In a slightly “out of left field” kind of way the year 1941 became an important one at the 37th Montreal Jazz Festival on day three, 1 July 2016 which also just happened to be Canada Day. During my daily walk up to the top of Mount Royal I ran into the Canada Day parade downtown. So a festive air was already established in a city abuzz with the national holiday as well as one of the world’s greatest jazz festivals. I set out to investigate this connection between these two years in two different centuries and here’s my report.
What was happening in 1941? Well, the United States had just been forced into involvement in the terrible 2nd World War and in the time of this horribly negative event there were some positive things to note. A baby boy was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts named Armando Anthony Corea. His Aunt Millie would pinch his cheeks and say something that sounded like “chicky, chicky, chicky!” He immediately became known as Chick. You may remember that this youngster went on to become an NEA Jazz Master and this June 12th turned 75 years old!
There was another birth in 1939 that was pretty important and it also involved jazz music. The term “Bebop” was being used to describe a new style that was now in full swing, bringing some creativity and positivity to a world in turmoil. A gentleman named Alfred Lion, who had founded a recording label he named Blue Note in 1939, was drafted into the army in 1941. He would leave for military service but he would not let the jazz community down as he kept Blue Note going and left it in the hands of his associates. In 2016 the world celebrates 75 years of great jazz releases that have thrilled fans for these many decades. Both Chick Corea’s 75th birthday and the celebration of Blue Note’s 75th anniversary became big events here in Montreal.
I began the night with another visit to the beautiful, new home of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Maison Symphonique, which on this night would be the home of the Chick Corea Trio featuring two old friends and long time associates, Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade on drums. This would be an all acoustic set with Chick on acoustic piano so with all the stylistic directions the trio could have gone in, considering the variety in Chick’s musical approach over the decades, this one would be limited to what could be achieved without electric instrumentation.
With the obviously immense talent on stage there was much that could be achieved, and in this case it became kind of a “Greatest Jazz Hits of the 20th Century!” Those hits included two of Chick’s classics as he began the show with “500 Miles High” and also included “Awakening” in the set list. We were treated to classics like Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit,” two Thelonious Monk classics back to back and more standards. It all featured Chick’s always-masterful touch on the piano and his entertaining commentary between tunes. Plus, if you are a fan of extended acoustic bass and drum solos then with Mr. McBride and Mr. Blade you were treated to lots of that at it’s highest level. It was a great pleasure to join in the celebration of Chick Corea’s 75th birthday that features Chick and his various compatriots touring the world to give all of us a treasured gift!
I was again off to the Theatre Maisonneuve to take in a performance that had me guessing as to what I might hear. There are over 75 years of recorded work for the “Blue Note 75 Band” to choose from, so I wondered if they would play only songs from the massive recorded history of this legendary, and still very active, jazz record label. I entered the show already in progress and heard an hour by six of the current young stars of the Blue Note label…Robert Glasper, Lionel Loueke, Ambrose Akinmusire, Marcus Strickland, Derrick Hodge and Kendrick Scott.
What I heard was not a collection of updated oldies from the Blue Note catalog but instead the new sound of Blue Note in the form of the compositions from these six young gentlemen who are pushing jazz music and the legacy of Blue Note Records itself forward in a most creative way. There was no particular reliance on electronic music, though Mr. Glasper certainly used electric keys effectively and Lionel Loueke played his electric guitar though some devices that gave it an otherworldly sound from time to time. There was also not much reflection of what is happening in modern music, establishing rifts and repeating them with simple beats a al dance and hip hop. Instead what the gentlemen offered was a full sounding production of new, creative, sometimes free jazz with expert playing and an exhibition of compositional skill at a high level. Blue Note appears to be in good hands as it begins its next 75 years.
I had one last stop on my way to the end of the night and this would be a visit to the friendly confines of one of my favorite and most intimate of venues, the converted church called the Gesu. The terraced seats leading down to the sunken stage give you the feeling of being face to face with the performers, not to mention up close and personal. It was the perfect setting to see a trio and in this case it was the latest Charlie Hunter Trio featuring Bobby Previte on drums and Alan Ferber on trombone with Charlie playing bass, rhythm and lead simultaneously on his 7-string guitar.
Much of the set was taken from the 2015 self-produced and released recording titled Let The Bells Ring On, a collection of Charlie Hunter compositions featuring Mr. Previte and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, that did not receive wide distribution or promotion. I was lucky to pick up a copy in Archambault, one of the large Montreal record stores (yes, they do still exist and Montreal has some great ones) so I was ready for what I would hear. What I heard was the coolest of groove marked by Charlie’s one-of-a-kind guitar work, the masterful beats of the master drummer Bobby Previte and sometimes full sounding and sometimes muted trombone by Alan Ferber. The vibe was great, the groove relentless, the playing superb and a special feature was the marriage of Charlie’s guitar with the trombone as they played in unison and harmony with delightful results. A splendid time was had by all, and it was a fitting end to another marvelous day of music at the Montreal Jazz Fest!
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… http://www.mojaradio.com