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Cole Porter without the words engages the audience at Brookstreet tribute show

Tribute to Cole Porter with Michel Delage, Allison Au, Todd Pentney, and Alex Bilodeau
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, October 29, 2016 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Songwriter Cole Porter famously said (quoting one of his teachers) that “Words and music must be so inseparably wedded to each other that they are like one.” And yet jazz instrumentalists ranging from Miles Davis to Artie Shaw to Max Roach have had hits with Cole Porter's tunes because, even without Porter's witty lyrics, the melodies are memorable and full of joie de vivre.

Todd Pentney, Allison Au, Alex Bilodeau and Michel Delage paid tribute to Cole Porter at the Options Jazz Lounge ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Michel Delage's quartet showed off that joy and fun in a dynamic second night of a two-night stand at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge this weekend. Delage on drums and Alex Bilodeau on double bass teamed up with two Torontonians – Juno-winning composer Allison Au on alto sax and her frequent collaborator, Todd Pentney, on piano – to celebrate Porter's music as part of Delage's monthly series of jazz tributes.

Over three sets, they performed songs written between 1929 and 1954, almost all for Broadway shows. The first two sets were fast-paced, including well-known pieces like “You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “Get Out of Town”, while the third slowed down to concentrate on ballads like “Easy to Love”.

There's a lot to explore in a Cole Porter song. Porter was a notable innovator in song form: for example, the alternating major and minor key changes in “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, or the 108-measure length of “Begin the Beguine”. Au, in particular, used the songs as a jumping-off point for exploration, while staying true to their melodies and themes. In “I Concentrate on You”, she created tender, warm, extended lines of melody, while “Just One of Those Things” was taken at a break-neck pace with circling riffs.

Similarly, Pentney created imaginative interpretations of the melodies: sometimes accented, sometimes shimmering, sometimes full and romantic. He opened “Get Out of Town” with bass-heavy chords, their fullness complementing the rougher edge of Au's sax lines. He embroidered the melody with repeated notes and phrases, creating an insistent momentum that underlaid Au's interrupted, breathy sax lines and Bilodeau's percussive bass solo.

Overall the music swung hard, powered by Delage's drumming – but also could slow down for rich, thoughtful bass solos or hand percussion. The songs frequently ended with Delage trading 4's with Au and Pentney: quickly and powerfully alternating short snippets of rhythm.

I enjoyed the slow, more minor-key pieces the most. “Love for Sale” alternated between sizzling and more reflective, with its insinuating minor-key melody consistently to the forefront. The combination of bluesy sax, brilliant piano, and upbeat bass in “In the Still of the Night” worked together to evoke a night-club vibe. In “Every Time We Say Goodbye”, Au's saxophone beautifully expressed the sadness and longing in the melody, played quietly and with care.

This was the second time Au and Pentney had collaborated with Delage and Bilodeau in a tribute show at Brookstreet. As they did last year in their Herbie Hancock exploration, Au distinctly announced and gave some background for the songs, putting them in the context of Cole Porter's career. The audience clearly appreciated the information on the music – most of those in the lounge were listening closely and applauding the songs and some solos warmly. The lounge stayed full until the 11:37 p.m. end, with late-arriving listeners replacing those with earlier bedtimes. It was a consistently-interesting evening of mainstream jazz.

Delage and Bilodeau will return to Brookstreet on November 25-26 for a tribute to composer Thelonious Monk – this time teamed with French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, who is currently based in Montreal.

    – Alayne McGregor

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Set 1:

  • All of You [1954]
  • What is This Thing Called Love? [1929]
  • You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to [1944]
  • I Concentrate on You [1940]
  • Just One of Those Things [1935]

Set 2:

  • Everything I Love [1941]
  • Get Out of Town [1938]
  • It's All Right with Me [1953]
  • Love for Sale [1930]
  • unannounced

Set 3:

  • In the Still of the Night [1938]
  • Every Time We Say Goodbye [1944]
  • Easy to Love [1934]

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