It’s the 32nd annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.
It was a low-key Wednesday night in Montreal, but the Jazz Festival keeps pushing forward just the same. And while the fest’s mid-week booking wasn’t as alluring as the typical weekend highlights, there were still worthwhile performances to check out. Canadian-born Darcy James Argue is a young, respected composer who resides in NYC and leads the Secret Society, one of the more popular new big bands on the modern-jazz scene. Presenting his hefty 18-piece group at the undersized Gesù Theater made its Montreal performance feel all the more intimate, and Argue’s ambitious arrangements were damn impressive. Within such a large ensemble of reeds and brass, Argue’s fellow Canadian Ingrid Jensen still stood out with her fine trumpet playing. Still, it was DJA’s compositions that demanded full attention. Beyond that, Argue’s between-song asides describing his various contexts and wild inspirations betrayed a fierce and vivid intellect that left me feeling a little left behind. (Secret Society indeed!) Check out the band’s new CD, Infernal Machines.
Continuing in the vein of rarified sit-down listening, I dutifully trouped over to see the long-acclaimed Dave Holland Quintet perform to a large, receptive crowd at the Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. Holland’s status as a perennial Montreal favorite and esteemed jazz elder assures him the most favorable performance environs, and his band members are now all well respected, thanks to Holland in no small part. Unfortunately, with a musical front line of vibraphone, trombone and sax (and a stand-up bassist as the bandleader), things tended to remain rather mannered, and the music never really took off for me. It felt like all-star musicianship without any stars. That said, saxophonist Chris Potter still showed some truly amazing creativity and is the undisputed jewel of Holland’s popular quintet.
The most compelling show caught on Wednesday was the late-night Gesù gig featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green. Alto saxophonist Mahanthappa is a very hardworking guy who’s been quite innovative blending American jazz with Indian music culture for some time. He’s been on a real roll for the last few years, and his notable past work includes an absolutely amazing collaboration with Indian saxophone master Kadri Gopalnath called Kinsmen. For his most recent collaborative effort, Mahanthappa has brought veteran alto stylist Green back into the spotlight after years lost in the jazz wilderness. The whole East-meets-West flavor of their haunting collaboration (the dueling alto-saxophone thing and some intensely hypnotic compositions) made their performance a very enjoyable experience. And they can count! A quality representation of this group’s fine work is available on their new CD, Apex, which is certainly recommended listening. Some of their emphatically rhythmic melodic patterns are still dancing in my head a full day later.
Like I said, Wednesday wasn’t the most exciting night of this year’s Montreal jazz fest, but it wasn’t bad, either.