Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 10

ornette-coleman-9719It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

Sobered by the bad news of Montreal jazz historian Len Dobbin’s sudden passing, I attended a press conference where the festival’s founder, Alain Simard, presented Ornette Coleman with its annual Miles Davis Award. Being the 50th anniversary of Coleman’s album The Shape Of Jazz To Come as well as his group’s famous breakthrough gigs at the Five Spot in New York City, the award was certainly appropriate. At 79, Coleman still gets around pretty well, but he was quite tired from lack of sleep and almost cancelled the press conference.

Still, Coleman arrived looking sharp in his tailor-made suit and graciously accepted the award with a philosophical commentary about the quality of existence, life, death and the need to improve ourselves. The Montreal press corps tried to ask him a few questions, but Coleman merely listened politely and resumed his existential discourse. He did include his familiar anecdote about wanting a saxophone when he was small and his mother encouraging him to work for it and surprising him a year later with a saxophone under his bed. He thought it was a toy, but he learned about sound, and here we are. When asked if he ever wanted to do any more work playing on movie soundtracks like he’d done for David Lynch’s Naked Lunch, Coleman said, “What I would like, is for everyone on Earth to be happy—and to never die.” Boom.

Coleman’s quartet concert on Thursday night was amazing. Flanked tightly by stand-up bassist Tony Falanga, electric bassist Al McDowell and son Denardo on drums, Coleman came out slamming with a discordant flurry of sound. Playing alto, trumpet and violin, he led the band through a series of dramatic passages, drawing vintage compositions and stray melodies from all points of his idiosyncratic career. Besides the man himself, Coleman’s two bassists were especially impressive, and the crazy counterpoint included Falanga bowing his upright and McDowell playing his five-string electric bass like a guitar. Coleman played with an emotional power and directness that is still unique and exceptional, and his expressiveness on ballads such as “Lonely Woman” was beyond compare.  At one point, the band definitely played a segment of “Dancing In Your Head,” but beyond that I’d be guessing at song titles. Let it just be said that Coleman’s concert was another classic exhibition of sonic intensity and musicianship. And of human feeling.

The only other show I caught on Thursday night was Vieux Farka Touré, the Malian guitarist/singer whose late father was famous African bluesman Ali Farka Touré. All I can tell you is that Vieux is a chip off the old block, and he burned up the Club Soda stage with his red-hot rhythms and blazing guitar. Playing pentatonic blues scales with a percussive, ringing style as his band churned out its bouncing African boogie, Touré is something of a rocker, but he’s tied to infectious tribal beats and deep blues roots. This was a joyous affair, and almost everyone in the club was up and dancing. Touré has simply got to break into the jam-band circuit here in the U.S. Somebody tell Derek Trucks about this guy right away.

—photo by Michael Jackson

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 9

charlie-haden400It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

Bassist Charlie Haden (pictured) is known all over the world, and it was 50 years ago that he played along with Ornette Coleman’s group at the Five Spot in New York City and changed the shape of jazz to come. Since that time, Haden has led many different groups and played in an amazing variety of settings. Naturally, he is a perennial favorite in Montreal, returning to the jazz festival year after year. So, it was no surprise to see “Charlie Haden Family & Friends” up here, pushing his latest album. The thing is, Haden’s new disc is Rambling Boy, a country album exploring his earliest musical roots. Haden got his start singing at the age of two with the Haden Family, who were popular performers back in the ’30s and ’40s. The Hadens were contemporaries of the Carter Family, and Haden’s latest disc revives the sense of familial unity once found in that music. On the record, Haden is fortunate to play with fantastic musicians and has an array of guest vocalists including Vince Gil, Rosanne Cash and Elvis Costello, as well as his daughters Petra, Rachel and Tanya (the Haden Triplets), his son Josh and his son-in-law Jack Black.

For the Montreal concert, Haden imported some of Nashville’s hottest pickers, many of which also play on the album. This formidable front line included mandolinist Sam Bush, Bryan Sutton and Mark Fain on guitar, Rob Ickes on dobro, Stuart Duncan on fiddle and Dan Tyminski on banjo and vocals (he’s the guy who sang “Man Of Constant Sorrow” for the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?). Keeping the singing-family thing going and lacking the star power-guest singers, Haden leaned hard on the Haden Triplets, individually and collectively, to sing a variety of old country classics including “Single Girl, Married Girl,” “Wildwood Flower” and “A Voice On High.” While the musicianship was flawless and the lovely and talented Haden girls did their best, the show felt lackluster, as Haden dutifully pushed the band through the tunes without tapping into the depth of the players that he had on the stage. Josh sang two songs, and he really showed some stage presence. It was there, during a dramatic reading of his composition “Spiritual” with father Charlie playing passionately behind him, that the musicians truly responded to the emotion of the moment and the show finally approached its full potential.

While the Montreal fans always love Haden, many seemed surprised that he wasn’t playing jazz, and a number of people walked out. The revue basically lacked a charismatic frontman, and the well-played country music often lacked intensity. I imagine they could put together great shows with special-guest vocalists in cities like Nashville, L.A. or New York, but trotting out Tyminski to sing “Man Of Constant Sorrow” one more time felt a little contrived. When you have great pickers like Sam Bush, you could take a risk and stretch these traditional arrangements into something new, as Haden did with Pat Metheny on Beyond The Missouri Sky in 1996. Back in 1979, fiddler Richard Greene did an amazing bluegrass version of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’.” Nothing like that happened in Montreal, but Haden talked about the original recording of “Ramblin’” and how his bass solo includes a musical reference to country tune “Old Joe Clark” and how Ian Dury used Haden’s countryfied riff as the basis of his hit tune “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.”

Then, as a matter of course, the Haden band played a jumping but perfunctory version of “Old Joe Clark.” If I sound like I’m complaining, I’m sorry; I know these are Haden’s roots and he deserves the chance to gather his family and friends around him and celebrate, but the show was still something of an indulgence and could have been much better than it was. (But could somebody still please tell Tanya to call me? Wow!)

Guitarist Bill Frisell, on the other hand, put on a straightforward jazz concert that was filled with twists, turns, improvisation and musical surprises. Accompanied by Ron Miles on cornet, bassist Tony Sherr and drummer Rudy Royston, Frisell opened with a brooding mid-tempo number, his guitar jutting and probing as the band tried to settle in and find some common ground. Let it be said that Sherr was an absolute standout, and Frisell responded to his powerful playing more than anything else as the show progressed. The band eventually segued into a gentle, stirring version of “Moon River” before launching into a variety of melodies that sounded familiar but that I couldn’t identify. The encores were the best, with Frisell adapting a bluesy African sound highly reminiscent of Ali Farka Toure, then embracing the Burt Bacharach song first recorded by Jackie DeShannon back in 1965, “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” For his last tune of the evening, Frisell revived an old standby that he’d retired after the election of President Obama. Clearly inspired, he and the band played a highly emotive version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” to a rapturous audience. Now that’s jazz. And Charlie, I still love you.

A sad addendum: On Wednesday night, noted Montreal radioman and one of Canada’s greatest friends to jazz, Len Dobbin, passed away. Dobbin was attending a Ray Allen show at the Upstairs jazz club (his favorite haunt) and had a stroke. There is sure to be an outpouring of emotion in lieu of this stunning news. Let it be said that Dobbin was doing exactly what he loved at the time of his death. He held music in the highest regard and made it his life’s work. He had just spent quality time with singer Shelia Jordan during her visit to the jazz fest, and nothing made him happier. He was simply a great guy with a amazing knowledge of jazz history that will never be replaced. I’m humbled by the news of his passing. I am sure that the Montreal Jazz Festival will not let his life go unacknowledged.

—photo by Michael Jackson

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 8

jazz7bIt’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

So I took a day off from all that jazz and went to see new documentary Rocksteady: The Roots Of Reggae in anticipation of the evening’s free, outdoor concert extravaganza featuring a most solid crew of rocksteady all-stars. Filmmaker Stascha Bader may not have had the same kind of resources that Wim Wenders had when he filmed The Buena Vista Social Club, but he still manages to document this blessed reunion of elder Jamaican musicians and give us a good history lesson, too. Spanning the short few glory years between ska’s reign and the advent of reggae, the rocksteady vibe was a slow and easy groove with deep soulful vocals.

Much like the films Standing In The Shadows Of Motown and West Coast equivalent The Wrecking Crew, Rocksteady focuses on lesser-known backing musicians and old entertainers who still have an important story to tell. Building to a rousing reunion concert in Jamaica, we hear from veteran ’60s crooners like Leroy Sibbles (of Heptones fame), Ken Boothe and Derrick Morgan as well Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley (once known collectively as the I-Threes). Bader mixes vintage films and old photos between candid interviews, plaintive home visits and new recording sessions as we learn about the roots of reggae from the people who were there. Of course, the music is what seals the deal, and hearing singer Dawn Penn discuss and reprise her magical soul single from 1967, “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No),” is a highlight, as was watching Morgan rise one more time to sing “Tougher Than Tough” in rudeboy style. Accomplished and versatile musicians like the great Ernest Ranglin populate the veteran backing band, and these old-school Jamaicans can still play as sweet and soulful as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or as in-the-pocket lowdown as the Funk Brothers.

And that’s how it was on Tuesday night in Montreal, as the skies cleared after a rainy afternoon and more than 100,000 folks gathered in front of the General Motors stage to see the show. The event was much more of a reggae revue then a strict rocksteady affair, but when you’re entertaining a crowd this size, you have to give the people what they want—that is, a fair amount of tribute being paid to Bob Marley. The stage lighting was bright and festive, and it was a long parade of stars as Hopeton Lewis, Stranger Cole (pictured), Sibbles, Boothe, Mowatt,Griffiths and the Tamlins took their turns in front of a huge grooving band of rocksteady players. The Tamlins sang “Stop That Train” and Boothe did “Shanty Town.” Griffiths and Mowatt were beautiful, and they really gave the show their all. Griffiths sang “The Tide Is High” (originally recorded by John Holt and the Paragons back in 1967) and Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No),” while Mowatt delivered a loving version “No Woman, No Cry.” All in all, another sweet night of good music and good times at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 7

jeffbeck350It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

Diversity is the key, and world music represents nothing if not diversity. I say this because Montreal’s International Jazz Festival features a lot of world music. For example, in the next few days the Metropolis Ballroom will have hosted King Sunny Adé & Femi Kuti, Alpha Blondy & Olmou Sangare and Burning Spear & Toots And The Maytals. And on Monday, I was lucky enough to catch a rehearsal for the festival’s big Rocksteady extravaganza, which coincides with the showing of the documentary Rocksteady: The Roots Of Reggae.

The Rocksteady film, directed by Swiss filmmaker Stascha Bader, traces the post-ska roots of reggae music to the rocksteady movement of the mid-’60s and features a number of Jamaican music luminaries including Ernest Ranglin, Marcia Griffiths, Ken Boothe, Judy Mowatt and Leroy Sibbles, to name a few. The Rocksteady concert will bring a number of these reggae greats back to the stage, and it was great to see the Tamlins crooning “Stop That Train” and Boothe singing the Desmond Dekker classic “Shanty Town.” Sibbles, an original member of the mighty Heptones, was also on hand, and the singers were backed by a top-notch band of veteran Jamaican musicians. If you like reggae music, this show will be a blast, and the Canadians are hungry for reggae!

While all this rocksteady business was going on, Jeff Beck (pictured) was just a couple of blocks away accepting the first annual Montreal Guitar Show Tribute Award. The Montreal Guitar Show runs simultaneously with the jazz fest, and let me just say that Canada really, really loves its guitars! Beck was patient, soft-spoken and thoughtful as he fielded questions about his amazing career, and it was nice to see the human side of this designated guitar hero. Beck has been hitting his stride the last few years and is playing better than ever, as evidenced on the recent Performing This Week: Live At Ronnie Scott’s CD and DVD. Beck’s two sold-out shows on Monday night at the gigantic Salle Wilfrid Pelletier auditorium were crowd-pleasing affairs. Beck was flawless at the early show, opening with the rousing clarion call of “Beck’s Bolero” and running through a catalog of his great instrumental repertoire. His touring band features monster drummer Vinne Colaiuta, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and keyboardist Jason Rebello. In case you don’t know, Tal Wilkenfeld is the cutest little lady bassist you’re likely to see (this side of Esperanza Spalding) and was featured in a wild segment where she and Beck play her bass simultaneously. It was fun, and Beck obviously adores her.

Concluding his three-night run as the featured artist of the festival’s Invitation Series, Joshua Redman and his Double Trio put on an ambitious, well-conceived performance at the Théâtre Maisonneuve, which is a far larger venue than the Gesù where he’d played the previous two nights. This was an event, as the band has only played together onstage a few times, and Redmond was totally in control of this all-star ensemble. Flanked on his right by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Brian Blade, and on his left by bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson, Redman played tenor and soprano with great intensity. He led the band through a series of breathtaking performances, shifting through different combinations of his master musicians and drawing tunes from the recent Compass. Clearly, Redman and the musicians around him are poised to remain at the top of the jazz world for years to come, and they probably will. Nuff said.

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 6

lionel-loueke390It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

Watching saxophonist Joshua Redman on the second night of his three-gig excursion at the Montreal Jazz Festival, I was struck at how different his demeanor was from the previous evening. At the first show, Redman was quiet and guarded, barely speaking to the audience and running his band through the tunes with tough authority. On Sunday night, however, the talented Redman was upbeat and effusive, thanking the festival for the opportunity to partake in its celebrated Invitation Series, where each night the featured artist gets to play with a different dream team of his choosing. Perhaps that had something to do with Redman’s improved mood, as he’d certainly picked some great musicians to work with, particularly fellow saxophone star Joe Lovano. The two have collaborated many times over the years, and Lovano is something of a father figure to Redman. The Sunday gig was a blazing, saxophone affair with Redman and Lovano trading phrases, playing in unison and generally pushing each other to great heights. Supported by the fantastic Greg Hutchinson on drums, pianist Sam Yahel and bassist Rueben Rogers, Redman and Lovano gave the sold-out crowd some truly exciting jazz. For the encore, they played “Blues Up And Down,” a lowdown tenor battle made famous by saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons.

The Lionel Loueke Trio also performed on Sunday night, and the Benin guitarist showcased his unique style of African jazz. Loueke (pictured) is an up-and-comer who’s played with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Cassandra Wilson to Santana. He’s a charismatic, distinctive young player, and he had the African fans in the Montreal audience howling in appreciation of his indigenous world/jazz fusion. Loueke’s voice compliments his muted, fleet-fingered guitar style, and although the trio format was a little skimpy for me, it certainly allowed Loueke to stretch out and entertain his fans. He has made a few records as a leader, the most recent being last year’s Karibu.

At the same time as Loueke’s gig in the spanking new L’Astral club, Patrick Watson (the band) was playing just outside on the General Motors Stage to well more than 100,000 people. As predicted, the Canadian band approximated Radiohead/Coldplay proportions with this dramatic exhibition of its theatrical rock cabaret. Frontman Patrick Watson ruled the roost with huge video screens and numerous special effects, including shadow puppets and space-age lighting projected onto the buildings surrounding the site. The core band was accentuated with horns and a string section, backup singers from some Nordic country and special guest vocalists. I have to admit, it really was quite a sight, and the music wasn’t bad either.

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 5

joshua-redman3501It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

Once again, I’m moved to give credit to the folks behind the Montreal Jazz Festival, as it takes more than music to keep such an extensive celebration running for three decades. The synergy between private funding, municipal assistance, corporate underwriting, old-fashioned capitalism, academia, mass and multi-media, endowments, art, commerce, show-biz, technology and the earnest commitment of countless individuals can really add up to something special if you know what you are doing.

That said, the jazz fest is starting to heat up, and the musicians are all taking their best shots as the artistic camaraderie (and competition) runs high in Montreal. Tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman (pictured) arrived to play the festival’s vaunted Invitation Series, where a single artist plays a number of gigs with different players of his choosing each night. Redman, who first performed in Montreal with his father Dewey Redman back in 1991, brought his young quartet to the Gesù Theater for an early-evening performance. Redman, who is 40, looked sharp, said little, played tenor and soprano, and led his band with authority. Drummer Eric Harland provided a rock-solid sound and pianist Aaron Parks was really something special, playing gorgeous melodies and supportive counterpoint to Redman’s brawny saxophone sound: a very impressive first gig of a three-night stand. Next, he’ll be with a different rhythm section and special-guest sax-buddy Joe Lovano.

The amazing performance of Miles From India was unique and exciting and really had to be seen to be appreciated. What evolved from a studio project with musicians contributing their parts electronically from different points of the planet is now an immense, flesh-and-blood reality fusing Indian music and jazz, specifically the sounds of Miles Davis. Davis used tablas and sitars on some of his ’70s fusion experiments, and the Miles From India band includes his old tabla player Badal Roy and several other Davis band alumni. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton and saxophonists Rurdresh Mahanthappa and Bill Evans were literally surrounded by two keyboardists, three all-star drummers, badass Daryl Jones on electric bass, an electric-sitar player, an Indian mandolinist and four Indian percussionists. Whoa! This was a big, crazy, bruising fusion band playing a wide range of tunes from the Davis songbook.

Of course, I left before the end of the Miles From India show because I was once again running back to the Gesù for another late-night gig, this time featuring drummer Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band. Yes, when Blade isn’t playing all over the world with Wayne Shorter or any of his other side gigs, he leads his own band of young hotshots. Blade is an explosive, exuberant drummer who’s a joy to watch, and his band was tight, tight, tight. Having made six CDs under the Fellowship moniker, Blade has plenty of material to draw from, and the sterling support of pianist Jon Cowherd, bassist Chris Thomas and saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler would make any bandleader jealous. Blade actually got his own start with Redman many years ago and has grown into one of top drummers on the scene. Watch him go!

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 4

wayneshorter350It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

As Montreal’s massive jazz festival lumbered into its first weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to see two living legends on Friday. First and foremost, the Wayne Shorter Quartet returned to Montreal, playing at the large and elegant Théâtre Maisonneuve to an appreciative audience. Indeed, Shorter (pictured) is probably one of the best-loved jazz musicians on the planet, and his legendary status as veteran of the Miles Davis Quintet, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and fusion kingpins Weather Report only begins to explain this grand degree of affection. A true eccentric and marvelous composer as well as a remarkably imaginative saxophonist, Shorter seems to charm everyone with his playful, Zen-like attitude as well as his sterling musicianship.

Shorter’s acclaimed quartet has gone through some changes of late, and this concert marked the appearance of Geoffrey Keezer substituting for pianist Danilo Pérez (who ruptured his Achilles tendon but is on the mend). Shorter has long been accepted into the jazz mainstream and his status as an elder statesman guarantees a degree of indulgence from his fans, but Shorter’s group played an unorthodox set filled with flowing, avant-garde improvisation that challenged his Montreal audience from beginning to end. Compensating for the absence of his longtime keyboard foil, Shorter took the lead on tenor saxophone and drove his group into uncharted territory, trading musical phrases with Keezer, bassist John Pattitucci and drummer Brian Blade and soloing more aggressively than I have heard him do in ages. Playing tenor and jamming nonstop for the first hour of the show, Shorter allowed plenty of space for Keezer, Pattitucci and Blade to showcase their skills. Blade was particularly explosive, dropping bombs to offset Shorter’s arcane saxophone ruminations. Things got bogged down when Shorter finally shifted over to his soprano sax, but the degree of musicianship was so high that the group adjusted to his stop-and-start soprano style. Whether they adjust to Keezer or welcome back Pérez, the Wayne Shorter Quartet will surely be one of the best working groups in jazz. Shorter has had this group for almost a decade and is 75 years old, so catch him now if you can.

I couldn’t stay for the end of Shorter’s concert, because I was once again running back to the Gesù for the theater’s late-night gig, this time showcasing alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. Konitz is even older than Shorter and arguably just as accomplished, but his Montreal appearance didn’t receive a fraction of the attention that Shorter’s show did. Perhaps it’s just as well, as Konitz does not have the resources to keep his own band on the road and played here with international jazz trio Minsarah. While these young players supported Konitz on 2008’s Deep Lee, the band seemed under-rehearsed and was not in the same league as its fearless leader. While there were plenty of solid musical moments, Konitz could not save this gig from drifting into the realm of merely average. This is unfortunate, as he is still one of the best alto players of his generation, a pioneer of cool jazz and an inventive soloist with an amazing amount of creativity. Seriously, the guy played on Birth Of The Cool with Miles Davis in 1949. Maybe next time the Montreal folks can find a better showcase for the many talents of Konitz.

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 3

esperanza400It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

As I mentioned, the 30th Montreal International Jazz Festival is a sprawling operation of immense scope and volume. It’s not just jazz and it’s not just music, and the entire city gears up for the two-week celebration. The festival organizers have created their own jazz universe, including an art gallery, which is now showcasing the photographs of Herman Leonard—and the esteemed photographer was on hand for the opening. Born in 1923, Leonard is responsible for some of the most memorable, iconic photographs of famous artists like Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and countless others from the golden age of jazz (1940 through 1960). Leonard’s black-and-white shots have been reproduced all over the world, and his unique use of backlighting inspired numerous photographers. Herman has wonderful anecdotes about his encounters with these artists and is a model of discipline, integrity and joyous enthusiasm. If you aren’t familiar with his shot of saxophonist Dexter Gordon with cigarette smoke pluming around him, you don’t know jazz. Hats off to Herman!

I caught a rehearsal by Quebec-based recording artist Patrick Watson. Patrick Watson is the name of the band, but the band is led by singer/musician Patrick Watson. They are popular up here, and I think they are supposed to be like a Canadian version of Radiohead. The band will be playing a big free outdoor concert here on Sunday and will be accompanied by a string section, horns, special guests and special effects. This is going be a mammoth spectacle, and the locals are going to be out in full force. Still, I wonder if these guys can break in America. Check out their new album, Wooden Arms, and see what you think.

Just to keep things down to earth, I walked over to the Metropolis Ballroom to hear Susan Tedeschi and her band open for Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy. Tedeschi was in total command, singing in a strong, urgent voice and playing the heck out of her guitar. This is roots music, pure and simple, and her mix of blues, soul and gospel continues to evolve. Tedeschi’s band plays a solid version of Southern rock, but they all could loosen up a little bit more and have some fun with these great tunes. And Tedeschi should engage them even more. I only saw a half-hour of Guy, but I can pretty much tell you that there’s no other 73-year-old on the planet that can play blues like Buddy. He was wailing—I mean wailing—on the guitar and really knows how to please crowd: singing, screaming and picking the blues, doing shtick with the audience and letting his band strut their stuff. Tedeschi has been opening for Guy for years, and she should take a few more lessons from the master!

I left the Guy show to run back to the Gesù for a late-night gig by Esperanza Spalding (pictured). Spalding has a buzz going, as the singer/bassist has played with Prince and performed for President Obama. It’s not hard to see why. Spalding is a lovely, petite young woman with a huge afro-styled hairdo and a most charming demeanor. The Gesù gig was totally sold out, and Spalding had the crowd eating out of her hand. Literally dwarfed by her massive double-bass, Spalding scatted, crooned, jammed, joked and jived jazz in a soulful, modern style. While she treats her band with loving camaraderie, she’s clearly the star of the show. I can’t say that I loved the music, but Spalding’s winning enthusiasm is hard to resist and I understand the interest. Verdict: She’s a very promising young artist on her way to much wider appeal, and when her chops (both bass and voice) catch up with the rest of her act, look out!

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Day 2

luciana-souza400It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

The Montreal International Jazz Festival is a large, amazing beast spanning 13 nights and showcasing talented artists from all parts of the globe. With loads of world music, soul, funk and rock ‘n’ roll as well as top-notch jazz, the festival is impressive for the huge number of free outdoor events that are geared to satisfy the Canadian public while hardcore jazzbos scurry from one indoor gig to another. I missed the opening night’s concert with Stevie Wonder, but well more than 200,000 people braved the rain to see Wonder’s show, which was chock full of jazz charts, old Motown favorites, a Beatles tune and a loving tribute to Michael Jackson. Rumor has it that Wonder got paid a half-million dollars for the gig—not bad for a night’s work.

Easing into the cosmopolitan scene, I went to Club Soda and caught a set of duets by Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza (pictured) and acoustic guitarist Romero Lubambo. The intimacy between Souza and Lubambo was impressive and should lead many to Souza’s wonderful duet CDs. Singing in Portuguese and English, Souza embraced the songbook of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Pablo Neruda’s poetry and a couple of jazz standards. Lubambo, who lives in the United States, is probably the most in-demand Brazilian guitarist working today—his jazzy arpeggios were delicate and sometimes reminiscent of guitarist Joe Pass, but his sound is still distinctly Brazilian and uniformly excellent. Souza and Lubambo played in perfect tandem, mirroring each other with romantic grace.

I also enjoyed a late-night set at the wonderful Gesù Theatre, featuring French pianist Baptiste Trotignon with an American band that included sensational saxophonist Mark Turner, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Greg Hutchinson. While Trotignon’s style is a little too passive for my tastes, the improvisational strength of his group elevated the ensemble performance to a serious art form. Turner, who’s still recovering from a very serious injury to one of his hands, played remarkably, as did Pelt. This group of young all-stars is going to be around, individually if not collectively, so keep your eyes on them and watch the future of jazz unfold.

Much more from Montreal in the days to come—au revoir!

Live Review: Sinner’s Salvation!, Philadelphia, PA, June 30, 2009

burlesquegroup420“I love when people tell me I look like a monster!” squealed Athena Onatopp before taking the stage, squeezed into a creamy latex dress dotted with black tassels. Onatopp, the MC for the Sinner’s Salvation burlesque/rock/sideshow event at Fishtown venue Kung Fu Necktie, kept the crowd screaming for more as Olde City Sideshow shocked and made even the strongest stomachs shiver with its display of pain-inducing instruments. Danny Borneo (a.k.a. the Human Blockhead) pounded a rusty nail—the tamest of the various instruments of torture used—into his nasal cavities while Reggie Bugmuncher swallowed swimming goldfish with a smile. The Hellcat Girls stepped in to bring the color back to the audience members’ pallid faces with a blend of Vaudeville comedy, burlesque glamour and ‘60s grindhouse. From new-mom bombshell Candy to fresh-meat burlesquer Rose, the gals entertained the crowd before Olde City Sideshow re-emerged for another performance involving eyelids and an iron (“instrument of domestic torture!” screeched Athena) and a handmade contraption dubbed “the barbed-wire bunk beds.”  “We do believe in unicorns and rainbows, but nothing you see here tonight is magic or gimmick,” Athena assured us. Next to take the stage were rockabilly freaks Sasquatch And The Sickabillys, with frontman David “Sasquatch” Caetano channeling a mean Johnny Cash melded with hardcore metal. The high-energy, grizzled trio toe-taps to Cash’s “Jackson” one minute and then blows the drink out of your hand with a Metallica cover that leads into a 30-second bit of semi-silence during which Sasquatch repeatedly smacks himself in the face and mutters obscenities before busting out of the post-lobotomy stupor with hardcore thrashing. Caetano elegantly described it as “Filthadelphia rock.” Just your average Tuesday night in Fishtown.

—Cristina Perachio