©Brett Delmage, 2012
©Brett Delmage, 2012
Frank Lozano Montreal Quartet
Montreal Jazz Festival, CBC Stage (outdoor)
Friday, July 6, 2012 – 10 p.m.

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It's always a balancing act for musicians playing to a mass audience at a free outdoor stage. How avant-garde can you be? How far is the audience willing to go along with you and try out new music?

Judging from this outdoor concerts at the Montreal Jazz Festival, quite a lot – especially when the artists explain what they're doing to the audience, joke with them a bit, and parle français.

The CBC Stage at the 2012 Festival featured almost exclusively Canadian artists – and many from Quebec. It was a high-calibre line-up: both up-and-coming artists vying for the festival's TD Grand Jazz Award and well-known veterans.

Saxophonist Frank Lozano's quartet fit into the Quebec and veteran categories. He and his fellow musicians – pianist François Bourassa, bassist Adrian Vedady, and drummer Thom Gossage – have played in many different combinations for years in the Quebec jazz scene, playing both mainstream and free jazz. This quartet is on the freer side.

The material they played was primarily from Destin [Effendi, 2011], Lozano's second CD as leader and his and the quartet's most recent release.

Particularly notable was “Row House” by Gossage, which opened with Bourassa's slow, eloquent piano underscored by Gossage's very low tapping on drums and rustling sistrum, and Vedady's solid, hard bass. Then it became a duet between circling saxophone and spread-out piano notes, with all four musicians collaborating in an extended improvisation.

Vedady's “Gods of Taste” again allowed the musicians to establish a boundary and then experiment within it. The piece started simply with a strong bass line, and shakers and a simple rhythm on snare drum. The piano added repeated simple riffs, and then Lozano's saxophone soared over all. Saxophone and piano traded the lead, becoming more intense and then dropping back several times before a final fade.

Lozano's “Known to None” stayed on the intense side, with hard drumming, punctuated sax riffs, and dark bowed bass notes – contrasted with fast, light piano. It started off strong and became more emphatic as it continued – and as the musicians upped the energy, you could also see how attuned they were to each other and responding in real time. And the audience responded, too – with enthusiastic applause.

The following number, Gossage's “Leuven Country” was quieter and more introspective, with the sax line building up midway but then slowing to a elegaic finish and ending with a chime of cymbals.

The show ended with a standing ovation and even calls for “More!” (not possible with Montreal jazz festival's very tight scheduling) – showing that intelligent improvisation by skilled musicians can reach out beyond the standard jazz crowd.

    – Alayne McGregor

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