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.
June 29, 2019, 8:00PM
First garnering international attention touring and/or recording with significant pop/rock artists like Peter Gabriel
, Robbie Robertson
, 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 playedfrom 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 Palladinoit 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."