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

  • 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.)

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: 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.

FANTASY RECORDS/CONCORD BICYCLE MUSIC

Best Jazz of 2014: Tom Harrell, Chick Corea, Frank Kimbrough, Snarky Puppy & more

In 2014, Jazz meant a profusion of intriguing and sometimes provocative releases by veterans (Tom Harrell) and young stars (Ambrose Akinmusire) alike, the music as the nominal subject and/or driving force of the score in several films (“Whiplash,” “Low Down,” “Birdman”), and several unfunny satires of jazzers, followed by dust-ups in the jazz community (the Sonny Rollins “interview” in the The New Yorker, etc.).

Full-time institutions of jazz — namely Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and SFJAZZ in San Francisco — continued to flourish, with many, varied events, as did several competitions (Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival Piano Competition), and a profusion of festivals in the United States and abroad, although some of the festivals continued to lean heavy in the pop/rock direction while de-emphasizing their middle name.

Jazz clubs in NYC are still going strong, and still at the heart of the jazz world, as I was reminded during visits to the venerable Village Vanguard (for Christian McBride’s Inside Straight quintet; see my review) and Birdland (for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, with my friend and former bandmate Jonathan Powell on trumpet; see my review). There are dozens more great venues, of course, in NYC.

More great jazz was released than one person could hear, of course. Here are 10 stand-outs, in a list I was asked to contribute to JazzTimes, NPR Music, the Jazz Journalists Association. and elsewhere.

TOP 10

tom harrell trip

1. Tom Harrell, “Trip” (HighNote)

2. Chick Corea, “Trilogy” (Concord)

3. Frank Kimbrough, “Quartet” (Palmetto)

4. Snarky Puppy, “We Like It Here” (Ropeadope)

5. Henry Butler-Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9, “Viper’s Drag” (Impulse)

6. Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, “Landmarks” (Blue Note)

7. Ambrose Akinmusire, “The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint” (Blue Note)

8. Stanton Moore, “Conversations” (The Royal Potato Family)

9. Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood, “Juice” (Indirecto)

10. Keith Jarrett-Charlie Haden, “Last Dance” (ECM)

HISTORICAL/REISSUES

1. Charlie Haden and Jim Hall, “Charlie Haden-Jim Hall” (Impulse)

2. John Coltrane, “Offering: Live at Temple University” (Impulse)

3. Miles Davis, “Miles at the Fillmore — Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3” (Columbia/Legacy)

4. Jaco Pastorius, “Modern American Music … Period! The Criteria Sessions” (Omnivore)

5. Thelonious Monk, “Paris 1969” (Blue Note)

VOCAL

  • Tierney Sutton,  “Paris Sessions” (BFM Jazz)

DEBUT

  • Ben Flocks, “Battle Mountain” (West Cliff)

LATIN

  • Arturo O’Farrill, “The Offense of the Drum” (Motema)

 

Jimmy Cobb & Peter Erskine Talk Ride Cymbals

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Jimmy Cobb & Peter Erskine On Ride Cymbals

What to look for in jazz’s essential cymbal

It begins from the inside out, explains Peter Erskine, the Weather Report veteran and noted bandleader and educator also recognized for his work with Steely Dan, Diana Krall, John Abercrombie and others. “What you hear in your head is what you’ll draw out of any instrument. I expect the cymbal to do something and I can usually draw that out,” Erskine said recently from Brooklyn, his home base while playing—in the pit and onstage—for the New York City Opera’s production of Anna Nicole.

A 22-inch Zildjian K Constantinople medium ride is Erskine’s go-to ride cymbal, but two other 22-inch rides have called his name. “The [K Constantinople] Renaissance model that was developed by Zildjian with Adam Nussbaum is a tremendous ride cymbal, not quite as dark as the [regular K] Constantinople. It’s remarkably versatile. And the [forthcoming Zildjian Kerope] is the closest thing to 1950s Ks that were played by all the drummers in the ’60s. … I’m pretty flipped by it.” The most important quality? “I look for clarity,” says Erskine.

Twenty-seven years ago, Erskine joined Elvin Jones on a memorable outing to the Zildjian factory in Istanbul. “Instead of going tip-tap and that kind of thing, Elvin took both sticks and just started roaring on the cymbal, playing on the edges with the shaft of the sticks for a good minute or two,” Erskine remembers. “There was this wash of white noise. Elvin was smiling and playing this thing and he got it moving. He really opened the cymbal up, got it warmed up and loose.

“That’s one of the important things, ultimately, when you’re trying out a cymbal: See how quickly it recovers from a crash or that roaring sound back to stick articulation. Any good cymbal should function as both a ride and a crash. Any of your drumming heroes, you’ll spot pretty easily that they’ll play that way. Tony [Williams] and Elvin and Mel Lewis said that, too.”

NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Cobb, whose heartbeat ride playing and impeccable swing fueled Miles’ classic Kind of Blue album, is working with Sabian to find the right cymbals to replace a set stolen during an overseas gig. The latter cymbals, including 20-inch and 18-inch Zildjian rides, were loaned to him by Mel Lewis as a temporary replacement for another set that was stolen.

Cobb, recently heard leading his trio at the Village Vanguard and continuing to play with his “So What” Band, the 4 Generations of Miles group and Javon Jackson’s We Four: Celebrating John Coltrane project, concentrates on tonal aspects and decay rates: “One I had was between bright and dark—I could hear the beat on the cymbal, hear the wood on the cymbal and hear the quality of the cymbal. For me, I don’t want it to be overbearing. I want to be able to hear the beat and not have it resound too long. I want a quick, sharp beat to it.

“With Miles,” he continues, “one time I was using a Zildjian with a couple of tacks in it, a sizzle. My setup was a 20-inch ride [on the right] and an 18-inch ride on the left. So I would play the big one when I was playing with horns and trumpets and the little one when I was playing with the piano or the bass.”
The best ride cymbal, Cobb argues, is the most versatile. “I look for one that sounds good in all kinds of situations, a cymbal that can be substantial all the time—it fits most rooms you play in,” he says. “That’s hard to find. You have to go through a lot of cymbals.”

(A personal note: Some years ago I had the great privilege of playing bass in an entire concert with the great Jimmy Cobb, and a stage full of great players, including Larry Willis, Antonio Hart, Vincent Herring, Rob Bargad and Longineau Parsons. It was a memorial concert for Nat Adderley, at Branscomb Auditorium on the FSC campus in Lakeland, Fla. I had been asked to bring my bass for Walter Booker to play, as he had previously liked playing my bass at the Child of the Sun Jazz festivals in Lakeland. He was felled by asthma, and I was tapped to play at the last minute).

Winard Harper and Jeli Posse, “Coexist” (CD review)

(recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)

CD_Winard-Harper-and-Jeli-Posse_span3Winard Harper and Jeli Posse, “Coexist” (JLP)

The drummer gives the saxophonists some on Coexist, another round of sophisticated truth telling from Winard Harper that demonstrates high standards of musical excellence when it comes to expansive compositions, creative arrangements and choice of able bandmates.

Heading ensembles ranging from sextets to tentets, the leader taps guest saxophonists on five of the disc’s 12 tracks. He also shows off his considerable gifts as a trap-set wizard, percussionist and, on his African-tinged “Ummah” and “Jeli Posse,” a player of the balaphone, a vibraphone-type instrument from West Africa.

One of the most impressive collaborations comes toward the end of the disc, with Frank Wess’ elegant, luxuriant reading of the ballad “Dedicated to You,” his tenor soloing over the laidback rhythms of Harper, pianist Roy Assaf and bassist Stephen Porter, and often juxtaposed with the mellow horn clusters of trumpeter Bruce Harris, tenor saxophonist Jovan Alexandre and trombonist Michael Dease. Wess turns to flute for a similarly lush version of Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” backed by a five-piece group with Tadataka Unno on piano.

Mark Gross leads on alto on the slinky, blues-tinted “Hard Times” and “Jeli Posse,” while alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity gets showcase moments on Billy Taylor’s Latin-to-swing “A Bientot.” Harper takes a detour to church with a soulful “Amazing Grace,” while Latin and African percussion drive the title track and hard-bop colors dominate “Something Special,” “Get Tough” and “Triumph.”

Various Artists, “The New Universe Music Festival 2010” (CD review)

(Recently reviewed for Jazz Times; direct link)

Cd_thenewuniverse_span3
Various Artists, The New Universe Music Festival 2010 (Abstract Logix)

It must have felt like fusion heaven last November, when the sometimes maligned music’s big names and relative newcomers gathered for two days of performances in Raleigh, N.C. Fourteen tunes by seven of the acts, variously blending jazz, rock, world music and jam-band strains, are heard on The New Universe Music Festival 2010. Yes, direct and indirect references to fusion’s old-school—Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report—are abundant here. But those long susceptible to the myriad pleasures of the genre won’t be disappointed, and first-timers may become converts via the intensity, high energy, creativity and displays of instrumental virtuosity contained on this two-CD set.

Several genuine fusion stars are on hand. John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension, with bassist Etienne M’Bappe, drummer Mark Mondesir and keyboardist/second drummer Gary Husband, serves up the speed riffing of “Recovery” and hooks up with the guitarist’s old Shakti partner, tabla legend Zakir Hussain, for the stretching, pulsating “Mother Tongues.” RTF drummer Lenny White leads a quintet with guitarist Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic, the Dead, Allman Brothers) on the blues-tinted “Door #3” and Joe Henderson’s tricky-riffing “Gazelle.”

Herring and a Project Z bandmate, drummer Jeff Sipe, head a quartet with bassist Neil Fountain and keyboardist Matt Slocum on the alternately meditative and rowdy “Rainbow,” moody ballad “Gray Day” and a pleasantly trippy, sliding and bending stroll through George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You.” There’s more mixing and matching throughout, as Sipe and Fountain team with guitarist Alex Machacek for the candy-colored lines of “Strafe” and the initially meditative “Very Sad.” Guitarist Wayne Krantz is heard in two bands, both with monster bassists: Matthew Garrison on “Vignesh” and “Origin” and Anthony Jackson on “Why.” And Garrison and Joe Zawinul-loving keyboardist Scott Kinsey also put in multiple appearances. Fusion lives.