Veni Vici: Festival International de Jazz de Montreal

Veni Vici
Festival International de Jazz de Montreal

by Arnold Jay Smith

copyright © 2006 Arnold Jay Smith

They came; they conquered. Call it serendipity. There was a complete immersion Italian jazz presence at the International Festival De Jazz De Montreal: musicians, instruments, workshops and demonstrations. And we watched their soccer team win the World Cup semis then the finals against France, no less. (For the uninitiated, Montreal and the province of Quebec are French-cultured.)

In addition to Joe Lovano, Pat Martino and Dom Minasi, who were there with their own groups, Vice President-Associate of Marketing & Business Development Jacques-Andre Dupont coordinated with Festival Artistic Director Andre Menard to showcase various groups in 10 concerts called collectively "Suono Italia." During the final four days we heard five completely diverse groupings of musicians playing the Italian instruments that were on display on the lower level of a major venue at Place des Arts. (The concerts were presented in a museum up a punishing grade some distance from there. It was there some years ago that Diana Krall made a rather spectacular FIJM debut. The hill didn't seem so steep back then.)

Each group had its own fingerprint. I was told they were chosen for that express purpose. The music, notably the harmonies and rhythms, reflected their emanation: Tuscany, Sicily, Genoa, Naples, Perugia and Umbria, the cities and the countryside.

A trio called L'Amico del Vento — tenor and soprano saxist Stefano Cantini, pianist Rita Marcotulli and bassist Rafallo Pareti, augmented by a well-rehearsed local string quartet conducted by Mauro Grossi — offered up some of the finest chamber jazz I've ever heard. There were habaneras, slow and medium-tempo ballads, waltzes, a bolero, a tango and montuno. At first blush they looked for all the world like they were reading their parts until the pianist dropped her music. Not unlike Louis she improvised spectacularly inventing counterpoint, chords, runs, tension and drama.

One night no drums, another night alto saxist Marco Zurzolo led his piano-less quintet, 7 E Mezzo, through a set that you'd swear came from Italian-directed movies except for telltale originalities such as reggae, Middle Eastern harmonies, and folk-dance percussive effects. At one point there was an Italian/New Orleans funeral dirge followed by up-tempo reggae bebop. Every member of the ensemble was spot on, but none more facile than Zurzolo, who proved that he knows his way around the alto like it was an extension of his very soul.

We were invited on a tour to see public percussion workshops on the festival grounds, and then to the exhibit halls. You know of the famous Italian violins, violas, basses and guitars, but did you know that the major accordion and harp manufacturers are Italian? "We wanted to bring the classical instruments together with jazz and have them played here," VP Dupont said.

"Italian Songs" was a concert that featured American accordionist Gil Goldstein. While there were some highlights such as a soprano sax/accordion duet, most of the set was awash in sentimentality. Goldstein said later that the parts were more difficult than he had originally thought. That accounted for why he had his nose in the scores most of the time.

The group Accabbanna was serious. We need to set some geography first. When you look at a map of Italy you will notice that Sicily and North Africa, some parts of which are now called the Middle East, are virtually swimming distance from each other. Many Italians in the U.S. and elsewhere call themselves "Black Italians" in that their gene pools are mixed. To these ears, Accabbanna thoroughly mixes them all, the Hispanic and the Semitic, weaving them in and around a unique Sicilian dialectic. Olivia Sellerio gave voice to tales by author Andrea Camilleri; she sang and chanted in a range from deep alto to soprano. The musicians surrounding her were superb, notably clarinetist Gabriele Mirabassi whose excited soli were contagious as the audience roared their approval; percussionist Giovanni Apprendi took an extended solo on a large tambourine whose inner circle was a drum head. The sounds appeared to be coming from different drums. Accabbanna leader Pietro Leveratto gave bows to Ornette Coleman in one piece in the program.

It all came together with the Egea Orchestra in a concert called "Di Mezzo Il Mare." Directed by Germano Mazzocchetti, Egea culls from the other groups giving each musician time in the spotlight. You needed to pay attention as the music got complicated. There was a Spanish march in habanera tempo, searing soli by Zurzolo on alto and Mirabassi on clarinet, a fandango a la Henry Mancini's "Timothy" from Peter Gunn, a tarantella, and a samba that featured an extended a cappella clarinet.

These kinds of concerts are what festivals should be about: diverse and sold out, of which there were more this year than in previous. "We are looking to do more national invitationals like these," Dupont said as we parted. Let us pray that they won't up "the hill."

C o m m e n t s

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November 25, 08

Hi Arnold,

Thanks for the great intro to the IFDJDM. I learnd alot. Look forward to reading more of your jazz festival reportage/reviews. Any interesting jazz stamp sets for that area?

Best regards, Norm

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