Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019

John Kelman By

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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
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.
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