Just jazz, please

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l'Off Festival de Jazz 2005
June 24-July 3, 2005

On stage, sax player Dave Turner was doing an imitation of Vic Vogel, a legend of the Montreal jazz scene and notorious bon-vivant, about what it took to survive in the business:

"Jazz," he said with exaggerated hoarseness, "requires fortitude ... and self-denial!"

"We know Vic has the fortitude," says Turner, adding with a grin, "but he's still working on the self-denial part."

There's been no need of self-denial for Montreal jazz fans in past week, though. The sixth edition of l'Off Festival de Jazz draws to a close, and it has been a doozy. Showcasing, as always, the amazing depth of musicianship in the Montreal jazz scene. "l'OFF", certainly unlike any other in this festival-engorged city, is run by musicians, for musicians (and jazz-friendly fans). There are no crushing crowds, no dumb security guards, and no lousy electric blues bands. Just great jazz.

Saturday, June 25

bellegardel'Off was off to a good start with two killer sets on June 25. At O Patro Vys, Ensemble Jazz Urbain de Montreal led by bass player Alex Bellegarde worked their Afro-Cuban pulse with great energy and a loose, good-natured, improvisatory feel. A dense ground of rhythm from Bellegarde, drummer Isaiah Ceccarelli, percussionist Alain Mercure, and outstanding Conga player Orlando Lavielle gave the soloists solid support for their tuneful flights of fancy.

[Now, if only a deal could be worked out with O Patro Vys management to let the groups play later it would have been complete musical bliss.]

Later the same night, Dave Turner's Quintet played the 11 p.m. show at Montreal's most stunning jazz venue, the east-end Lion d'Or. Fronted by Turner on baritone sax and Dave Grott on trombone, the band laid down a serious and soulful groove; down-tempo, inventive, note-perfect solos against a rich tapestry of guitar, organ, and drums. Cool, swinging, and deep all at once.

Special props to Vanessa Rodrigues, who looked like the baby of the group, but churned out swirling and emotive lines on her Hammond B-3.

Wednesday, June 29

Normand GuilbeaultNormand Guilbeault has long identified with fellow bass man Charles Mingus - the man's style, his defiance, and his militancy. Guilbeault's quick smile often belies the intensity and anger in his playing: he is a fiercely dedicated musician who attracts the same in his ensemble. For his Mingus Erectus project at Lion d'Or he was joined by a host of furious players, including Ivanhoe Jolicoeur on trumpet and Jean Dérome on saxes and flute, in an evening devoted to the mighty Mingus. Far from jazz's mainstream, the night was a fantastic and powerful blend of chops, shouts, and staggered rhythms.

Thursday, June 30

JensensThe program "Nordic Connect" featured sisters Ingrid and Christine Jensen on trumpet and sax as part of a swinging, multinational quintet with players from the U.S., Sweden, and Canada. Though at first a more more cerebral and cool outing than in previous nights, the mood soon changed as trumpeter Ingrid Jensen warmed up. An absolutely smoking soloist, Jensen displayed dazzling chops in the face of a cranky sound system.

Sunday, July 3

Starting off the final evening of the festival is a double program at Lion d'Or that should simply not be missed, I don't care what else you have going on, drop it.

Guy Nadon is a Quebec drummer of great renown and long-time player at the FIJM. Here with his quintet, in his first appearance at l'OFF, the King of Drums won't disappoint. I've loved him ever since I saw the photo of a teenaged Nadon playing his homemade kit of pots, pans and coffee cans. Though he can afford a real drum set now, his playing retains the youthful passion and devotion that mark his style.

Rieu Next, Yannick Rieu, possibly the most talented of all Montreal sax men, leads a quintet. Rieu's a dynamic player with Sonny Rollins-like stamina, and is always exciting to watch. Always.


No, this isn't a contest for men with thinning hair, just the l'OFF's oddly-entitled closing blowout on the last day of the festival. The jam session at Lion d'Or is typically an everybody-jumps-on-stage affair with guests from throughout the fest joining in. Remember Robert Altman's movie Kansas City and the cutting sessions between musicians on stage? It's like that, only nobody gets killed.

Really, though any night and every night of the fest is good. The advice for l'OFF patrons is still to just pick a night and go. As my companion said "You won't see shows this good at the other jazz festival..." Yep.

l'Off Festival de Jazz winds up July 3.

Quai des Brumes
4481 St-Denis
(514) 499-0467

Lion d'Or
1676 Ontario East
(514) 598-0709

O Patro Vys
356 Mont-Royal East
(514) 845-3855

- Neil Boyce

The players weigh in
Double Dutch
Everything merges (with MUTEK)
Vive la différence
l'OFF stays on track
Eine Kleine Pan Music