Live blogging Jazz Festival 2

Tonight’s opening act was Félix Stüssi (pianist) leading a quintet. Stüssi was originally from Switzerland, but he now lives in Montreal. The other members of the band are all Montrealers.

I brought Ilona to this concert because Stüssi was billed as Thelonius Monk-like. Ilona isn’t a big jazz fan — she prefers the blues, the raunchier the better — but she likes Monk well enough.

Of course, Monk is sui generis. I wasn’t too surprised to find that Stüssi wasn’t much like him after all. On the contrary, the quintet leans toward the avant garde end of the jazz spectrum, and that definitely isn’t Ilona’s thing!

One way to analyze music is to say that it alternates between tension and release. Even a simple, standard blues chord sequence fits within the framework. As soon as a musician moves away from the tonic chord, tension is generated. There’s an emotional tug:  we long to return to the tonic chord, where the tension is released.

What we refer to as “elevator music” is essentially tension-free, and therefore BO-RING! Free jazz is at the opposite end of the spectrum:  where immense tension is generated, and release is deferred until it seems that it will never arrive.

Stüssi and his quartet started their set by generating considerable tension. I would put the first song at 7 out of 10 (where 10 = maximum tension) ; and the second song at 8.5. The two saxophonists, Bruno Lamarche and Alex Côté, were primarily responsible. They mostly seemed to be playing in different keys. With the help of the rest of the band, they generated an intense wall of discordant sound.

I was beginning to think it was a serious mistake bringing Ilona. But song three was an almost-standard blues tune. Yay! Release!

In the end, Ilona enjoyed a lot of the set. (Me too!) And now Buddy DeFranco, a clarinetist in the Benny Goodman vein, has just taken the stage. The joint is jumping! Except there is no joint — it’s an outdoor venue.

(Ilona adds:  the thing she likes about Thelonius Monk is that his approach to piano playing is so spare. There’s lots of space between the notes. Whereas these two saxophonists generated lots of notes, but at the expense of musicality.)

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