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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019: Week 2

Mark Sullivan By

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Butcher Brown

Virginia-based quartet Butcher Brown brought a different, very electrified energy to the late-night Jazz dans la nuit series at Gesù. Opening with DJ Harrison's synthesizer sounds and Andrew Randazzo's fuzzy funk bass line, it was punk jazz all the way, finally settling in to a trio of Marcus Tenney's tenor saxophone, bass guitar, and Corey Fonville's drums. Harrison announced the next tune sardonically as "perhaps our greatest hit:" it featured a trio section with him playing clavinet and Fender Rhodes electric piano.

The third tune had a neo-soul groove. Guitarist Morgan Burrs finally made his presence felt in a big way, with a long chordal guitar solo that brought Jimi Hendrix to mind. "Gum in my Mouth" (from a completed future album release) was a long, wild ride. It began with Tenney rapping over the rhythm section, then a pause for a bass solo with whammy pedal and lots of arpeggiated chords: very guitar-like. After a saxophone melody and more jamming, Tenney switched to trumpet for a rousing new theme. Very impressive: it is rare to hear a player accomplished on both saxophone and trumpet. Another trio segment featured an over-driven guitar solo.

Butcher Brown is a real band, something that has become rare in the jazz world. And they have done it playing mainly instrumental music, an eclectic blend of jazz, funk, soul, rock and hip-hop.

Wednesday, July 3

Stéphane Wrembel: The Django Experiment

The "Django Reinhardt Cycle" continued with French guitarist Stephane Wrembel, who has made a series of albums with his band entitled The Django Experiment focusing of Reinhardt's compositions as well as other music in the same stylistic vein. The guitarist came onstage alone, and gave a long talk (in French) about the musical influence of the French classical Impressionist composers (e.g. Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel) on Django's music.

He began the set with three solo performances. They included "Improvisation No.2" (he noted the Debussy influence), which was a technical marvel. Played finger-style, it included rasgueado strumming, scordatura re-tuning, and artificial harmonics. He described Django's "Echoes of Spain" as being more like a distant memory, but the Spanish atmosphere was palpable.

Joined by his band (2nd guitarist Thor Robert Jensen, electric bass guitarist Ari Folman-Cohen and drummer Nicholas Anderson) he plugged in his guitar's pickup, which gave him a slightly more "electric" sound for the rest of the set. They began with a musette, a waltz-based form that was popular when Django was growing up, followed by "Gin Gin." Next was a little medley of two waltzes, one older and one more recent. The second was played very fast, and ended with a flourish.

"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.

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