It’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