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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019: Week 2

Mark Sullivan By

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As on the album, saxophonist John Coltrane's "Compassion" (played arco) and drummer Paul Motian's "The Owl Of Cranston" (played pizzicato) were combined into a medley. The bassist explored different tunings for the album. Historically, there have been other tunings than the fourths in current use, and other tunings changed the resonance of the bass. He confessed to stealing from viola music by the twentieth century composer Paul Hindemith. A second medley combined songs from two bebop pianists: Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. An interesting stylistic change, and a chance for Grenadier to demonstrate his bebop chops.

Brought back for an encore, Grenadier chose the first song he wrote (not that long ago, he assured the audience). "State of the Union" appeared on the trio Fly's debut Fly (Savoy Jazz, 2004). The whole performance was a remarkable demonstration of the range of the double bass as a solo instrument, as well as Grenadier's voice on it.

Friday, July 5

Bobo Stenson

Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson appears on one of the earliest ECM albums, making his solo performance an appropriate part of the ECM 50th anniversary celebration. The main part of his set turned out to be a single hour-long improvisation—or possibly a suite of his tunes played without pause—music that was more about small moments than big gestures. Stenson would introduce a musical idea—a melody, chord sequence, bass line—and explore it for five to ten minutes before introducing a new one. So none of the ideas overstayed their welcome, and there was a calm feeling of continuous flow: not much drama.

There were many lyrical passages, a clear Stenson signature. Motion came from occasional rippling arpeggios or bass ostinato patterns: at one point he broke out into a rhapsodic chord sequence, a contrasting gesture. The last part of the performance went into bluesy territory, then a bit of stride piano, before a gentle ending.

Called back for an encore, Stenson began playing a sprightly piece that sounded like a composed song rather than an improvisation. After about five minutes of exposition he introduced a new, slower chord sequence and melody. The ending was a gentle surprise, concluding on a single bass note.

Peter Frampton: The Farewell Tour

English guitarist/singer/songwriter Peter Frampton is on what he is calling The Farewell Tour: having been diagnosed with a progressive muscle disorder, he is not sure how much longer he will be physically capable of playing, and wanted to go out on a high note. Before the show the onstage screen was showing a photo montage covering Frampton's childhood through the present. A recorded greeting told the audience that they were free to take photographs during the first three songs, admonishing them to "be in the moment" after that.

"Something's Happening" from the famous Frampton Comes Alive! album (A&M, 1976) opened the set, complete with clever hall light illumination to accompany the line "turn up the lights, I feel like dancing." After introducing the green drum kit that had been used on Frampton Comes Alive! —which Frampton purchased on ebay—the band played some more hits, including "Show Me the Way." He said that the band has been varying their set list on the tour, introducing "Fig Tree Bay," the first track on his first solo album Winds of Change (A&M, 1972).

Frampton said he had rediscovered his love of the blues during a long tour with American guitarist Steve Miller. So he and his band recently recorded All Blues (UMe, 2019), which debuted at Number One on the Billboard blues chart. They played an instrumental version of "Georgia On My Mind" and "I'll Play The Blues For You." A short acoustic guitar solo set included "All I Want to Be (Is By Your Side)"—which included an audience sing-along on the title phrase—-and an impressive finger-style instrumental. "Black Hole Sun" by the late Chris Cornell was next, a largely instrumental version that Cornell had loved so much that he asked Frampton to perform it with him live. The main show ended with blistering guitar playing from 2nd guitarist Adam Lester, first solo, then in a classic lead guitar duel with his boss.

The first encore began with "Baby, I Love Your Way," which Frampton said had been written on the same day as "Show Me The Way," and under deadline at that! He has been hoping for another day like that ever since. "Do You Feel Like We Do" included more obligatory audience participation, as well as a guitar duel with keyboardist Robert Arthurs (and some jokes sung through the guitar voice box effect). Later encores revisited the Humble Pie classic "I Don't Need No Doctor" and George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

A wonderful performance, with stunning playing from Frampton and his whole band. The Farewell aspect permeated the event, but it was a joyful celebration of Frampton's career without a trace of sadness or self-pity.

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin

Swiss band Nik Bärtsch's Ronin brought their "zen funk" to the ECM 50th anniversary celebration (the stylistic distance between them and the Bobo Stenson performance earlier in the evening is a good indication of the breadth of ECM's catalog). After an ominous opening featuring Bärtsch's playing inside the piano, cymbals, and low bass clarinet drones, the band launched into the first of many full band ostinatos (with high treble piano strings doubling some of the drum's hi-hat accents, giving a tuned percussion effect). Lighting effects were coordinated with the rhythmic accents to great effect.

After the first piece Bärtsch introduced the band: Sha, alto saxophone and bass clarinet; Jordi Thomas, electric bass guitar; and Kaspar Rast, drums. He noted that the band plays every Monday night in Switzerland, and he understood that nothing much happens on Monday nights in Montréal...so everyone was invited. They were playing selections from Awase (ECM, 2018). The titles were not announced, but certainly the epic "Modul 58" was one of them. The second piece began more melodically, and after a big crescendo it broke down to Bärtsch's unaccompanied tremolando piano. After a piano/electric bass duet there was an abrupt end, then darkness.

Called back for an encore, they began a piece with electric bass, joined by the piano. After a freely played bass part, Sha took over for a saxophone solo: all proof that there was room for improvisation in this music, despite its minimalist, pattern repetition elements.

Saturday, July 6

Wray Downes

Before his performance veteran Canadian pianist Wray Downes (who was a protege of pianist Oscar Peterson) was presented with the Oscar Peterson Award, which recognizes a performer's musicianship and exceptional contribution to the development of Canadian jazz. Presenter André Ménard noted that the award was long overdue: at age 88, Downes' age is the same as the number of keys on the piano keyboard.

He opened with two pieces by Peterson that were composed in honor of his native country: "Wheatland" from Canadiana Suite(Limelight Records, 1964) and "Open Spaces" from Trail of Dreams: A Canadian Suite (Telarc, 2000). The second had its theme introduced by double bassist Adrian Vedady, and was also marked by drummer Jim Doxas playing his drum kit with his hands, like congas. Both players deserve mention for their empathetic accompaniment, as well as their contributions as soloists.

His original blues "Jaden" was dedicated to his grandson (who had been onstage earlier to help accept the award), and included an especially vibrant drum solo. He played Milt Jackson's "Compassion" from Jackson's Reverence and Compassion (Qwest Records, 1993), then Blossom Dearie's "Inside a Silent Tear." Bassist Oscar Pettiford's well-known bebop tune "Tricotism" included not only a stop for an unaccompanied piano solo, but also an especially powerful two-handed piano solo with the rhythm section. Downes has not lost a step: his young accompanists probably had to work hard to keep up with him.

Juan Carmona

French flamenco guitarist Juan Carmona spent ten years in Andalucia learning the style with the masters. But he has forged a personal style that also incorporates modern elements. He played his first piece solo, and clearly his virtuosic technique could have carried the entire concert that way. But he called percussionist Enrique Terron Duque to join him for the second tune. For the third he was joined by the rest of the band: Domingo Patricio Sedano (keyboard and flute) and Jesus Miguel Bachiller (electric bass guitar).

Sedano's keyboard contributions were mostly synthesized string pads, which took the group sound dangerously close to New Age territory. But it is a trade-off, since it likely makes the music more approachable to listeners who are not flamenco enthusiasts. His flute playing was an asset, as he proved adept at soloing as well as doubling Carmona's fleet, complex melodies. Bachiller also covered all of the bases: bass lines, solos, and doubling lead lines. On one tune Sedano and Bachiler accompanied guitar and percussion with palmas, traditional rhythmic flamenco hand clapping

For the encore Carmona first introduced the band members. Then he took down the temperature with a simpler tune with a folk-song like melody. After introducing a faster melody the concert ended with a round of solos from all of the musicians.

Kris Davis

Canadian pianist Kris Davis gave a solo piano recital for the last of the late night series at Gesù. Her opening piece was an improvisation inspired by the twentieth century composer György Ligeti (many will know his work from the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack). It was full of unusual sounds, starting with her use of two EBows on bass strings inside the piano (these are hand held electromagnetic devices which vibrate the strings, usually used by electric guitarists to mimic string sounds and for infinite sustain). A piece of duct tape muted the high treble strings, producing a dry clicking sound. Easily reversed: she tore the tape off at the end of the piece.

"Grass and Trees on the Other Side of the Tracks" is an original composition written in honor of the late avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor. There was a big, thunderous opening that recalled Taylor's usual approach. But it also featured very quiet, lyrical playing, as well as rolling, overlapping patterns in both hands. Davis followed with an improvisation and another original composition, before easing into a version of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now." At first the melody was only teased, but by the end it was fully present, and the most jazz sounding of anything on the program. A suitably grounded conclusion for a program that frequently headed towards the borders. Davis is both fearless and technically gifted: the show was an adventure. Adventure is one thing the festival still offers, in dazzling variety.

Photo Credit: Dave Kaufman
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