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

Disc of the Day: Vadim Neselovskyi Trio, “Get Up and Go”

Vadim Neselovskyi Trio, “Get Up and Go” (Jazz Family/Neuklang Records)

The debut trio recording from the classically trained pianist, who’s worked with vibraphonist Gary Burton and singers Karrin Allyson and Dee Dee Bridgewater, feels alternately playful (“On a Bicycle,” “San Felio,” “Who Is It?”) and somber (“Winter,” “Krai” and the title track).

Portuguese singer Sara Serpa brings an exotic touch with her haunting wordless vocals on “Station Taiga” and the pretty, bells-lit “Almost December.”

Throughout, Neselovskyi, a jazz piano professor at Berklee College of Music and former teen phenom from the Ukraine, demonstrates prodigious technique, harmonic sophistication and a real synchronicity with New York bassist Dan Loomis and Israeli-born drummer Ronen Itzik; the pianist and Itzik were Berklee classmates, and played together with alto sax great Lee Konitz.

Vadim Neselovskyi

Jazz Family/Neuklang Records

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)

 

Tampa Jazz Notes — Kenny Drew Jr. Memorial; O Som Do Jazz at HCC Ybor; Diana Krall at the Capitol

Aside from a piece in Jazz Times and some blog posts (including mine, below, and those in Jazz Truth, JazzWax, and via WUSF News), the late great pianist Kenny Drew‘s passing hasn’t attracted much attention in the music press or in mainstream newspapers. I didn’t see any notice of Kenny’s death in his hometown paper, the Tampa Bay Times, or in the New York Times, which often notes the deaths of major musicians. (Correct me if I’m wrong).

Kenny, who died on Aug. 3 at age 56, will be honored by friends, family, colleagues and fans during a memorial service Saturday Aug. 23 at McCabe United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg. The memorial will be held at 11 a.m. at the church, 2800 26th Ave. South.

“His genius will be missed,” as noted in an announcement sent by the Tampa Jazz Club, home to many concerts featuring Kenny, including a terrific trio performance in May.

That trio, with bassist Joe Porter and drummer John Jenkins, recently released a CD, titled “The Music of Tom Becker.” As of now, it’s available via download through CD Baby and Amazon.

A memorial fund for Kenny has been established through his church, Unity of Midtown, 511 Prescott St., South, St. Petersburg, FL 33712. Donations can be made by checks payable to “Unity of Midtown” or via PayPal. More info is here.

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O Som Do Jazz, the Brazilian/jazz band led by trombonist/composer David Manson, plays the Tampa Jazz Club’s first show of the fall season — Sunday, Sept. 28 at 3 pm at HCC Ybor’s Performing Arts Building. More details.

SPC prof Manson, singer Andrea Moraeas Manson, saxophonist Austin Vickrey, pianist David Cubillos, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Mark Feinman will play music from the band’s two recordings. Two tunes from the group’s “A Kiss From Rio” recording were heard on the HBO series “Looking.”

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The good news: The jazz-rooted singer and underrated pianist Diana Krall is returning to the Tampa Bay area, with a show Dec. 14 at 7:30 pm at the the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater (concert affiliated with Ruth Eckerd Hall). She’ll be joined by a first-rate band — guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Dennis Crouch, fiddler Stuart Duncan, drummer Karriem Riggins and keyboardist Patrick Warren.

The not-great news: It’ll cost you an arm and a leg to attend this show, as tickets START at $102.25. Seriously? Sure, it’s an “intimate” setting, but that’s about four times what you’d pay to see a show in the world’s greatest jazz club, The Village Vanguard in NYC. ‘Sup with that?

Details.

 

Tampa Jazz Notes: WUSF’s Bob Seymour Honors Kenny Drew Jr.; Memorial Service; Kenny Drew Scholarship at UCF

Bob Seymour, longtime jazz guru at WUSF, 89.7 FM and a tireless supporter of Tampa Bay area jazz musicians, will pay tribute to Kenny Drew Jr. on Seymour’s “Saturday Night Jazz” show..

kenny drewDrew’s recordings, including his recent work with bassist Joe Porter and John Jenkins, and several tracks to be aired for the first time, will be heard on Bob’s show, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Live streaming of WUSF-FM is available here.

According to pianist/composer Tom Becker, a memorial service for Kenny is slated for Aug. 23, at a place to be determined. He wrote: “John Jenkins is trying to find a place to have a tribute/celebration for Kenny with no live music; just Kenny’s music in the background and friends at large making some memorable comments about Kenny.”

Becker also announced, on his Facebook page, that Kenny’s handwritten manuscripts and his collection of other sheet music is headed to the music school at UCF, and that the university’s Jeff Rupert (saxophonist and jazz studies head) and Richard Drexler (pianist and bassist) are establishing a $10,000 music scholarship at UCF in Kenny’s name.