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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 9 June 2008


by Marc Chénard / June 4, 2008

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Upstairs Jazz Bar on the Move

Paul Serralheiro

A city’s jazz scene is nothing without at least one club that features the music on a nightly basis, a place that enjoys both a healthy audience turnout and a respectful rapport between artists and management. The history of jazz in Montreal has had its share of jazz dens, including the Black Bottom, Rockhead’s Paradise, the Esquire Show Bar, the Rising Sun and, for the past 13 years, Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill. Inspired by famed New York City night spots like the Village Vanguard, present owner and operator Joel Giberovitch set up shop on MacKay Street with a commitment to the music.

In a recent interview at his venue, he stated: “If we present the music properly, and with due respect, people will come and listen.” While his commitment has been there from the start, Giberovitch is ever more emphatic in his resolve: “Throughout the years it becomes more important to me to promote this music. There’s no other music like jazz. It conveys so many different moods, and that is the most interesting thing about it.”

In order to continue to honour his commitment, he has recently struck an agreement to bring his club to a new location now being developed by the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (FIJM). He believes that this move from the western edge of downtown to the heart of the Quartier des spectacles—in the Maison du Festival de Jazz, right across the street from the now defunct Spectrum—will only help the Upstairs team do its job better. “We’ve wanted a bigger club for awhile now, and with this opportunity at hand we’re taking what’s good about Upstairs and the jazz festival and making it all even more wonderful.” The new club will seat 80-100 patrons (up from the current 55-60) and the building will also house a 350-seat concert venue for jazz, blues and world music. Giberovitch and his crew will be running the new location as of May 2009, in time for the 30th anniversary of the FIJM.

His chef, Juan Barros, is a native Chilean who digs the music as well. He considers the move a “win-win situation” and shares Giberovitch’s enthusiasm. Indeed, this will enable him to work in a bigger and better-staffed kitchen, important factors for accommodating the much larger clientele. Equally upbeat is the club’s manager Roxane Baluch. “I’m really excited,” she said, “it can only be positive for us all!”

Reaching the agreement with the festival was “effortless,” according to Giberovitch, who repeatedly affirms that he and FIJM honchos André Ménard, Alain Simard and Denyse McCann share a similar vision and passion for the music. Their ties firmed up in 2007 when Upstairs scheduled a slate of events that were granted series status in the festival’s official program. Such will be the case again this year, when international headliners like Sheila Jordan and David Amram will make appearances in the club’s intimate space, and likewise for such local stalwarts as Ranee Lee, Jan Jarczyk and more. (see Jazz+ listings for the complete slate of shows).

As they look around at the stone foundations that make up the walls of the club and the gallery of musicians adorning the central beam, artists such as Sonny Greenwich, Ingrid Jensen and Ed Bickert, Joel and his chef muse about the spirit of the place and how they will miss it, but conclude that what makes the Upstairs spirit special is the people. “I’m really proud to be a Montrealer and to run a club that showcases our city’s talent. And Upstairs is a club people know. We want to keep developing this club so it can reach an international standing, and we’ll be able to do that better at our new location, while still maintain its intimacy. But beyond that, we want to move into some uncharted territory as well, yet be surrounded by people with whom we can share our vision.”

Guitar Grooves (I)

Paul Serralheiro

What instrument can be said to be more popular than the guitar? In jazz, however, it is sometimes a suspicious choice of axe; in fact, guitarists often claim vocalists and horn players as models, wary of the chord-heavy, pattern-trap that the guitar can foster. Yet the instrument remains popular for a number of good reasons, including its potential to sound just as great as any other instrument when stroked by the right hands.

One such example is a recent dual CD-DVD package from bassist Renaud-Garcia Fons and his working trio. (Arcoluz Enja/Justin Time JENJ 3325-2
HHHHHI). While the Frenchman is clearly the leader here, it is flamenco guitarist Kiko Ruiz who is of particular interest to guitar aficionados. On this recording he splendidly displays the instrument in all of its roles, be they melodic, harmonic and percussive. Not to be overlooked is the leader’s five-string bass, which enables him to play haunting high-range melodies that are clearly at the core of the group’s imprimatur. Deeply rooted in the gypsy tradition, the music is at times quite familiar—with its Phrygian cadences and trademark long metric percussive patterns—then hypnotically in the moment, as in the meditative pieces “40 Dias” and “Gitanet,” even the heated rhythmic exchanges of “Entre Continentes.” This live concert (recorded three years ago in Germany) is available in both audio and visual formats (the latter with added bonus pre-concert footage). Either way, it is possible to enjoy the tight-knit rapport between the bassist, the guitarist of Andalusian decent and Uruguayan-born percussionist Negrito Trasante. This is a most striking display of the state of gypsy jazz, taken to the next level. (In concert, July 2, 10:30 PM, FIJM)

In marked contrast to the preceding release, the listener is welcomed into a whole other world in this latest offering by guitarist Jacob Young (Sideways ECM 19971727080 HHHHII). Born and raised in Norway, the plectrist eventually studied in New York before returning home and issuing a couple of releases, this one being his second on ECM. As would be expected, this side is crafted in that label’s mould, with values placed on atmospherics and a blending of sounds. Whether on electric or acoustic, Young has a subtle, un-aggressive tone, a fact that should be of no surprise given his studies with Jim Hall and John Abercrombie. Although the latter is a less obvious connection, shades of him can be heard in some of the twists and turns from one of this record’s compositions and its solo on “Maybe We Can.” For its part, “Gazing at Stars” is a kind of showcase in miniature of Young’s acoustic guitar tone, heard here in an overdubbed duet with himself; while this may go against one of the rules of jazz (the live, spontaneous imperative), it still resonates soulfully. Also of importance are the sidemen in this quintet recording, for they help to get across the soft and warm aesthetic; trumpeter Mathias Eick, for one, offers a velvety and breathy horn; reedist Vidar Johansen also has some good moments on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, as in his glosses on the spiritual subtext of “Out of Sight”; double bassist Mats Eilertsen chips in with some nice arco passages in the preceding piece and subtle pizzicato elsewhere; lastly, drummer Jon Christensen plays flawlessly in his usual understated and tasteful manner.

[More guitar reviews next month]

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