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Covering Two More Basses and Looking Forward

Russ Davis of MOJA radio on Day Four of the 2012 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal

On Sunday, the 1st of July, Canada Day, the Montreal Jazz Festival celebrated the fourth day of its 33rd year with an array of great shows exhibiting the usual variety of styles, offering something for any festival attendee of any age or persuasion. Canadian musical son Chris Tarry and his group, that’s made a name for itself after relocating to New York City, would return home for a triumphant show outdoors, while Dr. Lonnie Smith and his latest Trio would groove for the audience inside at the “Upstairs” club on Mackay Street. French vocalist Nina Attal would play two free sets on the giant Scene TD stage for the crowd gathered inside the plaza of the Place des Artes. Chris Botti, the smooth jazz trumpet star who has become a real favorite at the festival, would play for another sold out show at the Theatre Maisonnuve. The English new jazz group Get The Blessing, born out of the rock-turned-jazz movement from Britain would bring the music from their new album O C D C to the intimate setting of the Gesu Theatre, while at Club Soda the versatile Meshell Ndegeocello would bring who knew what this time to the stage with a young trio called Parc X Trio leading on for the late night set. I’d planned to see this one to top off my four days at this years festival but time and energy would not allow it as my early flight for the next day was looming and burning the candle at both ends finally ends the candle. It’s the wonderful nature of enjoying a festival like this one to the maximum.

I did have the chance to witness two more great shows to complete my investigation of the bass in modern jazz as I took in the Victor Wooten show at Club Soda and followed that with the last of four Stanley Clarke performances in his Invitation Series shows, this one featuring his own Stanley Clarke Band. First, I wanted to spend some time with an artist I hadn’t seen in a few years and one that I always look forward to visiting with, the great guitarist Larry Coryell, who was in Montreal for two different shows and, as I discovered, just happened to be staying in the same hotel as I. We caught up in my room for a most enjoyable hour of conversation that included his feelings about playing the Montreal Jazz Festival and festivals in general followed by some choice reminiscences including his time in Wayne Shorters band in the early 1990’s, the early days of the Jazz Fusion era with Chico Hamilton and Gary Burton as well as with his own great fusion band Eleventh House which included some of the great, hotshot players in the New York scene at the time. I pinned him down to give me his all-star band for a dream concert that will never happen and the choices were surprising. I look forward to sharing these and all his comments in special shows on my radio projects in the near future. Larry’s future included the salute to Miles Davis titled Miles Smiles on Monday night that would feature the all-star band of Wallace Roney, Joey DeFrancesco, Omar Hakim and Miles Davis alumi Bill Evans and Darryl Jones at the Theatre Maisonneuve. That’s one I would love to stay for but you can’t see and do everything you want to in this life. Oh well…maybe YOU can see it and tell ME how it was!

After my chat with Larry Coryell it was off to Club Soda to take in the show by the brilliant bassist Victor Wooten who even though he hasn’t had a solo album since 2008 is a celebrated artist at this festival and played to a packed house of adoring fans. I noticed that many in the crowd were younger than many audiences I see at the festival’s shows. I wondered if the fact that he’s part of the group Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, in essence a group with “crossover” appeal, might be expanding the fan base for jazz-oriented and improvised music. Fine with me, of course, and since Victor is a young guy himself with an ebullient personality as well as enormous talent that’s more reason for his appeal to fans of all ages. His performance on this night was one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in some time. It may not have been as much jazz as I expected, in fact there was really not that much jazz involved at all per se, but there were plenty of jazz elements with improvisation at the highest level and cool, funky grooves combined with passages of pure swing mixed with pure rock and pop to give the show a constantly changing variety that kept things interesting throughout. Of the seven performers on stage, every single one played more than one instrument. There were two complete drum kits, four bass players including Victor who played multiple four-string basses, some plucked and some bowed, while the other bassists doubled on 6-string basses, keyboards and the occasional guitar, trumpet or trombone. A fabulous, funky vocalist also doubled on keyboards, percussion instruments and even took her turn behind the drum kit while the drummer she replaced took the microphone to vocalize for a while. If variety is indeed the spice of life then this was one of the spiciest performances by one of the hardest working entertainers you are ever likely to see.

At 8 PM it was time to attend the my final Stanley Clarke concert of the four I’d attended in his invitation series shows, this one at the Theatre Jean-Duceppe in The Place des Artes and featuring The Stanley Clarke Band. Stanley has surrounded himself with a trio of young guys in their late 20’s and early 30’s including Ruslan Sirota on keyboards, Ronald Bruner, Jr. on drums and guitarist Charles Altura. They’ve been together for over half a decade now and won a Grammy award for some of the music on their 2010 release The Stanley Clarke Band. The show began with a 30 minute version of the piece that won that award, Chick Corea’s now modern standard “No Mystery.” That was followed by another 30 minute version of a song Stanley played years ago when he was in his 20’s while a member of Joe Henderson’s band, the classic “Black Narcissus.” The set was completed with two more fully investigated pieces, extended versions of Stanley compositions “Paradigm Shift” and his salute to Coltrane “Song To John.” Behind Stanley sat two electric basses but they were never used. He played acoustic the entire night and something tells me after seeing his four shows here in Montreal during which he played acoustic at least ¾ of the time, this is his instrument of choice. It was, after all, the first bass he ever picked up as a beginner and maybe first cut is indeed the deepest. Personally, I would have liked to have heard some electric playing with his band and would also have liked to have heard more songs and a bit less lead-taking by the players, but the crowd seemed to have come to hear virtuoso players working their instruments and that’s what they got. No one left unhappy and Stanley’s four invitation series shows were a great success!

There is much more to enjoy at this years festival for those who are lucky enough to remain. As I reluctantly leave I see some prime shows to come that should prove to be thrilling. There are some wonderful vocalists who will be performing including Carmen Lundy, Norah Jones, John Pizzarelli and local favorites like Sophie Millman and Molly Johnson. Fans of the great jazz heroes should go wild for Ron Carter, Cedar Walton, Oliver Jones and Pat Martino with his new organ trio. Speaking of organ, Dr. Lonnie Smith plays another night and James Carter leads his new organ trio on July 3rd at Club Soda. Fans of acoustic piano can enjoy the husband-wife duo of Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes as well as Aaron Parks and Joey Calderazzo on consecutive nights at the Gesu. Following Stanley Clarke’s 4-show invitation series will be four nights in the Theatre Jean-Duceppe featuring Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen with ensemble, trio, duo and solo performances. Montreal has a pipeline to international artists that I’ve not seen rivaled by any North American festival and the tradition continues this year. There will most certainly be more surprises to be discovered and to find out more about what’s happening at the 33rd Festival International de Jazz de Montreal just visit the festival website. From Montreal, Russ Davis here…over and out and I’ll see you here next year!

Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting MOJA Radio’s website.

Originally Published