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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019

John Kelman By

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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.
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