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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019: Week 2

Mark Sullivan By

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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.

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