Dee Dee Bridgewater

Displaying more energy and a better voice than people half her age, Ms. Bridgewater brought the house down with her set. An accomplished jazz singer, Grammy winner and NEH Jazz Master, she has taken a self described “detour” into the Memphis soul music of her teenage years. Lucky us. She has released a new album called “Yes I’m Ready” and performed some of the album’s songs for her set. They ranged from an obscure Gladys Knight song to Elvis and B.B. King with stops in Memphis Stax-Volt along the way. Although in her sixties her voices is undiminished in power, trueness and delivery. Her jazz sensibilities enhance these songs as when Carla Thomas’ B.A.B.Y. becomes a scat song that ends up in church. She doesn’t simply cover these songs but transform them as with Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel.” She is a graduate of the same school of movement as Tina Turner and bantered with each of her band-mates as well as giving them time to solo. Her scat solos where a band-mate would imitate or respond to her is an old jazz practice put to great effect here. She had the normally restrained Montreal Jazz Festival audience dancing in their seats to B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone.” She transformed that song from a lament to a rollicking woman’s dismissal of her lover. As she was about to start her encore someone in the audience shouted out “Slow Boat to China,”which is on one of her earlier albums. She obliged and sang a verse for her. She then launched into her encore which isn’t part of the album, Prince’s “Purple Rain.” She had the entire audience singing the refrain along with her and waving their cell phone lights in the air. This is stuff more at home in a rock concert than a jazz one, but on this special occasion it worked.

Jenson Sisters Quintet

The Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill is a really small intimate venue with a tiny performance space. In its quirky way it is actually downstairs in the basement of an old brownstone. It reminded me of the Village Vanguard in NYC but much smaller. The quintet was a tight unit and everyone had their moments, but the stars were Helen Sung’s piano and Ingrid Jenson’s trumpet again. They are the most creative, inventive and technically gifted players I’ve seen the past two days. Their compositions are excellent too. Playing mostly originals with  the important exception of Thelonious Monks “In Walked Bud,” the set ranged from mellow to spiky. The bassist, drummer, and saxophonist (sister Christine Jenson) had interesting moments and solos, but fewer shining moments. The might belonged to Ingrid and Helen though. Helen’s composition “Convergence” in which many disparate elements clashed in challenging ways and Ingrid’s composition “Landed” based on Pete Seeger’s This Land is Your Land,” were the highlights for me. Christine Jenson also contributed some interesting compositions. However, Ingrid is one of the best trumpeters I’ve heard since Freddie Hubbard and Helen is in the stratosphere of pianists in her generation. All in all a very fun evening.

Rene Rosnes

Before she performed Ms. Rosnes received the Oscar Peterson award for Canadians who have made great contributions to jazz. She then proceeded to demonstrate why she deserved it. With a super group of A list sidemen (Lenny White on drums, Robert Hurst on bass and Steve Nelson o9n vibes) she had the best “band” I saw in the entire festival. Their interaction was magical and telepathic. Each responded to mimicked, commented on, and supported the others; it was a true symbiosis. Rene’s solos were the intricate pieces we have come to expect from her: building and releasing the tension, pushing the harmonic boundaries and challenging the listener in ways great and small. It was a marvelous set.

Dave Holland, Zahir Husein, Chris Potter

I saw one blurb which named this as Dave Hollands foray into world music. This is totally wrong. It was the continuation of Zahir’s movement into jazz. For the most part Holland and Porter played straight ahead modern jazz. It was Zahir’s contributions on percussion that were the hit of the show. Often Holland would look at him and broadly smile, not out of surprise, but out of wonder. Zahir brought Indian percussion into jazz the way Airto Moreira brought into jazz decades ago. His non-stop playing (what stamina) went with, led the way or complemented everything Holland and Porter were doing.. I have long marveled at Dave Holland’s ability to lead from the bass chair. Mingus did it through his compositions and the force of his personality. Holland does it through his playing by laying the foundation of a piece and in this trio setting, through his intricate solos. Potter’s solos push the mainstream envelope into new territory whether on tenor or soprano sax. He is simply one of the best players of his generation. Still, it was Zahir one came away remembering. His playing simply makes jazz the world music it has always been.

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