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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019

John Kelman By

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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.
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