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Love lost, music found (review)

Adrian Vedady was the linchpin of the group at their l'Astral concert   ©Brett Delmage, 2012Marc Copland, Adrian Vedady, John Fraboni
Montreal Jazz Festival, L'Astral
Wednesday, July 4, 2012 - 6 p.m.

View photos of this concert

The announcer intoned: “Please give a warm festival welcome to – The Adrian Vedady Trio!”

And I was bemused, because clearly NYC pianist Marc Copland, with decades more experience and a large discography, was the international star of the show. And yet as one listened it became more clear that Vedady was, if not the star, the linchpin of the group.

Copland has played with Montrealers Adrian Vedady on bass and John Fraboni on drums “for a couple years now” and that experience showed in the easy flow among the three musicians. It was a warm, friendly show: lots of smiles among the artists while playing, and they stayed to talk to audience members afterwards.

They started off with a lesser-known song by Joni Mitchell, “I Don't Know Where I Stand”, which Copland had included on his recently-released album, Some More Love Songs. It's an uneasy piece, with a strong undertone of sadness and loss beneath the initial prettiness, and this rendition recognized both. Each of Copland and Vedady's solos showed off the haunting quality of the melody; Copland even repeated snippets of the song underneath the slow second bass solo to emphasize this.

The Mitchell piece was also an appropriate introduction to the concert, because the next 80 minutes featured, with a few exceptions, songs of love lost (mostly from Some More Love Songs). In an all-instrumental concert, one doesn't usually mention the (unsung) lyrics, but in this case they particularly informed the interpretations, especially in the first set.

“I Remember You” was given an up-tempo interpretation, starting with fast, light drumming and a strong walking bass line, and then moving to syncopated piano: spare and simple but fast. “Greensleeves”, on the other hand, started with a slow, heartfelt bass/piano duet, with atmospheric cymbals in the background, and moved to a fuller sound, but nearer an elegy than a celebration of current love.

The group played two originals: Copland's “Rainbow's End” (a ballad which started with a bass riff and left lots of space for all the musicians to work together), and an untitled piece by Vedady, which was full of dancing rhythms and repeated motifs over the melody.

In the second set, “My Foolish Heart” started as a straight presentation of the tune on piano and then had the bass take over, moved through an abstract phase, then became more rhythmic with fast shimmers of notes. It drew strong applause from the audience, as did the next and final number, “My Funny Valentine”, where each musician bounced ideas and notes off the others. They closed with an encore of Miles Davis/Bill Evans' “Blue in Green”, another duet in which the bass and piano traded leads in expressing the romanticism in the ballad.

One of the great advantages of the piano/bass/drums trio is that each of the instruments can take over the rhythmic duties, each can fill in background, and the bass and the piano can both play the melody. And that versatility – and the willingness to use it – was clearly visible in this concert. What I particularly liked was that you couldn't necessarily predict where the songs would go: the melody always held things together, but the solos fit in organically rather than being in a fixed order.

This is, of course, Copland's métier: he is well-known for working in the piano/bass duo or piano trio format (among others), and has played with some stellar bassists, supporting them as much as they support him. Some More Love Songs, for example, features Drew Gress on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums. But his connection to Vedady in particular is intense – as is Vedady's with Fraboni – and the combination worked really well.

I had initially been concerned how a quiet show like this would work in L'Astral, the Montreal Jazz Festival's own concert venue, with its bar service and waiters passing through the crowd. As it turned out, however, the service only happened before and after the concert and during the 15-minute intermission. While the musicians were playing, the audience was utterly quiet. In fact, there were substantially fewer interruptions than in concerts at Salle Gésu, where doors repeatedly opened for latecomers as late as 45 minutes into the concert. At L'Astral, if there were any latecomers admitted they were discreet enough I never even noticed them and was able to devote all my attention to the music.

And how did this compare to the concert Copland performed a week earlier at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, with Vedady and with guitarist Roddy Ellias? They were both excellent, but I'd argue that the Ottawa concert, because it included more originals, demanded a bit more intellectual attention whereas the Montreal concert could simply be enjoyed (at one level) for the melody, although it had more depth than that. Including Fraboni allowed more swing to the music in Montreal, whereas the Ottawa concert was a bit quieter and nuanced – but both were well worth hearing.

    – Alayne McGregor

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All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2012
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