It is the 1st of July: Canada Day. Montréal is quite however. Tenancy leases have expired and singles, couples and families are on the move. When the celebrations re-start later on in the evening the fireworks celebrate “Montréal 375” instead. The French were here in Québéc long before the English and while they brought with them less Shakespeare and the Beatles, they did come with Sidney Bechet and Kenny Clarke in abundance… and this evening, a not uncommon appreciation for Tigran Hamasyan, whose music is redolent of all things extraordinary in breadth and nobility. Today he is playing the music of Soghomon Soghomonian – Komitas after his ordination – an Armenian priest, musicologist, composer, arranger, singer and choirmaster who lived between 1869 and 1935. One of the more striking aspects of Hamasyan’s approach is his inerrant sense of timing. There is no rush to arrival: every scintillating musical detail is savoured at leisure, without a trace of decadent indulgence. Lyrical passages, so often sunk by the weight of misplaced rubato, here speak with an earnest ardour, lending them a disarming, youthful freshness. That being said, tempos are amply pliant and rubato, when applied, is richly luxuriant. The rhythmic spine of the material – even without the use of the bass – always remains intact, so that rhetorical thrust is never lost to overuse of recurrent, cadenced detail. Nowhere is the music short of perfection.
It is the Sunday after the earthly fireworks have been lulled into oblivion. But not the celestial ones. Certainly not the one that ignites the night and the music of Roberto Fonseca, who leads his small ensemble into the stratospheric realm playing the music of his latest expression, ABUC, with his two rhythmic pillars bassist Yandy Martínez and drummer Ramsés “Dynamite” Rodríguez. If it is true that the whole is invariably greater than the sum of its parts, it is also true that without a leader to spearhead the music and bring to it the right balance of poise and profundity this disc would not really become the mesmeric narrative written in a series of fourteen distinctive chapters. It’s hard not to be hypnotised right from the opening track itself; a sterling tribute to Latin Jazz with Ray Bryant’s “Cubano Chant”. The music ignites like a fire that is stoked one song at a time. It smoulders through “Contradanza Del Espíritu”, burns with a blue flame through “Sagrado Corazón”, explodes like tightly bound sticks of dynamite in the short interlude.
This flame of this concert is lit by the luminous presence of Canadians Rachel Therrien on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Marie-Josée Frigon and baritone saxophonist Samuel Blais. Playing in ensemble settings or solo the three musicians illuminate the musicianship of Roberto Fonseca who makes magical use of tone colour through his masterful use of the piano, with which he constantly urging the other musicians to further explore their instruments’ capacities for harmonic complexity and haunting expression. A masterful performance such as this on ABUC is going to be hard to top. Nevertheless one waits for the next episode from Roberto Fonseca’s epic journey with bated breath. It is time to leave The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, for tonight; for now… a light bulb pops loudly, and in the long night, the voice of a young woman screaming: “Hello world…!”