In the next couple of blog entries I am going to write about what for me were the highlights of the Montreal Jazz Festival I attended.

John Medeski/Marc Ribot trio.

Medeski and Ribot are matched well. They both can move from deep in the pocket to way outside in a New York minute. Communication between them was instant, as one picked up what the other was doing to repeat it, elaborate on it, or respond to it.  This despite the fact that they sometimes had to rely on hand signals and nods to indicate they were handing off the soloing duties to the other. A finger circling in the air meant keep going for another chorus.. They are both great players; Ribot can play that there guitar and Medeski is simply a monster on B-3 organ. In fact he is the Godzilla of modern organists, so offhandedly and confidently his unique, bad self that he is frightening. Collectively they breathed new life into the organ trio format. Judging by how many audience heads were bobbing, feet were tapping and booties were swaying, they proved that they can think outside the box while bring the box along with them.

Cecile McLorin Savant

A fluent French as well as English speaker she introduced songs in French and even sang a couple in French. At times she reminded me of Bettyy Carter, at times of Sarah Vaughn with her wide vocal range, and at times she was utterly unique. She sang that old chestnut “Wives and Lovers” absolutely straight. It was advice to 50’s wives to continue to woo their husbands even after marriage. Anyone who has seen “The Fabulous Mrs. Maisel,” could ask, “How did that work out for you?” While the song itself may or may not be tongue in cheek, her presentation of it after the more modern feminist ditties that preceded it, certainly was. The highlight of the set for me didn’t come until the end. Coming back on stage alone for an encore, she stood center stage and delivered an a cappella version of a “roots” song about a naive young woman whose lover killed her when she became pregnant, singing from the perspective of the dead woman. This was absolutely stunning. She should do more of this kind of stuff.

Keyon Harrold

A young brother from Ferguson, Missouri who dubbed all the trumpet parts for Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic “Miles Ahead.” Not surprisingly he makes the mixture of jazz trumpet and work better than anyone I’ve heard since er, Miles Davis. It was a blazing set with an excellent group of musicians especially the keyboardist and guitarist. His political roots are on full display. As a kid he used to buy candy at the bodega near which the unarmed Michael Brow was murdered by the police adding fuel to the Black Live Matter movement and the protests about police misconduct. His live set was on fire. I listened to his new cd which contained many of the same songs as his live set. As is often the case the cd, though it has its charms, couldn’t hold a candle to the live performance. The performance sprinkled in long quotes from “Lift Every Voice and Sing (the Negro National Anthem) and “We shall Overcome,” to underline its political and anti-racist messages. Impressive as the politics was, it was the hard rocking jazz-rock that stays with me. This is what is missing form te recording. If you have a chance to go see this young man live, do yourself a favor and do it.

Montreal National Jazz Orchestra

This was supposed to be conducted by Carla Bley and play some of her music, but illness prevented her from coming. Christine Jenson (of the Jenson sisters band filled in (more on them later.) They played the music of Carla Bley, but it wasn’t quite the same. Oh, the music had some of the same quirkiness, unusual harmonies, and underlying melancholy typical of Bley. However I was looking forward to seeing the 80 year old master herself. Maybe I am getting jaded in my old age, but the orchestra left me cold. They were all good musicians and technically good at their craft, but with one or two exceptions, the solos seemed to me perfunctory. This changed when emergency guest artists Helen sung (piano) and Ingrid Jenson (trumpet) joined the orchestra for a couple of songs. They demonstrated the inventiveness, the pushing of the envelope that had been missing and is the core of Bley. They clarified for me what had been lacking.

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