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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2019: Week 2


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Various Venues
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Montréal, Canada
July 2-6, 2019

The festival celebrated its 40th anniversary this year with the usual dazzling array of musical offerings. And a few that were unusual: including concerts celebrating the 50th anniversary of ECM Records (founder Manfred Eicher was awarded the Bruce Lundvall Award, presented annually to a non-musician who has left a mark on the world of jazz or contributed to the development of the music, through the media, the concert or record industries); Canadian jazz singer Holly Cole's residence with her classic trio; and Richard Reed Parry's Quiet River of Dust, an immersive multimedia experience from the Arcade Fire band member.

Tuesday, July 2

Biréli Lagrène

Virtuosic French guitarist Bireli Lagrene began the "Django Reinhardt Cycle" for the Invitation series at the beautiful, intimate Gesù with a solo acoustic guitar performance. The official festival program promised that he would "pay tribute to his idol as a soloist," which turned out to be mainly in spirit, as no Django compositions were played. Lagrène came onstage with an electric-acoustic flat top guitar, which may have had at least some gypsy jazz guitar design elements (hard to tell visually).

His world-class technical facility was on display immediately, improvising on a standard. At one point he briefly changed his guitar tuning (scordatura) on the fly. The second tune was fast and bluesy, with use of harp harmonics. In one section he employed a reverb pedal to alter the guitar sound, the first use of electronics (which were more prominent later in the set). After a ballad, he addressed the audience briefly (in French, without a microphone), saying how much he loved to come to Montréal. An audience member called out "Django!" Lagrène shrugged and said something too hard to hear—but no Django tunes were forthcoming.

The next piece began with a fast muted sound like galloping horses. He managed to play melodic lines while maintaining the muted strumming through the entire song. "All The Things You Are" was played as an up-tempo fantasia on the classic tune, ending with a humorous fanfare. He began the next selection moving firmly out of Django territory by employing a looping pedal to record a rhythm part, which he then soloed over. Transitioning to a second, faster loop, he began adding ostinato lines to the loop, resulting in a dense multi-guitar texture. For an encore he played a stately chord-melody piece, again employing live scordatura re-tuning, as well as a section with digital delay.

Lagrène's guitar technique cannot be overstated: it is truly awe-inspiring, and is balanced by a bit of puckish humor, if not always emotional resonance. As with many virtuosos, he sometimes appears to be more interested in exploring technical challenges than playing expressively.

David Helbock's Random/Control

Austrian pianist David Helbock has several ongoing projects, but his trio Random/Control is the longest-running and most unusual. He plays electronics and percussion as well as the piano; Andreas Broger plays saxophones, clarinets and various reed instruments; Johannes Bär plays tuba, trumpet and various brass instruments. Even that extensive list does not fully capture the instrumental combinations that occur in performance. For this outdoor show on the Place Heineken stage the group focused on the music from their latest album Tour d`Horizon -from Brubeck to Zawinul (ACT Music, 2018), which focuses on great jazz pianists who have been Helbock's role models.

The set began with Abdullah Ibrahims "African Marketplace." Keith Jarrett's "My Song" began with piano, bass clarinet and trumpet, but Bär switched to trombone for some sections. There was a tremendous rhythmic buildup, at which point Helbock stopped to introduce the musicians and the music they were playing. Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" began with all three musicians gathered around the piano, playing inside and outside. For the body of the song the instrumentation was piano, soprano saxophone and tuba. In addition to tuba Bär provided both small percussion instruments and human beat-boxing, which he excels at.

Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson's "Seven Days of Falling" was combined with a Helbock composition. The arrangement included a small electronic beat box: at one point Helbock played it by raising his foot onto the table while still playing the piano with both hands. Addressing the audience, Helbock said they were Austrian, but the famous alp horn was too large to bring on the plane. So Bär duplicated the sound with a coiled hose and a tuba mouthpiece, and was joined by Broger on trumpet. The sound they created turned out to be an introduction to saxophonist Paul Desmond's famous "Take Five" (associated with pianist Dave Brubeck). Broger played the head on tenor saxophone, switching to soprano saxophone for the bridge. When Helbock finally introduced the classic piano accompaniment riff the performance took off like a carousel ride.

This group is really something special. Three remarkable musicians who create a kaleidoscope of sound, and are visually entertaining to boot.

Joshua Redman Quartet/Alex Lefaivre YUL Quartet

Bass guitarist Alex Lefaivre's YUL Quartet was nominated for the TD Grand Jazz Award (which is awarded to young Canadian jazz artists), which gave the group the unenviable task of opening for the beloved Joshua Redman Quartet. They are a contemporary jazz band made up of Erik Hove (alto saxophone), Nicolas Ferron (guitar), Mark Nelson (drums) and the leader on electric bass & compositions. After their opening tune, which had a distinct ECM vibe, he acknowledged as much, asking the audience "are you looking forward to hearing Joshua Redman as much as I am?" They then launched into a very creative interpretation of the theme from filmmaker John Carpenter's horror film Halloween. Beginning with the creepy theme—which the crowd immediately recognized—the arrangement opened up into an improvisational vehicle. They closed their brief set with a sort-of ballad, again with that rhythmic feeling of ECM-style rubato.

Joshua Redman was presented with the Miles Davis Award (which honors a great international jazz musician for the entire body of their work and influence in regenerating the jazz idiom) by Festival co-founder and Artistic Director André Ménard before his set. Both men managed to mix up the names of Redman with his father Dewey Redman, who was responsible for Joshua's first appearance at the festival in 1991. After remarking on the physical weight of the award statue ("how am I going to get this thing home?"), Redman was happy to get on with the performance.

Much of the song list came from the quartet's current album Come What May (Nonesuch Records, 2019), the third in the group's twenty-year history. Redman played a long unaccompanied tenor saxophone introduction to "Circle Of Life," before the group launched into its long-line theme. At times the music almost sounded through-composed, with seamless transitions from written to improvised. It was the first indication of just how attuned these players are to each other, with perhaps an additional boost from the attentive audience and the occasion. "How We Do" moved from a start-and-stop theme into fast swing, and kept that contrast going throughout the solos.

Redman paused to announce the songs and introduce the band members, saying that he had played more gigs with these three players than any others in his career. He also complimented all of the Canadians present on the Toronto Raptors' first NBA championship, commenting "you just get one." "Come What May" featured a lyrical (and bluesy) double bass solo from Reuben Rogers. An Aaron Goldberg original began with his unaccompanied piano. Even after the rest of the rhythm section joined the arrangement stayed fluid: after more piano solo with light percussion only, the trio returned, finally leading into an unaccompanied drum solo by Gregory Hutchinson.

Legendary bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker's "Chi Chi" displayed the band's bebop prowess. At one point it dropped back to a piano/bass duet, and the climax found the whole band trading fours with the drums. The standard "Skylark" featured another long unaccompanied saxophone introduction, perhaps recalling the great Sonny Rollins. "Stagger Bear" (named after a weird dream Redman had about a drunk teddy bear) was opened by the bass, and featured saxophone and piano trading fours. For an encore the group returned with a Swing-era jazz standard.

A remarkable performance, highlighting the trust and generosity these players have developed over the years. There was always room for surprise, for players and audience alike.

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.

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.

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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