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 Sunday, 20 April 2014
The 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival — Surreal and Sublime! Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Horne Mason; photographs by Kevin R. Mason   
Tuesday, 30 July 2013

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Charles Lloyd with Eric Harland
 

The 2013 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, presented by TD and Rio Tinto Alcan, was filled with great music and some wonderfully strange moments. There was no shortage of acts to enjoy, including Joshua Redman, Alain Caron, Wayne Shorter, The Brubeck Brothers, Gregory Porter, Nikki Yanofsky, Lionel Loueke, The Bad Plus, Matt Herskowitz,  Molly Ringwald, Trombone Shorty, Bill Frisell, Vijay Iyer, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bill Charlap,  Oliver Jones, and Ravi Coltrane. Another fantastic aspect of the Festival is that several musicians collaborated in different concerts, and sometimes even sat in without billing.

 

Festival Highlights

It was not humanly possible to cover the entire festival or even attend all of the “headline” shows, but we did manage to fit in a good sampling of veterans and newcomers, “big names”  and “rising stars.”

 

Jason Moran – Fats Waller Dance Party. In perhaps the most surreal show of the Festival, pianist Jason Moran entered the stage and announced “Fats Waller is here.” Moran seemed to be speaking metaphorically, until he placed a huge, papier-mâché head of Fats Waller on the piano! Moran was joined by singers Meshell Ndegeocello and Lisa Harris, trumpeter Leron Thomas, bassist Tarus Mateen, and drummer Charles Haynes. They performed a sharp, driving rendition of “Honeysuckle Rose,” and a completely re-imagined version of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” “Two Sleepy People” featured delightful vocals by trumpeter Thomas, and Jason played “Handful of Keys” solo. Several fans were invited to dance, and they enthusiastically complied, then stayed on stage! Jason put on the Fats Waller head, which was a strange and striking sight, since Moran is slim, while Waller lived up to his nickname. However, after several songs while he played the piano and danced wearing the head, it started to feel like Fats Waller really was there, with his trademark grin and dangling cigarette. It was all really bizarre, but in a beautiful way. Fats Waller would have really enjoyed this party!

 

Christine Jensen with Ingrid Jensen & Gary Versace. Saxophonist Christine Jensen said, “This is all best friends and family on stage.” Christine and her sister, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, showed the familial bond with intricate interplay between their instruments. Pianist Gary Versace impressed with his ability to play the piano and organ simultaneously. Drummer Jon Wikan (Ingrid’s husband) lent strong support, and bassist Fraser Hollins completed the close connection. The group delighted the audience with songs like “Blue Yonder,” and “Swirled Around.” Ingrid honored Dave Brubeck on “40 Days,” and spoke about Brubeck’s legacy, saying the group hoped to follow in his footsteps by being musical and social activists. For a well-earned encore, Ingrid and Christine played “Garden Hour,” their tribute to Canada Day.

 

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Christine and Ingrid Jensen with Fraser Hollins
David Murray Infinity Quartet Featuring Macy Gray. Famed saxophonist and composer David Murray and his Infinity Quartet performed an inspired set of jazz, funk, R & B, and alternative pop. Murray and keyboardist Thornton Hudson, bassist Jaribu Shahid, and drummer Nasheet Waits played “Sorrow Songs for W.E.B. Dubois” and “French Kiss for Valerie.” When Murray introduced guest star Macy Gray, he called her “an early 21st century avatar.” Tall and imposing, with her signature untamed hair, she was a striking presence in sequined dresses. However, Gray’s ensembles never overshadowed the gifted quartet, or her own unique singing. Gray wowed the crowd with “Be My Monster Love,” and joked, “Well, I’ve been drinking for the last two hours…I’ll let you in on a little secret: The more you drink, the better we sound!” Macy used her unmistakably raspy voice to great effect on “Joyful Noise.” The audience was impressed by her haunting rendition of “In My Solitude,” and the show finished with a special version of Macy’s hit song, “I Try.”

 

Vic Vogel Piano Solo. Venerable pianist Vic Vogel, record-holder for Festival visits, was in fine musical form. Unfortunately, his mood didn’t match his playing. He started well, saying, “I’m just going to play like I play in my living room. I just want to have fun, and I hope you’ll have fun, too.” He played “Speak Low,” “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” and “Falling in Love with Love.” Then, he asked for requests, and his mood quickly turned cranky. Although he obliged most requests, he didn’t hide his disdain for songs he disliked. When someone suggested Mozart, Vogel practically snarled, “I don’t play Mozart at a jazz festival!” and he snapped at someone for requesting “Heart and Soul.” He continued with “Georgia,” The Nearness of You,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “Take the “A” Train,” while making surly quips between requests. You have to wonder if Vogel would’ve been in better spirits if he’d made a set list ahead of time.

 

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Macy Gray with David Murray
Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel was a man of few words, not speaking for the first few songs. However, Rosenwinkel’s music, from his latest CD, Star of Jupiter, spoke loud and clear. Kurt was accompanied by pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Kendrick Scott. The first two songs evoked feelings of longing, and the third was hotly intense. For a change of pace, the fourth song was a ballad. When Rosenwinkel finally spoke, he introduced “Homage á Mitch,” written for Mitch Borden, creator of Manhattan nightclub Small’s. Their encore was a heart-wrenching ballad, and the quartet received two standing ovations.

 

Joel Miller & Honeycomb. The band started with a spirited version of “Salsa Coltrane.” Saxophonist Joel Miller joked that the second song had no name, because he just wrote it, and teasingly added that he’d be taking suggestions for titles. Joel and Honeycomb — pianist John Roney, bassist Rémi-Jean Leblanc, percussionist Kiko Osorio, and Kullak Viger Rojas on cajón and congas — played songs from their recent, self-titled CD, including “Big Ideas.” Miller, who’s married to saxophonist Christine Jensen, mentioned playing “Rashers” with several groups, adding, “It’s now in its final incarnation, where it will stay for the rest of its life!” The set included “Horse Power,” a whimsical number where you could picture horses walking, prancing, and frolicking. The audience loved the song, which ended with a loud neigh! They continued with reggae/cumbia song “This is That,” and ended with a song Miller learned from Tito Puente. The group was fantastic, and each player shone brightly.

 

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Joel Miller
Lionel Loueke Trio. Bénin-born guitar prodigy, Lionel Loueke, was joined by drummer Mark Guiliana and bassist Michael Olatuja. Loueke said he was happy to be back in Montreal, playing songs from his newest CD, Heritage, including “Farafina.” Loueke’s vocals added another dimension to his unusual rhythms, and he did things with his voice that almost defy description. On one song, he sounded like several people singing in harmony! Loueke’s music felt like traveling to exotic places, some beyond earth. Sometimes, Lionel’s guitar playing was soft like a whisper, with techniques that are next-level innovative. One song was so joyful, it could cure the blues! The enthralled crowd stomped and cheered for two encores. Loueke ended the show with just his guitar to perform “No More War,” a plaintive, heartrending plea for peace.

 

Molly Ringwald. Millions know Molly Ringwald from those 1980s John Hughes films. What many don’t know is that her father is jazz pianist Bob Ringwald, who clearly taught her a lot, because she has a wonderful way with lyrics. Molly looked remarkably unchanged from her days as a teen movie queen, and displayed her lovely voice on “Sooner or Later,” “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” “Just You, Just Me,” “It Never Entered My Mind,” and “Don’t Explain.” She continued with “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men,” and a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “On the Street Where You Live.” Molly ended with “Don’t You Forget About Me,” reworked as a ballad. With the quality and sophistication of her singing, it’s fitting that Molly Ringwald can add jazz chanteuse to her list of accomplishments.

 

Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal. The Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal held its inaugural concert, led by Musical Director Christine Jensen; the set included vocalist Karen Young’s tribute to Joni Mitchell. One of the group’s missions is to present orchestral jazz arrangements to Canadian audiences, and they’ll be launching their first season of monthly concerts in September, 2013. Another mission is to invest in the quality of life of musicians and provide a permanent place for them to express their creativity.

 

The Brubeck Brothers – A Tribute to Dave Brubeck. The 34th Festival was dedicated to the late jazz giant and frequent Festival headliner Dave Brubeck. Brubeck’s sons, bassist and trombonist Chris and drummer Dan, are beautifully carrying on his legacy. In honor of their father, they played his music on the last night of the Festival. Their collaborators were guitarist Mike DeMicco, keyboardist Chuck Lamb, saxophonist Chet Doxas, double bassist Adrian Vedady, and pianist Lorraine Desmarais. Dave Brubeck’s compositions included “Cathy’s Waltz” (for his daughter), “Blues for Newport,” and “For Iola,” a love song to his beloved wife. The audience got to hear the story behind the iconic “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” which was based on the unusual time signatures Dave and Iola heard musicians playing in Turkey. “My One Bad Habit,” was inspired by Ella Fitzgerald, who told Brubeck, “My one bad habit is falling in love.” Naturally, they played a wonderful version of Paul Desmond’s “Take Five,” perhaps the best known song of  Brubeck’s repertoire.

 

Short Takes

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. One of the newest venues, Maison Symphonique de Montréal, is a wonderful place for music. The acoustics are fantastic; you can hear every note — the lowest, highest, and softest. Wynton Marsalis and his fellow musicians were in the zone, and reveled in each other’s solos. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra certainly made the most of this fabulous space.

Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration. The 80th birthday celebration of renowned saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter was a fantastic three-in-one show. Pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and bassist Esperanza Spalding’s fiery set led to more heat with the quintet of trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonist Joe Lovano, drummer Joey Baron, pianist Lawrence Fields, and bassist Linda Oh. After an intermission, Wayne Shorter’s working quartet with drummer Brian Blade, pianist Danilo Perez, and bassist John Patitucci capped this memorable concert.

 

The Pedrito Martinez Group Featuring Ariacne Trujillo. The Pedrito Martinez Group was one of the outdoor highlights. Their show was so exciting, Festival attendees Suzanne Beliveau and her husband Paul Kimball, from Nanaimo, BC, said, "We waited an hour to listen to the group again, and so did many in the audience!" Suzanne continued, "I was really taken by their fabulous multi-rhythms, their high energy, and how the musicians physically put everything into their playing."

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Lionel Loueke
Chassol –  Indiamore. Indiamore, a film about a voyage of discovery of India, was directed and scored by pianist/composer Chassol. At Musée D’Art Contemporain, the score was played live by Chassol and drummer Jamire Williams. The experience was beautifully surreal, and the charming Chassol showed how he added layers to build the score. According to Chassol’s website, in Indiamore, “…he harmonized sounds, images and traditional music with these chord progressions that just look like him.”

 

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Sometimes you stumble upon a gem like the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. Although Scotland doesn’t immediately summon thoughts of jazz, this group shows how universal jazz is. Putting pre-conceived notions aside, listening to this big band was a joy. They played an outstanding rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue” with show-stopping solos. With this talented group as ambassadors, it’s obvious that Scotland can swing!

 

Kellylee Evans. Juno Award-winning singer Kellylee Evans displayed abundant charisma to accompany her wonderful singing on “Use Me” and Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” After her packed outdoor concerts, it won’t be a surprise to see more awards in her future. 

 

Marianne Trudel Trio. Marianne Trudel, accomplished pianist, accordionist, and vocalist, teamed with double bassist Étienne Lafrance and percussionist Patrick Graham for an introspective and mysterious set. One lighthearted song was a departure, but whatever the tempo, her music was perfect for those rainy days when you want to curl up at home and shut out the troubles of the world. No wonder she named her latest CD Le Refuge.

 

Benoît Charest et Le Terrible Orchestre de Bellville. A decade after the debut of the Oscar-nominated film, The Triplets of Bellville, composer and guitarist Benoît Charest, an eight-piece orchestra (that was anything but terrible!), a singer, and some sound-effect specialists played the score while the film was screened. The animated movie is delightful and surreal, including caricatures of Josephine Baker, Harpo Marx, and one of Fred Astaire being eaten by his angry shoes! What a unique, unforgettable night of film and music.

 

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Alain Caron
Alain Caron. Alain Caron, master of the rare six-string bass and 2013 Oscar Peterson award winner, gave a thrilling concert with drummer Damien Schmitt, pianist John Roney, and guitarist Pierre Côté. The band members were particularly in sync, alternating urgent intensity with subtlety and restraint. Their versatile set included a melancholy ballad and a 70’s style funk jam.

 

Les vendredis Jazz. In honor of the Festival, Madeleine Murphy, vivacious hostess of the monthly Les vendredis Jazz, pulled out all the stops at L’Espace 64! After a profusion of delicious food was consumed, the crowd enjoyed the enchanting gypsy jazz of Tcha-Badjo. Listening to guitarists Damien Levasseur and Charles Fréchette and double bassist Frédéric Pauze was like walking through history. On this stop of Tcha-Badjo’s worldwide tour, their repertoire included dance music, ballads, and a unique version of “Caravan.”

 

Guy Nadon Big Band. Septuagenarian drummer Guy Nadon has lost none of his humor or passion. Charmingly eccentric, Nadon cracked jokes and even played an assortment of food cans, captivating everyone with his flights of fancy and versatility. An excellent assortment of musicians backed him, and their affection for him was clear. After the show, Nadon was mobbed like a rock star, and spent quite a while posing for pictures and signing autographs.

 

Jazz Mass at Église du Gesù. Composer/guitarist Sylvain Picard’s jazz mass was performed in the church at Gesù — Centre de Créativité. With Maxime St-Pierre on trumpet and flugelhorn and Adrian Vedady on double bass, the music ranged from moody to joyous. Special guest Yannick Rieu sat in on tenor and soprano saxophone, and later, Sylvain said he had been very moved by one of Rieu’s solos. The church’s gorgeous architecture and Picard’s glorious music made the mass a feast for the eyes, ears, and spirit.

 

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La Petite Ecole du Jazz
La Petite École du Jazz (The Little School of Jazz). La Petite École du Jazz delighted audiences daily with a vibrant, interactive show that introduces children to jazz. In a classroom setting, the talented quintet Les Zélèves serenaded the rapt crowd in French and English, performing “Take Five,” “What a Wonderful World,” and a vocalese version of “Ode to Joy.” Famous blue Festival mascot Ste. Cat entered to “Georgia,” and donned facial disguises for comic skits set to “Cheek to Cheek,” “Frère Jacques,” and “When Sunny Gets Blue.” The excellent band demonstrated that the Festival didn’t sell the young audience short. Les Zélèves brought children on stage to sing, dance, or conduct the band, and encouraged audience participation. After every show, diplomas in French and English (embellished with Ste. Cat’s paw print) were given to the children. La Petite École du Jazz is a must-see for all ages.

 

Festival Awards

In addition to presenting high quality and diverse music each year, Festival International de Jazz de Montréal also presents a number of awards recognizing outstanding contributions of musicians and industry leaders. The 2013 awards included:

  • Bruce Lundvall Award, which recognizes non-musicians who contribute to jazz through the media, concerts, or the recording industry, given to illustrious music producer Tommy LiPuma.
  • Ella Fitzgerald Award, presented to singer Holly Cole for her extraordinary contribution to contemporary jazz vocals and her influence on the international music scene.
  • TD Grand Jazz Award, given to the Hutchinson Andrew Trio. Double bassist Kodi Hutchinson, pianist Chris Andrew, and drummer Karl Schwonik received $5,000 and 50 hours of studio time.
  • Galaxie Rising Star Award, given to Shirantha Beddage for his compositions, Baker’s Dozen and Winds of Change. In addition to a $5,000 grant, Beddage’s music will be given radio exposure on Galaxie’s jazz channels.
  • Miles Davis Award, which honors an international jazz musician’s entire body of work and influence on the genre, presented to legendary saxophonist and composer Charles Lloyd.
  • Oscar Peterson Award, which recognizes Canadian musicians’ outstanding contributions to jazz, presented to bassist extraordinaire Alain Caron, the first artist to receive this award twice.
  • Antonio Carlos Jobim Award, which honors world music artists who’ve influenced the evolution of jazz, given to the blind Mali duo, Amadou & Mariam.

 

In Conclusion

The Festival was a much-needed bright spot for Montreal, after political scandals and tragedies have dominated recent headlines. A press release summed it up, “…we experienced a magical and enchanting 34th edition, which injected a healthy dose of optimism back into Montreal!” There’s already great anticipation for next year’s landmark 35th anniversary, June 27-July 6, 2014. Festival management was tight-lipped about their plans, but hinted at some big surprises in store!



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