Montreal Jazz Fest Diary: Brian Wilson and more

Just a quick update today, on the events of Thursday (July 7):

  • Brian Wilson‘s 50th anniversary “Pet Sounds” at the spacious Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier theater: The two-hour show featured terrific, beautifully arranged recreations of a very appealing body of sun-smirched California pop music by a band of instrumentalists and singers that numbered 11. Matthew Jardine, son of Beach Boys co-founder Al Jardine (also in the band) nailed the stratospheric high harmony parts and every lead part he touched. The less said about Brian’s vocal performance, the better. The show was greeted by multiple standing ovations.
  • Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith at the intimate Gesu: The pianist/keyboardist and the trumpeter conspired on a long set — just two extended pieces — of avant-leaning improv that was heavy on textures and atmospherics. Iyer, a second-generation Indian-American, played a grand piano and Fender Rhodes, and manipulated sounds via his laptop, while Smith, the Mississippi-born AACM stalwart, offered muted and open long tones, shrieks, whispers and various sound effects. It was conversational, highly interactive and sometimes hypnotic. The rapt audience showed their appreciation for the challenging, adventurous music, associated with the pair’s recent ECM album, “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke.”
  • Big Bad Voodoo Daddy on the outdoor TD Stage: The neo-retro outfit, still going strong after its ’90s heyday, roused the crowd with “You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three” and other showy swing and jump numbers.


Montreal Jazz Fest Diary: Marcus Miller & More

Day Two (Wednesday, July 6) in Montreal started with a tourist excursion over to Old Montreal, where I checked out the Notre-Dame Basilica, the gorgeous stone church that was completed around 1880. Among other amazing architectural feats, the Catholic cathedral features an organ with 7,000 pipes, played via 4 keyboards with 99 stops. It’s a place of great beauty but, frankly, not much reverence, at least during the day, when it’s invaded by the tourist hordes (including me).

I also checked out Point-A-Calliere, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, which offered an informative and entertaining walk through the city’s fabled history, and close-up views of some key artifacts. I didn’t know, or had forgotten that “Montreal” is shorthand for “Mont (Mount) Royal.” Bonus: Our tour guide, an archaeologist, was deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the origins of his city.

The history of Montreal, of course, is going to have to include a chapter on the Montreal Jazz Fest, which has had such a positive impact on the city’s music and arts scene. This year’s event, the 37th edition of the fest, marks my third (or is it fourth?) time covering the event.


Four years ago, I found myself in bass heaven at the Montreal fest, thanks to performances by Esperanza Spalding, Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten, Meshell NdegeOcello, and the late Jack Bruce (with Spectrum Road), among other great bassists and bass guitarists I got to see in 2012.

So it was great seeing Miller again, leading a five piece that included trumpeter Russell Gunn, alto and soprano saxophonist Alex Han, keyboardist Brett Williams and drummer Alex Bailey. Miller, wielding two of his signature Fender Jazz bass guitars (and, for inquiring minds, Aguilar cabs and amps), again demonstrated his astonishing agility as a master of a certain brand of funk playing — slap-and-pop and finger style.

Miller’s band, veering among straight-up jazz funk, fusion and rock styles, focused on the African-rooted grooves and textures heard on his new “Afrodeezia” album. The nearly two-hour set also included “Tutu,” one of several tunes Miller wrote, played on and co-produced for Mile Davis’s 1986 album of the same name; and a newfangled version of Edgar Winter’s early ’70s instrumental hit “Frankenstein.”

In addition to bass guitar, Miller played his bass clarinet and a kind of wooden box guitar. The bassist made an engaging figure, energetically moving around the stage, visibly responding to his bandmates’ playing and speaking (fluent?) French and English to the audience.

Half the fun of this fest, of course, is checking out unfamiliar (to me) bands from around the world playing free shows on the multiple outdoor stages.

Last night, I happened on Orlando Julius & the Afrosoundz, an eight-piece band led by the Nigerian singer and saxophonist, a long-running exponent of Afro-soul. Dressed in brightly colored traditional African garb, Julius, his wife and singing partner, and a group that included a rhythm section and two horn players, pumped out appealing grooves that occasionally reminded me of the likes of a countryman, the late King Sunny Ade.


Montreal Jazz Fest Diary: Kenny Barron & more

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(I’ll go into more detail in my review for a jazz mag; stay tuned).

It’s always a pleasure returning to the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (Montreal Jazz Festival), an amazingly well-organized affair marked by high-caliber jazz, world music, blues, hip-hop, rock and other genres. The fest seems to take over the entire Quartier des spectacles, in the city’s downtown core.

Traffic from the area — bordered by St. Laurent Boulevard and De Bleury Street from east to west, and Ste. Catherine Street and President-Kennedy Avenue from north to south — is blocked off for the 10 days of the event. Crowds can be enormous, particularly on weekend days, but security is visibly present, and pleasant, and I’ve never witnessed any unruly behavior.

This year’s fest began June 29, and after a long day of travel from Florida, I arrived at my hotel late afternoon Tuesday. Folks were already milling around the fest district, sipping cool drinks and enjoying the summer warmth — pleasantly sunny, but a far cry from the steam heat I left behind in the Sunshine State.

The first stop on my Montreal Jazz Fest itinerary: Gesu (below), a gorgeous, comfortable acoustically pristine theater in the basement of a 19th Century Catholic Church on Bleaury Street. It’s a beautiful venue, and the stage was artfully lit, with blue shades splashed onto the stone columns.


In previous years at the fest, I’ve seen brilliant high-end jazz performances in the same venue by the likes of saxophonist Chris Potter. Last night’s concert featured the Kenny Barron Trio, led by the well-traveled jazz master who this year received the fest’s Miles Davis Award; it was the third of his three-night stand at Gesu, following his performances in a duo with guitarist Lionel Loueke, and in a concert with singer/flutist Elena Pinderhughes.

Barron was joined by a fellow Philadelphia native, drummer Johnathan Blake, and Japanese-born bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa for a set that handily demonstrated the creative possibilities of piano-trio jazz. Opening with the standard “How Deep is the Ocean,” the trio thrived on a balance between the blues-streaked bebop intensity of Barron, and the more aggressive, hyper-rhythmic approach of Blake (son of famed jazz violinist John Blake), with Kitagawa’s casual virtuosity and heartbeat-steady lines gluing it all together.

The set, oft entrancing, also included “I Hear a Rhapsody”; a bossa by Gal Costa; “Nightfall,” an affecting ballad that Barron played with its composer, the late Charlie Haden (also a Montreal Jazz Fest regular);  Barron originals “New York Attitude” and “Concentric Circles”; and a calypso number. Also on offer was a solo-piano version of an underappreciated Monk gem, “Light Blue,” incorporating stride rhythms and as angular, quirky, and playful as might be expected.

Next stop was the nightclub-style venue, L’Astral, for a fusion of jazz and electronic music from Norwegian trumpeter-composer Nils Petter Molvaer. Alone on stage except for a sound man and someone manning a laptop, he presented a sometimes hypnotic blend of beautiful long tones, thumping rhythms and exotic textures, feeding his horn through a variety of octavers, harmonizers and other special effects.

Later, the Campbell Brothers, a family band featuring twin pedal-steel guitar players, turned in a set centered on a sprawling, energetic version of Coltrane’s classic “A Love Supreme.” The group incorporated Hendrix-style rock sounds with gospel rhythms (drawing from the musicians’ origins in the sacred steel tradition) and an often overly heavy drums attack on the traditional “Wade in the Water,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and several originals.

Tonight: Marcus Miller and more.





Oleg Kireyev & Keith Javors, “The Meeting” (CD review)

Oleg CD the Meeting

Oleg Kireyev & Keith Javors featuring Tom Harrell, Ben Williams, E.J. Strickland

“The Meeting” (Inarhyme Records)

Tenor saxophonist Oleg Kireyev and trumpeter/flugelhornist Tom Harrell make an inspired front line on this second collaboration between Russian-born Kireyev and Philadelphia-based pianist Keith Javors.

Kireyev’s opening “April,” with its playful, breezy head and back-and-forth between the band and drummer E.J. Strickland — Kireyev injects a passing nod to “St. Thomas” — and Javors’ blues-streaked, starting-stopping “Inwardly” are among the four bracing original tunes here.Javors’ subtly shifting title track thrives on a loping groove, while Kireyev’s hard-swinging “Fresh Blues” fulfills the promise of its title.

Those four are balanced with the soulful melancholy of bossa standard “Estate,” an initially pensive and rumbling “Caravan” spiked with wordless rhythmic vocals, a slinky, backbeat-injected “Body and Soul,” and two fairly redundant alternate takes.

The rhythm section — Strickland and bassist Ben Williams — digs in, handily driving this solid set of mainstream jazz, highlighted by Harrell’s gorgeous, conversational, always brilliant soloing, and that of the co-leaders.


A Concert-Industry Revolution? All Hail Cell Phone Lock-Up Pouches

File under: About time. And also: Why didn’t I invent this? Furthermore: Hallelujah!

I’m one of many music lovers who are more than tired of paying exorbitant ticket prices only to have my view blocked by cell phone users who feel obligated to hold their devices high and collect (poor quality) pics & video during the entire concert. Not to mention the annoyances of those who constantly text, Tweet, or use Facebook, Snapchat or other social media apps. Or all of the above.

Why not enjoy the music in real time, folks? Unless you’re being paid to review the concert, stop documenting and start listening. Stop selfishly giving your smartphone addictions/obsessions a higher priority than your fellow patrons’ ability to enjoy the music without your distractions.

So here comes, hands down, the best, most encouraging concert industry news I’ve heard in a long while.

Drum roll, please: Out of nowhere, cell phone lock-up pouches have arrived.

yondr pouch

The technology, created by San Francisco-based startup Yondr and used at music concerts by the likes of Alicia Keys and the Lumineers, and shows by stand-up comedians Dave Chappelle and Louis C.K., is ingeniously simple.

At the entry, you place your phone in a pouch, which is locked up and handed back to you; it remains sealed for the duration of the concert. Need to use it before the show’s over? Simply connect with a security rep who can quickly unlock it “by tapping it on a metal disk slightly larger than a bagel,” according to a story in the Washington Post.

Yondr founder Graham Dugoni says two purposes are served by the pouch. “The artist can try out new material without worrying about it being leaked,” he told the Post. “Fans will also realize that they actually enjoy a show more without constantly filming, texting and Tweeting.”

Let’s hear it for “phone-free” concerts. If you can’t stand to be separated from your phone for two or three hours, if you must live every moment of your life through a screen … you may need to see a therapist about your problem. Know what I mean?

This tech would be great for movie theaters, too, and plenty of other entertainment venues and events.

And while we’re at, let’s toss out the relentless yappers. Audience obnoxiousness, I’d contend, is the major factor driving many folks to settle for electronic cocooning at home rather than spending money on concerts and movies.

The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded, “Routes” (CD Review)

Together since the late ’90s, the band co-led by guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle — I caught them at an IAJE conference back when — for its latest project has augmented the lineup with piano/keys, French horn, and, variously, two additional brass/wind players, thus expanding the group’s sonic palette.


“Routes” (Strikezone), released earlier this year, has generated critical acclaim and significant national airplay — including a seven-week run in the JazzWeek chart’s Top 10.

No wonder. The post-bop arrangements are inventive, the textures are warm and appealing, and the soloing is often provocative.

And there’s an accessible “hook”: Each of the eight original compositions is inspired by a geographical location, starting with Slagle’s opening, richly hued “City of Angels,” referencing the place where he was born and augmented with Bill O’Connell’s piano and John Clark’s horn. It’s partly a showcase for the composer’s probing alto lines. Was that a fleeting reference to “A Love Supreme” in O’Connell’s solo?

A nod to the other coast closes the disc: Stryker’s closing, aptly titled “Lickety Split Lounge,” named for the Harlem club where he auditioned for Brother Jack McDuff’s band when the guitarist first moved to New York, is a hard-charging blues shuffle benefitting from the addition of Clark’s horn to the guitar-sax harmonies.

There’s lots to treasure on the album’s road from West to East, including Stryker’s “Nothin’ Wrong With It,” cued by an earthy establishing riff shared by Gerald Cannon’s bass and Billy Drewes’ bass clarinet, and featuring a zig-zagging head; a Slagle-arranged fresh take on Mingus’s “Self-Portrait in Three Colors,” with all eight musicians aboard; Stryker’s relaxed, swinging, mid-tempo “Routes”; and Slagle’s undulating “Ft. Greene Scene,” alluding to Brooklyn, where the band’s co-leaders both have lived.

Stryer’s “Great Plains,” bolstered by mellow flute (Slagle) and tuba (Clark Gayton) harmonies, honors his Nebraska roots, while Slagle’s “Extensity” is a high-energy barn burner, impressively fueled by Cannon and drummer McClenty Hunter. Slagle’s sprawling, evocative “Gardena,” also referencing L.A., again gives the alto saxophonist and guitarist more room to roam.

It all makes for an immensely pleasurable trip, one that calls for a return trek. Sequel, anyone?














Jazz in Montreal

The Festival International De Jazz De Montreal — aka the Montreal Jazz Festival — remains one of the best and largest events of its kind in the world.

Hundreds of jazz, pop, blues and world-music artists from North America, Europe and beyond will play indoor and outdoor shows from June 29 through July 9 in venues throughout the city’s downtown district.

I love the international flavor of the fest, the welcoming nature of Montreal and its people, the high-quality musical fare, and the beautifully appointed, comfortable venues.

The fest, by the numbers:

  • Visitors: 2 million
  • Concerts and activities: 1,000 (two-thirds are free)
  • Musicians: 3,000
  • Countries represented: 30
  • Indoor concert halls: 15
  • Outdoor venues: 10
  • Accredited journalists: 400

I’m really excited to be headed back to Montreal this summer to take in some of the creme de la creme of the jazz world, as well as artists from several other genres.

I’ll be covering the fest for a four-day sprint beginning July 5. As usual, there’s a cornucopia of great performances to pick from, including evening concerts featuring:


  • Veteran pianist Kenny Barron‘s Trio
  • Rising-star guitarist Tal Wilkenfeld, best known for her stint with jeff Beck
  • Ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro and guitarist Tommy Emanuel
  • B3 organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith (below), just named a new NEA Jazz Master, and touring for “Evolution,” his return to the Blue Note label after 45 years
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  • Singer Lauryn Hill, formerly of the Fugees
  • Alto saxophonist Steve Coleman and Five Elements 
  • Sacred steel gospel family band The Campbell Brothers, playing Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”
  • Pianist Fred Hersch, solo (I caught his trio’s superb performance last year at the Chicago Jazz Fest)



  • Roy Hargrove Quintet
  • Lauryn Hill
  • The Wainwright Sisters, “Songs in the Dark”
  • Veteran fusion guitar master Larry Coryell’s (below) Eleventh House featuring trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Alphonse Mouzon


  • Bass guitar master Marcus Miller
  • Bilal



  • (Montreal trumpeter) Ron Di Lauro, “My Funny Valentine”
  • Roy Hargrove Quintet
  • Brian Wilson Presents “Pet Sounds,” celebrating the 50th anniversary, with special guests Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin (of the Beach Boys)
  • The Wainwright Sisters, “Songs in the Dark”
  • (B3 organ master) Joey DeFrancesco
  • Volcan Trio: Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba (below), drummer Horacio “El Negro” Gonzalez, and bassist Armando Gola
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  • Swing revivalists Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
  • Roy Hargrove Quintet
  • Pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, touring in support of their acclaimed duo project “A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke” (ECM)



  • Singer Jose James featuring Takuya Kuroda, “Chet Baker Sings”
  • Italian-born singer Roberta Gambarini, “Homage a Len Dobbin”
  • The London Souls
  • The Wainwright Sisters, “Songs in the Dark”
  • (French trumpeter) Erik Truffaz Quartet
  • Brandi Carlisle
  • Ron Di Lauro Sextet, “Kind of Blue, Hommage a Miles Davis”
  • Roberta Gambarini (below)
  • roberta_gambarini_340x255_2
  • Swedish indie pop/rockers Peter Bjorn and John

For complete information on the Montreal Jazz Fest, click here