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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019: Week 2

Mark Sullivan By

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"Dinette" is a swing tune, which finally gave space for a guitar solo from Jensen (he made the most of the spotlight, including a smooth passage in octaves) as well as bassist Folman-Cohen. He led the group through a dynamic build up back to the theme. "Nuages" (perhaps Django's most famous piece) again featured a lyrical solo from the 2nd guitarist; Wrembel began his solo with beautifully articulated artificial harmonics. "Le flots du Danube" ("Waves of the Danube," a famous Romanian waltz) began with Wrembel employing a bass doubler—his only obvious use of electronics—before going into a fast swing feel.

Wrembel is an excellent guitarist, who comes out of the gypsy jazz tradition but is not limited to it. Nonetheless this show was by far the most effective one in the series at conjuring a sense of Django Reinhardt's music (there was a third show on Thursday night).

Richard Reed Parry: Quiet River of Dust

Canadian guitarist/singer/songwriter Richard Reed Parry is a member of the acclaimed band Arcade Fire. Quiet River of Dust is a two-album project, a song cycle frequently dealing with environmental themes. Billed as "an immersive concert," the performances took place each night of the festival in a domed space (in the Society for Arts and Technology building across the street from the historic Monument-National Theatre) which created a 360-degree visual environment around and above the audience. The visuals were so arresting that one's focus soon shifted from the musicians in the front (a quintet of drums, guitar, Parry on vocals and guitar, electric bass and keyboards) of the room to the projection overhead, which was in constant motion.

During the opening song "Long Way Back" there were mountains on the side walls and the ceiling had the perspective of looking up through a pond surface. Then the ceiling shifted to a moving field of coral, and after a brief electronic interlude we were underwater, surrounded by algae. Parry welcomed the audience, bringing us all back to reality for a moment.

The water imagery continued in the song lyrics: "I was alone, I was finally home...by the sea." At this point the side walls changed to coral, and then the entire visual field changed to a forest in the rain (lyrics "the rain, the rain, the rain"), and then back to a pond in the rain (including a large turtle passing overhead). The next transition was to a magical forest with floating globes with swimming human figures inside—the first fantasy element in the visuals.

The next major shift was to a snail moving slowly over a hillside. Fog rolled in, becoming clouds (lyrics: "made of floating water, moving slowly"). A close shot of a melting icicle included the sound of loud water drops, made massive by the scale. Then we were back under the pond surface for the song "It's All Around You" (lyric: "it's all around you, it finally found you"). There was a dramatic shift (both musically and visually) to a shoreline view, before returning to underwater, with waves breaking over the shoreline. We finally returned to the gentle pond. The band stood up, singing harmony a capella—signaling a focus away from the visuals for the finale. As various natural phenomena are invoked (wind, waves, moss) the phrase "tell them I'm coming" was repeated like a mantra.

And so the 75 minute spell was broken. It was a magical experience, quite unlike anything else at the festival.

Christine Jensen New York Quartet with Allison Miller, Helen Sung, and Noriko Ueda

Montréal-based saxophonist Christine Jensen was asked to assemble a quartet of New York musicians especially for the festival. They opened their show with the modal swinger "Uneven Pieces" by double bassist Noriko Ueda. Jensen's "Wind Up" was next; the title comes from sailing on the West Coast. She said that she had been given carte blanche to choose the band members, and "these are the ones," also commenting "it's our first gig!" Drummer Allison Miller's "Slow Jam" was next, a tune with dramatic stops that carried through the entire performance. It featured a brief unaccompanied bass introduction, a playful solo from pianist Helen Sung (the first of many), and Miller playing the drum kit with her hands for a time. The song comes from the Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom album Otis Was A Polar Bear (The Royal Potato Family, 2016).

Miller is an absolute whirlwind on the drums: recordings do not do justice to the experience of seeing her play. Her energy and joy in playing are clearly visible, all of the time. She's no slouch as a composer, either. Sung's "H-Town" (titled for her hometown of Houston) included a brief unaccompanied piano introduction. The striking composition went from a rhythmically jerky theme into fast swing, which the whole band excels at. "Garden Hour" opened with a tenor saxophone/double bass duet. Jensen switched to soprano saxophone for Sung's "In The Shadowland," which also featured a rhapsodic unaccompanied piano solo. It comes from her album Sung With Words (Stricker Street Records, 2018).

The set closed with "Congratulations and Condolences" from Aliison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: Glitter Wolf (The Royal Potato Family, 2019). Recalled for an encore, Jensen confessed that the band had run out of prepared original material. So they played the standard "How Deep Is The Ocean." It was presumably an ad hoc arrangement, but it sounded like this band, and no other. It also featured Miller's only traditional unaccompanied drum solo. An excellent ending to an outstanding set. One can only hope that this group will continue: there was real magic on this night.

Thursday, July 4

Rachel Therrien Quintet

Canadian trumpeter/flugelhornist Rachel Therrien is now a Brooklyn resident. She brought the same quintet to the outdoor Place Heineken stage that played on her album Why Don't You Try (Free Run Artists, 2017), which was partly made possible by the Grand Prix TD 2015 du Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. The rest of the quintet was Charles Trudel, piano; Benjamin Deschamps, alto saxophone; Simon Page, electric bass guitar; and Alain Bourgeois, drums.

They opened with "Why Don't You Try," which broke down to a trumpet/drums duet after the piano solo. It was apparent right from the start that they came to play. The next tune was Cuban, and it also broke down to a duet, this time a blazing drum solo accompanied by a piano ostinato pattern. The third selection was another original, with an angular head that transitioned into a fast swing feel. Page played a striking 6-string bass solo employing electronic effects; there was a free-sounding trumpet/alto saxophone duet; and the piece ended with a series of tempo increases, like playing a record at the wrong speed.

Therrien asked the audience if they like classical guitar...then apologized for not having one. But she likes to challenge herself with Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega's famous classical guitar composition Capricho árabe. The arrangement began with a long duet with the bass guitar playing accompaniment (primarily in the upper range, sounding much like a guitar). When the band entered Trudel's piano took the lead, before turning it back to the trumpet. They then went into an exciting salsa montuno. After a trumpet solo, the leader traded twos with the drums. "Out Of A Dream" was a fast bebop tune, no relationship to the standard "You Stepped Out Of A Dream."

This is an exciting band, and their long playing experience shows in their easy give and take. Not to mention the joy in playing on their faces.

Django Festival All Stars Featuring Samson Schmitt, Pierre Blanchard, Ludovic Beier

The Django Festival All Stars concluded the "Cycle Django Reinhardt" with an instrumentation that echoed the famous Quintet of the Hot Club of France: two guitars (Samson Schmitt & DouDou Cuillerier), violin (Pierre Blanchard), accordion (Ludovic Beier) and bass (Antonio Licusati). They have the sound and the energy, and are nothing if not entertaining.

They were playful, and clearly did not take themselves too seriously: an example would be Schmitt's quote from the Pink Panther theme early on. The originals included "Reel for Charlie (Chaplin)," "Late Train," and their tribute to Toots Thielemans, "Around Toots." The accordionist played a button melodica for it, matching the layout of his button accordion.

On "Chez Django," they encouraged the willing crowd to shout back the title during the chorus. Cuillerier sang that one, and proved a very capable vocalist, including a good scat solo. Schmitt made a brief Django allusion during his solo, which was as close as they came to playing any of Reinhardt's music.

Alan Parsons

Veteran English audio engineer, songwriter, musician, and record producer Alan Parsons was touring to support his latest album The Secret (Frontiers, 2019), which explores the theme of magic. The show opened with a song from it, but of course he and his band (which included two guitarists, bass, drums, keyboards, and two vocalists, who also played the saxophone, guitar and percussion) made sure to include the hits that the enthusiastic audience had come to hear.

Over the course of the long concert songs included "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You," "Damned If I Do," "Time," "Don't Answer Me," and "Sirius." Parsons played keyboards and acoustic guitar, and did some singing. But the weight was largely carried by his accomplished band. In addition to the dedicated vocalists both guitarists sang, which helped to cover the variety of voices that had been employed on the original recordings. Parsons sang "Don't Answer Me," "As Lights Fall" (from The Secret), and the finale of the set, the band's biggest hit "Eye In The Sky."

Other highlights included a bass guitar solo with envelope follower on "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You," dual guitar parts on several tunes, and an unaccompanied keyboard feature (which displayed technical skills beyond that required to cover parts, and included clever quotes from several Parsons songs). Parsons encouraged the audience to use their cell phone flashlight as a special effect during "Limelight."

Called back for an encore, the band played two songs, concluding with "Games People Play." Not their biggest hit, but perhaps the most emotionally resonant. Certainly the capacity audience was satisfied. Larry Grenadier

American double bassist Larry Grenadier has performed at the festival many times, but this was his debut as a soloist, and it also served as part of the celebration for the 50th anniversary of ECM Records. His set largely drew from his solo album The Gleaners (ECM, 2019), beginning with the mournful arco "Oceanic." The bluesy pizzicato "Pettiford" was composed in honor of the great bassist Oscar Pettiford. Grenadier told the story of encountering a Pettiford album by accident when just beginning to study jazz. "Vineland" got its title from the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name—but Grenadier just liked the sound of it.
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