Drummer Brian Blade performing at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival - July 6 - 15, 2012 (Kirstine Lykkeberg Thomsen)
By Mitch Myers
The Montreal Jazz Festival (June 28 - July 7) is in its 33rd year and it’s now the world’s largest jazz fest, spread over ten days with approximately two million attendees. The free and ticketed / outdoor and indoor concert programming was wildly diverse and hardly restricted to jazz. With singer Rufus Wainwright and hometown electronic duo Chromeo headlining two of the huge, free outdoor concerts in the downtown square, the festival boasted an impressive range of rock, pop, blues, and world music as well as major-league jazz.
The festival included some big-name, mainstream acts like James Taylor and Liza Minnelli. However, there was a little something for all fest-goers – and those looking for unique collaborations were not disappointed.
I began the week watching Bill Frisell take on the songs of John Lennon (Frisell released his Lennon project All We Are Saying… last year) at Club Soda. The performance was a rather psychedelic guitar experience that reminded me of the jamming Grateful Dead. Later that night, Cindy Blackman-Santana led her thundering Tony Williams tribute band, Spectrum Road, accompanied by the legendary Jack Bruce on bass, the versatile John Medeski on keyboards, and good old Vernon Reid wailing on the guitar.
The Wayne Shorter Quartet continued their reign as one of the best in the jazz business, showcasing a remarkable night of collective improvisation and telepathic intuition between the fabled saxophonist/composer and his talented band members. On other fronts, bassist Stanley Clarke was featured in the festival’s Invitation Series and played four gigs in four nights with different musicians of his choosing at each of the shows.
Another solid series featured the art of solo guitar, showcasing instrumentalists like Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine as well as acoustic roots dude Kelly Joe Phelps. Even the German-electronic wizards Tangerine Dream performed in Montreal, and I daresay it was nearly impossible to get high enough for that particular show.
British hipster-jazzbos Get The Blessing played a highly anticipated gig at the intimate Gesù Theater, but that night the super heavy action was all about Fishbone. Angelo and the boys were completely off the hook, pushing the limits of their classic funk-ska-metal. The show went on for hours and the band played all the hits. Replete with insane crowd surfing and plenty of smoke, Fishbone put on a killer show and everyone had lots of fun.
The Devil’s Music: The Life And Blues of Bessie Smith is an entertaining show that you shouldn’t miss. It was actually the first “musical” to ever be included as part of the fest, and singer Miche Braden was quite formidable in her role as the original blues mama.
Also formidable was the Miles Davis fusion tribute collective Miles Smiles, most notable for its badass rhythm section featuring drummer Omar Hakim and deep grove specialist Daryl Jones on electric bass.
Billy Bragg came busking through town. He reminded the crowd at the Metropolis nightclub about Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, his essential collaboration with Wilco (Mermaid Avenue – now a multi-disc box set) and, of course, his own catalogue of truly great songs.
From there it was on to Copenhagen, land of mystery, home to Vikings, statuesque women, cobbled streets, over one hundred venues devoted to jazz (for the week), waterfront restaurants on piers along the city canals, the freedom-loving Christiania sector, and late night jam sessions at the Café Montmartre. This was Copenhagen’s 34th annual Jazz Festival (July 6 – 15) – and it was a monster.
Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band played a great gig. Blade is always amazing on the drums and it was nice to see him in a group context outside of the Wayne Shorter band. Speaking of Wayne, Shorter’s other band mates were hanging at the Joe Lovano/Dave Douglas (Sound Prints) show. Sound Prints is a group that celebrates the creative spirit (but not the music itself) of Mr. Shorter, and they played two nights at the swinging Jazzhouse nightclub – the biggest jazz bar in town.
The Jazzhouse is just rebounding from a 10-month closure due to flooding during last year’s fest, but they’re back and better than ever. Wayne’s band mates even made a pilgrimage with us to Christiania – also known as Freetown Christiania – where the marijuana trade still thrives in the open. It was there, at the Christiania Jazz Club, that we caught a midnight set by Boston saxophone hero Jerry Bergonzi playing with Danish musicians. Quite simply, Bergonzi blew the roof off of the sucker. Not coincidently, another Boston sax legend, George Garzone, played an equally amazing gig using Danish musicians the following night outside of Christiania.
HIGH TIMES fave Charlie Hunter and singer Kurt Elling performed together for an afternoon set outdoors in a beautiful church garden, playing favorites like Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” and Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle.” Elling occasionally used a vocoder to distort his voice, which was very trippy.
I also caught great sets by jazz veterans like guitarist Jim Hall and the aforementioned Wayne Shorter (yes, again). Besides jazz, I got a good dose of Afrofunk with master drummer Tony Allen. Allen is known for his 1970s work with Fela Kuti, but the guy has kept current by working with guys like Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz fame. Playing outdoors in the early evening right along the water, Allen’s band got the crowd up and dancing immediately. One of Allen’s musicians was actually Andre Foxxe, who also plays with George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars. Andre says George is in great shape right now – and sober – and they’re bringing the old-school soul of Parliament-Funkadelic back for the people.
I even caught a long evening of modern piano jazz by the Gerald Clayton Trio. Clayton is a bright new star on the jazz circuit, and he and his rhythm section shimmered and shook, toying with tight clusters of melodies in gentle but percussive bursts.
And finally, in true stoner fashion, I concluded my long festival run back at the Jazzhouse with The Necks (who hail from Australia). The oddly progressive piano trio played one long, droning, atmospheric-ambient tune for their first set – which served (for me) as an apt farewell to the wonderful city of Copenhagen and their amazing Jazz Festival.