2 July - Thursday night
by T. Wesley
The Montreal Jazz Festival was in full swing this evening as both the indoor and outdoor stages came alive with a wide variety of music.
NOBUKI TAKAMEN (Japan/New York)
At the SIMM-GM Pavilion, jazz guitarist Nobuki Takamen sat serene and calm as he ripped through tunes from both his albums, Blues Blues and From Now On.
Takamen's simple stage setup fit his music perfectly. He played a solo set with no backup band. His songs are largely traditional guitar-based jazz, with more modern, rock elements subtly dropped in for flavor. He plays nice bass lines in the chordal sections, often using his left thumb to catch a bass note on the low E string.
His tight high-string voice leading is fierce, sometimes dissonant until the chord tones resolve themselves as the phrases blend together. He seems to favor 9th and 13th chords when he comps, shifting effortlessly into fluid, legato passages and octave runs covering the entire neck.
Sweep picking rears its head from time to time, showing off Takamen's extremely precise right hand. When asked about those sections, Takamen said, "One of my influences is Akira Takasaki from Loudness".
Though many guitarists get lost in speed, technique and precision, Takamen's compositions show a balanced, thoughtful musician that is entirely versed in the background of traditional jazz guitar.
In one song in particular, One Big Shot, which Takamen said was inspired by his hobby of playing pool, he used chunky, aggressive 9th chords down low on the neck (F on the 6th string, C on the 5th, and G on the 4th), then slipped into a fast section, ending the tune with a nice, trashy rock and roll ending.
The Gear: Takamen plays an unmodified red 1999 Gibson ES-335. His amp is an Acoustic Image and the speaker cabinet he uses is a dual-ported Raezer's Edge 1x12. He favors the neck pickup, which gives him a thick, meaty bass tone and sweet, balanced highs.
SADAO WATANABE (Japan)
Hailing from all over Japan as well as Dakar, Senegal, Sadao Watanabe's band plays very much straight ahead jazz, with one big exception: a percussionist who is every bit as hot as Tito Puente ever was, only with African drums instead of timbales.
Their 90-minute set started hot and stayed that way until the second encore, when Watanabe took the stage with only his pianist backing him up, playing an incredibly sweet melody. He took the opportunity to step away from the microphone and let the crowd hear the pure, crisp tone of his tenor sax.
Rife with improvisation and solos, Watanabe's songs are relatively simple in structure. This allows the musicians to simply shine right through. It's clear they have all mastered the genre and are extremely tight. Watanabe mentioned between songs that the entire band came over from Japan with him, which is the first time he's been able to do that.
The audience was quite appreciative, especially enjoying the fiery percussion solos by the Senegalese percussionist. Watanabe relied mostly on his pianist to carry the soloing, giving only a few stretch-out sessions to his guitarist and even fewer to his bassist. Every time one of the players stepped out of the song, though, it was impressive to no end.
Watanabe's melodic choices are often bold, with wide intervals. He tends to avoid outright or overt dissonance. He shows off influences from around the world, working Japanese flute melodies over African rhythms and more traditional jazz melodies over Brazilian beats.
The Gear: Watanabe plays soprano and tenor saxophone and flute. Behind him were Akira Onozuka (grand piano and 2 Yamaha synthesizers), Takashi Yofu (Gibson Les Paul with a yellow flame maple top played through a Fender Twin Reverb), Kiichiro Komobuchi (Fender Jazz Bass with a 3-color burst played through a vintage Ampeg head and a Hartke 4x10 cab), Hiroyuki Noritakeu (5-piece Yamaha kit with hats, 2 crashes, a splash, and a ride), and N'diasse Niang (4 different African drums).
FEDERICO AUBELE (Argentina)
It's incredibly difficult to describe Federico Aubele's music because it sounds like everything and nothing else all at the same time.
His influences are wide and varied, and it all boils together with an eclectic sound that suits his vocal style. Aubele's rhythm section is tight and entertaining - the bass player, Ashish Vyas from Washington DC, never stopped moving throughout the entire set.
The brilliance of Aubele's music is the disparity between the bottom and the top. The bass and drums lay down a thick rhythm. Over that, Aubele weaves a cross between classical and flamenco-style playing on a nylon-string guitar with his pleasing tenor to create a pop style that has to be heard to be understood.
The French-speaking crowd didn't seem to mind that Aubele sings in Spanish, cheering and whistling wildly as each song drew to a close.
The Gear: Aubele played an electric-acoustic classical guitar through a Fender "The Twin" amplifier. Aubele's band was Jerry Busher (drums), Ashish Vyas (bass), Will Rast (keyboards) and Natalia Clavier (keyboard, melodica, vocals).