Tag Archives: montreal jazz fest

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Concert Review: Abdullah Ibrahim solo – July 2, 2015

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Abdullah Ibrahim held the audience of Salle Gesù spellbound during his solo piano recital. Completely acoustic, with no microphones, the South African pianist and composer performed two blocks of music – one 50 minutes without interruption, and a second shorter medley of 25 minutes. One could hear a pin drop as the audience gave Ibrahim the attention he so firmly deserved – in fact, the coughs and chair movement were at times louder than his instrument.

Ibrahim is a member of the jazz piano lineage that descends from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, down through Randy Weston and Jaki Byard. While the themes were often melodious in the manner of gospel and township jive, they were framed with elements of boogie-woogie, blues, and densely angular flurries of notes. At a few points – the rolling build of gospel chords, a delicate whisper of half notes – his piano sounded like a choir.

Ibrahim explored his own library of compositions in stream-of-consciousness fashion, with snippets of melodies appearing and receding into improvisation, only to surprisingly materialize again. Ibrahim was very much indulging in the sound of the piano, of the room, and of his music. He would repeat phrases and let chords linger, every cadence a possibly cathartic ending that he pushed through with more invention.

The second segment of Ibrahim’s set began with some crunchy Ellingtonian harmonies with the melodic contour of a classic swing riff. There were playful staccato passages, bearing similarity to the kids running on the huge toy piano on the esplanade of Place-des-Arts. The final piece he explored was solidly in D minor, but in the Bach tradition, ended on the major chord. After one of his many deceptive cadences, Ibrahim repeated the melody and let that simple D major triad ring in complete finality. He acknowledged the standing ovations that followed each segment, and even returned for a second bow, but he did not play again. No encore was necessary – nor possible.

– Review by David Ryshpan

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Concert Review: Joyce – Club Soda, June 29

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Six years have passed between Joyce Moreno’s appearances at Club Soda. The Carioca vocalist-guitarist is one of the premier composers of the post-bossa nova generation. This show was particularly special because Montreal bassist Dan Gigon was subbing into Joyce’s working band, in place of Rodolfo Stroeter. A musician who has been deeply entrenched in Montreal’s Brazilian scene for decades, it was with a sense of pride that I listened to him slotting into the pocket provided by drummer Tutty Moreno (Joyce’s husband) and pianist Helio Alves.

Joyce began the evening with “Samba de mulher,” which declared her personal style of songwriting with unpredictable melodic choices and seamless modulation. Joyce anchors the music so deeply with her guitar playing, that Alves and Gigon seem like an orchestration of her instrument. It took the rhythm section a verse or two to acclimate to each other – understandably so. Tutty has a phenomenally light touch on the drums, with his finesse and his swing contributing to the groove in place of musicality. Alves has integrated a profound sense of blues and bebop into his piano playing, where he took one of many fantastic solos. A more traditional-sounding samba, “Puro oro,” and a gorgeously serpentine ballad, “Essa mulher,” followed. The ballad, originally recorded by none other than Elis Regina, was set up by a stunning Alves solo piano intro, and revealed Joyce’s perfectly centred intonation. There is a similarity in timbre between Elis and Joyce – voices soaked in honey, navigating unmistakeably Brazilian melodies with ease.

After the first act of the show dedicated to her own immense contributions to Brazilian repertoire, Joyce delved into bossa nova classics from her album Raíz (Roots). Beginning with Johnny Alf’s “Céu e mar,” Joyce proved to be a masterful interpreter of other people’s music as well. She achieved the impossible for this Brazilian music snob – her phrasing and rhythmic facility breathed incredible new life into the most standard of bossa novas, “Aguas de março (Waters of March)” and “Desafinado.” I did not think I could be surprised by these tunes, but the unpredictable delivery of the lyrics kept me on the edge of my seat. More nods to the Brazilian tradition included Ary Barroso’s “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” with references to Gilberto Gil’s “Bananeira” and João Bosco’s “Bala com bala”; one of Baden Powell’s “lost” afro-sambas, “Canto de Iansá”; and inserting the late Jair Rodrigues’ classic “Deixa isso pra lá” into her own “A banda maluca.”

The encore of another Brazilian chestnut, “O morro não tem vez,” featured Alves at his most freely expressive and rambunctious, with permutations of “A Love Supreme” peppering his solo. The band saluted their local ringer, Gigon, and all four were beaming as they left the stage, much like the audience.

– Review by David Ryshpan

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Concert Review: Dave Douglas & High Risk – L’Astral June 29

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Trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas has long sought out new and novel settings for his pen and his horn. His latest project, High Risk, features him in highly electronic territory, in the company of beat-minded drummer Mark Giuliana, Groove Collective veteran Jonathan Maron on bass & Moog, and electro whiz Shigeto. Perhaps the difference betweenelectric and electronic is mere semantics, but in this show Douglas exhibited the stark contrast from his previous electric bands like Keystone.

The band is really a vehicle for Shigeto and Douglas – a true meeting of their minds. At one point towards the end of the set, they performed a duo piece which gradually became a showcase for Shigeto’s sonic wizardry as Douglas ceded the stage. Shigeto’s role was fluid – sometimes he was playing synths, at other times he was triggering samples like a DJ, at other times he was manipulating sounds like no one else. His palette was, for the most part, metallic – sounds somewhere between xylophones and keychains filtered beyond recognition and sent through loads of delay and reverb. On the opening tune, Douglas was in his plaintive, hymnal mode (one of my preferred sounds of his), with him and Maron shifting the harmony around Shigeto’s harmonically ambiguous pads. Giuliana is the perfect drummer for this band – his own deep relationship to electronic music allows him to blend seamlessly with Shigeto’s electronics. He also received a lot of crowd enthusiasm for a couple of warp-speed drum solos that were profoundly musical in addition to being showstoppers.

I haven’t seen Douglas this visibly energized about a band – he was jumping onstage while he left space for the trio. His horn was in top form – the half-valve glisses he is known for were longer and stronger than usual, and he often played off-mic and still filled the room with sound.  Kudos to Geoff Countryman, the band’s sound engineer, who has worked alongside Douglas for many years. Not only did he mix the electronics beautifully into the live instrumentation, he also got some of the best sound – point final – that I’ve heard in L’Astral for years.

Douglas ended the set on a powerful and poetic note: a new ode to Mike Brown and the events in Ferguson, MO. Beginning with Giuliana’s simple, thudding 8th note kick, Douglas unfurled a truly stunning dirge, cloaked in Shigeto’s electronics and framed in red light. The encore-loving crowd demanded more, and received a dubby, energetic nightcap, but I was so tempted to leave after the tribute to Mike Brown. After Douglas’ last mournful Eb rang out of that tune, what more could there have been to say – or to play?

– Review by David Ryshpan

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Concert Review: The Bad Plus Joshua Redman + Kneebody – June 28, 2015

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Initially the pairing of The Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman with Kneebody struck me as odd. As the concert in Théâtre Maisonneuve unfolded, I realized that the two groups were kindred spirits. Both are very dynamic bands with strong personal languages and no fixed “bandleader,” with multiple composers in the band showcasing all the musical possibilities of their groups. They are the electric and acoustic sides of the same coin.

Kneebody began the evening with a composition by saxophonist Ben Wendel, called “Drum Battle,” to be released on an upcoming collaboration with electronic artist Daedalus. The opening lilting hip-hop groove gave way to a distorted bass & Rhodes melody in 5/4 with both horns floating away on delay trails. Kneebody’s set was plagued by too much low end, at least where I was sitting – bassist Sam Minaie (subbing for regular member Kaveh Rastegar) and Nate Wood’s kick drum often overwhelmed Shane Endsley’s trumpet. When Endsley played delicate Harmon muted passages in other tunes, even that was full of low-end information.

There were still nuances to be had, like the uncanny blend between Wendel & Endsley. Adam Benjamin’s Rhodes, with heavy modulation, gave a sense of spaciousness to the music. His sparse solo on “Greenblatt” evoked the vocal quality of Joe Zawinul. Benjamin’s piece “Unforeseen Influences” moved through various episodes, showcasing the most electronic palette of Kneebody. Switching from the combination of ring-modulated Rhodes, chattering hi-hats and harmonized trumpet to a roaring punky-reggae party for Wendel’s solo.  The set ended with Wendel’s piece “Still Play,” a rollicking perpetual motion line.

With the addition of Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus has unlocked new colours in their old repertoire and developed a truly cohesive language as a quartet. Their set was a display of everything that informs the band – references that have been more oblique on past trio dates are well and truly evident now. Opening with drummer Dave King’s composition “Beauty Has it Hard,” the band deconstructed the hauntingly simple harmony as though the world were crumbling around a Db major triad. Pianist Ethan Iverson’s “Faith Through Error” began with a cascading figure in unison with Redman – almost Kneebody-esque – that gradually splintered off into a four-way conversation reminiscent of the recently departed Ornette Coleman. Bassist Reid Anderson assumed MC duties and had the biggest share of compositions in this set. His songwriting has an element of innocence and joy. There was a true confluence of personalities here – I was sure Redman’s “The Mending” was written by Iverson, a cousin of the crying Ornette ballads like “Broken Shadows.” The tunes that put Redman most on his home turf – implying superimposed harmonies and flowing streams of 8th notes – were written by Anderson. The final Anderson composition, “Silence is the Question,” grew from a series of bass chords into a dense, fiery inferno before ending in silence. These two bands have set the bar incredibly high for the music to come this year.

– Review by David Ryshpan