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Octogenarian jazz legends bring down the house

Jazz legend Dave Brubeck performs at the 30th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Paul Chiasson

Festival International de Jazz de Montréal

At various locations in Montreal on Friday, Saturday and Sunday

More than half a century ago, when he was making albums like Jazz Goes to College and Jazz Goes to Junior College , there was something vaguely professorial about Dave Brubeck. Some of that had to do with his tweed jackets and horn-rimmed glasses, but mostly it was his music, which was cultured, well-schooled, yet never afraid of exploring new ideas.

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At 88, he's more like a professor emeritus - not as active, but every bit as sharp. His performance at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Saturday night marked his 10th appearance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, and though he moved slowly as he crossed the stage, once he sat down at the piano it was clear that he'd lost no speed musically.

The program was billed as Time Out: Take 50, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the album that gave us Take Five , but Brubeck and his quartet opened with some Duke Ellington. It wasn't the most obvious starting point, but it let the guys limber up through a loose-limbed C Jam Blues before Brubeck offered a beautifully re-harmonized, mostly solo version of Mood Indigo .

After a smattering of standards, Brubeck introduced his son, Matt, a cellist (and faculty member at York University). Then, finally, it was time for Time Out . Brubeck Sr. began by describing the rhythmic structure of Three to Get Ready , and the band dove in. Alto saxophonist Bobby Militello's solo was flashy and prolix, Matt Brubeck's was melodically fluid and rhythmically deft, and his father's bit was harmonically ambitious though relatively short.

Next came Unisphere , from the 1964 album Time Changes , which had a much longer and thoroughly impressive solo from Brubeck Sr. To close, of course, was Take Five . Despite Militello's tendency to rephrase Paul Desmond's melody as a bluesy smear, the crowd was in heaven, particularly after Randy Jones got the walls vibrating with a thunderous drum solo.

The night before, Tony Bennett was at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. His performance, announced as "The Tony Bennett Show," was also a family act - daughter Antonia opened - and heavy on standards. Still, there were significant differences. Bennett, at 82, seemed decades younger than the frail Brubeck, performing with such energy and savoir faire it was hard not to swoon. He sang beautifully, danced during the guitar solo in The Shadow of Your Smile and finished with enough power to do Fly Me to the Moon without a mike. The man is amazing.

The Wayne Shorter Quartet, who played the Théâtre Maisonneuve Friday night, are a mischievous bunch, but it's all about inside stuff - quiet glances, shared smirks, stifled guffaws. Obviously they enjoy playing with each other in more ways than one.

Difficult as their music can be, it too is animated by wit, as the four react to one another in the course of collective improvisation. Shorter remains a thoughtful and distinctive voice on tenor, and powerfully passionate on soprano. But drummer Brian Blade also shone, playing with such strength and nuance that there were gasps of astonishment during his final solo.

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Saxophonist Joshua Redman is one the artists in the festival's Invitation series, playing several nights at Gésu Centre de Créativité, each with a different band. Saturday found him fronting a young group playing modern stuff - no walking bass, no obvious blues references - that remained accessible thanks to the economy and lyricism of Aaron Parks's piano, and the melodic logic of Redman's tenor. On Sunday, Redman teamed up with saxophonist Joe Lovano and a different rhythm section for a set that ran the gamut from the Coleman Hawkins's touchstone Body and Soul to Ornette Coleman's Kathelin Gray . But the showstopper was Blues Up and Down , an old-fashioned sax battle that made clear just how tough these two tenors are.

Branford Marsalis would have liked to have seen that, and said as much a few hours later from the stage at the Théâtre Maisonneuve. "But I was stuck doing these interviews," he said, miming impatience. "That's show business."

Fortunately, there was nothing show biz about his quartet. The four musicians started with the post-Coltrane intensity of The Return of the Jitney Man , and moved forward from there. But it was the slow-building intensity of Samo that proved their mettle, thanks to the eloquence of Eric Revis's bass soliloquy, the majestic clangor of Joey Calderazzo's piano solo, the brash muscularity of Justin Faulkner's drumming, and Marsaliss's absolute mastery of the soprano saxophone.

The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal continues until July 12.

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