Friday, December 22, 2006
For one reason or another, I probably saw fewer concerts in 2006 than in any year in the past 25. Even so, a few register among the best I've seen, while a couple of others were less than anticipated—which, of course, may say more about my level of anticipation than anything else.
Jerry Granelli's Sandhills Reunion produced one of my favourite CDs last year, and the band includes some of my favourite players—including Granelli and baritone saxophonist David Mott—so I was pleased when their performance here in Ottawa surpassed what they did in the studio. Even without clarinetist François Houle, who couldn't make this gig, the band expanded the compositions with tremendous imagination, and played off poet Rinde Eckert's performance with terrific empathy. The acoustics at the National Arts Centre's 4th Stage were characteristically perfect, and so was this performance. A truly electric event.
Granelli's V16 provided a similarly electric show at a cramped loft studio in the Historic Properties district of Halifax. I was privileged to get an invitation to the taping of a live CD with about 30 others, and the band—Granelli, his bassist son J. Anthony, and guitarists David Tronzo and Christian Kögel—maintained a taut, energized hum throughout the performance. The tension was so tight that it seemed like the band might explode any moment, but the performance was the tension, and the release at the end was something else. Can't wait to hear the CD next spring. It will be out on Songlines.
The Saturday and Sunday morning shows at the Guelph Jazz Festival have gained a reputation for being very intimate and very intense (Steve Lacy the year before his death, Hamid Drake and Gerry Hemingway, Matthew Shipp have been a few of the previous memorable shows) and this year's duets by Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier lived up to the expectation. I have a full review upcoming in Coda magazine, which I won't tip here, but this show combined exquisite music—much of it composed by John Zorn—and a true sense of joy between Feldman and Courvoisier that kept threatening to turn treacly-sweet but never did. Feldman has long been one of my favourite musicians in any genre, and it's great to see him relieved of the angst that has always seemed to be upon him.
The year's biggest disappointment was not a bad show by any means, but how could Masada live up to my expectations? I've been fortunate enough to see them in some interesting settings, including one of their early shows at Victoriaville, where they played acoustic and held a large crowd spellbound, and at an ungodly hot, old synagogue on New York's Lower East Side—a show so good that John Zorn planted a kiss on Dave Douglas after one solo. At Montreal's Place des Arts, the quartet seemed like they were removed from the audience, and its performance, while smoking musically, was somewhat formulaic. This is one I wish I had a recording of; I'm sure it was better than I remember, and without the distraction of the large hall some of that distance I felt would disappear.