Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2016: Nir Felder Has Some New Stuff

I learned long ago from my mother that if you can help it, don’t work on your birthday. There are some who don’t exactly hold that sentiment. Bassist Orlando le Flemming’s birthday was yesterday, July 7, but he still put in work backing guitarist Nir Felder for his sets at l’Astral for the Montreal Jazz Festival. Alongside drummer Jimmy Macbride, the three played two sets mostly of new material with a few selections from Felder’s latest album, 2014’s Golden Age.

That’s to say, there were a lot of charts. These songs are new. Many of them don’t have names. Some have angular tones and steady grooves, others roll along like a gentle river. The one that rolls along is, as Felder notes, his mom’s favorite of the new songs. One can see how moms would pick this one like Jif peanut butter. It’s quality choosiness.

Felder has always seemed like a steady hand. Deft but ever steady. These new songs convey this steadiness. It dazzles ever exceptionally, but the plot is pretty laid out. He often plays like more than a gentle stroll or like a run at a fast clip, but he doesn’t serpentine. There’s a quality in that.

At the end of the first set, the trio played “Sketch 2”, one of the highlights of Golden Age. Instead of the dulcet tones of Gov. Mario Cuomo, Felder softly built the song as if out of the ether until Macbride began to shine. The song is framed mostly for the drummer anyway (which is why it’s one of my favorites). However, when the three unwound entirely at the end, kicking in the afterburners and taking the composition to new heights, it was everything.

Nir Felder has always had a workman-like quality to his play. One has the sense that he’s uplifting but still getting the trains in on time. Live, there’s an additional vibrancy to him, but those trains are still going to come in on time. New material or old, and le Flemming and Macbride pull it all off quite well, there’s a comfort in such solid craft, in doing good work, even on your bassist’s birthday.