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Jazz Review : Montreal's Sweet And Sour Sounds

July 08, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

MONTREAL — The 10-day Mardi Gras that calls itself Festival International de Jazz ended Sunday, leaving me with the recollection of a rare musical tour de force.

The problem all week was that from 7 p.m. on any day one had to choose among two or three overlapping concerts. This could be partly resolved by catching the first half of one show, then hopping a shuttle bus across town to hear what remained of another.

At the Place des Arts on Thursday, an older and more conservative crowd than usual was on hand to hear Jinette Reno, Quebec's queen of vocal pop, teamed with Michel Legrand. Reno, a very large lady with a belting sound to match, sang bilingually, alone or in duo with Legrand. It was intriguing to hear Legrand in his original "Tous les Moulins de Mon Coeur," followed by a second chorus in English by Reno ("The Windmills of Your Mind.")

Backed by a big ensemble with strings, Legrand wore his pop hat for this supposed jazz event, and Reno, though a great crowd pleaser, was only marginally more fitting for the occasion than Kate Smith might have been.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 9, 1986 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 5 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Singer Ginette Reno's first name was misspelled Tuesday in a Calendar review and the accompanying photo caption of the International Jazz Festival in Montreal.
The telephone number for a screenplay analysis workshop chaired by director Robert Wise was incorrect in the Calendar of July 4. The correct number is (213) 466-4408.

Escaping in time to reach the Bibliotheque Nationale while a recital by Rene Urtreger was in progress, I was delighted to find that the veteran French bebop pianist, sidelined for many years, is in splendid form again. His repertoire of pieces by Bud Powell ("Parisian Thoroughfare"), Rollins, Monk and Shearing showed an undiminished affinity for the idiom, with a powerfully driving left hand.

Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones shared another stage for an incomparably elegant two-piano soiree. Montreal's own Lorraine Desmarais, who impressed me last year with her melange of impressionism and warm textures, left no doubt this time that she is the next international keyboard figure.

Pepper Adams enjoyed an overwhelming reception. Though his brave two-year battle with cancer has been widely publicized here in the French-language press, it was not mere sympathy that earned this reaction. His sound on baritone sax, like his speaking voice in the droll announcements, was as strong as ever, and the choice of material--his own works and others by Thad Jones and Harry Carney--was as admirable as the local backup trio led by the pianist Kenny Alexander.

Eons removed from the Adams mainstream were the abstractions of David Holland. The British bassist, whom Miles Davis brought to the United States and who now spends his summers teaching in Banff, drew a good crowd to the Theater St. Denis with a rather prolix quintet fortified by the Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and the rhythms of drummer Marvin Smith.

The disaster of the festival was an attempt to present Chet Baker with the Montreal pianist Paul Bley. After Bley had played for 20 minutes, often atonally and sometimes using the left hand only, Baker entered, looking ravaged. He sat on a high stool, and for a long time did nothing. When he lifted his trumpet, he could barely squeeze out a note. At times, his head nodding, he looked as if he might fall off the stool. His attempts to sing were no less embarrassing; then Bley mercifully walked him off the stage amid boos. As I left, Bley was trying to pick up the pieces alone, while outside, dozens of customers asked for and received refunds. One can imagine what such pitiful incidents do for the image of jazz.

Fortunately, there were many compensations, from the "new age" sounds of the group Oregon back to the basic blues of Memphis Slim and, for those whose ears were up to it, the soul agitations of the James Brown extravaganza.

The weakness this year was in vocal jazz. One would not mind the use of Veronique Sanson, Van Morrison, Michael Franks and other pop singers were there also a chance to hear, say, Sarah or Carmen or Betty Carter, Joe Williams or Bobby McFerrin or Dave Frishberg. Having established itself as the biggest event of its kind, Montreal must concentrate on remaining the best. Other jazz festivals have overextended their musical horizons for financial gain; it can only be hoped that Montreal, with its wonderful ambiance and unique track record, will never fall into that trap.

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