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.

montreal

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.

 

 

The World’s Most Recorded Jazz Bassist?

Yes, most of us already suspected this to be true. But now it’s been confirmed by researchers: Ron Carter is the most recorded jazz bassist in jazz history, according to Guinness World Records.

Ron Carter

Carter, he of the luxuriant tone, reliable time, and rhythmic acuity and creativity, has racked up 2,221 individual recording credits as of Sept. 22, 2015, per Guinness.

Not a surprising achievement for a musician who was THE first-call jazz session bassist for many decades. I think I first heard Carter via one of his recordings with Miles’ second great quintet. After that, he seemed to show up in the credits of every other jazz album I came across.

Carter and Ray Brown, Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen and Stanley Clarke were the biggest early influences on my upright playing, in terms of enlightening me to what a double bass should and could do in a jazz context.

As a side note: Where do Brown and Milt Hinton land, in terms of the volume of recording credits?

So … congrats, Ron Carter.

More details. Visit Ron Carter online here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

100_0083

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

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.

Jazz Bassists on Parade: David Finck, Ben Wolfe, Anne Mette Iversen, Bill Moring

Jazz sessions led by bassists long ago stopped being the exception to the rule.

Notable bass-playing sidemen — from Ron Carter and Dave Holland (Miles Davis) to Charlie Haden (Ornette Coleman), from Christian McBride to practically every four-string anchor who’s backed Chick Corea, including Stanley Clarke, John Patitucci and Avishai Cohen — successfully graduated from character actor to lead roles, applying distinctive, readily recognized tonal conceptions and compositional approaches to their own projects and tours.

Last year was no exception, with a flood of fine bass-led CDs, including the eclectic Esperanza (Heads Up), a mix of jazz, Latin, Brazilian, pop and funk from rising star Esperanza Spalding, also an affecting singer; Richard Bona‘s rambunctious, live Bona Makes You Sweat (Decca); Charlie Haden‘s Americana-rooted  Rambling Boy (Decca); and  Todd Coolman‘s Perfect Strangers (ArtistShare), an unusual project incorporating tunes penned by little-known composers (see my earlier post).

Also notable were a pair of ambitious sets of compositions and arrangements — Windy City musician Larry Gray’s 1,2,3 (Chicago Sessions), a trio recording with guitarist John Moulder and drummer Charles Heath, and Roberto Occhipinti‘s jazz/Latin/Brazilian/classical project Yemaya (ALMA).

I reviewed several of the above for major music publications.

Herewith, a quartet of other bass-led CDs deserving of greater attention:

david-finck1The David Finck Quartet, Future Day (Soundbrush) — Finck, a reliably supportive presence on sessions by Latin and Brazilian jazz artists, offers a singing tone and typically sturdy rhythm work on this top-shelf collaboration with vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Joe La Barbera.

The swing, on tunes like “Four Flags,” with aggressive solo turns by guests Jeremy Pelt, on trumpet, and Bob Sheppard, on tenor sax, is clean and hard driving. Locke, throughout, is a wonder – casually virtuosic and, on the gorgeous “For All We Know” and elsewhere, he turns in improvisations marked by clever twists and unexpected phrasings.

The arrangements, too, offer pleasant surprises, including a 5/4 version of “Nature Boy” (a redesign suggested by La Barbera);  a haunting take on Wayne Shorter’s “Black Eyes”; and the closing “Firm Roots,” by Cedar Walton, with more bracing improvisations  by Finck and La Barbera.

(Finck’s next appearances: April 25, San Raphael , California with the Manhattan Transfer; April 26, Denver, with the Manhattan Transfer; May 16, Washington DC with Sheila Jordan; May 22, Cambridge, Mass with Steve Kuhn Trio; May 29-June 1, Blue Note New York with John Faddis)

ben-wolfeBen Wolfe, No Strangers Here (MaxJazz) — Wolfe, best known as an eminently reliable, steady-beat wood chopper for the likes of Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and Wynton Marsalis, mixes and matches his quartet (tenor and saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Luis Perdomo, drummer Greg Hutchinson) with a string quartet and several guests on a set of dynamic originals.

The strings blend gorgeously with the band on the vintage-sounding, slow-swimming title track (and elsewhere), and Branford Marsalis raises the artistry of the proceedings even higher, playing soprano on the strolling “Milo” and tenor on “The Filth,” a dirty, twisting blues. Trumpeter Terrell Stafford also makes impressive guest shots, on the start-stop contours of opener “The Minnick Rule” and the aptly titled closer “Groovy Medium.”

anne-metteAnne Mette Iversen: AMI Quartet with 4Corners, Best of the West/AMI Quartet, Many Places (BJU Records) — Band meets string quartet, too, on Best of the West, a heady jazz-meets-classical outing led by Danish-born NYC bassist Anne Mette Iversen. New York/New Orleans tenor saxophonist John Ellis turns in a wonderfully buoyant conversation with the rhythm section and strings on the opening “North” and the searching “North West”; and Iversen’s sensitive work as an improviser is showcased on “North East.”Synchronicity is the byword for this set of intense, often intensely beautiful music.

Also included in this two-disc release is Many Places, which has the same quartet, absent of the strings, sounding considerably more loose and relaxed, and turning even more creative. The bright, swinging “Out the Atlantic” and the delicate “The Square in Ravello” are just two of many gems composed by the leader.

billmoringBill Moring & Way Out East, Spaces in Time (Owl) — The two-horn line of trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist Tim Armacost frontloads Moring’s second CD with plenty of grit and heft, starting with funky opener “Sweat,” penned by Walrath.

Moring shows off his talents as a composer on the ballad-to-Latin piece, “Mary Lynn,” which opens with bowed bass and has Walrath turning in a muted solo; the pensive ballad “A Space in Time,” glued together, like other tunes, by Steve Allee’s electric keys work; and the chunky “iHop,” cued open with a grinding bass line and drummer Steve Johns’ chunky backbeat. The quintet drives furiously on Ornette Coleman’s “The Disguise.”