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Live Review

Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2022

Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2022

Courtesy Dave Kaufman

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Various Venues
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Montréal, Canada
June 30-July 4, 2022

Like everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic stopped the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in its tracks. Forced to cancel the 2020 festival, they instead presented a four-day virtual festival online on June 27-30. Another abbreviated version was presented September 15-19, 2021, featuring mostly Canadian musicians and outdoor stages to comply with health restrictions. This year the festival came roaring back full force, accompanied by the motto "Jazz is back!" Always a joyful event, there seemed to be even more joy in the air than usual.

Thursday, June 30

Makaya McCraven

Drummer Makaya McCraven presented the first three concerts of the long-running Invitation series in the intimate converted church space Gesù. His first night was to be a collaboration with vocalist Madison McFerrin, but she was unable to make the gig. In the improvisational spirit of jazz, he welcomed saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, trumpeter Marquis Hill and electric bassist Junius Paul, and announced that they were going to "make some shit up." This they did for about 45 minutes, beginning with quiet, textural music with everyone playing percussion. Before long the bass introduced a rhythm, which the band slipped into, including a round of solos. The horn players proved themselves equally inventive at creating tunes and riffs and playing exciting solos. Shifting to a jerky repeated groove, Paul contributed an epic unaccompanied bass solo. The horns introduced a triumphant theme, and then it was back to the percussion textures the improvisation began with: a well-balanced performance. Hill played an unaccompanied trumpet solo to introduce the final piece, which sounded like Ornette Coleman.

GoGo Penguin/Mammal Hands

The beautiful Théâtre Maisonneuve's first show of the festival was this British double-header: two nominally jazz bands that often employ minimalist groove patterns similar to American minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Mammal Hands is a trio made up of saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smart and drummer and percussionist Jesse Barrett. They opened with an unnamed new tune using a gentle repetitive piano ostinato with long horn lines on top (in this case bass clarinet). The horn lines grew and changed, but they were still closer to variations than a conventional jazz solo. "Late Bloomer" from Captured Spirits (Gondwana Records, 2020) was next, followed by a tune which found Barrett playing his drums with cloth mallets and big brushes. He had used his hands earlier: he had a tendency to vary his attack with each new piece. "Kudu" from Floa (Gondwana Records, 2016) was followed by "Riddle '' from Captured Spirits. Smart's soprano saxophone had a keening sound that recalled Jan Garbarek; he also used delay in a way that brought Terry Riley's early tape-delay playing to mind. "The Spinner'' was another brand-new piece, and the set ended with a final tune that had an especially strong Philip Glass vibe. Smart mentioned that the band had frequently done gigs with GoGo Penguin in the past, and they were on next.

GoGo Penguin is pianist Chris Illingworth, double bassist Nick Blacka and new drummer Jon Scott. The opening tune's sprightly piano arpeggios elicited a recognition response from the crowd, quickly joined by a rock drumbeat and a melodic theme played by the double bass. It is easy to see these bands gigging together: they share quite a bit of common stylistic DNA. "Atomised" from GoGo Penguin (Blue Note Records, 2020) had a stuttering loop-like ending, an example of how the band sometimes imitates electronic effects acoustically. "Signal in the Noise" (from the same album) came next. At which point this reviewer had to run off to another show!

Julian Lage Trio Featuring Scott Colley & Dave King

A free show at the new indoor venue Le Studio TD, an intimate venue which quickly filled up to capacity despite being mostly standing room only. It had a small club atmosphere in marked contrast to the other festival venues, and guitarist Julian Lage and his trio (double bassist Scott Colley and drummer Dave King) were clearly energized by the setting. After a rollicking cover of Charles Lloyd's "Island Blues" (first released as a bonus track on Lloyd's Of Course, Of Course (Columbia Records, 1965), they launched into the country-flavored contemporary jazz of "Saint Rose" from his most recent album Squint (Blue Note Records, 2021). Lage only stopped here for the first time to back-announce the first two tunes, and to declare that there was no place in the world he and his all-star trio would rather be. "Boo's Blues" from Squint featured a terrific long double bass solo from Colley. It was hard to leave such high energy and fun behind, but the next show beckoned.

Jeff Parker

Guitarist Jeff Parker took the first slot in the late-night "Jazz Dans La Nuit'' series at Gesù. He is probably best known for his associations with the indie rock group Tortoise and Rob Mazurek's Chicago Underground and Exploding Star Orchestra projects, but he has also done a lot of work under his own name. With solo guitar performance one never knows exactly what to expect: Parker's approach varied from augmentation with loopers and electronics to the sort of classic solo jazz guitar associated with players like Joe Pass. He began with his composition "Four Folks' ' from his most recent album Forfolks (International Anthem Recording Company, 2022), but with the addition of looping and freeze pedal soundscaping. "My Ideal" (from the same album) is a jazz standard which he played in chord-melody style without electronics. Guitarist Chad Taylor's "Mains' ' received an expansive electronic arrangement, including octaves played over an ostinato, multiple overlapping solo lines, and drones. Parker covered Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids' ' before concluding with Thelonius Monk's "Ugly Beauty" (also from Forfolks).

Friday, July 1

Makaya McCraven

McCraven's second Invitation concert was based upon his album Deciphering The Message (Blue Note Records, 2021), which was inspired by the classic Blue Note hard bop catalog. The album was a combination of new arrangements and mashups with the original recordings (including recurring introductions by Pee Wee Marquette). It was a fascinating project, but the mix of the bands on the original recordings with the rotating contemporary cast could be a bit disorienting. Having a consistent band playing McCraven's arrangements ironically made for a more compelling presentation of his ideas. He was accompanied by guitarist Jeff Parker, vibraphonist Joel Ross, trumpeter Marquis Hill and electric bassist Junius Paul. The set started with Frank Strozier's "Frank's Tune," inspired by the version on pianist Jack Wilson's Easterly Winds (Blue Note Records, 1968). "Spring In Chicago" was their take on Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York," following the version on guitarist Kenny Burrell's Blue Lights (Blue Note Records, 1958). Parker provided an unaccompanied guitar introduction, followed by Hill's lyrical muted trumpet solo and Paul's bass solo. Then the piece ended with a kind of slow dissolve. Trumpeter Kenny Dorham's "Monaco" inspired an especially good vibes solo, followed by an arrangement of saxophonist Joe Henderson's moody "Black Narcissus" (which was not on the album). McCraven introduced "In These Times" as the title tune of his upcoming release. After an atmospheric introduction it settled into an insistent ostinato pattern, followed by a jazz ballad. At first it sounded episodic, but it turned out that the ostinato and ballad sections served as the solo form. The transitions from the ballad to the faster ostinato were consistently exciting, powered by the leader's inventive drum breaks. Called back for an encore, they played saxophonist Hank Mobley's "A Slice Of The Top" (the title tune of an album recorded in 1966, but not released until 1979).

Marcus Miller/Paolo Angeli

On the face of it, having Italian guitarist/instrument maker Paolo Angeli open for Marcus Miller seemed an odd choice. His improvised set was high in energy and creativity, but distinctly low in funk. It is probably fair to say that few in the audience had seen anything like this before: Angeli plays a "prepared Sardinian guitar," a large guitar with an end-pin like a cello (played vertically in a similar fashion). It can be plucked or bowed, producing lyrical nylon-string guitar and cello sounds as well as over-driven rock guitar sounds. Angeli also employed looping and delay, occasionally singing wordless vocal lines on top. His music was an eclectic blend, including flavors of traditional Sardinian music, flamenco, rock and experimental music.

Bassist/composer/multi-instrumentalist Marcus Miller focused on playing the electric bass and revisiting favorite music from his vast repertoire, joined by alto saxophonist Donald Hayes, trumpeter Russell Gunn, keyboardists/pianists Julian Waterfall Pollack and Alexis Lombre and drummer Cedric Moore. He opened the concert solo, quickly steering his lines into a funk feel. The tune was not announced, but it included quotes from the Dizzy Gillespie bebop classic "A Night In Tunisia" towards the end. "Untamed" came from Laid Black (Blue Note Records, 2018). Miller switched to a fretless five-string bass for his solo, and Pollack got in a fine piano solo. Miller wrote "Maputo" for saxophonist David Sanborn: it was recorded on Bob James & David Sanborn's Double Vision (Warner Bros. Records, 1986). Its tropical groove and catchy melody set up another fine piano solo, this time utilizing electronic processing. "Mr. Pastorius" (in honor of legendary electric bassist Jaco Pastorius) was written for another legend, trumpeter Miles Davis, and recorded on Amandla (Warner Bros. Records, 1989). It appropriately featured trumpeter Gunn, who played beautifully. During his muted trumpet solo the rhythm section transitioned to a swing feel, which Miller and the rest of the rhythm section played with aplomb.

Tord Gustavsen Trio

Norway's Tord Gustavsen Trio was a classic match with the late-night "Jazz Dans La Nuit'' series at Gesù: atmospheric ECM jazz which fitted perfectly with the series vibe. Pianist Tord Gustavsen was accompanied by new double bassist Steinar Raknes and drummer Jarle Vespestad. The concert began with their surprisingly gospel-sounding arrangement of J.S. Bach's "Schlafes Bruder" from The Other Side (ECM Records, 2018). Another surprising cover followed: Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." Both of these arrangements blended naturally with Gustavsen's compositions. They paused for announcements, Gustavsen commenting that it was a treat to play music with and for real people again. It felt like a taboo, but one he could not resist. It was also the band's first time in Montréal with Raknes on bass. An older tune called "Ritual" from Opening (ECM Records, 2022) featured rhapsodic arco double bass with electronics, an organic-sounding aspect of Raknes' playing throughout the set. "Findings/Visa Från Rättvik" from the same album quotes from a Swedish folk song. Gustavsen joked that all over the world people think that Norway and Sweden are the same place, but he used the song because Sweden has some good things. Called back for an encore, they played what could have been another Leonard Cohen cover. A fine ending to an evening of hushed beauty.

Saturday, July 2

Makaya McCraven

This third Invitation show was to have featured saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, but travel difficulties made that impossible. McCraven assembled a band of the usual suspects—guitarist Jeff Parker, trumpeter Marquis Hill and electric bassist Junius Paul—but added guest trumpeter Keyon Harrold to the mix (he is probably best known for supplying all of the trumpet playing in Don Cheadle's Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead). The first tune had a groove set up by the bass, and the second tune went rubato almost immediately. On "Blue In Green" Parker played the head (over a busy contemporary rhythm) before Harrold took over, contributing a fiery, lyrical solo. "The Jaunt" came from McCraven's album In The Moment (International Anthem Recording Co. 2015). He commented that he had been criticized because the album was edited from live improvisations, but hadn't Miles Davis done the same thing? McCraven directed more improvisation with drum hits. For the encore the band played over a Latin bass riff.

Avishai Cohen Duo

This was to have been a trio performance based around the album Arvoles (Razdaz Recordz, 2019). But travel problems precluded the participation of pianist Elchin Shirinov, so after a discussion of immigration problems the performance began with Avishai Cohen at the piano (something he said was often how he began work at his studio). He first sung a Ladino song (a Judeo-Spanish language) that he learned from his mother. The second was in Hebrew, and he concluded this segment with the American spiritual "Motherless Child" (commenting that he liked old songs). Introducing drummer Roni Kaspi, he said that her drums had remained in Europe, as had his double bass. So these were not their instruments, "but we are happy to meet them." They played the standard "Polka Dots And Moonbeams," followed by bebop double bassist Oscar Pettiford's "Tricotism." Kaspi was a marvel on brushes, but she switched to drumsticks for an astonishing drum solo on the Pettiford tune. Calling trumpeter Keyon Harrold to the stage, he said that he was impressed by Harrold's playing, but had never played with him. The impromptu trio played "Blue Monk," "What Is This Thing Called Love" and "You Don't Know What Love Is." All frequently played tunes, and they sounded completely comfortable playing them together for the first time. Harrold has a beautiful trumpet sound which worked just as well here as it had earlier playing with drummer Makaya McCraven. Called back for an encore, Cohen first sang Pablo Milanés' "Vestida de mar" a capella. Moving to the piano, he played a duet with Kaspi (also doing a bit of singing). For his second encore, after sitting at the piano he thanked audience members for calling out the titles of some of his compositions—but instead sang a song of his in Hebrew. An unexpected ending to a concert made up entirely of the unexpected: a special occasion, indeed.

David Binney + Louis Cole

Alto saxophonist/composer David Binney and his regular playing partner drummer Louis Cole were joined by electric bassist Petter 9000 for the late-night Gesù concert. Binney explained that they would be playing new compositions that were heavily reliant on laptop computer parts, making the computer effectively a fourth band member. The first piece began with swirling electronic laptop sounds before the band members entered one by one. Binney added digital delay to his saxophone, blending with the laptop. The second featured a rhythmic laptop part, propelling the live instruments forward, while the third was characterized by very careful coordination with the laptop for stops in the form (along with characteristic serpentine saxophone lines). Cole sang his own slightly "out" ballad, and the first part of the set ended with an old tune, the title tune from Aliso (Criss Cross Jazz, 2010). Binney paused for introductions and back-announcements, saying that the next piece was new and untitled. It included a sequencer part on the laptop, and featured electric bass and drum solos. The concert ended with slow laptop synthesizer waves. This was a unique trio: the rhythm section seemed to be coming from hip-hop and rock, with Binney's electronics bridging the gap to his bebop-influenced saxophone playing.

Sunday, July 3

Eliane Elias

Brazilian pianist/vocalist Eliane Elias stayed close to her roots for this trio concert with double bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Tiago Michelin. After saying how wonderful it was to be back in Montréal she launched into "To Each His Dulcinea" from Music From Man Of La Mancha (Concord Jazz, 2018), which was composed by Mitch Leah, the composer of the Broadway musical of the same name. Moving on to music from Made In Brazil (Concord Jazz, 2015), she mentioned that it had earned a long-delayed Grammy Award. One of the two songs was "Você," which she sang with composer Roberto Menescal on the album. "A Felicidade" by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes was included in the soundtrack to the hugely influential samba film Black Orpheus. Elias recorded it on Eliane Elias Sings Jobim (Blue Note Records, 1990), and this performance included a break for a double bass solo. The piano duet album Mirror Mirror (Candid, 2021) earned another Grammy. Elias played "Esta Tarde Vi Llover" unaccompanied, before moving on to "Samba Triste" from Fernando Trueba's Latin jazz documentary Calle 54. After the bossa nova standard "Come Fly With Me" the band was introduced, before launching into "Desafinado," another Jobim tune (also on Sings Jobim) which went different places in performance. In this case there was a swing section, as well as a terrific unaccompanied drum solo. For the encore the band played Jobim's "Só Danço Samba," which included audience participation on the vocals, as well as a spirited piano/drums duet. Elias was in fine form both vocally and pianistically, and a good time was had by all.

Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom

Drummer Allison Miller was joined by saxophonist Dayna Stephens, pianist Myra Melford and double bassist Scott Colley. They played two free shows in the Place Tranquille: I attended the late show. The set opened with a bang with a drum solo, leading into "Congratulations And Condolences" from Glitter Wolf (The Royal Potato Family, 2019). Miller commented on the bleed from a nearby outdoor stage (although it was not noticeable while they were playing, and did not seem to affect them) and introduced Myra Melford's "Dried Prints on Cardboard" from The Other Side of Air (Firehouse 12 Records, 2018). "Slow Jam" from Otis Was A Polar Bear (The Royal Potato Family, 2016) was followed by "Bees And Rats." Melford's "The Kitchen" from Snowy Egret (Yellowbird, 2015) was full of especially strong solo playing: first a piano/drums duet, then a tenor saxophone/double bass duet, and finally an amazing piano solo, dissonant and wild. Miller said it had been a pleasure playing for such a joyous audience, suggesting the band should fly us around with them! The final tune "Up Two Rivers Pt. 2" was dedicated to the environmental issue of river maintenance. It is remarkable that such an all-star band (the equal of any of the ticketed indoor shows) was available for free, and with such an enthusiastic audience. Free concerts at the festival have tended to lean towards rock and blues, but this year there was a lot of jazz. It was amazing to see Kamasi Washington on the huge TD Stage on Saturday evening, surrounded by Jumbotrons and grooving with a huge audience.

Monday, July 4

Terri Lyne Carrington & Moor Mother

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington collaborated with poet/musician/activist Moor Mother for an American Independence Day-themed concert at Gesù. It turns out that Moor Mother was reading from a famous 1852 speech by abolitionist Frederick Douglass titled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" Even without knowing that detail, the tone of political protest was clear. The narrative was rich with ringing phrases like "Let the dead past bury its dead," sometimes electronically modified. Carrington responded to the text with drumming atmospheric and rhythmic by turns. The duo was augmented by trumpeter Aquiles Navarro. Moore Mother concluded her recitation as Douglass had, quoting from an aspirational William Lloyd Garrison poem: "God speed the day when human blood Shall cease to flow!" She repeated the phrase "God speed" rhythmically. Carrington's announcements began with her emphasizing the importance of improvisation in music and life: she and Moor Mother met for the first time the day of the performance, and discussed what they wanted to do. She thought the theme of the speech was even more relevant currently, with events in the U.S. like the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court (while also acknowledging that she was not in her own country).

Al Di Meola/Shpik

Recipient of the TD Jazz Grand Prix at the 2018 Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Montréal-based band Shpik is made up of composer/pianist Arnaud Spick-Saucier, saxophonist/flautist/synthesist Alex Dodier, contrabassist Étienne Dextraze-Monast and drummer/synth bassist Philippe Lussier-Baillargeon. They play impressionistic modal jazz, frequently using synthesizer as the melodic voice, which is unusual. It is very much a group sound, with very little conventional jazz soloing. It was almost shocking when Dodier took a tenor saxophone solo on their last tune. They have very little in common with headliner Al Di Meola's virtuosity, but they did play an enjoyable (and very short) set.

Guitarist/composer Al Di Meola was thankful to be back at the festival, having had a scheduled performance canceled by the pandemic. He said that they would be playing a lot of new music, and introduced his playing partners: drummer/percussionist Richie Morales and tabla player Amit Kavithar, also joking that he would be surrounded by the whole world of percussion. He began with a blazing fast flamenco passage, playing the nylon-string acoustic guitar that he would use for much of the set. "Fandango" was a fast piece with a motor rhythm. Revisiting the past for a moment, he said that he had recently found an old tape in his basement: the Saturday night performance following the legendary Friday Night In San Francisco (Columbia, 1981) by him and fellow guitarists John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia. It is due for release soon. When he began work on All Your Life (A Tribute To The Beatles Recorded At Abbey Road Studios, London) (In-Akustik, 2013) the cost of booking Abbey Road Studios led him to rent a house in the Hamptons to work on his arrangements before returning to finish the album. When he arrived he was amazed to find that his next-door neighbor was Paul McCartney! "Norwegian Wood" actually came from the sequel Across The Universe (earMUSIC, 2020). The following piece finally gave the percussionists free reign, including a tabla solo and a drum solo, which was joined by konnakol (the art of performing percussion syllables vocally in Indian music). Di Meola engaged in a brief humorous konnakol duel with Kavithar, declaring him the winner. He switched to an electric-acoustic steel string guitar for the next tune, then to a nylon-string baritone guitar. "Strawberry Fields Forever" from Across The Universe returned to the music of The Beatles. At this point an early lobby call sent me back to my hotel. Di Meola has clearly not lost a step, and it would have been a pleasure to hear his encores.

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