an objective editor, most musicians need an ear that's not so deeply and directly invested in the music. It's what made Katché's four ECM albums so good; for many, ECM lite to be sure but, nevertheless, between the cachet and strength of the musicians with whom the drummer played—from Garbarek, Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and fellow Pole, pianist Marcin Wasilewski, to Norwegian saxophonists Trygve Seim and Tore Brunborg, guitarist Jacob Young and trumpeters Mathias Eick and Nils Petter Molvaer, to British musicians like keyboardists Jason Rebello and Jimmy Watson, and bassist Pino Palladino—it was label head/producer Manfred Eicher who, with a characteristically steady hand and keen ears, helped guide Katche's four ECM studio recordings into territory that may have been as groove-laden as would be expected from the sixty year-old drummer, but also paid attention to the space, nuance and interaction that still kept Katché's tendencies well within the jazz sphere.

Katche's live album for ACT was still just an in-concert reflection of his ECM work, with eight of its ten songs drawn from 2007's Playground, 2010's Third Round and Manu Katché.

Katché's Anteprima debut, 2016's Unstatic, was, in many ways, a continuation and logical next step from his ECM work (featuring Jim Watson, Tore Brunborg and previously touring trumpeter Luca Aquino, alongside Pixel bassist Ellen Andrea Wang); it also signalled a move into new territory as both the drummer and Wang contributed vocals to the set. The Scope moves even further away from his groove-informed but still jazz-disposed work towards more electro-centric, pop-oriented music, and it was this project that formed the basis for his 2019 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal performance at Monument-National. Unfortunately, much like the album, Katché's live set demonstrated that the drummer could have used a more distanced set of collaborative ears, and on a number of fronts.

Clearly, most everyone does, indeed, need a producer or, at the very least, co-producer.

Still, let it never be said that Katché doesn't put together a crack band, or that his own playing is ever anything less than impeccable. But comparing two drummer-led shows just two nights apart, the differences were significant, and not in a "different but good" kind of way.

First and foremost, while Steve Gadd was the titular leader, his band was as egalitarian as could be, with everyone contributing compositionally and the set defined by no single star but, instead, as a group of five equally impressive musicians who shone, both individually and collectively, throughout the evening, even as Gadd demonstrated clear leadership, albeit in a subtler fashion. While Katché gave everyone in his quartet, featuring keyboardist Elvin Galland, guitarist Jim Brandcamp and electric bassist Jérôme Regard, plenty of solo space, the mix in the house was so weighted towards Katché's ever-dominant kit that they were invariably buried beneath the drummer. This meant that, while it seemed as though his band mates were contributing a great ideas to the mix, they were often so secondary to Katché as to feel less than relevant.

Second, if Steve Gadd demonstrated his unmistakable mettle throughout the show, especially during a handful of most impressive solos, Katché always seemed to be front and center, both when he ought to have been but, worse, when it was his band mates who were in the (subdued) spotlight. Empathic fills when engaging with his players was one thing, but his sharp snare and powerful cymbal work more often acted as distractions rather than meaningful additions to the music around him.

Third, with electronics becoming a more dominant force that oftentimes overshadowed Katché's compelling drum sound and Brandcamp's compelling guitar work, the drummer was also taking risks that diminished his overall approach. A recent review of The Scope on the S.B.G. website said it all:

"In the ninth album of his discography, Manu Katché has introduced so many elements from groove, pop, dance, and even reggae, that at this point it's almost impossible to say which kind of music we have in The Scope. Even because the quantity of 'synthetic' components has definitely surpassed the amount of 'analogue' ones, which include his drums."

Unfettered stylistic purviews and broader cross-pollinations can, indeed, work. On ECM, beyond Katché's own recordings, more significant ground breakers like Nils Petter Molvær's Khmer (1997), Jon Hassell's Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street (2009) and Ambrose Field's remarkable collaboration with classical vocalist John Potter on Being Dufay (2009) are all examples of how an organic melding of electro-acoustic concerns can well and truly succeed.

But on the basis of The Scope and his FIJM performance, Katché seemed, at the very least, to be losing the script. Despite a good percentage of the audience clearly connecting to the drummer, his band and his music, a surprising number could be seen leaving the hall throughout the concert, never a good sign. Beyond the poor mix and songs that grooved hard yet still seemed somehow lightweight, Katché's introduction of vocals was also a less than ideal move. Even beyond the Auto-Tuning, Katché has a pleasant enough voice, but certainly nothing to compare with his virtuosic, polyrhythmic skills behind the kit.

Furthermore, while there was little doubt as to who was leading Steve Gadd's band in the same venue two nights prior, it wasn't because the veteran American drummer was dominating the proceedings. At this point in his career, Gadd (and his band mates) simply have nothing to prove, a lesson from which Katché could well learn.

At this point in his career, Katché has long since transcended having anything to prove either. And yet, between his relentlessly domineering playing and front position in the mix, along with song introductions that were delivered with such frenetic speed (en Français, of course) that it was almost impossible for language- challenged folks in the crowd to discern even the names of his songs...or his band mates, for that matter. It would seem, at least, that Katché was far better off when he had an active producer who could help constrain his excessive tendencies while, at the same time, encouraging his strengths as a composer and performer.

That said, given the larger percentage of the audience that was clearly thrilled with Katché's performance, maybe it is working for him. With Afro- tinged polyrhythms, electro-soul songs and persistent virtuosity (even if it overshadowed that of his band mates), there certainly was plenty about which to be impressed. But when comparing Katché to the plenty more relaxed Gadd, it's hard not to feel like the Parisian drummer was working a little too hard to entrance and trying a little too much to dazzle.

And it's a shame, because at this point in his career, and especially with his four ECM recordings and single ACT live album, Katché appeared to have struck a perfect balance that was really working to his advantage. But being in the minority about his Monument-National FIJM performance suggests that his new, vocal-oriented and self-producing approach may well be working for him. Only time will tell.

Antonio Sanchez & Migration / Ravi Coltrane Quartet
Théâtre Maisonneuve
June 30, 2019, 8:00PM

The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal has a long history of great double bills, but in pairing drummer Antonio Sanchez and his Migration group with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane's Quartet, the festival may well have outdone itself.

It's hard to believe that both Sanchez and Coltrane have been around for over twenty years (in Coltrane's case, thirty). The Mexican-born/American resident Sanchez first came to attention in the late '90s with pianists Marcus Roberts and Danilo Pérez, as well as with saxophonist David Sanchez (no relation). But it was in 2002, when the drummer was recruited by guitarist Pat Metheny for Pat Metheny Group's Speaking of Now (Warner Bros)—the first of nine recordings and countless tour dates over the next fifteen years with the guitarist—that Sanchez achieved much broader (and well deserved) international acclaim.

Sanchez's exposure with Metheny, and subsequent work with artists including Gary Burton, Enrico Pieranunzi, Donny McCaslin and Miguel Zenon ultimately led to Sanchez releasing the first of eight albums for the Italian Cam Jazz label (including three with his Migration band, beginning with 2013's New Life), where, in addition to being a powerhouse drummer, Sanchez began to emerged as a captivating composer and conceptualist of no small significance, and one who clearly believes in music's transformative power.

In addition to bassist Matt Brewer and saxophonists David Binney and Donny McCaslin, New Life also featured New York staple but ever-undervalued pianist John Escreet, alongside an impressive singer/electronic manipulator, Thana Alexa. Despite other personnel moving in and out of Migration, including guitarist Adam Rogers and saxophonist Seamus Blake, it was Escreet and Alexa who have become Migration's most consistent members, also contributing to 2015's The Meridian Suite and, most recently, 2018's Lines in the Sand.

Lines in the Sand also includes Chase Baird, and it was the saxophonist/EWI player who, alongside Sanchez, Thana, Escreet and relative Migration newcomer (but nevertheless another fixture on the NYC scene), bassist Orlando Fleming, formed the drummer's current Migration lineup, making its first-ever FIJM appearance. Delivering a set drawn entirely from Lines in the Sand, Sanchez's Migration performance demonstrated music's potential for socio- political change.

Everyone in Migration is a leader in his/her own right, with Alexa and Baird both relative newcomers. Still, despite both Escreet and Fleming being busy players on the New York scene, literally everyone in Migration, with the exception of the higher-profile Sanchez, are well deserving of broader recognition, with this band representing its members' most eminently visible gig. As young a group of players as Sanchez (the oldest, at 47) has recruited for the current Migration, ranging from 31 to 42, they all proved to be potent, creative and undeniable musical forces with which to be reckoned, both individually and collectively.

As on the album, the set opened with "Travesia Intro," a prerecorded collage of sirens and the sounds of children crying, people screaming and questions being asked as they're being arrested and detained by ICE agents ("Do you have a warrant? Are you with ICE? This is wrong," and more), the band walked onstage in relative darkness. When "Travesia Intro" suddenly halted, the band launched into a thirty-minute version of Lines in the Sand's multi-part "Travesia Suite." An episodic (and epic) journey through a myriad of stylistic feels that nevertheless centered on Sanchez's fluid polyrhythmic playing, it was a lengthy suite also based upon Escreet's simple, repetitive Fender Rhodes pattern, and ultimately traversing considerable dynamic terrain, filled with complex compositional constructs that also left plenty of solo space for everyone in the band.

Alexa, in addition to demonstrating a rare ability to both execute broad intervallic leaps with absolute precession and navigate Sanchez's often-times knotty, serpentine (yet still, somehow, eminently lyrical) themes, expanded upon them with her seamless integration of electronics, controlled from a series of devices on a stand before her. Not unlike Sanchez's ex-employer, Pat Metheny, who did a lot of writing for wordless voice, Alexa was largely used in a similar fashion, though she did contribute topical prose to the relatively brief "Home" and narrated two different sets of poetry during the set (and album)-closing "Lines in the Sand Part 1 and 2." In her solo features, she demonstrated even greater control over dynamics and melodic constructions, with a broad range covering huskier lower registers to purer, more powerful leaps into the stratosphere.

Whether contributing repetitive, minimalist-informed patterns or soloing with the kind of expansive harmonic constructions and compositional focus he's also brought to his own albums, including Don't Fight the Inevitable (Mythology, 2010) and, more recently, The Unknown (Sunnyside, 2016), Escreet proved as distinctive as ever, moving fluidly between Fender Rhodes and grand piano, and from spare lines to more complex phrases and detailed, sophisticated voicings.

Fleming didn't just anchor the group throughout, whether on electric or double bass; he was also used as a melodic foil throughout, one example being the simple, long notes at the start of "Long Road," which began with Escreet alone, but subsequently joined by Fleming and Alexa, as the spacious introduction gradually moved into a more delicate ensemble piece. Fleming also contributed a number of impressive solos throughout the set, mostly on electric bass but always demonstrating an allegiance to the needs of the material rather than forcing the material to become secondary to his own contributions. He may still largely be known for his double bass work but here, in particular towards the end of "Lines in the Sand," his slapping and popping bass acted as a firm anchor for Escreet's final solo of the set.

Baird was an impressive saxophonist, but it was his work on EWI (electronic wind instrument) that was most affecting, even adopting a tone similar to Metheny's signature Roland GR-300 "trumpet" patch near the end of "Lines in the Sand." It's odd, in fact, that EWI never really took off as an instrument, though it was an important instrument for fellow reed men like the late Michael Brecker. Still, Baird took full advantage of its sonic possibilities throughout the set, often doubling or harmonizing with Alexa's similarly remarkable articulations of Sanchez's labyrinthine yet still largely memorable melodies.

The exhilarating combination of EWI and electronically enhanced voice in the first climatic build-up during "Bad Hombres Y Mujeres" rendered it the set's heaviest tune, with Fleming's thundering electric bass blending with Escreet's heavily distorted Fender Rhodes. Both bolstered Sanchez's frenetic kit work, and the remarkably high-speed, high-octane lines doubled by Alexa and Baird. Based upon one of the rhythmic themes on Sanchez's brave solo drum record, 2017's Bad Hombre (Cam Jazz), it was similarly captivating, and one of the set's many clear milestones.

Beyond being one of the most distinctive drummers of his generation, Sanchez has evolved, since his first solo album for Cam Jazz, 2007's presciently titled Migration, as a composer of note. There's little doubt that his lengthy tenure with Metheny has influenced the drummer's often complex, often episodic and multi-part writing. But his own experiences, musical and otherwise, have contributed to the complexion of his writing, and so if there are traces of Metheny to be found in Sanchez's compositions, they're just that: traces.

There were plenty of other touchstones, including the thundering rock rhythms that concluded "Lines in the Sand Part 2" and Sanchez's entire FIJM performance, which anchored Escreet's overdriven, ring-modulated solo halfway through its two parts. And, for a drummer-led band, Sanchez may have limited his own solo space, but when he did, as he did right near the end of the set, it was focused, compositionally oriented and utterly thrilling,

Furthermore, Sanchez's music is as tightly tied to his experience as a Mexican expat living in the USA since 1993, and who has held dual citizenship for the past three years: "Perfect timing," he quipped during one of his introductions. "Now they can arrest me but they can't deport me." It was a clear statement about the racial profiling that has increased significantly since Trump took office. Sanchez's lengthy but important introductions at a couple of points during the set helped clarify the life and music resonances and influences that have driven his writing.

Sanchez described going to a "jam session festival" that took place at the USA/Mexico border of Tijuana and San Diego, with people coming from around the world and, setting up on both sides of the border, dancing and singing the same song just inches from the rusted fence that starts at the Pacific and runs to the Gulf of Mexico, with the fence going right out into the water. It's that image, in fact, with a lone young woman on one side, that became Lines in the Sand's cover. Sanchez was writing the music for the album when he encountered a poetry contest; so moved by two of them that he located the authors and had them read their own prose for the album's closing two-part title track, with Paola Gonzalez and Karla Gutierrez contributing prose to "Lines in the Sand Part 1," and Jonathan Mendoza narrating his poetry during "Lines in the Sand Part 2." In performance, Alexa assumed both roles.

Sanchez made clear just how grateful he is for the opportunities he's been afforded since moving to the USA. At the same time, however, he clearly never forgets the plight of his many abused Mexican brothers and sisters, in addition to cousins from Guatemala, Ecuador and Honduras,relying upon his music to articulate their struggles in a most positive and compelling fashion. Music can, indeed, be an instrument for social awareness and, even furthermore, societal change. With Sanchez's Migration delivering increasingly strong statements on albums like Lines in the Sand, the drummer/composer has clearly found a way to reconcile his own experiences and articulate them, both lyrically and musically, in a way that reached his audience directly, as it most certainly did during his 90-minute set at Montréal's Théâtre Maisonneuve (one of Place des Arts' best rooms), to a near-capacity crowd.

Following a short break, Ravi Coltrane took to the stage at Théâtre Maisonneuve with a quartet that couldn't have been more different from the group he last brought to FIJM in 2013. Unlike his recordings since 2005, beginning with In Flux (Savoy Jazz, 2005) and which almost consistently featured a quartet with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress and drummer E.J. Strickland, Coltrane's 2013 show employed a thoroughly commanding guitar-centric configuration, with six-stringer Adam Rogers joining double bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Johnathan Blake.

He hasn't released an album under his own name since 2012 but, in addition to producing Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse!, 2018), the unexpected but extraordinary archival find from the late John Coltrane, the 53 year-old saxophonist (who has now outlived his legendary, groundbreaking saxophonist father by thirteen years) has appeared on other albums, including two ECM recordings: drummer Jack DeJohnette's In Movement (2016); and trumpeter Ralph Alessi's Imaginary Friends (2019). Coltrane's most recent Spirit Fiction (Blue Note, 2012) again featured, amongst others, Perdomo, Gress and Strickland, but for his 2019 performance the saxophonist brought rising Cuban star pianist, David Virelles, alongside the returning Dezron Douglas and Johnathan Blake.

Surrounding himself, again, by a group of leaders in their own rights, Coltrane's performance was far more left-of-center than his 2013 show, which took place in a different Place des Arts venue, the smaller Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. Virelles, now in his mid-thirties, has emerged on ECM with a series of solo albums including 2014's Mbókò, after appearing on albums for the label by artists including Chris Potter (2013's The Sirens) and the late Tomasz Stanko (2013's Wislawa). While it's true that the music of his native Cuba persistently informs what Virelles achieves, it's always through a refracting prism of freer, more outside American jazz concerns and a strong compositional sense.

Douglas may have a relatively diminutive discography as a leader, but he's been an in-demand bassist since the middle of the new millennium's first decade, recording and/or performing with artists Including Willie Jones III, Steve Davis, Cyrus Chestnut and George Cables. As capable of a firm swing as he is more intimate work in a freer context, Douglas not only proved a terrific anchor for Coltrane's quartet, but a particularly responsive partner for Blake, who first emerged, just a few years before Douglas, as a member of the ongoing Mingus Big Band.

Blake has also recorded and/or toured with seminal jazz artists like Tom Harrell (for five HighNote releases, including Prana Dance and 2011's Time of the Sun), Dr. Lonnie Smith and Kenny Barron. Still, it's his slowly expanding discography as a leader that's most significant, beginning with the larger-casted The Eleventh Hour (Sunnyside) and leading to the more intimate saxophone trio of Trion (Giant Step Arts, 2019).

In his own work, Blake draws upon the greatest pillars of the jazz tradition, from ambling swing to free-bop intimations. He brought the same breath of experience to Coltrane's show, while continuing the largely winning streak of drummers who've graced various stages at the 40th FIJM, including Steve Gadd, Jarle Vespestad and Antonio Sanchez. For such a big guy, Blake plays the smallest of kits. With what looks like a 16" bass drum (maybe even smaller), Blake's snare, rack and floor toms are at roughly the same heights, not unlike Bill Bruford's larger but similarly vertical-consistent kit with his second, acoustic version of Earthworks documented in the recently released Earthworks Complete (Summerfold, 2019) box set. But unlike Bruford, even Blake's cymbals and high hat were at nearly the same level.

But unlike the stage setup that, in 2013, was similarly intimate, with the musicians positioned closely together, Coltrane's 2019 quartet was even more tightly placed, with Virelles on stage left, followed by, moving left to right, Coltrane, Douglas and Blake, with the pianist and drummer both facing inwards, in order to ensure proper eye contact could be maintained throughout the ninety minute set.

If Coltrane has absorbed and reflected anything of his father's music (and he has, but not in an overt fashion), it's in the more relentlessly unfettered approach his father adopted, whether playing entirely free, tumultuous rubato, or a more rhythm-heavy manner. Nothing from the setlist was announced, with the group sometimes bringing the music to a definitive conclusion, at other times segueing seamlessly into the next piece.

Coltrane brought a broad array of horns to the date. Not only did he use the more standard, muscular tenor and sweeter soprano saxophones (the latter, played far less nasally than his father); he also played what appeared to be that smallest of the saxophone family, the piccolo or sopranissimo saxophone. It was difficult to ascertain if Coltrane was, indeed, using the more dulcet sopranissimo rather then an Eb sopranino, which is also rather small, but slightly larger than the 12" sopranissimo. Still, the sopranissimo is, like its soprano and tenor brethren, a Bb horn, albeit one pitched an octave higher than the soprano and two above the tenor, making it the more likely instrument.

The set opened with a drum solo, a stunning demonstration of Blake's ability to combine effortless instrumental mastery with an unmistakable approach to shaping improvisations that were possessed of vivid spontaneous form. Coltrane joined Blake in duet on sopranissimo, reminiscent of the kinds of fiery interactions his father would engage in with either Elvin Jones or Rashied Ali, but this was a far more contemporary approach to empathic, dual-instrument extemporaneous interplay.

Coltrane then took over, as the entire band coalesced around him, ultimately leading to a piano solo bolstered by a hard-walking Douglas and ferociously swinging Blake. This was a band clearly firing on all cylinders from the very start, as the swing dissolved, once again, into the tempestuous maelstrom that seemed to always bubble, just beneath the music, whether it was with time and changes or in a far freer context where the collective size of the quartet's ears was in constant evidence.

In contrast to Sanchez's set, with writing that managed to straddle that fine line between greater freedom and complex compositional form, Coltrane's performance was even more challenging and more exacting in its cerebral nature. The majority of Sanchez's music was eminently accessible, even if what was going on under the hood was relentlessly demanding. Coltrane, on the other hand, largely dispensed with any intentions of accessibility. Not that his music left the enthusiastic crowd behind—far from it. But with the more open-ended variations that defined virtually all of Coltrane's music and the liberated, reckless abandon of his stellar quartet, it was also more decidedly rarefied and intellectual than Sanchez's more visceral aesthetic tendencies.

All told, it was an exceptional pairing, with each group travelling across considerably different terrain while, at the same time, possessed of certain markers that rendered them ideal bill-mates.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Monument-National
July 1, 2019, 8:00PM

For the last show covered at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, first: a disclosure. When covering one of the earliest performances by Sound Prints at the 2014 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, leaders Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano were joined, alongside drummer Joey Baron and bassist Linda May Han Oh, by a very young pianist named Lawrence Fields. While seeming to demonstrate plenty of promise, the review was less than kind to him, suggesting that he may not have been ready for a band with such esteemed players.

Wrong. Or, at least, more than a bit unfair because, just a few short years later, Fields showed up at FIJM's 40th edition, playing with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah2. Wrong, because not only was the still seemingly shy Fields (now, seven years later, 34) the perfect, stylistically expansive choice for the trumpeter, composer and bandleader's current group; he was, quite simply, an absolute standout, whether playing a sampled grand piano, Fender Rhodes or synth. With touchstones including a clear appreciation of the jazz tradition and classical tinges that imbued his work (most notably, 20th century minimalism), Fields also contributed a myriad of styles, colors, textures and timbres to a set that spoke to a worldwide confluence of influences that also included western modernism, profound Africanism and hints of eastern harmonies. Whether soloing with finesse and construction or creating a context over which his band mates could soar, Lawrence Fields was the real deal.

Sure, such a player (especially one like Fields) would inevitably evolve and improve over time; but watching him throughout Adjuah's 90-minute set, it was hard to escape the feeling that, at his 2012 Sound Prints Ottawa show, the problem was most certainly not of his making; instead, it's become most certainly clear that it lay with the reviewer. During his introduction of the band, Adjuah enthused about Fields: "He can find a way to marry anything to jazz. To be able to do that you have to care about other peoples' cultures...and place people first. Laurence cares...I prefer, rather than introducing him as my pianist, to introduce him as: my friend."

But Fields was just one of Adjuah's many astute choices for his quintet. Logan Richardson is a clear rising star, with the nearly forty year-old alto saxophonist's recent blues People (Ropeadope, 2018) receiving some much-deserved attention. Of Richardson, Adjuah said: "His 2007 album [Cerebral Flow (Fresh Sound New Talent)] made clear that everyone was on a great page...but honestly, it was the wrong page." Throughout the set, Richardson supported Adjuah's honest and heartfelt truth about his fellow hornist on the front line.

Bassist Kris Funn has been playing with the New Orleans-born/raised nephew of saxophonist Donald Harrison since before the trumpeter first adopted his African name, going even further back than Adjuah's powerhouse performance at the 2010 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. Funn continues to be a double bassist capable of providing a firm rhythmic anchor when needed, a portentous soloist when called upon, and a contrapuntal partner when the song demanded it.

Adjuah recalled when he first asked Funn to join his band, describing how they'd just played for five hours, and so the trumpeter asked the bassist if he'd like to join his band. "No," Funn apparently said. So, Adjuah went to the bar for some "liquid courage," returned and asked Funn, again, if he'd join the trumpeter's band. "Fuck, no," was Funn's response. Adjuah then boarded his train, from Washington, DC back to New York City, again running into Funn, who said, "Where'd you go? I just wanted to see your face!" And so, Funn joined the band and has been with Adjuah ever since.

Behind the kit, Corey Fonville has become one of his generation's more influential drummers. In addition to working with Adjuah, he plays in Butcher Brown (who'll be appearing at FIJM the following evening), described on its website as a band that "takes careful note of the history and legacy of jazz and throws caution to the wind with wanton abandon. Garage punk jazz funk on the low end of the dial gives way to delicate and elegant compositions as the band shows off without trying. These are not just players, these are musicians."

Adjuah enthused about knowing them drummer since he was fifteen, and about his band, Butcher Brown, which has released seven albums since 2014, though Fonville has also been on every Adjuah recording since 2015's Stretch Music (the term that Adjuah now prefers over "jazz" to describe his music). That means, including 2017's sprawling Emancipation Procrastination trilogy and this year's equally ambitious Ancestral Recall, that the drummer has also played on five of the trumpeter's recordings in the past four years.

Scott introduced percussionist Weedie Braimah, at his quintet's incendiary Monument-National FIJM performance, as "the new sound of the djembe, a man who understand language and folkloric traditions; where telling stories represents the truth and actual history of this music—an extension of West African music." While only taking one solo, Braimah was a veritable force of nature throughout the set, blending his unequivocal cross-pollination from across many genres and stylistic markers into Adjuah's pan-cultural stew, a stylistic purview of jazz that looked simultaneously backwards and forwards.

Whether blending hip hop with a profound understanding of Adjuah's innate African and African/American cultures, or rendering crystal clear the trumpeter's seriously deep appreciation of the jazz tradition, the twice Edison-awarded/twice Grammy-nominated artist has managed to conjoin growing up and studying with his uncle, saxophonist Donald Harrison, attending the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and subsequently ending up at Boston's Berklee College of Music.

Now in his mid-thirties, Adjuah, always an extremely bright and articulate man, clearly proved that he was about far more than the music (as if the music weren't enough). In his various introductions at a FIJM performance that drew upon music from his recent album as well as a positively nuclear look at Herbie Hancock's "Eye of the Hurricane," first heard on the pianist's classic Maiden Voyage (Blue Note, 1966), the man who was once a spyboy for his elder grandfather, Donald Harrision, Sr., spoke of many things, ranging from his hopes for music to a clear love and respect for his grandfather, who was once chief of four tribes (Creole Wild West, Cherokee Braves, White Eagles and Guardians of the Flame), a mantle since inherited bu Adjuah.

"It's time for re-evaluation, having recently crossed into second century of jazz," Adjuah said; "I am also re-evaluating the relationship between musicians and you [the audience]. Have the best time you possibly can...music is a positive energy but...you need to feel it. These stories are your stories too, so feel free to enjoy them."

In his final introduction to an encore ("The Last Chieftain") that the massively enthusiastic Montréal crowd simply would not do without: "This song means more to me than the other songs. It's a song I was born out of." First heard on Stretch Music, the quintet's version was significantly altered, given the original featured one of the founding members of Adjuah's first touring band (and, as the trumpeter described him, "the musical director"), guitarist Matthew Stevens. A fluidly bolstered melody supported by Fields' powerfully minimalist lines, it opened up into a solo for Adjuah that was the trumpeter's most potent example of his instrumental mastery and strength, as his carefully constructed yet ever-emotional lines gradually ascended into the stratosphere with a surprisingly full-bodied tone, even as he reached ever higher into the near-impossible.

"As a little boy," Scott explained in his introduction to the song, "my grandad Donald Harrison, Sr. was the chief of four different tribes; three years ago I became chief. I woke up that morning with a forgotten memory from childhood. Grandfather would dine in, and then he would take all the food from house. It took me five years to ask why, when he made me get a big canvas bag, go to two aunts, an uncle and mother, and fill up the bag with food. Then I met him on a corner in New Orleans. As I walked into the different wards, people lined up: nobody had eaten or bathed. Finally, I saw it, with people taking food one by one; you could see the emotional reality. Families where the husband had two jobs, the wife had one and it was still not enough to feed their kids.

"We never talk about how expensive it is to be poor," Adjuah concluded.

But beyond such philosophical, existential and practical life matters, Adjuah's performance was a highlight of this year's festival, encouraging everyone in the near-capacity crowd to respond to the music in whatever way felt right to them. Richardson and Adjuah made for a potent front line, both inventive soloists who, nevertheless, were clearly focused on creating the most evocative engagements together—and with the rest of the band. Surprisingly (or, perhaps, not), Scott was a beyond egalitarian bandleader, affording his band mates more improvisational freedom than he actually took himself...though when he did solo, whether on the angularly shaped trumpet inspired by the late Dizzy Gillespie or a similarly designed flugelhorn, it was always a clearly focused statement where not a single note was wasted and, instead, every note counted.

Richardson took a number of similarly eloquent and meaningful solos throughout the performance, but it was his extended series of trade-offs with Adjuah during the group's fiercely propulsive, tumultuously driven "Eye of the Hurricane" that were the true highlights amongst the many that occurred throughout the set, the altoist and trumpeter egging each other on with increasingly tightening passages until they came together in absolutely exhilarating unison, the two soloing in tandem with energy, virtuosity and taste.

Fields, whose minimalist tendencies were amongst his most notable contributions to the overall complexion of the quintet, delivered a number of thoughtful yet evocative (and provocative) solos, positioning the keyboardist, just a couple years younger than Adjuah, as one of his generation's pianists for whom to be on the lookout. Funn, too, delivered as a firm anchor for the group, whether supporting a modal vamp driven with hip hop-inspired rhythms or fiercely swinging periods of reckless abandon, or as an affecting soloist. With a deep, woody tone felt deep in the gut, Funn's choices were as note-perfect as they were texturally rich and imaginatively shaped.

There are musicians for whom the music they make is, indeed, a political statement: reflections of the times they live in, where using the music they make says what, perhaps, they could not articulate any other way. The erudite Scott, however, not only made music that spoke to his many concerns about the world in which he (and we) live. Just a look at some of the titles of his compositions—"Liberation Over Gangsterism," "Gerrymandering Game," "Unrigging November," "Ritual (Rise of Chief Adjuah," "Ancestral Recall"—and it's impossible not to be affected by Adjuah's music...and the clear hopes that pervade his thoughts.

It was an absolutely staggering, mind-blowing show that demonstrated the clear potential for music as an agent of change. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah may have plenty to say, both in his words and his music; but his message is one that should reach out and touch any who encounter it. Those in attendance at Monument-National may have walked away with different interpretations or feelings about what they'd just seen and heard, but it's hard to imagine anyone leaving the show without a positive impression of Adjuah's clear and distinct musical message.

And with that, the first half of the 40th edition the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal concludes. Five nights, four exceptional performances and one that was, unfortunately, surprisingly disappointing. But no matter what the reputation of the musicians whose performances made the cut in choosing who to see, it's a reality that live performances are always something of a crapshoot. With a solid eight out of ten for five nights at the world's biggest jazz festival, and one where the media department makes every journalist feel like he/she is the only person covering the event?

It's impossible not to appreciate the treatment; nor is it possible to walk away from the festival, as has been the case nearly every year since 2005, without looking forward to what the next edition will bring.

Photo Credit: Dave Kaufman
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