Posts Tagged ‘Kind of Blue’

montreal festival de jazz

May 12, 2009
Festival Art:  Yves Archambault's "Swing"

Festival Art: Yves Archambault's "Swing"

Even if you can be in Montreal for the entire two weeks of the International Jazz Festival, you’ll need more ears and eyes than you have to take in the  3,000+ artists featured at this year’s event.

Last Friday the Festival held its biannual press conference in Burlington on a sunlit hotel balcony overlooking the waterfront. As the season’s first sailboats tentatively ventured out into the distant, deep blue, newly thawed waters, around 20 local media folks gathered to find out more about this year’s plans and events.

Where to start?

Well, first off, you should know that 2009 marks the Festival’s 30th anniversary year. With that landmark birthday comes coinciding celebrations for the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records; the 55th anniversary of the iconic Newport Jazz Festival (and founder George Wein); the 10th anniversary of Montreal’s own Effendi recording label; jazz legend Dave Brubeck reinterpreting tunes from his pivotal Time Out, 50 years after its 1959 release; AND, Jimmy Cobb’s So What Band in a 50th-ann. tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

Dave Brubeck (1954)

Dave Brubeck (1954)

As the press release says, birthdays are more about giving than receiving!

Other highlights: teen musicians in the family might be interested in auditioning for the annual  Blues Camp, a chance to share some 12-bar grooves with other young folks on everything from the accordion and guitar to the trombone and blues harp. And whether you’re a musician or not it’s always fun to stop by the Musical Instrument Show (“SIMM“) and experience the casual environment where many performers drop in for impromptu jam sessions to try out the latest equipment and accessories. You never know who will show up, I was there one time when Esperanza Spalding showed up to check out the new electric upright basses (you just might see her use it in her Festival show on July 2nd – she affectionately calls it “the skeleton”).

Another “not miss”: the 3rd annual Montreal Guitar Show runs July 3rd-5th. It’s one of the Festival’s most popular partnerships and the new venue this year (the Palais des congrès de Montréal) offers a roomier, more comprehensive experience than in previous years where the lack of space dispersed the various elements (retailers, musicians, demo tables) into different areas. I’m not a guitarist but even as a passing visitor it’s fun to check out the Show just to be able to see close-up and learn about instruments like the oud, the Greek bouzouki, the Saz, assorted kinds of steel guitars and pretty much anything else that can be strummed or plucked. Very cool.

Oh yes, and beyond the showcases and workshops this year’s 30th anniversary Festival promises over 650 shows, with the majority taking place on the free outdoor stages. If all you do is walk around, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in a little of this and that as you pass by, it’ll still make for a memorable experience. The last time I was at the Festival, the walk to the music plaza one morning was unexpectedly impeded by floats, honking buses, and a mighty mass of people (many wearing bright t-shirts the colors of flags, with the words “Trinidad” and “Tobago” splashed across the chest) carrying lots of grilled pineapple kabobs on long blackened sticks. It turned out to be a Caribbean pride parade, right down a major street near the Festival! Random, and wonderful.

See? You just can’t miss.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

As for the ‘inside word’ from the Festival (and you would expect a little insider info from someone who went to the press conference, right? Right.) – I’m relieved to say that I can now let you in on the big secret revealed on Friday: the free, opening night concert that “not even Montreal knows about yet!” We were under strict instruction to sit on it until at least yesterday (when Montreal found out) that — STEVIE WONDER is the opening act for this year’s Festival, in a free concert (9:30pm on 6/30) at the new Place des Festivals. Jazz? Nah. Jazz-informed? Sure. Classy, soulful fun in a concert befitting the magnitude of this year’s 30th anniversary? Absolutely.

Hope to see you there.


I don’t work for the fest – publicity or otherwise. I just love music and the special occasions like this that can bring musicians and music supporters together in  joyous, culturally celebratory and unifying experiences. The Montreal Jazz Fest is great in all of these respects.

four decades, five men, one music.

May 2, 2009

2009-may01-flynnAbout midway through last night’s concert with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea’s Five Peace Band, McLaughlin paused, glanced over to Corea at the keyboards, and said quietly, “We have a history together going back 40 years.”

40 years – 1969. It’s a history forged, as many musical relationships are, in a recording session. In this case, a musically and historically important one. Early that year – February 18th, 1969 – a bitter cold winter day in New York City, Miles Davis met up in the Columbia studios with some of the best progressive jazz artists of the time: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Dave Holland, Tony Williams, Chick Corea, and the 27-year old English ‘newcomer’, electric guitarist John McLaughlin. 

That single session resulted in yet another career turning point for Miles, his first fusion album, In a Silent Way: the electricified counterpart to the legendary Kind of Blue from 10 years earlier. And that session was the genesis of the Five Peace Band, as the lifelong McLaughlin/Corea friendship played out in last night’s show at Burlington’s Flynn Theatre.

The rest of the Band is Philly bass man Christian McBride, former Miles bandmate Kenny Garrett (alto sax), and one of my favorite players in today’s jazz  scene, the always-entertaining drummer Brian Blade. (His broad smile works as well as his fine percussion to keep the energy burning under the rest of the group!)

2009-may02-programtixAny single one of the band members could have headlined solo, and most of them have. Ensemble they offered a great night of hard grooves, wide-open landscapes of unfolding improv exploration, and the kind of tight, intuitive connection you can only find with groups that have been playing together for a long time.

And they sure have. In fact I didn’t realize before the show that the Burlington stop is the end of the line for the Five Peace Band. They’ve been on the road since October – incredibly, I thought, since only a month after I caught up with McBride as artist-in-residence at the Detroit Jazz Fest, over Labor Day weekend – seems like so long ago! Since then they’ve been leaving a smoking trail of stages all over the world on a tour that took them to Europe, Japan, Australia, and over 20 dates in the US since mid-March. Intense.

The highlights of last night’s show came less in the tunes themselves, than in the special moments of musical and personal interaction throughout the whole performance, and the collective pleasure of experiencing music in the hands of folks who were so obviously loving playing together.

Chick Corea’s introduction of a smouldering McLaughlin tune brought a few whoops from the audience – “New Blues, Old Brews”. But wait a minute folks, – is that ‘brews’, as the audience seemed to think, or ‘bruise’? Turned out to be ‘bruise’, I found out later from reading the New York Times review of the same show. The language confusion didn’t take away a thing from the simmering, steamy scenario that began with Blade’s moody, ruminating soft-mallet percussion intro.

About Blade: you’ve heard all the names. “The engine”, “the sticks”, the “straight man” – for some reason there are as many drummer clichés as there are percussion instruments. Blade encompasses the best qualities of all of them. He’s tight, he’s driving, he’s sensitive and nuanced and what IS he doing with the back end of those brushes, is he really tapping them on the mic stand!? Yep. Sure looked that way. When your job gives you express permission to beat, tap, shake, rattle and thump anything within reach you SHOULD have that kind fun with it. And when Blade pulls the string of bells out to get them ready for the next passage, the soft jingling in the act of picking them up and draping them over his left leg is a calculated, lovely effect of its own. What a joy!

Other nice moments were the interwoven, clockwork 4-bar tradeoffs between McLaughlin, Corea and Garrett – exciting and riffy with an energetic overdrive. Corea’s “Hymn to Andromeda” began with a few cloudy acoustic piano chords, followed by a glassy glissando that prompted a spontaneous bowed-bass response of the “Lush Life” melody, from a grinning McBride on the upright. Everyone on stage (and many in the audience) chuckled at the reference, and then Corea continued in his solo intro to the piece. (And yes, your eyes saw it right: he DID drop in a few tone clusters courtesy of his right elbow. It was just that kind of piece.) “Andromeda” further developed with support from McBride, softly plucking the bass in low, soothing tones, and Blade offering quiet, musical touches on the tambourine and bells.

As for McLaughlin: let it be known, at 67 he is absolutely still a badass. With distortion and feedback in just the right places and outright fire fueling the rest, his playing resonated with the maturity of decades and the freshness of a musician who still finds new inspiration every time he picks up his instrument.    

As if the occasion of the band’s last show didn’t lend enough positive energy to the evening, at the end of the concert, the stage hands, sound engineer, and supporting staff were all invited on stage to emerge blinking in the light, looking a little sheepish and getting in on the group hug with the band. I’ve never experienced anything quite like that before – maybe at the end of a theatrical show’s run, but never in a music performance. It was real. 

Whether it’s 40 years, or an audtitorium of 1,450 other listeners – last night’s show proved that a great music experience can (should) be absorbing enough to melt away the externals. When the musicians are playing they are playing for you, and you alone.

The show was the end of the tour but not, we hope, the magic that is the Five Peace Band.  


For listening:

Five Peace Band: Live (2009)

John McLaughlin: After the Rain (1995), Extrapolation (1969, recorded exactly a month before the Miles Davis In a Silent Way session), Birds of Fire (1972, with his Mahavishnu Orchestra), Shakti (1975, with tabla artist Zakir Hussein), 

Chick Corea: anything with Return to Forever, Crystal Silence (1972, with Gary Burton)

Brian Blade: Handmade (1998, with Dave Berkman), Season of Changes (2008), Mama Rosa (2009) 

Christian McBride: either (or both!) of the Super Bass recordings, New York Time (2006), Fingerpainting: Music of Herbie Hancock (1997)

Kenny Garrett: Beyond the Wall (2006), Pursuance: Music of John Coltrane (1996, Coltrane tribute on alto sax, and it works – beautifully.)

so what?

April 22, 2009

milesdavis19597April 22nd, 1959: seven musicians gathered together for the second of two recording sessions at the Columbia studios in New York City. What emerged was the best-selling, and possibly the best known, jazz recording in history.

Kind of Blue mapped a new direction for the art that foreshadowed the artistic fluidity of the oncoming decade, and singlehandedly redefined Miles Davis own ‘sound’.  Leaving behind the driving, edgy hard bop style that characterized the ’50s, the sextet moved into a modal approach that gave soloists a wide open landscape for exploration, and represented “a return to melody”, as Miles once described it. Can’t argue with that, think of “So What” and “All Blues”, just a couple of the great tunes (that really are tunes, not just licks and bridges) from the recording.

Today’s the 50th anniversary of the second Kind of Blue session.

If you have the recording, give it a spin or two today and listen to it with the perspective that only five decades can provide: it may have aggravated Miles that his masterpiece was upstaged by recordings that came out later that same year (like Ornette Coleman’s Shape of Jazz to Come), but both had their invaluable place in the swiftly shifting landscape of the late ’50s.

For all the excitement and unfettered innovation that free jazz offers, it still takes a focused and fully realized artistic vision like Kind of Blue to provide the solid foundation for the kind of wildly creative musical world that developed in the ’60s.


For further reading, I recommend Ashley Kahn’s excellent book, Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece

Vermont Public Radio’s tribute to Kind of Blue airs tonight at 8pm.



Miles Davis, trumpet … Julian “Cannonball” Adderly, alto sax … John Coltrane, tenor sax … Wynton Kelly, piano (on “Freddie Freeloader”) … Bill Evans, piano (on all but “Freddie Freeloader”) … Paul Chambers, bass … Jimmy Cobb, drums

%d bloggers like this: