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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019: Week 2

Mark Sullivan By

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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.

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