At the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, PAN M 360’s experts attend all the concerts that shake up music lovers. Follow our team!
Julius Rodriguez: One of the Greats at 24
Despite a first set cut short due to “weather conditions”, young pianist-drummer-composer Julius Rodriguez had the crowd tucked away under the shelter of the La Traversée Molson Export pub in the Quartier des Spectacles’ Place Tranquille totally glued to his vivacity, intelligence, and virtuosity. Rodriguez’s method is simple: always base himself on a motif, a melodic-rhythmic phrase, a riff, or a simple, catchy theme, and then unleash all his expressive possibilities.
Rodriguez is a young musician as instinctive in improvisation as he is remarkably well-educated in technique (classical AND jazz). His limpid and frankly exciting playing is imbued with emancipation that he knows how to communicate to his partners on double bass, drums (as he has mostly played piano), and trumpet. They are as at ease with their interpretative boldness as they are with the task of making it all coherent with their leader’s vision.
A few Hancock gems (including “Butterfly”), but plenty of material from his two active albums (one full-length and one EP, just in) and some new material too, which he hasn’t named yet. I suggest Rainy Night in Montreal, because it’s sure to be a memorable moment. As a bonus, for just one track (“In Heaven,” featured on Let Sound Tell All released in 2022): the masterful voice of Samara Joy, who is rightly compared to Ella, Nina, and Sarah. A true lesson in vocal expressivity. The next time Julius comes to Montreal, it will be in a concert hall, at a high price.
Theon Cross Uncovers the Mysterious Sounds of the Tuba
Theon Cross plays the tuba like someone who has discovered every secret the instrument possesses. No one really knew what we were in store for inside the walls of TD Studio but most of the show was Theon Cross and a reverb-y guitar player making some cosmic sounds, that reminded me of the interludes in a song from The Comet is Coming.
The guitar almost acted like a feedback machine, diving more into the ambient rock realm, as the tuba was always at the forefront of the performance. A few pieces had only Cross playing the tuba with complex breathing techniques that made the instrument sound like a screeching cat. To be honest, after 15 minutes of this kind of solo performance, I had seen what I needed to. He’s very skilled but you can only be amazed at how many sounds you can make with the tuba, so many times.
Moon Hooch: Jazzy, Brassy, EDM for this Generation
Moon Hooch exists at a weird impasse where they could be a straight EDM band led by saxophones, or a more soundscape jazz trio. Though, they definitely favoured the danceability of their music during their rainy, indoor, Canada Day performance at Gesu. The venue may have hosted seats, but it only took 15 minutes for Moon Hooch to get everyone standing and dancing to their impressive dueling saxophone music.
The drummer really needs a mention here because he keeps the time and groove as Michael and Wenzl keep the madness going. Some of the songs sounded like straight-up techno or house music and if I wasn’t watching them switch between baritone, alto, and tenor saxophones live, I would have sworn the songs were coming from the synth patches. Moon Hooch basically takes turns acting like DJs hyping up the crowd while their other bandmates are playing their hearts out. I think the venue choice was an odd one because a band with that much energy should have played on an outdoor stage.
Anomalie en formule big band, ce n’est qu’un début !
photo credit: Benoît Rousseau
On Rio Tinto stage, more than 15 musicians were involved in Anomalie, a jazz-fusion-soul-R&B-dancehall project led by Montreal keyboardist and composer Nicolas Lemieux.
The prediction is easy to make: in any configuration, Anomalie is promised to a brilliant international career in the instrumental pop world . This big band formula is not commonplace in the local jazz scene, but it is becoming increasingly so among the generation of 30-somethings who have imbibed the hip-hop of Kendrick Lamar, the electro of Flying Lotus, and the jazz groove coming out of the new scenes in Los Angeles, Chicago and London.
As he explains in an interview, Nicolas Lemieux does not seek to transcend the forms of modern jazz, but rather to compose orchestral music as if it were a pop song with jazzified extensions. On Saturday, the thousands of soaked fans after a long downpour cut the 90-minute performance in half. The audience was nonetheless happy to vibrate to rhythms closer to instrumental hip-hop than jazz, to powerful, harmonically consonant riffs, and to a handful of choreographed soloists such as trumpeter Andy King or the leader himself on keyboards.
This instrumental pop speaks to anyone who has experienced adolescence or young adulthood over the past two decades. Everyone can find their way around it, the markers are clear and there’s no head-scratching on the horizon. Nicolas Lemieux’s songwriting doesn’t lead to atonal explorations, takes few non-binary rhythmic paths, and sticks to catchy melodies and friendly riffs. All good reasons to believe in Anomalie’s present and future success.
League, Brock, Thomas, Spark: magnificent mix of instruments and styles
Snarky Puppy is that iconoclastic American jazz band, who performed on June 30 at the Jazziest as a large ensemble, to celebrate their latest album Empire Central.
On July 1, we were treated to a quartet from Snarky Puppy. Violinist Zach Brock, drummer JT Thomas, keyboardist Bobby Sparks and bassist and leader Michael League.
Violin , keyboard, drums, bass – it’s a rare combination.
These four musicians have worked with so many people, from David Crosby to Stanley Clarke to David Liebman, the RH Factor, Fred Hammond. And they’ve all known each other for a long time.
The quartet took off like a lion, to a Wayne Shorter theme, followed by Stevie Wonder. I didn’t recognize the piece, so powerful was the jazz improvisation.
These four free spirits improvise on well-known themes, but don’t know where their complicity will lead them. Sometimes it’s pure jazz, sometimes heart-rending soul, sometimes on the rock edge..
Michael League explained the origins of this quartet to us: in the early days of Snarky Puppy, in Texas, in 2007, League, Sparks and Thomas went to a small club in Dallas every monday night to improvise non-stop. Violinist Zach Brock occasionally joined in.
The Jazz Festival offered Michael League a second night’s performance, and he chose to resurrect the experience.
And no one was bored: Jt Thomas sang a Bill Whiters song Who is He And What Is He To You, which led to some wild improvisations… Violinist Zach Broch was all subtlety, Bobby Sparks went wild on his organ.
Then there was De Angelo’s Voodoo. And a blues whose name I’ve forgotten.
Throughout the show, Michael League, as usual, held things together with his roaring electric bass. He even allowed himself a few solo flights, including one with a fuzz pedal that scratched our spines.
I’ve said it many times on this site: Michael League is one of the most creative American musicians of his generation. He demonstrated this once again.
And the crowd, multi-generational, would have taken it again.