The word legendary. Tossed around like a flea – bit peanut monkey sometimes.
In the case of Dr. Lonnie Smith – it is he who is tossing the primate around …
Commencing his career in the late fifties alongside George Benson – Smith used his knowledge as a multi-instrumentalist and student of Jazz, Blues, Gospel and R&B to rise to the top of the Jazz world as master of the Hammond B3 organ.
Dr. Lonnie Smith has been the most sought after player in the Jazz world for over four decades and at Le Gesu as part of The Jazz festival, the good doctor and his trio showed why.
Jonathan Kreisberg and Jonathan Blake are both powerhouses in their own right. Trading unique craftsmanship with each other with Smith holding back to let them shine. If not for Smith’s ‘ jolt you from the seats’ playing – Kresiberg and Blake almost legendary themselves. Blake especially on the drums, combining fierceness and finesse – power and purring to go with a genius’ work.
Some Jazz leaders are perfectionists by birth. Not allowing others to breathe within a song as their visions are superior to others in their own advanced minds. Dr. Lonnie Smith is a genius as he paints with his ‘paint box’ in front of him yet he allows his trio to paint with him. He is the teacher yet his lessons are by participation and not by dissociation. Guiding – yes. Ruling with a steel hand – indefinably no.
What some have done for their instruments ( Hendrix on guitar) in the public eye – Smith has done for the Hammond B3 organ in not only the Jazz world, the music world period.
They don’t give the NEC Jazz Award to just anyone after all.
There are so many female vocalists on the planet. Great ones, good ones, average ones and yes – bad ones.
Beth Hart is in a class all by herself.
Think of the soul of Joss Stone. The power and rawness of Janis Joplin. The sweetness and velour of Adele. The danger of Amy Winehouse. Add the above together and Beth Hart is the sum of all their parts.
At Theatre Maisonneuve as part of The Jazz Festival – Hart displayed emotion and honesty. She wears her life on her sleeve and tells the tales between songs. It has not been an easy life for Hart and self admitting (on stage last night) – she takes medication to ‘make her less crazy’. That part of her personality is what propels the talent.Her demons shine through via pain, love and anger. Her vocals are the vehicle as she rides away from her very own highway to Hell.
Love Gangster, Your Heart Is as Black as Night ( Melody Gardot), Chocolate Jesus ( Tom Waits), Good as It Gets and I’ll Take Care of You. Just a few of the tunes which Hart uses as her very own ‘Morgan Freeman’. Narration through art and poignant lyrics which make hairs stand on end through Hart’s effortless singing and the band’s tight stops and starts. At one moment – a casual fan can hate Hart for her brash ‘barroom’ chat and ‘honky tonk woman’ appearance. In less than a second later – the same fans fall in love as Hart’s tenderness arises like the sun from the eastern shore.
Drummer Bill Ransom, Bassist Bob Marinelli and guitarist Jon Nichols back Hart with so much perception. A compliment to Hart’s sometimes ‘all over the place’ chatter and forgetfulness (the set-list).
Marinelli appears like a young Sam Elliot. Stoically keeping both time and Hart on track within the battery of himself and Ransom. Nichols supplies the chords and screeching solos when called upon. Amy Winehouse had The Dap Kings to make her shine. Beth Hart has her band to make her the star. That’s their job and they do it more than well.
Following an eighteen song set with odes to her Mom in a very powerful Mama This One’s for You and an effervescent Leave the Light On – emotions circulating the theater were on high alert. Hart won everyone over with her simple recipe. Truth through song and truth through words. If anyone in attendance did not want to bring Hart home to take care of her, they were not human …
Ranee Lee has endured some tough gigs in her time yet nothing like the one last night at L’Astral.
Earlier in the day – Lee’s husband Richard Ring ( Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Ed Thigpen, Ray Brown, Michel LeGrand, Oliver Jones ) passed away following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Ring was not only her husband but her longtime guitar player and mentor. Emotions were high yet as they say; the show must go on. Richard would have wanted it that way …
Ranee ( a member of the Order of Canada, a Juno Award winner, an actress and teacher) took the stage with true professionalism. From the very start – a song was in her heart and the love for the material on her sequined sleeves.
The Dark Divas was the theme as Ranee both educated and displayed the talents of all the legendary African-American women who inspired Ranee as a young woman. Billy, Sarah, Dinah, Pearl and Ella to name a few. A who is who of American female musical history portrayed through a concept written and conceived by Ranee herself.
Andre Menard ( the co-founder of the Montreal Jazz Festival) introduced Lee and gave the audience a heads up on the morning’s events (perhaps for when Lee was not able to carry out a great performance or maybe not continue at all). If that was the case – Ranee disappointed any of those in attendance who thought the grief would be too much. In Ranee’s mind and soul, seated right beside her, was her husband.
Theatrically, joyfully and triumphantly – Lee hypnotized the crowd with vocal depth, power and control. Lee was no longer a Grandmother. She was that young woman from Brooklyn with stars in her eyes. The young woman raised by a musical single Mom who taught Ranee piano under the stairs. The young woman who Richard Ring believed in so much.
As the night weaved through classic after classic. As the night steered through the magical musicianship of Ranee’s band, everyone kept waiting for the moment or the song which would cause Lee to break. That one memory shared between two people which would evoke emotions too strong to stop the sadness from coming. It never came in the form of an outburst. Inside – who knows yet Lee did not show she was struggling. Joy and her obvious love for both the tunes and her late husband was all that came across. In the end the crowd stood. The punters well aware of what they saw from an artist so pure and so strong.
On such a sad day – music and the togetherness brought on by the Dark Divas’ songbook turned a ‘normal’ performance into brilliance. A not-so-normal day into a historical Jazz Festival moment.
Music, comedy and drama – all inclusive in an hour long Sunday night program. A Jann Arden concert is a one woman variation on the above formula as all the aforementioned elements shine within.
From the get – go, Arden is a joker in a self depreciating kinda way. Whether it is her ‘poor choice of pants’, her broken top (fixed quickly by a nearby clamp) or her ‘shot’ at Shania Twain – Arden uses humor as quick as any Canadian can. Oh – and she can sing with the best of them also.
Just a few of the starters served up between the comedic antidotes. Reminders that a long time ago (it seems), before the TV appearances on the Rick Mercer Report and all the humor Arden is associated with – there was ( and is) a truly talented songwriter.
Like Murray, like Celine and like Sarah – Arden has a distinct style and persona in her voice and presence. Like all the above, a certain melancholia takes the reins and pushes the audience into a happy sadness. A certain comfort in the sounds of Canada. In the sounds of refection.
If one song defines the image of Arden – Insensitive would be a non sensitive choice.
The punters on their feet with so much adoration in their hearts for Arden and the song Insensitve – a group hug was minutes away as the defining moment became just that. Add a backing band filled with so much integrity – it was difficult to not bask in the pure joy of music. Of Arden’s music.
If there was any danger of a show-gone-bad, it was Arden’s temporary explanation of her drinking problem. Something she says has stopped. Up to that point – a roll was upheld and gaining strength. Arden holding the recipe for success. In this day and age, sad stories are aplenty. Arden took what was an escape for the punters and dropped more reality into their problems. Connecting with some yet disconnecting from most who were out to have as good time.