On Friday, the 29th of June, the Montreal Jazz Festival celebrated the second day of its 33rd year with an impressive list of artists playing on stages both inside and outside, some with pricey tickets and some shows absolutely free. For the right price you could take in the piano duo of Patricia Barber and Kenny Werner, the presentations of two of the greatest vocalists around, Esperanza Spalding and Melody Gardot, international guitar stars Philip Catherine or Pierre Bensusan and much more. I chose the much more by taking in shows by the Ninety Miles band featuring Stefon Harris, David Sanchez and Nicholas Payton, Stanley Clarke and the Harlem String Quartet and the Wayne Shorter Quartet. You can’t be everywhere at all times and one has to do the best they can to cover it all. After a day of cruising the festival grounds and feeding myself crepes and sausages to maintain my strength and purchasing rare music unavailable in the USA that I found in the festival merchandise kiosks to program on air upon my return home, I got down to the business of searching out two of the artists I would have the joy of seeing later in the night to get an idea of what I’d be hearing. I had some wonderful talks with two of my favorites, young vibes master Stefon Harris and the great Stanley Clarke, who would be celebrating his 61st birthday on Saturday. I would have had a conversation with Wayne Shorter but I’m not sure if what he would have had to say would have shed much light on what we would hear later in the day at his performance. More on that later, but first this.
At 6 PM I again found myself in the Club Soda to take in the first show of the night, this time featuring the frontline trio of Stefon Harris on vibes, David Sanchez on tenor sax and Nicholas Payton on trumpet as the group Ninety Miles. The group was completed by pianist Edward Simon, bassist Ricky Rodriquez, and drummer Henry Cole, from Puerto Rico and the percussionist from Cuba, Eddie Marrera . Nicholas Payton replaced the original trumpeter in the band, another horn man from New Orleans, Christian Scott, and Nick’s imposing figure and talent lifted the band to a high standard indeed. Stefon told me earlier in the day what an honor is was to be on stage with talents like Sanchez and Payton, and repeated from the stage how “brave” an artist Nick is. With Payton’s latest solo effort titled Bitches receiving such negative reaction, much of it from the title itself and the fact that he chose to vocalize on the project, he proved for all time that bravery was indeed something he possesses in spades. The band was born out of the project called Ninety Miles in which Stefon and his compatriots went to Cuba to collaborate with local musicians and let the musical chips fall where they may. They did not go to make a “Cuban” record but instead come up with what arose in the moment. That carries on today as the performance in Club Soda was more jazz than Cuban in the tradition of what the three principal musical characters have always made. The set began with two songs from the Ninety Miles recording and was followed by a Nicholas Payton song so this was a show by a band that is alive and evolving. It was quite an exciting night by a vibrant band. Stefon talked in our conversation about spending his future in educational endeavors for young students instead of any personal musical projects so this band may have a longer future than just the current tour.