THE MONTREAL SCENE
There is jazz activity galore with Upstairs, Modavie and House of Jazz providing music on a nightly basis see site listings. As well the Montreal International Jazz Festival is presenting the fall section of its “Jazz All-Year Round” series and I’m told by festival v.p. Andre Menard that there will also be a spring series in 2005. The three concerts I have attended have been of the A-One variety. The “Mandala” concert by Joel Miller, with Ben Monder guesting, is still the talk of the jazz community. The other members were Bruno Lamarche, Bill Mahar, Fraser Hollins and Tom Gossage. As well, both Kelly Joe Phelps, and Harry Manx, opening for “Gaz Bar Blues”, were memorable.
This year’s L’Off Festival saw Jennifer Bell’s “Altsys” pared down to a nonet for an authentic recreation of the “Birth of the Cool” material on June 27 and the earlier part of the evening saw a duo performance by longtime musical buddies, Tim Jackson and the late Skip Bey it was to be Skip’s last appearance. This took place at the Lion d’Or where a monumental memorial for Skip was held with a who’s who of the Montreal jazz community on stage or in the audience.
On June 29 the Montreal International Jazz Festival presented Diana Krall at the cavernous Bell Centre where the sound was surprisingly good and Ms. Krall (joined on occasion by Elvis Costello) was in a swinging mood. Guitarist Anthony Wilson was a highlight and drummer Peter Erskine was just right. On June 30 we caught a fine solo concert by Chick Corea and one by Dee Dee Bridgewater that was highlighted by her look at “The Good Life” and an instrumental piece featuring the tenor of David Sanchez. On July 1st I took in sound checks of the John Scofield, Steve Swallow, Bill Stewart trio and the second of the Corea showcase series. This one had him joined in different combinations by Gary Burton and Montreal pianist Lorraine Desmarais. That night we heard a marvellous Keith Jarrett trio (Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette) at Place des Arts. On July 2, on an outdoor stage, it was David Linx, a marvellous singer from Europe that Sheila Jordan had hipped me to, he was outstanding overcoming many of the obstacles of appearing outdoors. Earlier a wonderful concert at Theatre Maisonneuve paired Gonzalo Rubalcaba with the wonderful Joao Bosco and later, at the Spectrum, a very musical evening, with no lack of humour, from Louis Sclavis and Michel Portal with Henri Texier and Daniel Humair. It was a concert that my companion, singer/actress Dorothee Berryman, much enjoyed despite being new to this genre of the music a lady with big ears. On Saturday, July 3rd my buddy David Amram made two appearances, one at noon inside Complex Desjardins, the other an outdoor concert that night. We caught the noon event where he was joined by guitarist Vic Juris and Montrealers, Eric Lagace and Aldo Mazza. Just as I was about to introduce David to Ms. Berryman, someone asked him a question she said his answer was in itself a “master class”. That night at Club Soda another fine outing, this time it was Eliane Elias with Mark Johnson. Lots of Brazilian fare and again, as in the Bridgewater and Bosco concerts, drumming that both Ms. Berryman and I found memorable what great taste and finesse, ah! the art of playing brushes. On July 4, after my radio show I walked down to McGill’s Strathcona Music Building where David Amram was lecturing and playing for a packed room C 201. Back to Festival central and another superb duo outing from our own Remi Bolduc and his frequent musical partner, pianist Kenny Werner. The Charlie Haden showcase began on July 6 with him successfully joining a pair of very different pianists, Egberto Gismonti and John Taylor. I attended with Larry Coryell and also got to meet Maria Schneider who was sitting in the audience with Ruth Cameron. While awaiting Ms. Berryman, who was at a Tierney Sutton concert up the street, I ran into Louise Holland, in town taking a well deserved break from her busy schedule. Then it was off to the Spectrum for an impressive Kenny Barron concert with his new band, Stefon Harris, Anne Drummond, an impressive flute player and a kick-ass drummer in Kim Thompson. On Wednesday, Coryell and I were able to hang with a mutual friend and that evening I caught a wonderful trio that featured Larry with John Abercrombie and an awesome Brazilian guitarist in Badi Assad. (Her siblings, The Assad Brothers are also guitarists of the scary variety). Earlier there was a magnificent concert with Dewey Redman and Matt Wilson joining Haden at the Monument National. Thursday, July 8 was a day of mixed feelings stemming from the news that Skip Bey had succumbed to cancer. That afternoon was spent taking photos of Carla Bley rehearsing a newly formed “Liberation Orchestra” (its resurgence brought on by the Bush administration). Despite being a bit rough in the ensembles, only two rehearsals and demanding music, I found the concert, which I took in from a backstage vantage point, very moving with the players (who included Matt Wilson, Steve Cardenas, Mike Rodriguez, Curtis Fowlkes, Chris Cheek and two marvellous reedmen that I had not heard before, Miguel Zenon and Tony Malaby) really getting into the music in their solos. Haden closed the series on July 9 with a reunited “Quartet West” Ernie Watts, Alan Broadbent and newcomer, Rodney Green, a wonderful drummer. For all intents and purposes, July 10 was closing night of the festival and it began as a delight for lovers of great songs with Carole Welsman opening for Peter Cincotti at Theatre Maisonneuve and, in two appearances, another of Canada’s best, Dorothee Berryman backed by her George Shearing-inspired sextet wowed large crowds on the street. It all ended with a most musical event at the Spectrum. Any concert that begins with a Herbie Nichols composition and ends with one by Monk is okay in my book and that was the bill o’ fare presented by Dave Douglas with Roswell Rudd, Brad Jones and Barry Altschul. Barry had played Montreal with guitarist Billy White many moons ago during summer vacation while he was still in high school. The spot was the Bamboo Cage, I believe Montreal’s first health food restaurant and backstage at the Spectrum there was quite a bit of talk about pianist Valdo Williams, an unsung musician if there ever was one. He was the pianist with Alan Wellman’s house band at Rockhead’s, played with Charlie Parker at the Chez Paree and with Lester Young at the Five Spot upon his return to New York.
An August highlight was a concert at Place des Arts by the wonderful, jazz influenced Henri Salvador whose band included Andre Villager on tenor sax. In the EBU tribute to Ellington in 1999, his centennial year, Villager was heard on baritone on the Justin Time CD from those two concerts, he can be heard on the “Medley” and the second movement of the “Toga Brava” suite. A wonderful trio of Kevin Dean with Greg Amirault and Daniel Lessard played to most attentive crowds at Upstairs on August 13-14.
SEPTEMBER: On September 1, Radio Canada had a press conference announcing “Espace musique”, a new all music format with jazz in the hands of Stanley Pean, heard weekdays at noon, Andre Vigeant, daily beginning at 5:30 in afternoon and mon amie Dorothee Berryman, handling the 6-8 pm time slot on Saturdays and Sundays. I was pleasantly surprised to have her ask me to work for her directly as a researcher (“eminence gris” is her term) definitely a labour of love. All these shows are heard on the network (100.7fm in Montreal) across Canada and into bordering U.S. cities. Dorothee, the singer, performed the following night at the Rimouski Jazz Festival, an evening that she described as “magical”. On the 3rd former Montrealer, pianist Earl MacDonald joined trumpeter Kevin Dean at Upstairs with Mike Allen, Alec Walkington and Julian McDougall also on stage. The same band sans MacDonald hit the following night as well. Swedish trumpeter Peter Asplund was in the audience sitting with Charles Ellison, they had met as members of the trumpet section of the aforementioned 1999 EBU band that Andrew Homzy led in celebration of Ellington’s Centennial those concerts took place in Montreal and in Quebec City. September 11 marked the birthday of friends, pianist Oliver Jones and renowned U.S. painter, Katherine Porter and I helped the latter celebrate with supper and some fine music by singer Sara Latendresse with Jeff Johnston and Clayton Reider at Upstairs. It was also the successful debut of the Dorothee Berryman show on Radio Canada. Two days later Dorothee was off to Toronto for three nights at the Top ‘O The Senator with a quartet of Jean St. Jacques, Eric Harding, Zack Lober and Camil Belisle busy lady, she’s also in the Steve Galluccio TV sitcom, “Ciao Bella” currently seen on the tube in both French and in English. September 15 was the date of the aforementioned “Mandala” concert at Salle Gesu. The weekend saw a superb Tom Gossage group with Remi Bolduc, Frank Lozano, Gary Schwartz and Miles Perkin doing two nights at Upstairs. The following day that spot featured Sean Craig’s quintet with Kenny Bibace, Seth Schneider and the basses of Miles Perkin and Sage Reynolds. On September 21 singer Lorraine Foster celebrated a birthday in Vancouver, and I had supper at Upstairs with Betty Tanney, who now lives in the Vancouver area, and continues to bring jazz history to retired folks. That was also the day that I was informed that the “Centre Historique de Montreal”, located in the former fire station on Youville Square in the Old City, will be featuring a “History of Jazz in Montreal” beginning in March 2005 and running into 2006. Two days away from his 81st birthday, Sam Rivers made an impressive appearance at Sala Rosa with the Toronto based band NOJO, one that included Kevin Turcotte, Roberto Occhipinti and Barry Romberg. On the weekend, Eric Harding was at Upstairs with a quartet featuring Janis Steprans followed on Sunday by an inspired and spirited trio of Hilario Duran, Roberto Occhipinti and a superb Cuban-born drummer, Ernesto Simpson mark that name down. In the audience, a beaming Dorothee Berryman and her producer Richard Lavallee, also a bassist and old friend of Roberto’s. The weekend also brought the sad news of the deaths of “Boogie” Gaudet and Freddy Franco, both of whom left me with many memories both on and off the stage. On the 28th it was back to Sala Rosa for another musical (and humourous) night provided by the Willem Breuker Kollektief. On the 29th Joel Miller took his “Mandala” to Quebec City for an appearance at the Petite Champlain. A sore throat kept me from attending.
OCTOBER: As we near month’s end, it has been again a busy jazz month here in Montreal. That wonderful singer from Nashville, Annie Sellick, made a return engagement to Upstairs on the first weekend of the month. Backed by Jeff Johnston, Fraser Hollins and Andre White, her repertoire included her own “Café 123” and the obscure, but wonderful song, “I Keep Going Back To Joe’s”. The following weekend it was Dawn Tyler Watson. That Friday, a large contingent of the Montreal jazz community trekked out to Pte. Claire to pay final respects to Paul “Boogie” Gaudet.
On October 12 I got an email from Russ Butler, who used to do “Ella, Frank and Friends” on Vermont Public Radio. He’s now in California and doing much the same kind of show on the internet garnering listeners world wide. Homecoming week at McGill and, on October 14, a wonderful concert by the Gordon Foote-directed Jazz Ensemble I. I attended with my old friend Lorraine Foster, who was joined the following night by the Johnny Scott quartet (Josh Rager, Miles Perkin and Richard Irwin) for the early sets at the House of Jazz. There to hear this wonderful Vancouver-based singer were people like Dorothee Berryman, Lois Moody, Oliver Jones, Johanne Desforges and Vic Vogel. Later that night I was pleased to hear the inspired playing of a Kevin Dean Quintet with John Nugent, Andre White, Alec Walkington and Dave Laing. In the audience both that night and the following was former Montrealer, trumpet / arranger / composer Wally Dunbar who’s been in NYC for many years running a highly successful music copying service. On Sunday, the always inspired Kelly Joe Phelps was at the Spectrum. Producer Daniel Vachon did his annual “Octoberjazzfest” at Maison de la Culture Frontenac, this despite the fact that his show “Silence en jazz” is no more. This year’s tapings will be heard on Chantal Jolis’ 8 pm show that follows Dorothee Berryman on Saturdays and Sundays on Radio Canada. On Wednesday, October 20th, Daniel presented one of the great double bills in recent history. A Don Thompson Quartet with Don on piano and vibes, Phil Dwyer, tenor and piano, Jim Vivian and Terry Clarke opened the evening with some ‘Cherokee’ changes on an original called “Hot Chocolate” (think Bird’s “Koko” (Cocoa) which makes one wonder whether Warne Marsh had the same drink in mind when he crafted “Marshmallow” on those changes).
The audience then moved down the hall to a smaller room for some beautiful and memorable playing from a quartet of Mike Murley, ex-Montrealer Guido Basso, Reg Schwager and Steve Wallace. Someone should lease both concerts for release on CD. A truly superb evening.
I feel sorry for people (believing the hype) that opted for Jamie Cullum at the Spectrum the same night. One of Canada’s best kept secrets, Harry Manx was astounding at the Spectrum the following night, singing and playing both the slide guitar and Mohan Veena, he upped the excitement by adding friends on harp and electric mandolin to the mix. As nothing could top this performance I left skipping the second half of the concert. On the weekend, singer/pianist Ernie Nelson, who normally works the spot on Thursdays, brought a quintet into Upstairs for two nights followed by a Sunday appearance by pianist Simon Sloutsker. On the 26th Bernard Primeau jumped the season by launching his newest CD “Noel en Jazz” in the foyer of Salle Gesu. Tonight (27th) McGill University is conferring an honourary degree to Joni Mitchell and the trio of pianist Jeff Johnston Dave Watts and Jim Hillman - appears Friday and Saturday at Upstairs where a Brian Hurley trio of Al McLean and Andre White, close out the month.
NOVEMBER: A veritable feast is in store for vocal fans in November, Coral Egan is at the Spectrum on Friday, November 12 and Stacey Kent returns, appearing at the same spot on the 26th and Dorothee Berryman is at La Tulipe, on Papineau just North of Mt. Royal, on the 27th. As well, Upstairs has Joel Miller doing music from ‘Mandala’ with Kenny Bibace on guitar, that’s on the 5th and 6th. The next weekend Kevin Dean will be joining his Norwegian musical buddies, “Urban Connection” in a return engagement. The 19-20 it’s the Holland-Jensen Quartet and, in another return, Jean-Christophe Beney comes in from France on the 26-27. At the Outremont Theatre on Saturday, November 13, Christine Jensen appears with her quintet, one that includes sister Ingrid on trumpet and Dave Restivo on piano. In the Thursday series in the Studio Theatre of Place des Arts, the Jean-Francois Groulx quartet appears on November 4 followed by “l’Os”, Jean-Pierre Zanella and the No-Name Jazz Sextet. The series continues into December with the Francois Bourassa combo and, in an Homage a Mingus, the Normand Guilbeault Ensemble. Radio Canada is also presenting a series of concerts and the Vic Vogel Octet will be appearing on Sunday, November 21 at Salle Pierre-Mercure of Centre Pierre-Peladeau and on Friday, November 26, La Bottine Souriante appears at Maison de la Culture Frontenac. Ralph Angelillo’s annual Drum Fest takes place at Salle Pierre Mercure beginning on November 13 and among those invited is Billy Kilson with his “BK Groove”. McGill Jazz Ensemble I appears at Pollack Hall on November 24 with appearances by the other two large ensembles, directed by Ron DiLauro and Christine Jensen, due around the same time. Speaking of big bands, The Montreal Jazz Big Band directed by Philippe Hudon, is at Club Soda on November 25th. Last, but very far from least, if you’re into photography, don’t miss the work of Gabor Szilasi on display in Victoria Hall, 4626 Sherbrooke West, in Westmount. It runs from November 2 through December 8.
We haven’t looked at new jazz releases in some time, so, with Christmas fast approaching, we’ll broach that subject in the next column.
© Len Dobbin 2004
Montreal, Quebec, Canada