Last evening was marked by reunions. Just before their 6 pm mainstage show, I ran into pianist Robi Botos and his trio in the press room. As I wrote regarding his appearance last year which won him the TD Prize, I grew up listening to Robi when I was an impressionable young teen being served pints of iced tea at The Rex. I walked over to him, re-introduced myself and talked about the old days. After his fantastic set in the early evening sun, featuring his moving compositions and novel arrangements of standards (including an almost Glasper-esque "Days of Wine and Roses"), the backstage was a real old-school Toronto hang with fellow pianist Dave Restivo and manager/producer Scott Morin.
I caught a snippet of vocalist/percussionist Christine Salem, from Réunion. I'm not familiar with the music of that island but the percussive momentum and her deep, rich alto intoning what sounded like traditional chants was a welcome introduction.
From there, I settled into Theatre Jean-Duceppe for the tenth anniversary of Les Triplettes de Belleville. I make no claim to being objective about this concert - the band was comprised of some of Montreal's best musicians, people I'm honoured to call colleagues and friends. I also spent many, many hours staring at Benoit Charest's score, editing and proofreading the Sibelius files. Let's say I know the music intimately now. What I had forgotten was the power of the film - impeccable silent storytelling, lifted by Charest's score and phenomenal band, at times gut-splittingly funny and at others incredibly dark. Projected over the band, the impromptu gumboot squad of Charest and the brothers Doxas got a roar from the crowd, as did Jimmy's bit with a newspaper (I will not spoil the surprise for the upcoming shows). I had no idea that Dan Thouin was a great accordion player too, in addition to everything else he does. The secret weapon in the band is percussionist Michael Emenau, whose electronic vibes and rack of bells and horns bring the bicycle parts to life.
As I exited Jean-Duceppe after congratulating the band, my Facebook feed exploded with news of the death of renowned Montreal bassist Orson Clarke. I didn't know Orson well at all, having only met him recently. He was very clearly the father figure of Montreal's soul and R&B scene, and a mentor of younger musicians for many generations. He had many nicknames bestowed upon him, but the one that seems to have stuck was "Papa Bear." I wish I had gotten down to Club Peopl in Old Montreal, where vocalist Alan Prater and company hold court every Thursday. Apparently the gig turned into a memorial for Orson. I've had the pleasure of running into one of my old mentors and early inspirations, drummer Norman Marshall Villeneuve, over the past couple of days. The opportunities I've had to hang with him and musicians of his calibre are moments I cherish now more than ever. Rest well, Papa Bear.
Club Soda was rammed beyond capacity for West Coast soul-pop crew Fitz and the Tantrums. Leader Michael Fitzpatrick's voice is far stronger than I've heard previously and their tunes just explode with energy live. James King, in addition to his signature baritone sax parts, played some great tenor (and for the "jazz police," with enough brio and complexity to justify their participation here) as well as second keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals. Their cover of the Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams" contextualized the '80s influence on their new record, and substituted raw muscular groove for the atmospheric chill of the original.
I ended the night with the dancehall and roots reggae vibes of selectors non-pareil Ghostbeard (aka Jeff Waye of Ninja Tune Records) and bass ambassador Poirier, rattling the mirrors of L'Astral. I needed some low end theory in honour of Orson.