Avant-Garde / Avant-Rock / Contemporary Jazz / Experimental / Contemporary / Free Improvisation / Indie Rock / Jazz / Post-Rock

Montreal Anti Jazz Police Festival – Day 3

par Frédéric Cardin

Yesterday was the third day of the Anti Jazz Police Festival at Ursa here in Montreal. We came away less satisfied than the previous evenings, not so much for reasons of musical quality, but rather of overall coherence and preparation, due to unforeseen absences. I’ll come back to that later. That said, it was not without its moments of ecstasy, thank you.

Listen to the interview I did (in French) with Martha Wainwright about the Montreal Anti-Jazz Police Festival

It was the artistic excellence of Montreal bassist Rémi-Jean Leblanc that launched this third opus from the new festival. Leblanc, in top form and supported by Jonathan Cayer on keyboards, Nicolas Perron on guitar and Kevin Warren on drums, took us on a journey of sound adventures with a rock bent, both prog and post in certain rhythmic-harmonic details, or McLaughlin-style fusion elsewhere. Also invited to the stylistic party were a few funk wiggles and even a brief extravagance that I felt was a nod to punk. On top of all that, Erika Angell, masterful, allowed herself a series of vocal outbursts as she knows how to propel them, at once modern, astonishing and lyrical. It was a good start, in front of a more sparse audience than on previous evenings. A pity, because RJ Leblanc is one of the great musicians of his generation.

Bellbird at Ursa photo :Pierre Langlois

The second act of Day 3 showed us the surprising experimental tendencies of Liam O’Neil (Suuns) on drums (and other percussion). He was replacing at the last minute Parker Shper (sick?) That explains why the set was so very short, but not why it started somewhere around the same time as the soundcheck ended. As the boundary between the two proved non-existent, and above all very imprecise, the performance was perhaps already half over when we realised he was playing for real! Felt weird, but hey, good cover up anyway. Besides, O’Neil creates new colours by tapping his tools in all sorts of ways, and even dares to do so with a microphone, thanks to which he collects the resonances induced to create feedback that he transforms live into so many new colours and atmospheres. Avant-garde at the highest level. 

This was followed in the same second act by the Montreal quartet Bellbird, who play modern jazz/free jazz/scholarly contemporary music/American minimalism. I couldn’t wait to hear them live. Unfortunately, it was a trio that turned up, as (spectacular) saxophonist Allison Burik was home sick. Another absence. It happens, of course, and we don’t blame them (neither do we the Festival, of course), but the result, while excellent, didn’t reach the high polyphonic levels found elsewhere, and also on their album Root in Tandem, released in 2023 (read my review HERE). But hats off to Claire (Devlin) on tenor sax, Eli (Davidovici) on double bass and Mili (Hong) on drums, for pulling out all the stops and giving us a quality set that would be the envy, albeit diminished, of any other band. 

Simon Angell at Ursa – photo : Pierre Langlois

The third act was reserved for a duo we’d been hoping for for a long time: Simon Angell on guitar (and lots of electronic tampering) and Tommy Crane on drums. We’d been promised guests, and after a fine duet of atonal mischief, contemplative abstractions and bursts of rhythmic energy, Greg Bryant from Concurrence (performing tonight on Day 4) took to the stage with his purring bass. Suddenly, the whole set was spiced up. Then the other guy from Concurence, pianist Paul Horton, came in to add a layer. He’s a good pianist, yes, but he also plays the melodica at the same time! Wow. It’s a solid performance, and the room is lifted by a lightning energy and doped by an explosive adrenalin boost. But wait, that wasn’t the end of it: as if out of the blue, saxophonist David Binney and singer Sarah Rossy turn this four-piece trip into an ecstatic six-piece sound orgy. It doesn’t last long enough, but we’re well fed up all the same. 

It was an uneven evening, to be sure, but one that ended with great satisfaction. If the important thing is to get off to a good start and finish well, Day 3 has proved that the Anti Jazz Police festival is very good at getting its priorities right. 

See you tonight for the final.

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