Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019

John Kelman By

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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.
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