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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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