Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jul 15th 2010 5:00PM by Tad Hendrickson
I'll start off with Rollins because, damn it, he's Sonny Frickin' Rollins. The tenor titan's recent years have been very good ones. Now nearly 80, Rollins continues to dazzle with his energetic playing, which smokes kids one-third his age. His mind is still agile as he works his way through sets dropping quotes from obscure melodies or popular ones whenever the mood strikes him.
The sets in recent years usually have a basic format where he comes out and blows the doors off the place during an opening tune with an acrobatic display of musicianship. Then, in varying order, he does a ballad, a blues, a calypso tune and a few more bop tunes. Longtime fans have grumbled that it was all becoming a bit formulaic, and it's a beef that is only superseded by the fact that longtime bass player Bob Cranshaw plays electric bass. Rollins did this same basic set in Montreal, but there were plenty of new wrinkles.
Walking out to receive the Miles Davis Award from Andre Menard before the set at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Rollins was resplendent in a bright red shirt that accentuated the white Afro that seemed to have a life of its own as Rollins played. The man himself stalked the stage with a stiff-legged gait, bent at the waist, moving back and forth across the stage, thanks to a wireless mic, and playing to his sidemen when they batted ideas back and forth. On this night Rollins was joined by a new band made up of guitarist Russell Malone, bassist Cranshaw, trap drummer Kobie Watkins and percussionist Victor Y. See Yuen.
Malone got the lion's share of the support solos here and actually commanded the stage when he soloed on the ballad classic 'Body and Soul.' During this song, the support playing was so loose that the song seemed to be coming apart at the seams, but Malone's strong sense of melody kept it all together during his solo and then as a harmonic underpinning for Rollins' solo. Malone also shone on what sounded like 'Too Beautiful for Words,' though it was hard to tell for sure amidst the exploratory playing by Rollins.
Two drummers can be a tricky thing if they aren't used to playing together and/or if the sound is muddy. Not sure what happened on this night, but the two didn't always seem to be on the same page, though a notable exception being on a raging version of the Rollins calypso original titled 'Global Warming' – the energy was through the roof and the percussionists had nicely defined roles.
The night ended with a brief jump blues titled 'A Low Down Dirty Shame.' Rollins approach a microphone and I thought he'd introduce the band; instead, he shouted out the song's chorus for about a minute. I nearly fell out of my chair. No encore, instead there was a wave to the crowd and he was done. It was a awesomely energetic set from the Saxophone Colossus, and even after all this time he's still keeping me guessing.
Ever since I interviewed David Sanborn last January, I've been itching to see his current tour with organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Gene Lake. Sanborn's last few albums have been soulful affairs that draw inspiration from Ray Charles and the Genius' horn players David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. These albums also reveal Sanborn's roots in St. Louis, growing up playing jazz and R&B in dives around the city.
While the stately Theatre Maisonneuve will never pass for a juke joint, the trio did their thing effectively enough to conjure one out of thin air. Playing out of the side as if his horn was dangling a cigarette, Sanborn was honking and skronking with the best of them as he worked his way through tunes like 'Coming Home Baby,' 'Brother Ray' and 'The Peeper.'
Lake was obviously the least known of the three and didn't play on the album, yet Sanborn was generous enough to let the young drummer (whose father is Oliver Lake of the World Saxophone Quartet) take a full on solo early in the set.
Not surprising, Joey D got plenty of solo time during the set and even did a passable job at singing the R&B classic 'Let the Good Times Roll' as the crowd clapped along in unison. His solos throughout, on both B3 and electric piano, had an earthiness to them that is so crucial for this kind of music. All in all, a great set. Let's hope that these guys continue to work together on and off in the future.
Nils Petter Molvaer
Of the weekend of performances, this set by the Norwegian trumpeter was the wild card. I'd not seen him play before and wasn't sure how his moody brand of modern electronic jazz would translate into the live setting. Fortunately, he played at the Gesu, Centre de Creativite, which is a smallish room with excellent acoustics that allows for focused listening.
Molvaer was joined by an unnamed guitarist and drummer for a set that moved between cerebral, ambient pieces to some downright rocking bits (such as here), where the drummer pounded out visceral tribal beats and the guitarist added his own wall of sound thanks to an arsenal of amplifiers. Molvaer stood center stage playing his horn and running its sound through a computer on a table next to him, adeptly manipulating the technology on the fly. Sometime it sounded as if he'd taken the funk out of Miles Davis' early -'70s stuff and modernized it with technology. (This isn't a criticism as much as an observation.)
Also of note were the computer graphics that played on a screen behind the band. The cynical side of me thought of Laserlight shows at the local planetarium for a bunch of stoned teenagers; but whoever designed it knew what they were doing, creating a series of different effects that nicely matched up to the impressionistic music. It was a skillful and impressive display of sound and visual technology, but the set ultimately left me feeling a little cold. I like jazz with a little bit of dirt under its fingernails, and these guys seemed to be playing with latex gloves.
Here's what our friends at All About Jazz have been up to:
Lorraine Feather: The Girl With the Lazy Eye
Nat Birchall: Alone in the Music
DC Jazz Festival Perseveres Through Sixth Year
Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Festival International de Jazz de Montreal
'siLENT Z Live,' Pete Robbins
'Providencia,' Danilo Perez
'Live at Ronnie Scott's,' Johnny Griffin
'Tribal,' Dr. John and The Lower 911
'I Will Tell Her,' Curtis Fuller
'Dual Identity,' Steve Lehman/Rudresh Mahanthappa: