Just Around the Corner: The Montreal International Jazz Fest

It’s that time of year again: I get to take in the announcements of world-class artists playing amazing summer jazz festivals, some in the United States but mostly in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere around the world.

So many festivals, so little time. But mainly, so little $$ to get there. Still, we can all revel in the fact that jazz is alive and well, at least on the fest circuit, and that so many first-rate players are keeping busy playing these events.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend The Montreal International Jazz Festival three times over the last 14 years, and it’s one of my favorites — loads of high-caliber jazz, world music, blues, pop/rock, and “other” acts, all playing gorgeous indoor theaters, intimate nightclubs, and sprawling outdoor stages. Did I mention that everything is extremely well organized?

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Montreal is an unusually clean and attractive city, and easy to get around via walking and public transportation. In addition to checking out all the amazing music, it was great wandering around the Old Town area, observing Canada Day festivities, savoring the Euro-cosmopolitanism of Montreal and having several outstanding meals, including one at the Stash Cafe, a superb Polish restaurant. Back when, I even had the chance to spend some time there hanging out with my old friend, WUSF’s Bob Seymour and his wife Marian. And it’s always nice running into jazz-journalist colleagues.

Most recently, in 2012, I covered the fest for Relix & Jambands.com — check out my fest overview, and my reviews of Esperanza Spalding (see my video clip, above); SMV (Stanley Clarke/Marcus Miller/Victor Wooten), the Stanley Clarke Band, and Victor Wooten’s group; and Bill Frisell. I also interviewed Stanley for a preview of his multiple Montreal appearances, for a story that ran in Bass Player mag.

Back in 2002, I reviewed the fest for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and in 2001, my coverage appeared at jazzhouse.org (and elsewhere).

This year’s fest, its 35th, takes place June 26 to July 5, and two acts on the bill are really whetting my appetite: The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman, and Snarky Puppy. I’ve seen both bands — The Bad Plus at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and the Clearwater, Fla venue now called the Capitol Theatre; Snarky Puppy just recently at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg — although I’ve never seen Redman with The Bad Plus. Both groups play jazz-oriented music that is deeply creative and often falls on the side of edgy/innovative. These guys are players, and both bands up up to a kind of music that travels beyond typical jazz confines while still honoring the tradition(s).

Also appealing to me: Bebel Gilberto, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke, Richard Galliano, Abdullah Ibrahim (solo and with various ensembles), Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater with Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO, and Eliane Elias,

So … maybe I’ll get back this year, maybe I won’t. If you get the chance, go. For all the details, click here

Montreal Jazz Fest Adds Joshua Redman Quartet with Strings, Ravi Coltrane Quartet, Dr. John/Leon Russell double bill and more

The Montreal Jazz Fest just added another round of great headliners to the sprawling event’s already impressive lineup.

The new additions: Joshua Redman Quartet with Strings (Redman, left)joshua redman, Ravi Coltrane Quartet, Oliver Jones solo, Nikki Yanofsky, Holly Cole, George Benson, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band,  and double bills with Dr. John/Leon Russell, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (right)/James Hunter, and She & Him/Camera Obscura, sharon jones

The 34th annual festival, which runs June 28 through July 7, also features an impressive lineup of already announced talent, including the Wayne Shorter Quartet on a triple bill with Soundprints (led by Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano) and the Geri Allen/Terri Lyne Carrington/Esperanza Spalding Trio; Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra;  and Aretha Franklin.

The jazz fest, one of the world’s largest and best, features hundreds of performers playing on multiple stages across the city center.

For full details, check out the fest’s official site.

Give the Bass Player Some: Ron Carter & Esperanza Spalding Top 77th Annual DownBeat Readers Poll

Veteran bassist Ron Carter and young bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding, a Grammy-winning star, grabbed the top spots in this year’s DownBeat Readers Poll.

Carter, an enormously influential double bass master heard on thousands of jazz recordings, a successful solo artist but probably best known for his association with Miles Davis’s second great quintet in the ’60s, was ushered into the Hall of Fame, just beating blues legend B.B. King.

Spalding, a gifted vocalist, upright and electric bassist, and songwriter who has wowed audiences as a leader and as a member of Joe Lovano’s US FIVE band (#14 in the Jazz Group category), won in the categories of Jazz Artist and Jazz Album of the Year, the latter for her pop-infused “Radio Music Society.”

Interestingly, neither won in the two bass categories: Christian McBride won for (double) Bass, while Stanley Clarke, who rode Return to Forever to stardom, won for Electric Bass.

Wayne Shorter, Carter’s old colleague in that Miles band, won in two categories — Soprano Saxophone, and Composer

The more than 17,000 voters in the poll, somewhat surprisingly, honored the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the Jazz Group category, and Big Band honors went to the Maria Schneider Orchestra, whose leader also won for Arranger.

(Complete list of winners)

Other honorees:

  • Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis
  • Trombone: Trombone Shorty
  • Alto Saxophone: Kenny Garrett
  • Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins
  • Baritone Saxophone: James Carter
  • Clarinet: Anat Cohen
  • Flute: Hubert Laws
  • Piano: Brad Mehldau
  • Keyboard: Herbie Hancock
  • Organ: Joey DeFrancesco
  • Guitar: Pat Metheny
  •  Violin: Regina Carter
  • Drums: Jack DeJohnette
  • Vibes: Gary Burton
  • Percussion: Airto Moreira
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans
  • Female Vocalist: Diana Krall
  • Record label: Blue Note
  • Blues Artist or Group: B.B. King
  • Blues Album: Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton, “Play the Blues: Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center”
  • Beyond Artist or Group: Robert Glasper
  • Beyond Album: Robert Glasper Experiment, “Black Radio”

For more on the poll, including interviews with the winners, get the mag’s December issue or click here.

Montreal Jazz Fest: Stanley Clarke Band/ S.M.V./ Victor Wooten Band (concert review)

Great bassists were in abundance at the recently concluded 33rd annual Montreal Jazz Festival. I reviewed several of the bassist-led shows (and concerts by others) for Relix. Read the review online at Relix.com, or check out the full text below:

S.M.V. Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten – Theatre Maisonneuve – June 30

Victor Wooten – Club Soda – June 30

Stanley Clarke Band – Theatre Jean-Duceppe – July 1

Montreal Jazz Fest, Montreal Canada

If there’s such a thing as bass player heaven, then one wing of the place must have relocated to the Montreal Jazz Fest during the first half of the sprawling 10-day event: Esperanza Spalding, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten, Jack Bruce, Darryl Jones, Meshell NdegeOcello, Steve Bailey, and John Patitucci were among the notable low-hertz dwellers who turned out in force.

Clarke, unofficial dean of the brigade of bottom-end denizens, celebrated his birthday in high style at the event’s 33rd annual edition: the Return to Forever star, recipient of last year’s Miles Davis Award at the fest, headlined a four-evening “Invitation” series residency. Opening night, upright in tow, he played a well-received duet with Japanese-born piano phenom Hiromi; the two have recorded a pair of albums together. Day Two brought an even more unusual pairing, with Clarke joined by the Harlem String Quartet, the young musicians who recently made a big noise playing at the White House.

Clarke devotees, though, saved their greatest enthusiasm for the bassist’s final two shows at the fest. June 30 brought a flashy bass guitar smackdown at Theatre Maisonneuve with S.M.V., the superbass trio featuring Marcus Miller, best known for his Miles Davis collaborations, and Victor Wooten of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

“If you don’t like bass, you’re going to have a little bit of a problem,” Clarke said near the start of the show, which included a sing-along “Happy Birthday” in his honor. “I’m 61 years old,” he said. “I still have it.” And, on his role as a champion of his chosen instrument: “I’ve been trying to unapologetically forward the bass.” Said Miller: “He (Clarke) made such a mark at such a young age.”

Bass as a lead instrument? But of course: Clarke, bearing Alembics and his upright, Miller, with a souped-up version of his signature ’70s Fender Jazz, and Wooten, with his Foderas, joined by a drummer and keyboardist, turned in a series of jaw-dropping solos and tight, fleet-fingered unison and harmony lines on material from the trio’s 2008 Thunder album.

Funk was the musical flavor du jour, although a few walking bass lines and swing beats slipped into the mix. At various points, Miller quoted “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and Clarke threw in a Return to Forever reference. The three co-leaders — all of whom played four-string instruments for the set — drew from a wide range of techniques, popping and slapping, strumming, chording, tapping, and bringing the fingerfunk. It all added up to a display that was long on virtuosity if, well, short on high contrast.

The next night at Theatre Jean-Duceppe meant a more nuanced, if similarly high-intensity performance by Clarke, leading a quartet of musicians — pianist Ruslan Sirota, guitarist Charles Altura, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr. — heard on 2010’s The Stanley Clarke Band.

The band, easily one of the most agile Clarke has led in recent years, opened with fan favorite “No Mystery,” from the 1975 RTF album of the same name, one of several pieces featuring the bassist’s pyrotechnics-loaded, slamming, whole-bass approach to soloing. Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus,” written by one of Clarke’s earliest employers, had him quoting “Summertime.” Then it was on to Paradigm Shift,” which began with what sounded like the riff from “A Love Supreme,” and “3 Wrong Notes,” based on a Charlie Parker progression, and featuring a trading fours section; earlier in the fest, Clarke played both, taken from his Jazz in the Garden CD (2009), with Hiromi. For the encore, the four offered a stunning take on “Song to John,” complete with its familiar leaping unison lines, from Clarke’s beloved third solo album, 1975’s Journey to Love.

Also on June 30, Wooten led his own band through a too brief 75-minute set at Club Soda. Joined by a band with multiple bassists, including fretless six-string monster Steve Bailey, he successfully mixed various strains of funk, fusion, rock and pop. Wooten himself sang the comical “It’s My Life” (“Gonna make me a record/fill it all up with bass”), while impressive singer-keyboardist-drummer Crystal Peterson was out front for Stevie Wonder’s “Tell Me Something Good,” and “Overjoyed,” and Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It For the Boy.” Wooten, variously playing bass guitars, an upright and an electric upright throughout the show, went it alone for a typically astonishing solo medley, linking the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” to Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.”

Lesson learned from all the bass-heavy shows: You can never have too much bass, particularly when delivered by the right hands.

Esperanza Spalding, “Radio Music Society” (CD review)

(recently published in Relix; direct link)

Esperanza Spalding, Radio Music Society (Heads Up)

Esperanza Spalding follows up the Grammy winning Chamber Music Society with a rangier CD that ought to bring her to the attention of an even wider audience. Radio Music Society is probably too sophisticated to fit comfortably into any traditional radio format, although it touches on several, including mainstream jazz, R&B and funk.

The quiet, strings-enhanced balladry of “Cinnamon Tree” follows the bouncy “Radio Song,” laden with horns and vocal harmonies. Later, she connects with West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and the Savannah Children’s Choir for “Black Gold.”

She slips into Stevie Wonder’s “I Can’t Help It,” with sometimes boss Joe Lovano on tenor and taps Q-Tip for both “Crowned & Kissed” and “City of Roses,” which is a salute to her hometown of Portland, Ore.

The Village Vanguard at 75

Belated happy 75th birthday wishes to the Village Vanguard, the basement jazz temple on Seventh Avenue South opened by Max Gordon, who launched the nightclub as a home for folk music, poetry, and comedy.

I’ve been privileged to visit the Vanguard — intimate, acoustically pristine, its staff eminently respectful of the music and devoted to the arts of jazz playing and listening — quite a few times over the years, for shows by the likes of guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and an all-star group gathered to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary.

For that 1985 occasion, I met and interviewed Gordon, who passed away in 1991; his widow, Lorraine, subsequently operated the club. If/when I track down the piece I wrote for The Villager, during my brief stint as a grad student at NYU, I’ll pull some quotes/observations and include them here.

How and why has the 123-seat Vanguard survived, while other famed Greenwich Village jazz clubs, including Seventh Avenue South, Sweet Basil, and Bradley’s, have not?

“It’s not fancy,” as Lorraine Gordon told Lara Pellegrinelli for a story published at NPR.org. “It’s not pretentious. It doesn’t serve food. It doesn’t take credit cards. It doesn’t allow cell phones or cameras. It doesn’t do a lot of things, but it does give good music.”

The Vanguard celebrated its 75th last week with a residency by saxophonist Joe Lovano’s Us Five, with pianist James Weidman, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and drummer Otis Brown and Francisco Mela. Sad to say that I couldn’t be on hand for any of those performances, but happy to report that I’ll get the chance to see the group in late April at Jazz Fest in New Orleans.

More than 100 jazz albums have been recorded at the club, starting with a 1957 classic capturing performances by saxophonist Sonny Rollins‘ pianoless trios.

Gordon’s “Live at the Village Vanguard,” published in 1982, remains the essential biography of the Vanguard’s first half-century. Lorraine Gordon’s bio, which I’ve yet to read, “Alive at the Village Vanguard: My Life In and Out of Jazz Time,” co-written by Barry Singer, was published in 2006 to great acclaim.

And the music isn’t slowing down: The Vanguard’s schedule includes upcoming performances by drummer Al Foster‘s quartet (March 2-7), and trumpeter Payton’s quintet (March 9-14).

And a March 16-21 appearance by drummer Paul Motian‘s trio with pianist Jason Moran and saxophonist Greg Osby looks to be one of the highlights of New York’s spring jazz season. Motian doesn’t tour, but he’s playing the Vanguard show to support a new CD with Moran and saxophonist Chris Potter, Lost in a Dream (ECM), due for release March 9.

Disc of the Day: Lionel Loueke, “Mwaliko” (CD review)

Lionel Louke, Mwaliko (Blue Note)

It seems like just a minute or two ago that Benin native Lionel Loueke was making his first splash on the global jazz scene. He provided gorgeous West African-flavored flourishes for trumpeter Terence Blanchard‘s mid-’00s groups and made key contributions to performances and recordings by bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Herbie Hancock (including a stellar show with the latter at Jazz Fest in New Orleans).

Several indie releases and two Blue Note discs later, the guitarist, educated in Africa, France, and at Berklee College and the Thelonious Monk Institute, is more than fulfilling the promise of those early appearances. Mwaliko has Loueke joined by instrumentalists and singers from Africa and the U.S. for a variety of originals, a traditional from Benin, and a slippery, brightly interactive duet with drummer Marcus Gilmore on Wayne Shorter‘s “Nefertiti.”

That tune, like nearly everything else on the recording, suggests a real musical intimacy between Loueke and his collaborators. Clearly, there’s some wavelength-sharing going on here, including beautiful, bouncy exchanges between his guitar lines and mouth sounds, and longtime Benin-born friend Angelique Kidjo‘s singing, on the opening, joyful “Ami O” and the pensive “Vi Ma Yon,” a Beninese folk song.

Loueke, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth — AKA the guitarist’s touring band, known as Gilfema –sound like three of a perfect pair, so attuned they are to each other, on Loueke’s searching, vocals-showered “Griot,” Nemeth’s haunting ballad-to-groover “L.L.” (which feels a bit Methenyesque) and Biolcati’s rhythm-tricked “Shazoo.”

Two other bassist-vocalists team with Loueke to great effect.

Young upright phenom Esperanza Spalding joins in on the pretty, lilting “Twins,” and the aptly named, funk-edged “Flying,” both written by Loueke and both suggesting that these musicians’ singing and instrumental talents are made for each other.

Cameroon-born electric bassist Richard Bona is aboard for the floaty “Wishes” and the closing, insistently percolating “Hide Life,” as sunny and intoxicating a piece of African-infused jazz as you’re likely to hear this year.

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For more on Lionel Loueke, check out Steve Hochman’s interview with the guitarist, online at Spinner.