John Medeski Holds Court at The Jesus Room at Montreal Jazz Festival

Jul 7, 2018

"Gesu" is an Italian name for Jesus. "Le Gesu" is the name of the Jesuit church near Place des Arts in the heart of Montreal.

"The Jesus?" I wondered.

Marc-Andre shrugged and laughed. "The whole name is Le Gesu--Centre de creativite."

Le Gesu
Credit David Tallacksen for WBGO

He's been a festival friend for years. Now he's the major domo of the arts center at the church -- which includes a theatre down below that seats 240 or so fest-goers -- which includes me throughout Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal.

FIJM offers shows every fest-day at 6PM and 10:30PM. For me, shows at "The Jesus" always have been some of the most different and delightful shows of the festival.

This jazzfest, most of the 6PM shows have been "Invitation" concerts. Each jazzfest, three artists are booked for three concerts with three groups.

John Medeski mostly played a Hammond B3, first in a soul-jazz trio with guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer J.T. Lewis. Next came Mad Skillet, a group that came together a couple of years ago at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Also funky but with a somewhat surreal second line energized by the Sousaphone of the Dirty Dozen's Kirk Joseph.

John Medeski, Billy Martin and Mark Guiliana
Credit Valeriegay Bessette for FIJM

Medeski's third gig was also the first "Invitation" gig of drummer Mark Guiliana. They were joined by Medeski's long-time bandmate, drummer Billy Martin. Guiliana played the lead as much as (or more than) Medeski. Martin most often played colorful counterpoints, a ding, a toot, while Medeski played a variety of effects with a crunchy electro-whatever and what sounded like a synth-kalimba.

Guiliana played orchestrated thunder with Medeski, even more the next night with multi-keyboard wizard Bigyuki. More than groove, Guiliana played rhythmic soundscapes -- and he's a virtuoso bass drummer. He played in several moments only the bass drum, but not exactly syncopated booming. He played the booms with an almost melodic subtlety. I remember Dizzy once saying he'd wanted to have someone in the band play only the bass drum. Dizzy would've loved the right foot of Mark Guiliana.

Guiliana cooled down for his last gig at the Gesu. He welcomed Gretchen Parlato to sing with his quartet. Her often wordless voice enchanted several tunes, especially with the audience so close to the music. One of her songs was inspired by wondering what's on the mind of her baby. And her encore lullaby became a charming sing-along.

Mark Guiliana performing with his quartet at FIJM
Credit Valeriegay Bessette for FIJM

I often have observed that some of the artists at the festival are what I call "very Montreal." Artists performing music I've never heard anywhere but at FIJM. Artists uniquely creative.

Jeremy Dutcher played a 6PM gig at the Gesu. He comes from the Wolastoqiyik people of Northeastern Canada. He's inspired by traditional songs of his people. He plays chants, recorded on wax a hundred years ago, as he plays impressionistic piano and sings chants almost operatically. "I sing to the empty seats," said Dutcher to a half-house at the Gesu. "My ancestors fill the seats when I sing to them."