Montreal Jazz Fest — Wishing I was there

I’ve had some incredible experiences hearing great performances and soaking up the other jazz happenings at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Not to mention getting a chance to enjoy the cosmopolitan culture of one of North America’s most beautiful and most historic cities.


Last summer’s festival was again jam-packed with great music, some of which I wrote about for JazzTimes, and in several posts on this blog.

Sadly, I can’t make it for the 38th edition of the fest, which runs June 28-July 8.

But if I WERE headed to Montreal at the end of this month, I’d do my best to catch the following jazz, blues and pop/rock artists (some of whom are playing in bands with others on the list):

Ambrose Akinmusire, Arturo Sandoval, The Bad Plus, Ben Street, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Buddy Guy, Carla Bley, Charles Bradley, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Musselwhite, Curtis Lundy, Danilo Perez, Dave Douglas, Diana Krall, Donny McCaslin, E.J. Strickland, Eric Harland, Essiet Essiet, George Cables, Gerald Clayton, Ingrid Jensen, Jack DeJohnette, Jacob Collier, Jane Bunnett, Jeremy Pelt, Jesse Cook, John Hollenbeck, John Medeski, John Pizzarelli, John Scofield, Joshua Redman, Joss Stone, King Crimson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Larry Grenadier, Michael Blake, Nicholas Payton, Reuben Rogers, Robert Glasper, Robin Eubanks, Scott Colley, Stanley Clarke, UZEB, and Wallace Roney.

Headed to Montreal? Let me know your thoughts on what you hear.

As for me — better luck next year.



Disc of the Day: “Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band”

“Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band: Recorded Live at the Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 2010” (Impulse!/Verve)

It’s probably not a stretch to suggest that Charlie Watts‘ role in his occasional jazz forays — remember “From One Charlie,” his 1991 Charlie Parker tribute? — is essentially the same as that of his day job. Nearly always eschewing solos or showy displays, the Rolling Stones’ drummer ably provides a solid rhythmic foundation, driving his ensemble of the moment with style intact and a minimum of fuss and flash.

And so it goes with “Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band,” recorded for a live broadcast in 2010 and essentially hearkening back to a period in Denmark during the early ’60s, before the Stones exploded, when Watts played with various jazz and blues bands around Copenhagen.

Watts salutes one of his jazz heroes, Elvin Jones, with a two-part suite co-written by fellow journeyman rock drummer Jim Keltner. “Part 1” is a beautiful ballad offering solo space for double bassist David Green, a longtime Watts musical associate, along with the Danish group’s Peter Jensen on trombone and Steen Rasmussen on Fender Rhodes, and the drums-intensive “Part 2” opens with a rowdy romp by tenor saxophonist Uffe Markussen. Like all but one of these seven tracks, those two opening tracks benefit from the lush arrangements of Gerard Presencer, who also turns in several dynamic flugelhorn solos.

Watts’ appealing program includes a smoldering version of a standard, “I Should Care,” and three rethinks of Stones tunes. “(Satis) Faction” thrives on a light funk groove, while “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” makes like a brass choir before shifting into old-school R&B, and a relaxed “Paint It Black,” topped with Per Gade’s guitar and Presencer’s flugel, is impressively atmospheric.

The group uses Woody Herman’s original chart for “Molasses,” the organ-injected steamrolling blues shuffle that closes the disc. A double rhythm section — Watts and Green plus drummer Soren Frost and bassist Kaspar Vadsholt from the Danish band — drives the disc’s high-intensity closer. No revelations here, but it all makes for a mighty pleasant outing from a star rocker who indeed swings in all the right places.


Disc of the Day: Greg Abate, “Road to Forever”

Greg Abate with the Tim Ray Trio, “Road to Forever” (Whaling City Sound)

Greg Abate, a reliably inspired if underappreciated saxophonist with a varied resume (Ray Charles, revived Artie Shaw Orchestra), returns with another appealing collection of originals drawing from post-bop as well as electric jazz.

Alto sax is Abate’s forte, and his gorgeous tone and buoyant improvs on that instrument — and gifts as a composer — are well displayed on “Farewell Phil Woods,” a ballad honoring his late friend, mentor and collaborator. The same goes for “City of 2-5s”; the lovely waltz “The Dancing Panda,” written for Abate’s life partner, Kerry Tracey; “Take the Crowell Train,” for sax-playing pal Ken Crowell, and based on the changes of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise”; and the quick-swiveling “Mr. Parker,” inspired by Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” and dedicated to that tune’s composer.

The Rhode Island-based musician offers twin-soprano harmonies on the title track; shows off his tenor chops on the funk-driven “Whaling City Sound,” named for his label home, and “Red Fish Boulevard,” built on the “Green Dolphin Street” changes; and leads with flute on the pretty ballad “Seasons.” Throughout, he’s ably supported by regular bandmates Tim Ray on piano, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Mark Walker.


Disc of the Day: Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle”

Wynton Kelly Trio/Wes Montgomery, “Smokin’ in Seattle: Live at the Penthouse” (Resonance Records)

Before Wes Montgomery became the commercially successful star guitarist known simply as Wes by fans, he was, of course, a burning bebop guitarist of the highest order. “Smokin’ in Seattle” handily captures the calm before his career explosion, with Wes and longtime collaborator Wynton Kelly’s trio joining forces for a set at popular Seattle jazz club the Penthouse recorded live — via four-channel tube mixer — for a radio show hosted by Jim Wilke. Shortly later, the 43-year-old guitarist’s Verve album “Goin Out of My Head” started climbing the R&B charts on the road to selling a million copies and scoring a Grammy.

Wes couldn’t have found more suitable musical partners than pianist Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb (both ex-Miles) and young bassist Ron McClure, recently with Maynard Ferguson. The guitarist and Kelly’s original trio, with another former Miles sideman, Paul Chambers, had notably worked together on the live “Full House” and the widely acclaimed “Smokin’ at the Half Note”; the latter disc was called “the gold standard” by guitarist Pat Metheny, a Wes devotee,

It’d be hard to beat Montgomery’s soulful “West Coast Blues,” with its inventive twists and the guitarist’s unpredictable, typically brilliant and rambunctious solo work, or Sonny Rollins’ uptempo “Oleo,” which closes the set but, unfortunately, fades out midway through the tune, as does “Blues in F” (blame radio-broadcast conventions). There’s lots more to savor here, including the start-stop head and steady swing of Montgomery’s “Jingles,” the rich balladry of Bob Haggart’s “What’s New?”, and a Jobim tune, “O Morro Nao Vez.” And four tracks featuring Kelly’s trio minus Wes.

As if that weren’t enough, the set is contained in the kind of vessel that makes one happy CDs are still being produced: the beautifully designed package includes a 40-page booklet featuring contributions by Cobb, McClure, Wilke, disc producer Zev Feldman, pianist Kenny Barron, guitarist Pat Metheny, and jazz journalist Paul de Barros. It’s a keeper.

Jimmy Cobb

Ron McClure

Resonance Records




Disc of the Day: DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield, “Hudson”

DeJohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Scofield, “Hudson” (Motema)

Jazz-rooted groove music with a penchant for sprawl and experimental sounds is on the program for the opener and several other tracks on the debut collection from a quartet of former NYC-based musicians who have all settled in New York’s Hudson River Valley.

Little wonder these well-traveled musicians have landed on this musical terrain — Guitarist John Scofield and drummer Jack DeJohnette played in different versions of Miles’ electric bands, and worked together in Trio Beyond (with Larry Goldings). Sco is a frequent fourth member of organist/keyboardist John Medeski‘s MMW, and bassist Larry Grenadier has done fusion and other shades of jazz with Pat Metheny and others.

That nearly 11-minute first track essentially is one long, undulating one-chord jam, with Medeski and Sco strafing the soundscape with various sonic effects, the two alternating solo-ish leads. The guitarist spins out a series of bluesy curlicues and at one point quotes a quick snippet of the melody from Perez Prado’s “The Peanut Vendor.”

The four first played together in 2014, at the Woodstock Jazz Festival, but much of the disc is devoted to creative acoustic-electric arrangements of tunes by musicians associated with the Woodstock rock era (even if they didn’t all play that famous fest). Joni Mitchell‘s “Woodstock” is aptly tinted with an ambling rhythmic figure, pastel-shaded piano, and probing six-string, while Bob Dylan‘s “Lay Lady Lay” thrives on oozing B3 and a light reggae beat, and his “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” effectively migrates from laidback to frantic before coming down with several minutes’ worth of open-ended floating. Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow” is aptly raw and chunky, and The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” is a happy slab of rootsy Americana.

The album is rounded out by several originals, including Sco’s strolling, harmony-laden “El Swing” and blues stomper “Tony Then Jack,” a nod to Miles’ drummers Williams and DeJohnette, and DeJohnette’s initially swirling “Song For World Forgiveness” and aptly titled “Great Spirit Peace Chant.”

And the drummer takes to the mic for a husky-throated vocal turn on “Dirty Ground,” co-written with Bruce Hornsby and first heard on DeJohnette’s 2012 “Sound Travels” album. Even more so than previously, it sounds like a lost track by The Band, also happy denizens of the Hudson region.  It remains an artistically fertile place, apparently.



Disc of the Day: Bill Evans Trio, “On a Monday Evening”

Bill Evans Trio, “On a Monday Evening” (Fantasy Records/Concord Bicycle Music)

Relaxed if quite often intense and exploratory, the previously unreleased “On a Monday Evening” captures pianist Bill Evans in a peak performance leading his trio circa the mid-‘70s, with virtuoso bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Eliot Zigmund.

The show, at a packed 1,000-seat Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus, survives thanks to some serendipity – two college-age jazz DJs had interviewed Evans, and decided to document the concert using their radio station’s equipment. The recording, remastered from the original analog tapes, sounds all but pristine.

Fusion was the fast-growing flavor of the day, but Evans continued to ply his elevated trade in a strictly acoustic format. As per his usual approach, he mixes original compositions with standards, starting with his own spritely “Sugar Plum,” which begins with two minutes of unaccompanied piano before opening up for a leapfrogging solo by Gomez.

The leader’s “Time Remembered” is a nostalgia-laced mid-tempo piece, capped with Gomez’s arco improvisations. And the pianist’s aptly titled “T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune)” is more adventurous, with the three musicians dropping in and out of various sections in a kind of extended call and response.

The set offers several familiar crowdpleasers, including a freewheeling, time-tugging workout on Disney film waltz “Someday My Prince Will Come,” featuring some of the album’s most provocative soloing; a hard-swinging version of Cole Porter’s “All of You”; and the somber, way-laidback closer “Some Other Time.”

Two other tunes, Jerome Kern’s beautifully melodic “Up with the Lark” and the wistful, Brazilian-flavored “Minha (All Mine)” were relatively new to Evans’ repertoire. “On a Monday Evening” is a welcome and unexpected gem which illuminates the in-concert prowess of the Evans/Gomez/Zigmund lineup.


Disc of the Day: The CCM Jazz Orchestra as James Bond Featuring Steven Bernstein, “Nobody Does It Better”

The CCM Jazz Orchestra as James Bond Featuring Steven Bernstein, “Nobody Does It Better” (Summit Records)

james bond

Steven Bernstein has applied his prodigious talents as trumpeter, composer, arranger, and innovative art-jazz conceptualist to a huge variety of intriguing projects, from the music for his own Sex Mob band to the score for Robert Altman’s “Kansas City” to work for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

For this recording, the CCM (College-Conservatory of Music) Jazz Orchestra, based at the University of Cincinatti, brought in Bernstein to rearrange the compositions from his 2001 “Sex Mob Does Bond” album. Last year, the same big band, led by musical director Scott Belck, successfully revisited the music of Garaj Mahal (see my review for Relix). Yeah, it’s a gas.

Fans of soaring, tuneful melodies are treated to Marvin Hamlisch’s “Nobody Does It Better,” its opening brass blast seguing into Bernstein’s introduction of the theme, via his antique sounding slide trumpet, and the full band taking over, driven by an organ-injected rhythm section; impressive soloing by baritone saxophonist Joe Duran, tenor saxophonist Josh Kline, and guitarist Joe Wittman. The familiar “Goldfinger” theme sneaks into the opening of John Barry’s intense, suite-like 9 1/2-minute “Dawn Raid on Fort Knox,” hinged on a martial beat and multiple call-and–response figures,  and painted with multiple psychedelic swirls and slashes

Barry, of course, is everywhere here, with waterfalling horn lines cueing the light-on-its-feet “You Only Live Twice” and Chris Ott’s rich, fluid trombone playing showcased on a timpani-bolstered “Thunderball,” the latter opened with a gong and — like other tunes here — veering from slinky to appropriately bombastic.  The moody, impressionistic terrain of “This Never Happened to the Other Guy” is strafed by Bernstein’s slide trumpet and Joe Wittman‘s guitar, and the relatively brief “Bond With Bongos” buzzes with Shane Jones‘ simmering congas.

This veritable Bondapalooza opens with Bernstein’s own “Dr. Yes,” a slab of sleek theme making perfectly in sync with the 007 movie-music tradition, prominently featuring Bernstein and Sam Lauritsen on trumpets, and Wittman. Consider us shaken, stirred, and wanting more.