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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 19, No. 7

Jazz: Festival Fare

by Marc Chénard / June 1, 2014

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Off The Record

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Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra
Habitat – Justin Time JTR-8583-2

At the risk of generalizing, creative people can be divided into two camps: visionaries and craftsmen. While visionaries stray from the beaten path and wander into the unknown, craftsmen stay on it and pick up whatever suits them well to best express themselves. Such is the case of composer and saxophonist Christine Jensen. Indebted to Kenny Wheeler in her writing by her own admission, she works with harmonies reminiscent of his in her big band music, contained on this second CD of orchestral music. All but one of the six cuts clocks in at under ten minutes, indicating her preference for longer forms. On the whole, Jensen’s music focuses less on harmonic tension than musical hues—halfway between pastel and watercolour. The musicians are equal to the task as an ensemble and the solos are well contained on the whole, but tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas’s stands out on Nishiyuu with his cascading runs from the altissimo register to the middle of the horn. Obviously, Jensen has made her choices and is happy with them. I’m sure listeners will be happy too when they attend her concert during the festival’s closing night (July 6, 10:30 p.m.).

Tom Harrell
Colors of a Dream – High Note Records HCD 7254

Trumpeter and composer Tom Harrell is another skilled jazz craftsman. In the past, he seemed to be at his best as a sideman; as a leader, though, his albums would often lack spark. In his latest work, however, he offers more pizazz than usual, fronting a slightly unusual sextet with no piano but two double basses, one of these being the new star Esperanza Spalding. Not only does she strum, she vocalises wordless melody lines, singing lyrics in Brazilian Portuguese on one of the ten tracks. In the notes, Harrell admits being influenced by some pop stylings, and while we may fear the worst, he turns them his own way, and the grooves become effective springboards for his solos and those of his two very articulate saxophonists. Both double bassists lightly thicken the rhythmic texture, breaking the ostinato repetition that often sets pop music on autopilot. Also featured on the final night of the festival, just an hour before Jensen and co, Harrell and his charges should delight the audience with a rising show of its own. (July 6, 9:30 p.m.).

Shai Maestro Trio
The Road to Ithaca – Laborie Records

From year to year, the festival circuit seems to fall under the spell of a young piano phenom who gets the opportunity to make the rounds. In the footsteps of such keyboard wizzes like Jeff Neve, Yaron Hermann and Tigran Hamassyan, the year’s hot property seems to be Shai Maestro. At age 27, this young Israeli does not actually come out of nowhere. For five years, he was the pianist in the trio of his compatriot, double bassist Avishai Cohen, before going out on his in 2010. In March, he appeared at the Effendi Jazz en Rafale festival, but is now poised to return to the Montreal International Jazz Festival this month. From a musical standpoint, this young man is very typical in style to those of his generation in that he has a solid classical training under his fingers, an avid interest in ethnic music (mid-Eastern in particular), flawless technique and is in perfect agreement with his colleagues Jorge Roeder on double bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums. At times contemplative and edgy, Maestro’s music is very much set within the boundaries of the contemporary piano trio repertoire, though still searching for some sort of individual characteristic. But in reading his own thoughts on his website, he claims never wanting to play it safe, which is certainly a good attitude to have in this music. (June 28, 9:00 p.m.)

Aurora Trio
A Moment’s Liberty – Maya Recordings MCD 1302

As risky as it can be to compare groups with the same instrumentation, this piano trio sports a lineup of seasoned performers, all masters of musical improvisation. Pianist Augusti Fernández, along with his partners, Barry Guy (double bass) and Ramón Lopez (drums), explore a wide range of stylistic and emotional shadings, from lyrical grace to cutting loose from all conventions. The eighteen-minute opening piece that gives its title to the CD is a remarkable demonstration of the group’s savoir-faire. This is the third release from this group on the double bass player’s own label, and is arguably its best one to date. While it runs for close to 74 minutes, it goes by almost in a flash, with no dull spots. Even if this trio is not coming our way in the foreseeable future, the pianist will visit Montreal as the guest of two Quebec-based improvisers—Yves Charuest, alto saxophonist, and Nicolas Caloia, bass—and a former son of the city, drummer Peter Valsamis. If you can’t find this album, chances are that the pianist will have some to sell at show time. A most promising encounter is in the offing here, and is highly recommended for all fans of creative music. Suoni per il Popolo (June 17, 9:00 p.m., Café Résonance)

Harris Eisenstadt
Golden State – Songlines SGL 1602-2

Drummer Harris Eisenstadt presents here a piano-less quartet with an unlikely combination of flute (Nicole Mitchell) and bassoon (Sarah Schoenbeck, Eisenstadt’s partner), with Mark Dresser on double bass. A Toronto native who has lived in the United States for some time, Eisenstadt has released several discs for the Vancouver label Songlines, This latest offering of his is very much a chamber jazz ensemble working on delicate textures and a fair amount of composed material, but is open to individual or collective improvisations. Seven tracks are presented on this disc lasting not quite 50 minutes, a reasonable run time that makes us want to listen to the music again. This quartet is coming our way in June, minus the flute player, kept home for family reasons. Subbing for her will be Michael Moore on clarinet, an expat now living in Holland, and a fine choice for a replacement, too. (June 20, 9:00 p.m., Café Résonance)

Translation: Dwayne Richardson


Suoni per il Popolo 2014: Pushing Boundaries

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In 2001, the Casa del Popolo launched its festival, the Suoni per il Popolo. The first edition was a bold undertaking due to the fact that it focused entirely on avant-garde music and lasted no less than five weeks. Since then, it has scaled down its time frame to two and a half weeks while drawing steady support from a younger audience attracted to musical experimentation. This year’s edition, like all of its predecessors, runs for 18 days, from June 4 to 22. But that doesn’t mean it is simply content with the status quo. A look at its program reveals that is expanding in all directions. True to its mission, the Suoni will be stretching its boundaries by exploring the cutting edge of rock and punk, electronic, experimental, contemporary classical, folk and avant-pop. Not to be overlooked either is its jazz and improvised music content, but there will also be a focus on media arts and interactive technologies. All told, there are 68 shows on tap—several include two or more groups—and eleven film programs. Six workshop sessions are also scheduled, hosted by guest performers of all musical stripes, some of which allow amateur musicians to join in.

This year, new activities have been added. First, the festival, in conjunction with the Bozzini Quartet, has put together a conference around the life and work of visionary British composer Cornelius Cardew, including a performance of his masterwork “Treatise”. Another first is Cartel MTL, an international symposium of new music presenters with some thirty delegates. Hosted by the festival, this event is aimed at networking contacts and is sponsored by the local new music umbrella organization le Vivier, with added support from the Huddersfield Festival in England.

The Suoni will be more visible than ever within the community in that its events will take place in 17 venues, the result of may new co-production agreements, including some unusual ones like that of the Jewish General Hospital and its ten-day satellite festival running from June 9-19.

As for jazz, it is but one facet of the whole. But its choices are quite enticing for the venturesome. Most concerts slated here will go down at the Café Résonance, 5275-A Parc Avenue (at Fairmount). Of note will be a new quartet lead by alto saxophonist Yves Charuest with Catalonian pianist Augusti Fernández (June 17); drummer Harris Eisenstadt’s Golden State Quartet (20)—see CD review— and lastly, a half-Scandinavian, half-German group called the Deciders (22). On the local front, alto saxman Eric Hove’s tentet will tackle his compositions of striking originality (21). If you like music in your face, no one does it better than the blustery German saxman Peter Brötzmann, and ditto for his American counterparts William Parker and Hamid Drake (Sala Rossa, 10).

Online Information and Tickets: www.casadelpopolo.com/suoniperilpopolo
Online Downloadable Program: suoniperilpopolo.org/programme-suoni-2014/

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