Posts Tagged ‘Miles Davis’

2009 montreal jazz fest – day one

July 5, 2009
MIles from India, released 2008

MIles from India, released 2008

Destination: Montreal

Objective: Miles From India, playing tonight at the 30th annual Jazz Festival

Made it here, beautiful drive with intermittent rain and sun breaking through towering white cumulus. Never fail to be a little surprised to see how fast the landscape flattens out after crossing the border. Within a mile or two of the entry port, northern Vermont’s rolling green hills iron out into corn-rowed farmlands that remind me so much of home, growing up at the edge of Colorado’s eastern plains.

A couple of years I visited the Montreal Jazz Festival to enjoy whatever the experience had to offer. Turned out, it offered a LOT: Ravi Coltrane’s incredible 3+ hour concert; a memorable outdoor show on one of the free stages with Esperanza Spalding (who has since, as we know, fully emerged from her prodigy chrysalis to headline at festivals around the world); Bruce Nauman’s delightfully subversive exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum; and a happy unexpected encounter with participants in a Caribbean Pride Parade on the last morning in town. Special memories. 2009-July4-MontrealJazzFest4

This time around, the reason for coming to the Festival was more focused. Around a year ago I picked up a recording of Miles Davis tunes, played by a group made up of around 15 former bandmates (Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Gary Bartz, etc.) and 15 top-flight Indian musicians. The group – and their remarkably refreshing recording – is Miles From India. It’s remarkable for concentrating so much talent in a single studio recording effort and for the artistic result, which succeeds in concept and most especially in execution.

Tonight’s live Miles From India concert was no less inspring: three drum kits(!), two keyboardists, two sax players, electric bass, a trumpeter, and seven Indian musicians played everything from sitar and tabla to mandolin, wooden flutes, and they dazzled the audience with the characteristic rapid-fire rhythmic singing style that echoes the tabla’s own melodic punctuation. All Blues, So What, and Blue in Green were all in there, the latter enjoying some particularly striking lighting effects with static white wedges of light beaming down at assymetric angles to eerily fragment the stage. So was a touching Michael Jackson tribute – think about that one for a minute. This is a Miles Davis tribute ensemble, including seven traditional Indian musicians, in a musical nod to Michael J. It was heartfelt. And it worked.

2009-July4-MontrealJazzFest2What didn’t work as well was some of the technical aspects at the Theatre Maisonneuve. I can’t tell you what was happening behind the scenes, I wasn’t there. But from my seat in the fifth row center, I can tell you that missed (and mistimed) lighting and sound cues and numerous other repeated sound anomalies unnecessarily shifted the attention at times from the musicians to the process of making live music. Note to crew, from me to you: when you see a musician walking to the mic, that’s a cue THEY’RE GETTING READY TO PLAY, and it’s time to turn up the mic. Some extra light wouldn’t hurt either. Thanks. (If there were behind-the-scenes issues you know about and want to mention, please feel free to leave a comment here and I promise I’ll share it with everyone. I’m not trying to be unfair, I can only tell you what I experienced in the audience. And it was consistently a disappointingly unprofessional production.)

Back to the positive: Rudresh Mahanthappa, the alto sax man and (appointed, he said in a self-deprecating disclaimer) band leader. He was as comfortable drilling out deep, searing solo work as trading bars in more cooperative exchanges with bandmates. I ran into a friend at the show and he mentioned having seen Mahanthappa here around six years ago as an emerging artist on the scene. My friend commented at the transformation Mahanthappa’s made from sideman into the commanding artist he is now. That’s the word: commanding. Appointed or not, he has the charisma, artistry and professional skills to be a leader and take his career as far as he wants to.

I could cite everyone in the group individually for the success and cohesion of tonight’s concert, and they all deserve it. But I believe I do their mission a greater honor in saying that they came together as a group, and as that group they played with a single creative vision that exceeded most expectations. They could have used a little more prep time together to lock down the ‘flow’ of each tune’s architecture (weaving between the multitude of solos and ensemble parts), and the sitar voice was somewhat absentee throughout, owing to the sound difficulties mentioned earlier. But overall a very positive experience thanks to the supreme musicianship.

I’ll leave with those thoughts tonight, and know that if I left the Festival tomorrow the trip here would have already been worth the effort to get here and see Miles From India. I recommend checking out the recording if you get a chance.

No special plans for tomorrow in Montreal. If past experience bears out, that’s going to be the best way to experience as much as possible!

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.

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

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