As a fan of the Blue Note label and a particularly arresting show from their artist Tony Allen in tribute of Art Blakey at the Salle Kedger-Duvernay venue last year, coming here again to see inimitable jazz drummer Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band felt like a no brainer.
My desire to return stems not only from the music but the venue: it's Montreal' coolest seated venue. Constructed in 1893, it's the oldest one in use at the moment and its rustic feel is meticulously preserved since its restoration in 1993. Watching Brian Blade's jazz here while sat in red velvet seats while facing a stage adorned with red burgundy stage curtain's is a miraculous thing in a city where new builds are encroaching on great buildings like this. The curtains span the height of the tall ceiling that has some psychedelic hand painted designs, and I feel whisked away to another era. A rustic smell somewhat like an antique shop and jazz sounds also induces a sense I'm in a time warp.
The show, though, doesn't rest on old standards and is a very original expression that appears to be a cathartic outpouring that is timeless, rather than of a time. Brian Blade, noted for having played drums for the likes of Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan and Marianne Faithfull - and known for an unorthodox masterful approach to the kit - is the star.
Yet, the slight-built and plainly dressed gentleman is the least arrogant band leader. The drummer knows when to step back from the limelight, which makes the show a much more dynamic orchestration than the name may have you believe. The musical emphasis shifts continuously and each player is that good there’s never a wish to hear more of one or the other.
In particular, hearing Melvin Butler on tenor and soprano sax and Myron Walden on alto sax combine, and occasionally play in harmony with their different woodwind instruments creates an arresting vibration that induces goosebumps. The uncontrollable yelps of pleasure being voiced out from the crowd at any opportune moment is indicative that this is a shared feeling of magic in the room.
Chris Thomas on double bass makes this toughest of instruments to master look a doddle and provides warm ambient tones that meld everything together. He also keeps his eye fixed on what Blade is doing responding to every change with utmost precision.
The strongest part of the set comes as pianist Jon Cowherd - who has also played in a live band with Joni Mitchell, and is a sought after record producer - moves away from ivory tinkling on the grand piano to creating a brooding sound on a pump organ. The organ resonates a brooding, eerie sound, akin to what you may hear standing on a cliff facing out to the Atlantic and has as a ship passes in the foggy distance. This sublime sound fits into a tracks that transcends any standards or tradition and evokes something far more primal. It's the mellow mind-bending music that fans of Sigur Ros would enjoy.
After that it's the joy of watching Brian Blade play with increasing tempo and flair that keeps us glued to our seats for the duration. Tony Allen would have been proud of this performance tonight and upon this evidence Blue Note is continuing to be a reliable mark of greatness when it comes to discovering the best jazz of the 21ast century. More like this please Festival International De Jazz.