It’s the 31st annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.
How shall I put this? I know: The Montreal Jazz Festival is in full swing! Swing, get it? Jazz swings and the festival is totally swinging. People are getting loose, musicians are hanging out all over the place, and everybody is having a great time. Well, almost everybody. I’m not sure that Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson were so happy last night. Collaborating with Masada madman John Zorn for a performance as an improvising trio, Reed and Anderson rediscovered the folly of fame and public perception. In their press conference earlier that day, the charming old couple from New York City explained to a room full of journalists how their show would be a night of instrumental improvisation, not the traditional Reed or Anderson type show. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the fans who had already bought tickets to the well-publicized event.
Anderson, Reed and Zorn had performed in this free-styled context recently in NYC, and the avant-garde music they made might have fit better as a small segment of Zorn’s Masada Marathon the night previously. Instead, they performed as a headline (high-priced) act at the large Salle Wilfred Pelletier Hall, selling their recognizable names to an unsuspecting fan base that probably expected a little “Sweet Jane” or as least something off of Anderson’s new CD. Unfortunately, many of those Canadian fans were turned off by what they heard, many people walked out of the show after the first number, and there was some booing. One disgruntled non-jazz fan yelled “Play some real music!” To which Zorn angrily replied, “If you don’t think this is real music, then get the fuck out!” Ouch. The threesome’s show clocked in at just under an hour, leaving the paying crowd feeling a little short-changed in more ways than one.
Happily, there was no such dissension at the Gesù Theater when up-and-coming pianist Robert Glasper was joined by trumpeter Terence Blanchard for a night of quality improvisation. Glasper is a talented musician who’s made a name working with hip hop and nu-soul artists as well as playing jazz. With the high-profile Blanchard as his special guest, Glasper kept things on the jazz tip, and he showed himself to be a savvy improviser brimming with creative ideas and sly humor. Blanchard, who’d performed an impressive concert with his own group the previous night, was in good spirits, played extremely well and teased Glasper playfully throughout the show. The duo started out with a swinging version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring” and touched on some other old standards before bringing out drummer Kendrick Scott and bassist Vicente Archer to flesh out their sound. Both Glasper and Blanchard are bold, confident players, and their show was filled with unexpected musical moments. Glasper proved to be the most mischievous, riffing on a Bette Midler tune in mock-earnestness before pulling the rug out beneath Blanchard. Blanchard and Glasper casually jived with the audience and entertained each other with clever quips and great musicianship. Prediction: Glasper is destined to play music for a Spike Lee film—just wait and see.
From the Gesù I ran across the street to the Théâtre Jean-Duceppe to watch drummer Jack DeJohnette with an all-star band that included alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bassist Jerome Harris and scary-good guitar hero Dave Fusinski (known by some as Fuse). Dejohnette is a longtime Montreal favorite, and he is also town playing with the Keith Jarrett Trio. Still, this particular grouping had an ad hoc feel to it, and while the musicians were of the highest caliber and Dejohnette’s compositions were all first rate, there was some implicit lack of direction onstage. Some folks found the problem to be with DeJohnette himself, who seemed slightly distracted and was perhaps saving himself for the much-touted Jarrett show the following night.
Percussionist Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures band played a late night set at the Gesù, and after all the high-flying improvisation and exhibitionistic playing, it was a pleasure to just sit back and let Rudolph’s gentle tribal-world sounds wash over me. It was funny to notice that the band included bassist Jerome Harris, who must have run from playing the DeJohnette show straight over to the Gesù—just like me!
But things weren’t over yet, as I headed over to Club Soda for a late-late night gig with the Anti-Pop Consortium. The APC have been around since 1997 (off and on) and are still one of the most unique hip-hop/rap groups around. Their sound, replete with rock and punk/DIY influences, is still unorthodox for a rap group and hard to pin down. The show itself was totally off the hook, going strong until about two in the morning as the rappers flowed and the music skronked in a non-funk fashion. The young Canadian crowd grooved in a relaxed and celebratory way, and I had to admit it was the perfect way to end a long, swinging evening. Too bad Reed and Anderson couldn’t make it that far.
—photo by Michael Jackson