Montreal Jazz Festival: Days 1-3 July 1-3, 2009

Montreal Jazz Festival: Days 1-3 July 1-3, 2009
John Kelman By

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Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9

Festival International de Jazz de Montreal
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
July 1-3, 2009

It's the 30th Anniversary for the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (FIJM) and, based on the stellar line- up, it promises to surpass its 25th Anniversary celebration from 2004. Opening with one of the outdoor street festivals for which it's become world renown, over 200,000 people attended a free pre-festival concert by the legendary Stevie Wonder on June 30, 2009. With 12 days of ticketed indoor and free outdoor programming, including eight more spectacles including the Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae extravaganza on July 7 and a closing show featuring Ben Harper and Relentless 7 on July 12, it may not be entirely jazz, but it's a festival that long ago deserted purity in favor of a trifecta of jazz, world music and blues.

And there's still more than enough jazz to go around. With a roster that includes By Invitation series guests Erik Truffaz, Joshua Redman and Renaud Garcia-Fons, as well as single performances by artists ranging from Jeff Beck, Dave Brubeck, Bill Frisell, Kenny Werner and Jimmy Cobb to Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Hadouk Trio and Greg Osby, not to mention local representation by André Leroux, Joel Miller and Jean Pierre Zanella and much, much more. There's something for everyone.

All in all, 35 series, featuring performances on almost every day amounts to over 400 performances by thousands of artists. And with the festival's new digs—a new Maison du Festival that features, in addition to a larger and much more well-designed press room, a bistro that will house the nightly jam sessions led, this year, by drummer Jim Doxas, and a new concert venue that will seat 350 and accommodate 600 standing, the festival finally has the home it's deserved for years. There's also a large terrace that integrates with the outdoor grounds of Place des Arts, one of the festival's most prominent venues, to make ground zero of the FIJM an even more exciting place to be, in addition to the six square blocks that are closed in the heart of downtown Montreal every year for the festival. It's like being on another planet, but one that's now expanded in size. Chapter Index
  1. July 1: Erik Truffaz By Invitation: Benares
  2. July 1: The Monterey 4: Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Eric Harland
  3. July 2: Erik Truffaz By Invitation: Mexico
  4. July 2: Sadao Watanabe
  5. July 2: Nightly Jam Session with Jim Doxas Trio
  6. July 3: Sylvain Provost Effendi Records Press Launch
  7. July 3: Erik Truffaz By Invitation: Paris
  8. July 3: Aaron Parks Trio

July 1: Erik Truffaz By Invitation: Benares

Swiss-born, France-based trumpeter Erik Truffaz has been a friend of not just the FIJM, but the city of Montreal for many years, performing during and outside the time of the festival almost since he first emerged in the late-'90s with albums including Bending New Corners (Blue Note, 1999). Over the past decade the trumpeter has released a wide range of projects with which to explore his often electronics-tinged style, with the double-disc live set Face-a-Face (Blue Note, 2006) a terrific consolidation of two groups that occupied most of his time until that point.

Since then, Truffaz has been expanding his horizons further on the more pop-centric Arkhangelsk (Blue Note, 2007), but it's his three-CD set Rendez-Vous (Paris -Benares -Mexico) (Blue Note, 2008)—each disc also available separately—that may be his most accomplished and diverse work to date. Featuring three sessions recorded in three locales with groups of local musicians—Benares, Mexico and Paris—it ranges from Indo-centric improvisation to ambient electronica and rap-driven improv. With FIJM's By Invitation series based on the idea of inviting artists to the festival for a series of evenings where a different performance is given each night, Truffaz's three-night invite dovetails perfectly with the three premises of Rendezvous.

For his first night, Truffaz brought his Benares group to the intimate Gesú Centre de Créativité—Indian singer Indrani and tablaist Apurba Mukherjee, as well as Brazilian pianist Malcolm Braff—for a 75-minute set that may have drawn on the music from the CD, but in performance was stretched out considerably, with pieces often running as long as 20 minutes, as the trumpeter explored the nexus of Indian rhythms and linear melodism with Western harmonies, all in a spirited improvisational context.

Truffaz, Braff and Mukherjee came onstage first for an instrumental piece that set the tone for the entire performance. Truffaz's less-is-more style, with a tone that was often breathy, but became sharp at times as he demonstrated a broad range on his instrument, gave only occasional clear indicators of his greater virtuosity, instead choosing to focus on the demands of the music, with occasional injections of subtle, but palette-expanding electronics. Braff leaned mainly towards and equally lyrical style, consonant accompaniment adding an uncharacteristic harmonic aspect to this largely melody-driven music, while Mukherjee proved an impressive tablaist, capable of working with the group in ways as often understate as they were, at other times, more fervent.

The music raised a notch when Indrani took the stage, her singing lending the performance a vibe not unlike percussionist Trilok Gurtu's early CMP records like Usfret (1988) and Living Magic (1991), though this group's writing was far less complex, avoiding the irregular meters so definitive of Gurtu. Still, Mukherjee- -who delivered some staggering konnakol vocal percussion—demonstrated a remarkable ability to subdivide rhythms in an impressive solo that was on of the high points of the set.

It was, however, only one highlight. Truffaz's solos were short and to the point, but worked a remarkable chemistry with Braff and especially Mukherjee, though he was equally engaged with Indrani, whose vocals ranged from boldly dramatic to gently melancholy, often within the space of a single tune. The capacity crowd was clearly engaged, with a standing ovation at the end of the set demanding an encore from the group, who delivered a brief, five minute piece because of the necessity to clear the stage in preparation for the 10:30 PM Jazz Dans La Nuit series.

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