FIJM 2013by Marc Chénard
/ June 1, 2013
Flash version here.
For its upcoming 34th edition starting on June 28, the organizers of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (FIJM) have elected to honour the late Dave Brubeck. To mark the pianist’s death on the eve of his 92nd birthday last December, it has invited his sons to a perform a tribute concert for its final evening on July 7.
As important as Brubeck’s passing is to the event, it also represents the loss of one of the few musicians to have experienced jazz’s golden years first-hand. Not only was he privileged to see the founders of the art in action, but his exposure to them also inspired him to make his own personal contributions to the music.
Nowadays, the are few survivors of that era still around and active on the scene; Lee Konitz, Phil Woods and Barry Harris are among the last of the breed. In the face of this reality, the current generation of young musicians will soon be unable to rub shoulders with their predecessors, thus curtailing the natural process of learning the music by playing it on the job, night in, night out. Some will argue that schools are filling this void, but knowledge is acquired very differently here, by means of a structured curriculum rather than on a trial-and-error basis.
In this current state of affairs, festivals also play a very particular role, especially when it comes to disseminating the music. In 1980, when the FIJM was founded, no such festivals were to be found anywhere else in the country, notwithstanding a few short-lived attempts. Across the border, the festival landscape boiled down to Newport and Monterrey, whereas Europe was ahead of the game with more than a smattering of events happening year-round.
Historically, clubs were for the longest time the sole outlets for jazz, but the music would gradually find its way into concert halls and gain some legitimacy as an art form. But it wasn’t until the blossoming of the festival scene that jazz would achieve greater public visibility. Without these events, it would most likely have lost whatever attention it had in the media, far more interested in hyping the latest pop stars.
While the term “jazz” is universally recognized, its definition is more elusive than ever. Globalization has inevitably dissolved all stylistic borders, and festivals have definitely had their say in this state of affairs. Be it the FIJM or any other member of the Jazz Festivals Canada network, one conclusion is inevitable when looking at their respective programs: jazz is basically what its artistic directors want it to be. And as the media follows suit, so does the audience. On one hand, festivals can lean towards popular music to better entice musical consumers; on the other hand, they should not completely dismiss the interests and expectations of die-hard music-lovers, some adhering to the tried and true, others attuned to more experimental strands of freely improvised music making. What’s more, festivals always want to be abreast of the latest trends, hence the hot-ticket artist of the year who makes the rounds. But keeping up with the times is only half of their story; indeed, these events constitute a memory of the way things were and offer many bright moments with artists no longer with us.
Looking beyond the Brubeck tribute, there are two basic subtexts that underlie this year’s festival in Montreal, the first aimed at celebrating the remaining survivors of a bygone era, and the other at promoting new talent born out of a totally different reality.
Case in point, the Invitation series illustrates this discrepancy between a vanishing past and a present of seemingly limitless possibilities. The first of two artists billed here is tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd who will play on three consecutive evenings. Having reached the respectable age of 75 last March, Lloyd is a direct descendant of John Coltrane, and an authentic jazzman who was part and parcel of the heady 60s. In fact, his quartet of that period, which included future superstar Keith Jarrett, was one of the first jazz bands to break into the psychedelic rock circuit. In the second half of this series, the spotlight will shine on Vijay Iyer, an American pianist of Indian descent. Sandwiched between a solo performance and another by his own trio (heard by this reviewer during the 2010 edition) will be a duo with fellow keyboardist Craig Taborn. Both in their early forties, these musicians are currently hot property in the jazz world, each of them backed by their respective and very noteworthy labels, Act Records and ECM.
Elsewhere in the festival, the Pianissimo series will reflect this same generational duality: its second half welcomes Italian Enrico Pieranunzi and local stalwarts Oliver Jones and Vic Vogel (aged 64, 78 and 77 respectively). The opening acts, in contrast, will be focused on emerging talents making their Montreal festival debut: Thierry Maillard from France, Alexandra Stréliski from Quebec, Gwilym Simcock from England, Harald Lopez-Nussa from Cuba and Thomas Enhco, also from France.
This same phenomenon also occurs in the Jazz d'Ici series, featuring veterans Michael Donato (in a duo with Pierre Tanguay) and Guy Nadon; established artists Yannick Rieu and Andre Leroux; and youthful upstarts Marianne Trudel, Chet Doxas, Julie Lamontagne, Joel Miller and Jacques Kuba Seguin. We should not overlook the Jensen Sisters, Christine from Montreal and Ingrid from New York. And finally, let us not forget a handful of established stars with distinguished track records: Wayne Shorter, Steve Kuhn and David Murray. In sum then: something old, something new, something for everyone... or just about.
Translation: Elisabeth Giles