Montreal Jazz Fest: Scintillating if Sweaty — Herbie, Kamasi, Medeski, more.

montreal fest poster 2018

By now, you’ve probably heard about the heat wave that landed in Quebec, just in time for the 39th annual Montreal International Jazz Festival, which in some years has attracted an attendance estimated at two million. It was a scorcher of historic proportions, with temps rising into the high 90s during the day and not dropping below the mid-80s on some evenings.

The cool vibes of the fest, which ran for 10 days in mid-summer and featured performances by 3,000 musicians from 300 countries at 500 indoor and outdoor shows, nevertheless made a soothing balm for that extended bout of steam heat.

For  my fifth visit (if I’m counting correctly), I enjoyed what felt like a year’s worth of great shows in a short period — four days’ and nights’ worth of memorable concerts, from Friday, June 29  through Monday, July 2.

Montreal Fest overview

Montreal’s jazz fest, unlike some others, which, say, focus on smooth jazz or have turned into predictable affairs dominated by nostalgic hitmaking acts, successfully programs several varieties of jazz, and also incorporates other genres — notably blues, world music, Americana, and new and classic pop, rock, and hip-hop.

Most importantly, for jazz fans, the fest continues to bring in high-caliber artists playing acoustic/straightahead jazz, fusion, Latin jazz, avant/outside, and other varieties variously influenced by funk, soul, and rock.

The fest’s multiple series of “Invitation” shows, held in the cool, comfortable Gesu, an intimate theater beneath an historic stone church, are always a treat. I have fond memories of Cuban piano monster Gonzalo Rubalcaba‘s series at the fest, way back in 2002 (During Rubalcaba’s stint, I interviewed him for downbeat).

This year was no exception: John Medeski, the gifted pianist, organist and keyboardist in the long-running trio Medeski Martin and Wood, over three nights offered close-up views of his eclectic musical passions.

Medeski’s most accessible performance was with Mad Skillet, a group generally inspired by New Orleans rhythms and textures. The quartet included guitarist Will Bernard; NOLA tuba wizard and Dirty Dozen Brass Band co-founder Kirk Joseph, who spiced his tuba ministrations with special effects; and drummer Julian Addison. NOLA funk was the operating groove, and a color-shifting take on Sun Ra’s “Golden Lady” was one of several gems the band played on June 30.

Mad Skillet sounded more confident and more open to taking chances with their arrangements and their repertoire than when I heard them in January 2017 at the GroundUp Music Festival in Miami, with Terence Higgins on drums (I reviewed the fest for JazzTimes).

Medeski and Marc

For a June 29 trio set with guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer J.T. Lewis (above), Medeski held forth on B3 organ, and gave lots of space to Ribot’s bluesy, bent six-string excursions. The three mostly dug into into jazz-funk for the likes of Horace Silver’s “Strollin’ ” and an imaginative version of Steppenwolf’s “Sookie Sookie.”

Night 3 (July 1) was all about nearly nonstop electroacoustic improvisations, with Medeski joined by a pair of drummers — MMW bandmate Chris Wood, and Mark Guiliana — and the three collectively generating multicolor sounds and funk, rock, hip-hop, and EDM rhythms via a large arsenal of keyboards and percussion instruments. (The Medeski series was followed by two others — by Guiliana, overlapping with his show with Medeski, and Dr. Lonnie Smith).

There was much more to hear and see, of course, as hundreds of thousands of concertgoers flooded onto the streets around the Place des Arts performing arts complex. My review of the fest’s first few days for JazzTimes, which the mag combined with Sharonne Cohen‘s overview of the second half, is available here.

A quick look at some of the other jazz-oriented shows I caught in Montreal:


  • Herbie Hancock, above, at the beautifully appointed Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier theater, led a quartet with guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist James Genus, and drummer Trevor Lawrence Jr. They offered 100 minutes of high-energy fusion and funk. Pulling out his keytar at one point, the jazz legend aired out some new tunes, along with the likes of “Come Running to Me,” “Cantaloupe Island,” “Actual Proof,” “Watermelon Man,” and the closing “Chameleon.” Six-string bass guitar virtuoso Thundercat applied his falsetto vocals and speedy solos to a blast of soulful next-gen fusion. Kamasi
  • Kamasi Washington, above, the widely celebrated L.A. tenor saxophonist and unofficial leader of a newfangled, school of soul-rooted, R&B-influenced jazz, was garbed in a yellow-and-purple robe for his ecstatically received, SRO set at the huge Mtelus nightclub. Joined by his father, Rickey Washington, on soprano sax, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Miles Mosley, singer Patrice Quinn, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, and drummers Robert Miller and Tony Austin, he turned in soaring, spiritually minded anthems, deep funk grooves, and occasional detours into hard bop, partly imbued with a cosmic black-power vibe. Those musical and visual references to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Sun Ra? Yes, they were organic, but also intentional. The set, drawn from this year’s “Heaven and Earth” album, last year’s “Harmony of Difference” EP and 2015’s breakthrough “The Epic” album: “Street Fighter Mas,” “The Rhythm Changes,” Giant Feelings,” drums feature “Bobby and Tony’s Day Off,” “Space Travelers Lullaby,” and “Fists of Fury.”
  • Cory Henry, the former Snarky Puppy keyboardist, cranked up his synthesizer and amped up the jazz-funk at the MTelus on “Love Will Find a Way,” a raucous cover of “Proud Mary,” and “Send Me a Sign,” among other crowd favorites.
  • Jose James, opening for Henry, offered smartly arranged, perfectly calibrated versions of Bill Withers‘ old-school R&B classics: “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Grandma’s Hands,” “Who is He (and What is He to You),” “Use Me,” and “Lean on Me,” the last one complete with a call-and-response section with the crowd and a statement of faith: “This is my religion .. diversity and unity,” he said. Backed by a group including the top-shelf rhythm section of bassist Ben Williams and drummer Nate Smith, James also brought out “Kissing My Love,” “Just the Two of Us,” and “A Lovely Day.” Most or all of those tunes will be heard on James’ forthcoming Withers tribute album, “Lean on Me.”

(My review of Americana hero Ry Cooder‘s set will be published in a forthcoming issue of Relix magazine.)

Tom Carabasi’s New Standards Quintet kicks off Tampa Jazz Club’s fall season

Here comes a shot of real jazz to start Tampa’s fall arts season: The Thomas Carabasi New Standards Quintet kicks off the Tampa Jazz Club’s new slate of shows at HCC in Ybor City, Sunday, Aug. 26 at 3 pm.

tom carabasi

The highly regarded Sarasota-based drummer & Ringling College photography prof will be joined by pianist John O’ Leary and bassist Alejandro Arenas (both from La Lucha), saxophonist Jeremy Carter, and trumpeter James Suggs.

The group plays “a mix of jazz classics with a contemporary twist, along with lesser-known material by great jazz and Brazilian composers (think Mingus, Jobim, and Pharoah Sanders, for starters),” according to the press notes.

The Jazz Club concerts are held in the college’s beautifully appointed, acoustically pristine 246-seat Mainstage Theatre.

For more information, visit Tampa Jazz Club.



Branford Marsalis at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg (review)

branford(This review was initially intended to run in print in Relix, but wound up going online in sister publication

“It’s not always easy attracting large audiences hungry for jazz of the undiluted, acoustic-based, hard-edged and tradition-rooted but forward-looking variety. Unlike others who remain true to that artistry-forward approach, saxophonist Branford Marsalis has a famous jazz-family name and well-earned critical kudos.

And he has accumulated several circles of fans via his stint on The Tonight Show, his Sting residency, a Grateful Dead sit-in released as part of a box set, and appearances in Spike Lee and Danny DeVito movies. Some have followed his career since the early ‘80s, when he played with brother Wynton’s quintet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

So what should one expect from a Branford show?”

Read the rest here.

Jazz in NYC: Santi Debriano at Smalls, Jason Marsalis at the Jazz Standard

As mentioned in an earlier post, I had the chance to hear some world-class jazz during my trip to NYC in January. I always try to make the most of my too-rare visits there, so I made a point of hitting three top-rank shows.

I caught trumpeter/flugelhornist Tom Harrell‘s quintet at the Vanguard (I reviewed for Relix/, and groups led by bassist Santi Debriano at Smalls, and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis at the Jazz Standard. Meant to put together a few thoughts about the Smalls and Jazz Standard shows shows a while back, but …


NYC Jan 2018 Santi Debriano at Smalls

On Jan. 20 at Smalls in the West Village, still one of Manhattan’s most intimate and most affordable jazz venues, the Panamanian-born bassist led a group with two other journeyman jazzers — tenor saxophonist Craig Handy and pianist Bill O’Connell — and Living Colour’s Will Calhoun (playing a small Canopus drumset).

The quartet, for its first set that Saturday night, played mostly originals, starting with “Ripty Moon,” built on a bluesy bass groove; Debriano capped his solo with flamenco-style hard strums, flourishes atypical in jazz. “Natural Causes,” the title track from a recent Debriano album, began with unison and harmony bass/sax lines, opened up for a ballad section and featured a bass solo incorporating bowed figures.

“Lexi’s Song,” a medium-tempo piece penned by Handy, offered a pretty melody; Handy, for his solo, deployed a series of octave jumps, and Calhoun was featured on a trading-8s section. The group closed with an inspired, swinging take on the standard “My One and Only Love.”

With its members drawing from various shades of jazz, Latin music, and even rock (Calhoun), Debriano’s band is a highly interactive, creative unit. They make a great vehicle for the bassist’s compositions; he said he’s hoping to record with this quartet soon.

Side note: Santi Debriano probably doesn’t recall borrowing my bass for his performance, years ago, at the Child of the Sun Jazz Festival at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. My group played the now-defunct fest earlier in the day, and he decided he’d rather use my upright than the one that FSC had made available to him.


NYC Jan 2018 Jason Marsalis at Jazz Standard

Five days earlier, on a chilly night at the Jazz Standard on 27th Street, vibraphonist Jason Marsalis played a one-night stand with his 21st Century Trad Band in support of the recently released Melody Reimagined: book 1. (I reviewed the album, released on the New Orleans label Basin Street Records, for JazzTimes).

I’ve seen the youngest of the Marsalis jazz-playing siblings many times over the years, in New Orleans, New York, and Tampa. But he was always behind a drum kit, playing in a variety of settings, including piano trios variously led by his father, Ellis Marsalis and Marcus Roberts, the jazz-funk group John Ellis and Doublewide, and Los Hombres Calientes, his Latin jazz collaboration with percussionist Bill Summers and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield.

As a vibraphonist, Marsalis is assured, using his chops and a seemingly intuitive feel to carve out a voice on the instrument that seems distinct from his predecessors and influences.

Joined by bassist Will Goble and drummer David Potter — both heard on the new release — and pianist Stephen Gordon, Marsalis showcased a good sampling of the disc’s music, which is centered on the concept of creating new melodies over familiar chord changes.

NYC Jan 2018 jazz standard

The quartet opened with the disc’s first two three tracks:  “Ratio Man Strikes Again” (inspired by Coltrane’s “Traneing In”), begun with a tricky vibes line over stop-start rhythms; the stately “Off the Rails” (“You’ve Stepped Out of a Dream”) and “Just as Cool as the Other Side of the Pillow,” built on the “Willow Weep for Me” changes and endowed with a title borrowed from a catch phrase of late ESPN announcer Stuart Scott.

The retro-fired, graceful ballad “80” (“The Very Thought of You”) was originally written in honor of Ellis, who plays on the album, but took on greater meaning with the passing last July of Marsalis matriarch Dolores, as Jason explained.

The set, the first of two that night, also included the standard “You and the Night and the Music,” featuring some fruitful 4s-trading with Potter; a lush ballad, “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”; and the classically influenced “Ballet Class,” from Marsalis’s 2013 album “In a World of Mallets.”

Looking forward to what compositions Marsalis devises for book 2, if/when he follows the first installment with a sequel.



Tampa Jazz Calendar: John Beasley’s MONK’estra at USF, St. Petersburg Jazz Festival, more.

john beasleyJohn Beasley‘s “MONK’estra, Vol. 1 (Mack Avenue),” a collection of brilliant large-ensemble arrangements of Monk tunes, landed on my list of 2016’s best Jazz albums (for JazzTimes and other polls and publications). And Beasley unleashed even more Monk music last year, with “MONK’estra, Vol. 2.” Both albums have landed much critical acclaim and jazz-radio airplay.

So it feels like a bit of a coup on the part of USF’s jazz studies program to get Beasley to Tampa to conduct the USF Jazz Ensemble (big band) on some of those arrangements. The show, part of the school’s Monday Night Series, and co-produced by the Tampa Jazz Club, is this Monday night at 7:30 at the USF Concert Hall, on campus at the school’s music complex. Click the link on the listing below for more info.

On the jazz calendar:

  • Friday, Feb. 23 — St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: B3 Fury with the Shawn Brown Quintet, with guitarist Nate Najar, saxophonist Jeremy Carter, and drummer Anthony Breach. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. SOLD OUT Link
  • Saturday, Feb. 24 — St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: Helios Jazz Orchestra with (vocalists) Whitney James & Chuck Wansley. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Sunday, Feb. 25 — St. Petersburg Jazz Festival: (Pianist) Gabriel Hernandez Trio, with bassist Mauricio Rodriguez and drummer Dimas Sanchez. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Monday, Feb. 26 — Monday Night Jazz: MONK’estra: Celebrating the Thelonious Monk Centennial, with pianist/composer/arranger John Beasley conducting the USF Jazz Ensemble. USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Thursday, March 1 — Bill Cunliffe (pianist) Trio with bassist Martin Wind and drummer  Tim Horner. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Friday, March 2 — Tony Bennett. Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Sunday, March 11 — Tampa Jazz Club: (Singer) Fred Johnson & (bassist) Michael Ross. HCC Ybor Mainstage Theatre, Ybor City, 3 pm. Link
  • Monday, March 26 — USF Monday Night Jazz: (Pianist) Steve Allee. USF Concert Hall, Tampa, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Thursday, March 29 — Women’s History Celebration: (Saxophonist-singer) Valerie Gillespie with pianist Karen Benjey, bassist Jennifer Medina and drummer Meghan Lock. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Friday, March 30 — Bossa Nova All-Stars: (Guitarist) Nate Najar with vibraphonist Chuck Redd, saxophonist Harry Allen, and singer Maucha Adnet. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30. Link
  • Friday, April 6 — Sarah Vaughan Tribute: (Singer) Synia Carroll with pianist Billy Marcus, saxophonist Jeremy Carter, bassist Billy Pillucere, and drummer Steve Bucholtz. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 7:30 pm. Link
  • Sunday, April 8 — Tampa Jazz Club: (Saxophonist) Harry Allen. HCC Ybor Mainstage Theatre, 3 pm. Link
  • Sunday, April 22 — Jazz Noir: Mood Music for Murder & Mystery, with pianist Stretch Bruyn, bassist Alejandro Arenas, drummer Mark Feinman, percussionist Ron Gregg, saxophonists Rodney Rojas and James Carter, trumpeter James Suggs, and guitarists Charlie Robinson and Mike Pezze. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 3 p.m. Link
  • Friday, May 4 — James & James: By Request, with singer Whitney James, trumpeter James Suggs, and La Lucha — pianist John O’Leary, bassist Alejandro Arenas, and drummer Mark Feinman. Side Door at the Palladium, St. Petersburg, 8 pm. Link

Note to readers: Thanks, and follow me!

Thanks to all who follow my blog, as well as to those who visit only occasionally.

Jazzlands is purely a labor of love, a way to kind of document my comings and goings in the music and jazz world, and to share my magazine work with a larger audience.

If you like what you read, please follow my blog, and I’d also invite you to follow me on Twitter at @pboothmusic.

You may know that in addition to writing about jazz and other music, I actively play with several bands around Florida, including: Acme Jazz Garage (also on Facebook; and @acmejazzgarage on Twitter ), Swan City Jazz Project (on Facebook), Trio Vibe, and Zensemble. I occasionally play with blues band the Juke Joint Kings, and the Blue Guava Orchestra (on Facebook), and once or twice a year I sub with the Tomkats Jazz Orchestra.

Also, I have a Facebook page offering info on my all of my various music-playing activities — Philip Booth Music.

So … stop by one of the above online locations if and when you can, and please follow me.

If you’re in Tampa on a Thursday or Friday night, you can catch me with Acme Jazz Garage at Timpano, 1610 W. Swann Ave. in Hyde Park Village. We start at 7 pm both nights (until 10 on Thursdays; until 11 on Fridays).

Lately, I’ve been doing more gigs with Swan City Jazz Project, with my Lakeland pals Jody Marsh (fellow LHS classmate) on piano, and Rick Runion on sax; sometimes we’re joined by a drummer to make it a quartet.

Ahead for Swan City:

I’d love to bring one of my bands to your festival, special event or nightclub. We’re actively looking for paying gigs. And I’m always looking for a way to a label home for my next CD project. The Acme Jazz Garage CD, released in 2016, was played on 35 or so radio stations across the country, and was reviewed in Relix and other national and local publications.

So if you have any ideas on gigs or on helping me fund a recording of original music, hit me up at jphilipboothAThotmailDOTcom

Meanwhile, back to your usual programming.


Jazz in NYC: Tom Harrell at the Village Vanguard (review)

While in NYC recently, I had the pleasure of checking out a few great jazz shows.

Glad I got the chance to hear the great trumpeter and flugelhorn player Tom Harrell‘s quintet at the Vanguard, bassist Santi Debriano‘s quartet at Smalls, and vibraphonist Jason Marsalis‘s group at the Jazz Standard (more about these later).

Harrell at the Vanguard

On Harrell, I wrote: “It was the most sonically stripped-down moment, and perhaps the most dramatic: About midway through his first set on a recent Thursday night at New York’s venerable Village Vanguard, three of Tom Harrell’s bandmates slipped off stage, leaving the veteran brass player and prolific composer alone except for bassist Ugonna Okegwo, who stood at the rear of the small stage.”

Read the rest of the review, for Relix/, here