nothing like the first jazz festival of the year to warm up a
city suffering through an exceptionally long and cold winter.
year’s 14th edition of Jazz
En Rafale, entitled Molto Piano, brought
together some of Canada’s finest jazz pianists (François
Bourassa) as well as an international contingent which included
Abraham Barrera from Mexico, Shai Maestro from Israel, Baptiste
Trotignon from France and Michel Reis from Luxembourg. Celebrating
the instrument for its depth and breadth, one of the persistent
themes of this year’s festival was that melody is alive
and well in jazz.
beginning to end, the festival was a lyrical delight which was
somewhat offset by the disappointing attendance. If jazz remains
a hard sell in Montreal, it is not because of the extraordinary
efforts of Alain
Bédard, the festival organizer and co-founder
one of Canada’s most prestigious jazz labels.
do you get when you combine a slam-dunk of Ginger Baker with an
infusion of Wagner with half an Indian raga topped off with a
dollop of Köln-à-la-Jarrett = The Shai Maestro Trio.
Or, if you’re not comfortable with quadratic equations,
what is the square root of The Bad Plus + Neil Cowley Trio? That
the music was on the outskirts of jazz was to completely miss
the first note that began as minimalist vibration transmuted into
a dazzling, mesmerizing wave, it was all about melody and the
meticulous shaping of sound -- much like an opera singer shapes
and contours a note. The musicians got high playing together and
most of the audience got high listening. The threesome created
a colourful tapestry of spaces and just as importantly allowed
for lots of space. In deference to the concept, the drummer muffled
his sound by laying a towel over his snare and made his bass drum
frontpiece-and-center of music that transcended category.
was a festival highlight. In
the spirit and energy of Neil Cowley et al, we need more
groups like Shai Maestro, these vital links to jazz.
Luxembourg, the Reis-Demuth-Wiltgen trio provided an uncomplicated,
heart-felt set of songs. They left no doubt that it is indeed
possible to explore continuous melody through jazz. Listeners
were offered huge but very wieldy blocks of melody that went straight
to their target, basic tunes that we all recognize but refracted
and refined through the taps and touch we associate with jazz
percussion and bass.
the festival’s many creative highlights was the Robert Flood
Octet, winner of the 2013 New Talent Contest and a precious (work
in progress) recording contract with Effendi. Last year’s
sextet (more classically oriented) has persuasivly morphed into
a free-wheeling, adventuresome octet that gravitates to the more
open-ended architecture of jazz. But what remains a delectable
constant are the exceptionally mature arrangements and compositional
skills of bassist Alan Mackie. His uncanny and uncommon feel for
composition (its non-circumventable directionality) and harmonic
development predicts that he will be a major presence in the Canadian
a long apprenticeship circling an invisible moving target, pianist
Rafael Zaldivar appears to have found his authentic voice in the
Cuban sound. Staying within himself, his simple but thoughtfully
conceived and exquisitely limpid runs buoyed a percussion-flavoured
set lit up by a Havana moon and then sautéed in the generic
Santana sound. The lesson we learn from Zaldivar's evolution is
that wanting to be a jazz musician should not take precedence
over wanting to be yourself in your music – regardless of
where it takes you.
again Jazz En Rafale showcased, to coin a Dinah Washington lyric,
that it “got what it takes” and promises to deliver
more of the same in 2015 for its 15th edition.