It’s the 31st annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.
As I found myself in Montreal, once again attending the city’s annual jazz festival, I had just one question, “Who in the hell are these guys?”
Sitting in a wonderfully intimate venue, the Gesù—Center Of Créativité, I embraced the opening night’s festivities with an early-evening show featuring Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and Cuban pianist Omar Sosa. This unique pairing is only the beginning for Fresu, who’ll be hosting other collaborations as part of the festival’s Invitation Series, where the artist embraces a number of musical partners of his choosing. In Sosa, Fresu selected a kindred spirit of equal talent and temperament. Stirring and evocative, their duets showcased an intuitive, empathic dialogue that was organic and spontaneous. Fresu sat perched on his stool, one leg locked behind the other as he faced Sosa, who was somewhat restrained (for him) but still quite expressive in both his body language and musical improvisations. Fresu and Sosa both used electronics to enhance their collective sound, and at times the music reminded me of trumpeter Jon Hassell’s 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics. Hassell has described his Fourth World motif as “a style of music employing modern technological treatments and influenced by various cultures and eras,” which certainly applies to the sounds Fresu and Sosa were putting down. The nuanced playing reflected both of the artists’ backgrounds, with Fresu and Sosa tossing ideas back and forth with gentle intensity. Fresu occasionally used phasing or electronic doubling of his trumpet sound, and Sosa added strange samples and worldly rhythm tracks, which only contributed to their strange magic. Some folks might have thought the evening was rehearsed, but these guys were improvising from start to finish, and the emphatic audience seemed to love every minute of it. I know I did.
Sadly, I can’t say the same for the performance of Bitches Brew Revisited, which borrowed the concept and music of Miles Davis’ electric jazz/rock fusion phase but didn’t go the extra mile(s). With an all-star band of Black-Rock Coalition veterans like guitarist Vernon Reid and bassist Melvin Gibbs as well as DJ Logic and trumpeter Graham Haynes, the Bitches Brew Collective vamped on classic Davis riffs without much excitement. Soloing at Haynes’ direction, the band played dutifully for about an hour without an encore, leaving the audience a little short-changed. Admittedly, the amazing Gibbs was at the center here, but the center just could not hold. The other musicians did not step up when they were really needed. It was a great idea on paper, but the funk and rock jazz-fusion trail-blazed by Davis was sadly in short supply.
Good thing I was able to head back to the sweet Gesù, and catch the late night set by the Vijay Iyer Trio. Iyer is certainly one of the most talented pianists on the scene today, and his 2009 CD, Historicity, was acknowledged as one of the year’s best jazz releases. Supported by the amazing rhythm section of bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, Iyer took some time to heat up but eventually everything fell together as the band played originals in between interpretations of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” songs by jazz legends Julius Hemphill and Andrew Hill, and even a selection from West Side Story. Once the band was in sync, it had a hard time stopping, and the show continued on well after midnight. Iyer, who’s no stranger to critical acclaim, seemed genuinely moved by the audience’s loving enthusiasm. Thanking everyone toward the end of the show, he stated, “We’ve got to come back here soon—that’s all I’ve got to say.”
That goes for me, too. Stay tuned.