The players weigh in

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Musicians give their top picks for this year's Montreal International Jazz Festival
by Mary Ann Lacey

When this jazz-singing reporter was asked to write a preview of the 2005 Montreal International Jazz Festival indoor concerts, I decided to get some help from my friends. I asked five famous jazz musicians for their top four favourite indoor shows in this year’s festival. Included in this celebrity lineup are bass players Paul Langosch (in Tony Bennett’s band, the most swinging bass on tour) and Alec Walkington (McGill jazz prof and Montreal’s classiest bassist), pianist Lorraine Desmarais (Juno and Félix award-winner, and recipient of the jazz fest 2002 Oscar Peterson Prize), guitarist Gray Sargent (who plays with Tony Bennett and k.d. lang), and singer-songwriter Sienna Dahlen (a Montreal singin’ sensation).

Alec Walkington

Dave HollandDave Holland   "Dave Holland, fantastic rhythmic-sounding group… the most important thing he does these days is odd meters and odd time signatures, but you can remember his tunes, they are very singable."

Sonny Rollins   "The greatest of all time. Well known in the '50s, kept touring, writing tunes, doesn’t sound old- fashioned…sometimes he does more latin, calypso-inspired, famous versions of standards."

Bill Charlap Trio   "Wonderful trio, tight group. Free, spontaneous but interesting arrangements… sounds very fresh."

Toots Thielemans and Kenny Werner   "Toots is like the ubiquitous harmonica player…plays on Sesame Street, played with Shirley Horn, Jaco Pastorious, a virtuoso whistler (Old Spice commercials). Kenny Werner on piano played with Archie Shepp and the Mel Lewis Big Band…zen thinking for a jazz player major."

(Alec Walkington has taught composition, improvisation, and bass at McGill for ten years, and can be seen in this year's jazz festival with Jennifer Bell’s Altsys Nonet, Min Rager’s Quartet, and the Joe Sullivan Big Band.)

Lorraine Desmarais

Fred Hersch and Bob Stenson   "A distinctive way of reinventing jazz standards - extraordinary technique."

Charles Lloyd Quartet   "70s free-jazz, lyrical, gets the public emotional. Includes Geri Allen and Larry Grenadier."

Dave Holland Big Band   "I’m in a big band mood…beautiful older tunes, tight arrangements. Contrasts with the loose new work… plays swing to funk, clearly identifiable, complex and melodic, but accessible."

Hiromi   "Heard her on the web, great technique…curious, and I know that she will be interesting."

(When I asked Lorraine about singers–my personal bias–she said she was in a gala with Sophie Milman and really enjoyed her sound. Ranee Lee has her style and is the best at that kind of music. Desmarais will be performing in a surprise indoor show in this year's festival.)

Sienna Dahlen

Bill FrisellBill Frisell Quintet   "Spooky sounding multi-talented arranger and guitar soloist… an individual voice on the guitar, he deconstructs standards."

Medeski, Martin and Wood   "Groove-players mix of original styles, jazzy, outside at times, funk rock, instrumental."

Ron Sexsmith   "Elvis Costello gave him a break. Not jazz at all, kitschy rockabilly, guitar player/singer with ephemeral voice…I’m newly interested in him."

Feist   "Original sounding, artsy Euro sound. Sings in English and French."

("I don’t listen to much jazz. If Shirley Horn were here I would go, or see Jane Siberry or k.d. lang. I listen to more contemporary music like Radiohead, Coldplay... The Perishers are my currant favourite." Dahlen performs every Wednesday at the Upstairs jazz bar and will be at the L’Off jazz festival with Daniel Lessard's band.)

Paul Langosch

Dave Holland   "One of the strongest musicians in the world…very melodic. Even a non-jazz fan would find this music very nice to listen to. I’ve seen him many times."

Tango Flamenco Dance   "It’s different, something I don’t normally get to see. I like music and dance combined."

Sonny RollinsToots and Kenny   "Kenny plays adventurous piano and brings out something in Toots, [who] makes you love the harmonica."

Sonny Rollins   "Never seen him live, but I’ve worn out some Sonny Rollins records playing them so often."

Bill Charlap Trio   "A definite maybe. Great trio, the group has been together for a long time. Maybe Randy Weston with Candido, 80-85 years old, not going to be around much longer. Weston in his 70s. Bobby McFerrin: definite maybe… love the Wizard of Oz synopsis he does in four or five minutes. Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden, super together in just duo form. Have to take this out of my top four but it would be number five."

(Paul Langosch is currently on tour with Tony Bennett in sunny California, performing this month at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, and just finished a tour of Australia with k.d. lang.)

Gray Sargent

Sonny Rollins   "One of the greats of all time, that’s all there is to say."

TootsToots and Kenny   "Great player, Toots."

Dave Holland   "Never seen him."

Tango Flamenco Dance   "I'm sure this would be good, or Madeleine Peyroux, nice clean singing, just sings the standards in a straight ahead way. Good choices of tunes. Maybe I’d go to this before the tango show."

Bill Frisell   "If I had choice of five I’d go because I’m curious. Geri Allen, she plays good too. Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny ... great players. (Who would Tony Bennett go to see?) Sonny Rollins, he’s [Tony’s] friend. He would go out to hear lots of the singers, he likes to discover the new ones. He sees lots of shows if he can and he goes out to see his friends play music."

(Sargent, like Langosch–both beautiful, elegant players with great chops–tours with Bennett 250 days of the year.)

I would definitely see some of the bands suggested by my colleagues, but here are my choices: 1. Omara Potuondo, 2. Francois Carrier Trio, 3. Cesaria Evora, 4. Dewey Redman or Juana Molina or Ojos de brujo.

There’s so many great things at the festival this year, and we haven’t even got the listing of outdoor shows yet. Stay tuned for more picks from the celebrities and have a happy jazz fest, everyone.

(Mary Ann Lacey is a multidisciplinary musician, dancer, and choreographer. She teaches Argentinian tango at McGill and will be singing in the Sunday afternoon concert series at Westmount Park on July 31.)

[ Photos of musicians: top, Dave Holland (courtesy Dave Holland's site); Bill Frisell, Sonny Rollins, Toots Thielemans (courtesy Montreal International Jazz Festival) ]

- © Mary Ann Lacey, 2005

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