Jazzby Marc Chénard
/ March 1, 2012
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The Many Faces of the Bass
by Annie Landreville
The winter Jazz en Rafale festival is back this year for its twelfth annual edition. In 2011, the program’s emphasis was on female musicians; this time, the focus is on the bass, mainly acoustic, but some electric as well. Cast for the most part in the background of both classical orchestras and jazz ensembles, this instrument is called upon to hold the tempo and support the melodies played by other instruments. But bass lovers are well aware that this big fiddle is more than an oversized metronome for it offers a wide range of sounds, both warm and plaintive while offering uplifting rhythms.
Jazz en Rafale unfolds over the last two weekends of the month (March 21 to 24 and 29 to 31) and in three main locations: l’Astral, the Upstairs Jazz Bar, and the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur. All told, a hundred musicians will perform in some 24 concerts, with a dozen or so master classes also provided.
Hailing from France, the Orchestre de contrebasses will kick off the event. At times whimsical, at times enlightened, the compositions of this six-man outfit are less repertory pieces but more essays in musical freedom that waltz along with a jazz flair or flirt with soundtracks. These virtuosos put on an unforgettable show; not only do they demonstrate a fine sense humour, but their instruments become come to life as equal partners. A fine opening act.
While the program is graced by many worthy names, the presence of the renowned Rufus Reid is especially noteworthy. Having played with the greats (Dexter Gordon, Bill Evans, J.J. Johnson, Lee Konitz and Kenny Burrell), he performs with his own trio on the final two days of the festival, in the intimate confines of the Upstairs Jazz Bar.
The only woman featured this year is Canadian Brandi Disterheft, who will appear with her quartet on the 29th at l’Astral. A former student of Rufus Reid and Oscar Peterson, she was so highly esteemed by the latter that he even compared her to none other than his former associate Ray Brown. More Esperanza Spalding than Joëlle Léandre, she is one of the jazz scene’s rising stars in this country and was hailed as such in one CBC broadcast.
Another great instrumentalist who deserves to be heard is Toronto’s leading classical double bassist Joel Quarrington, whose recording Garden Scene won a Juno in 2010 in the category “Classical Album of the Year, Solo or Chamber Ensemble”.
As for our local contingent, electric bassist Alain Caron will appear at l’Astral on March 30, in the wake of winning a Félix Award for Jazz Album of the Year, not to mention a couple of European tours. Alain Bédard, the event’s director (and double bassist by trade) is understandably happy, all the more so because of this appearance at Upstairs on March 22 at the helm of his Auguste Quartet.
To close off the event, on March 31, another double bass orchestra will bring together some of our own bass heroes, these being Normand Guilbeault, Guy Boisvert, Fredéric Alarie, Fraser Hollins, Dave Watts, and Adrian Vedady, all of whom will premiere a piece commissioned to trombonist and composer Jean-Nicolas Trottier.
For the last seven years, Jazz en Rafale includes in its schedule a competition for young musicians. Five groups will be offered the opportunity to play as opening acts for as many concerts. The winner will be offered a record deal for the Effendi label. The trio of pianist Jérôme Beaulieu (last year’s laureate, who pocketed a similar prize at the FestiJazz in Rimouski) will launch its album on March 31 at l’Astral.
Translation: Rebecca Anne Clark
Jazz en Rafale, March 21st-24th and 29th-31st
by Marc Chénard
On February 24, tenor saxophonist Yannick Rieu premiered “Spectrum 3”, a tribute show to the legendary Quebec fusion band Uzeb that will be heard this month in Shebrooke (21st) and Quebec City (23rd). As expected, the group was electric, with drums and electric bass, but no guitar. At the end of March, Rieu is back again in town with another special concert, this time an all-acoustic affair with Cuban pianist Rafael Zaldivar. “Spectrum has existed since 2007,” explains Rieu, “but I use this name to label all of my projects. In the past, I hired different musicians and I experimented with them, like at Le dièse onze, where I am able to play about twice a month – that’s my laboratory.”
In 2009, Rieu released a double offering on Justin Time, including a DVD filmed during one of his frequent tours of China. He speaks enthusiastically about his experiences there, and also mentions a cultural centre dedicated to musician exchanges that will open late in the year, a subject to which we’ll return in due time. As for the near future, however, he’s planning the release of a new album, this time on his own imprint. Please stay tuned for further developments.
» Yannick Rieu and Spectrum 4 on stage at Gesù Centre de créativité, March 31st, 8 p.m.
Translation: Rebecca Anne Clark
Hear them Live
by Marc Chénard
Harris Eisendstadt: Canada Day II
He is now part of a growing contingent of Canadians residing in the Jazz Mecca. Haling from Ontario, drummer Harris Eisenstadt is now carving his spot there as leader of a quintet working in the contemporary American jazz mainstream. While “Canada Day”, the band’s name, may be his way of wearing his nationality on his sleeve, it so happened the band’s first gig occurred on July first. Issued on Vancouver’s Songlines label, this sophomore recording is a concise offering clocking in under 50 minutes comprised of eight of the leader pieces. Like its debut album (on Clean Feed), this combo differs from the standard jazz quintet lineup by substituting the piano for the vibraphone, here played by Chris Dingman. Its lighter sound gives something of a more floating feel to the music, rather than weighing it down harmonically. Also of note in the cast are tenorman Matt Bauder who adds punch in the soloing department, with trumpeter Matt Wooley acting as a perfect foil, a tad less daring, yet ripping off one good solo in “To See/Tootie”. Both the leader and bassist Eivind Opsik underpin the proceedings in a fluid way, ensuring a sense of pulse to the music without lapsing into slavish time keeping. Overall, this is very much a carefully realized studio album, with a lot of composed parts to it, and their upcoming live performance in town will be a worthy opportunity to seem them stretch out on their finely crafted music.
In concert, Casa del Popolo, March 4.
The October Trio : New Dream
Some three weeks later, the October Trio, a Vancouver pianoless unit fronted by saxophonist Evan Arntzen, debuts in Montreal. With drummer Dan Gaucher and bassist Josh Cole in the fold, this band covers a kind of post free-bop terrain. While bands like these are frequently driven by powerhouse blowers of great stamina, this one, however, is anything but hyperactive. In just over 40 minutes, these relative newcomers tackle eight pieces, six of them attributed to its members, and of the remainder, they whistfully cover a Björk number (“You’ve been flirting again”). On a couple of tracks, Arntzen overdubs himself (on soprano and clarinet on “Wide”, and tenor and clarinet on “Potential Bog”, second and seventh track respectively). The music here moves along somewhere between a medium to fast tempo, and is definitely groove-oriented, albeit not in any mechanical way. By no means ground-breaking, this trio is quite content to pursue the muse as it sees fit, rather than reckl``essly pulling out all stops.
In concert, Casa del Popolo, March 28.
Drummers in Charge
by Alain Londes
Successful musicians tend to spread themselves out over several projects, activities, and roles. They are performers, composers, educators, producers, and more. Two recent albums represent distinct drummers leading their own groups, the first a big band, the second a combo. Both Tommy Igoe and Kevin Crabb started their musical journeys at a very young age: Following very different paths, they gained experience in a wide range of performance settings. All jazz drummers could well be familiar with their playing styles, even their instructional tips, for instance Igoe’s Groove Essentials DVD or Crabb’s educational articles in Modern Drummer magazine.
Tommy Igoe and the Birdland Big Band: Eleven
Deep Rhythm Music: 2011
Tommy Igoe leads a top-of-the-line and eclectic 19-piece band through a rich collection of numbers. On Eleven, the listener gets a taste of this New York outit’s repertoire played on a regular basis every Friday night at Birdland. The side kicks off with “New Ground”, an engaging original with an infectious soca (soul calypso) groove by saxophonist and New York Voices member Darmon Meader. “Open Invitation”, also by Meader, is heard towards the end of the album, and trumpeter Glenn Drewes lends a Mangione 70s feel to the relaxing melody. Precise band clapping and Rob Paparozzi’s harmonica give Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin” a decidedly swinging and bluesy touch. Next up are Chick Corea’s classic “Armando’s Rhumba” followed by “Got A Match”. Among the standout tracks are “Spherical”, a funky fusion tune by Michael Brecker,andHancock’s harmonically enticing hit number “Butterfly”. For some full-octane burning Latin big band sound, Igoe picked the energetic “On Fire” by Michel Camilo, featuring the percussively pianistic Hector Martignon and altoist Matt Hong. Also of note are the brass arrangements reminiscent of Bob Mintzer’s big band writiing, but truly updated for the 21st century. The Birdland Big Band is a crisp outfit on all fronts. What’s more, the 11 pieces are well balanced, varied in style, and offer plenty of great listening.
Kevin Crabb: Waltz For Dylan
Crabbclaw Records: 2010
A dual citizen, Kevin Crabb makes LA his home. This snare drum specialist has played with a host of musicians on both sides of the border. For this set of original compositions dedicated to his son, he is joined by pianist John Beasley and two stalwart Torotonians, bassist Don Thompson and saxophonist Kelly Jefferson. Waltz For Dylan is a collection of nine originals structured with a very personal connection in mind, the ambiance intimate for the most part. The opener “Ecology”is an easy 4/4 swing, followed by the ballad “Unbelievable But True”, where Jefferson switches to soprano for additional emotional textures bearing discreet melancholic overtones. The technical abilities of each musician, including the leader, shines through on the fast paced but somewhat short number “It Could Happen”. In contrast, “Flight” opens with some delicate piano tones which dovetail into an easy-going ballad featuring contemplative solos from Jefferson and Thompson. This tune, which Crabb calls his favourite on the disc, is very much like the opener. The tempo picks up nicely after that with “Spirit Dance’, an easy samba beat that segues into a spritly montuno on drums. To close off this offering, the up tempo “Nightscape” includes some very subtle Latin elements for effect, with the contemplative title track winding things down nicely, and showing everyone to good advantage.
Live from the Jazz Mecca
If you plan to head down to the Big Apple this month, take note of the following event: a festival dedicated to the Swiss label Intakt. From the 1st to the 15th, no less than 13 of them will share the stage with as many American counterparts at the Stone, that tiny East Village hangout sponsored by John Zorn. Among the former, pianists Irène Schweizer and Sylvie Courvoisier (the latter fully established in the city) will take part as well as drummer Pierre Favre; among the ‘locals’, Oliver Lake, Andrew Cyrille, Mark Feldman, Eliot Sharp, even the indomitable Fred Frith will be part of the action. Founded in 1984 to record the works of Ms. Schweizer, Intakt is now a leader of the pack in contemporary European jazz and improvised music, with a catalogue of some 200 titles. Here are two of their latest releases:
Irène Schweizer: To Whom It May Concern (Solo Piano, Tonhalle Zürich)
Accustomed to solo piano, this 70-year-old grand dame demonstrated her artistry last April in an impromptu recital performed at one of the prestigious European concert halls. With age comes wisdom, they say, and that seems to be the case here. With equal enthusiasm, she draws inspiration from Monk, South African music, even Carla Bley, with occasional outbursts reminiscent of her Free Jazz days. Very much in command technically, she may well not feel as compelled to play with the reckless abandon of yore, but is more intent on enjoying herself, and keeping the audience on that wavelength.
Jürg Wickihalder European Quartet (Feat. Irène Schweizer) Jump!
More than 30 years the junior of Irène Schweizer, soprano (and sometimes alto) saxophonist Jürg Wickihalder is a disciple of Steve Lacy, and the influence is apparent in his playing, his pieces also tinged with very Monkish twists. Both he and the pianist offer their share of the fun with fine rhythm backing by two more compatriots. Post-freebop to make you drop! MC
Jürg Wickihalder plays in Montreal on March 21st. For more information on Intakt and the festival program, visit www.intaktrec.ch.
Translation: Rebecca-Anne Clark
FreeJazz then... and now?
by Marc Chénard
Much has been said about Free Jazz, both pro and con. In France for instance, the 1971 study Free Jazz Black Power took up the cause, while ten years later, Feu le Free Jazz took the opposite tack. Some four decades later, this music is still around, and in all shapes and forms. Like its predecessors (swing and bebop), Free Jazz has its own history, and is now subject of (re)discovery by means of newly unearthed documents.
In Montreal, the now-legendary (if not mythical) Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec (QLJQ) pioneered the genre, leaving but a single trace of its meteoric existence: the eponymous and never-reissued LP co-produced by Radio-Canada and London Records. But now, some 37 years after disbanding, a second album has just seen the light of day. Entitled simply Le Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec 1973 (Tenzier TNZ8051, www.tenzier.org), this recording is culled from a Radio Canada (French network) broadcast. This historic release merits attention, if only for its limited edition of 300 copies, on vinyl only (the producer’s choice). Appearing on this 41-minute studio session are its two main protagonists, trumpeter Yves Charbonneau and tenorist Jean Préfontaine (doubling on flute), with Jean-Marc Poirier on drums and Yves Bouliane rounding off the cast on double bass. The latter, in passing, is but one of its two surviving members, the other being its original drummer Guy Thouin.
Inspired as much by the intensity of the American “New Thing” as by the heated sociopolitical climate of the time, the QLJQ championed the cause as early as 1967. Caustic for the most part, the music was a natural extension of its proponents’ views, which in turn would land them into trouble (as in the wake of the October Crisis), yet still achieving a certain measure of public recognition, as in their fleet acquaintance with the then iconoclastic Québécois singer Robert Charlebois. But how then does this music stand up nowadays? For those who lived through those heady times, it dusts off distant memories thinly veiled under a veneer of nostalgia; for others, however, the music reveals an essential quality, namely, a sense of urgency all too rarely heard in today’s music, jazz and beyond. If physics tells us “nothing gained, nothing lost,” art tells us that all is to be gained when nothing is lost!
Sam Rivers : Éminence Grise of Black Music
by Félix-Antoine Hamel
Free Jazz lost one of its guiding spirits on Boxing Day 2011. Saxophonist, flutist, and composer Sam Rivers was an often-underground yet nevertheless weighty force in the American Free Jazz scene for over four decades. After an apprenticeship in Boston in the 1940s and 1950s, he was brought to the attention of jazz enthusiasts in 1964, during a brief stint with Miles Davis’ quintet. He became a habitué of the Blue Note studios for a series of recordings under his name, turning up on sessions from some of that label’s more “progressive” musicians including Andrew Hill and Bobby Hutcherson. In the late 1960s, he meshed with the driving forces of the genre like Cecil Taylor and Bill Dixon. As a teacher, Rivers, along with his wife Beatrice, founded the RivBea Studio in 1971. It became the Mecca of the New York loft jazz scene for that decade, and the venue where the celebrated Wildflowers albums were made, the prime source of that period’s documentation of avant-garde jazz. Concurrently the saxophonist was touring actively, his most frequent collaborators being Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. By the 1980s, his sinuous tenor, agile flute, and percussive piano have lend themselves to a variety of contexts, ranging from solo outings (Portrait) to all-saxophone groups like Winds of Manhattan and all the way to the RivBea Orchestra, a true intergenerational big band.
» Fuchsia Swing Song (Blue Note, 1964)
» Trio Live (Impulse, 1973)
» Crystals (Impulse, 1974)
» Contrasts (ECM, 1979)
» Inspiration and Culmination (BMG, 1998)
Translation: Rebecca-Anne Clark