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

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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.)

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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:

TUESDAY, JULY 5

  • 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)

 

WEDNESDAY, JULY 6

  • 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
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  • Bass guitar master Marcus Miller
  • Bilal

 

THURSDAY, JULY 7

  • (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)

 

FRIDAY, JULY 8—————

  • 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)
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  • Swedish indie pop/rockers Peter Bjorn and John

For complete information on the Montreal Jazz Fest, click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heavy Hitters Headed to Montreal Jazz Festival

The high-caliber talent, gorgeous concert venues, relaxed outdoor shows, and cosmopolitan setting conspire to make the Montreal International Jazz Festival one of the world’s best events of its kind (I attended the festival in 2012, after a long absence).

So, then, no surprise here: An onslaught of high-end artists are on tap for this summer’s 35th annual edition of the fest, June 26 to July 6.

Jazzers and others headed to Montreal:

  • Newport Festival “Now 60” Band (right): Randy Brecker, Anat Cohen, Larry Grenadier, Karrin Allyson, Mark Whitfield, Clarence Penn, Peter Martin — June 26now 60 band
  • Mike Stern/Bill Evans Band with Tom Kennedy and Steve Smith — June 27
  • Cecile McLorin Salvant (winner of the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition in 2010)– June 27
  • Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite — June 28
  • Stacey Kent — June 28
  • Brad Mehldau, solo — July 1
  • Marcus Miller — July 1
  • Kenny Garrett Quintet with Vernell Brown, Corcoran Holt, Rudy Bird, and McClenty Hunter — July 1
  • The Chieftains with Ry Cooder — July 2

Wayne Shorter Quartet on Tour; Shorter’s 80th Birthday Concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival; Sound Prints Quintet Live Videocast; Joe Lovano’s Forthcoming “Cross Culture” CD; HighNote Discs Top the JazzWeek Chart

Planet Jazz: Notes From All Over

“Without a Net,” Wayne Shorter’s return to Blue Note after more than four decades, already is shaping up as one of next year’s notable jazz releases. The live disc, featuring his long-running quartet — pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade — on six new Shorter compositions and three other tunes, is due Feb. 5. All but one of the tracks were recorded at various European locales in 2011; the exception is Shorter’s 23-minute tone poem “Pegasus,” with the quartet joined by the Imani Winds in Los Angeles.

Now comes news that Shorter, celebrated for his stints with Miles Davis and as co-leader of fusion heavyweights Weather Report, is playing at least a half-dozen dates in the U.S. in 2013, beginning with a Feb. 1 performance at Carnegie Hall. There, Shorter’s quartet and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra will play four of the saxophonist’s compositions as well as works by Beethoven and Ives.

About a week later, on Feb. 9, the group will give the world premiere of “Gaia,” a piece Shorter composed for Esperanza Spalding and the LA Philharmonic, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. (where “Pegasus” was recorded for the new album).

The complete U.S. tour dates (so far):

  • Feb. 1, Carnegie Hall, New York
  • Feb. 9, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
  • April 12, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville
  • May 5, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
  • June 7, Symphony Center, Chicago
  • Sept. 26, Kennedy Center: Eisenhower Theatre, Washington, D.C.
  • Nov. 2, Orchestra Hall, Detroit

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Shorter will add to the luster of the 34th annual Montreal International Jazz Festival, with a just-announced 80th Birthday Celebration concert, slated for June 29. Shorter’s quartet will close the three-act show, which also will showcase the trio of pianist Geri Allen, bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington; and the Sound Prints Quintet, co-led by saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas.

Sound Prints, inspired by the leaders’ work together on the music of Shorter, during a period when Douglas and Lovano played together in the SFJazz Collective, also features pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda Oh, and drummer Joey Baron. The group’s performance Wednesday night (Nov. 28), during a week’s residency at New York’s Village Vanguard, will air live as a videocast at 9 p.m. EST on WBGO and NPR Music.

Also announced for the festival, one of the world’s largest and best events of its kind: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra featuring Wynton Marsalis, June 28; and Aretha Franklin, June 29, five years after her first performance at the fest (fingers crossed that Aretha will make the concert, as she has dropped out at the last minute for some shows in recent years).

Tickets for all three events go on sale Dec. 1 at noon. For more information, call the Info-Jazz Line at 514 871‑1881, toll-free at 1 85JAZZFEST, or visit montrealjazzfest.com.

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Speaking of Lovano … Another of the notable jazz CDs of 2013 is “Cross Culture,” from his Us Five group, with pianist James Weidman, bassists Esperanza Spalding and Peter Slavov, drummers Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, and guest guitarist Lionel Loueke. The CD, which comes with a distinct world music tint, offers 10 original compositions along with an interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s “Star Crossed Lovers.” It’s due Jan. 8 from Blue Note.

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How often does this happen? The top three spots on the national JazzWeek Radio Chart are occupied by albums released on the same label, HighNote Records. Pianist George Cables‘ “My Muse” has been No. 1 for five weeks. The others are tenor saxophonist Houston Person‘s “Naturally,” at No. 2, and pianist Harold Mabern‘s “Mr. Lucky: A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.,” at No. 3.