Live reviews

Dispatches from Montreal (6): Nate Smith, Lionel Loueke, Michael League Trio at FIJM 2023

Nate Smith with Lionel Loueke and Michael League

(Centre Culturel Gesu. 2 July 2023. Live Review by Sebastian Scotney)

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L-R: Lionel Loueke, Michael League, Nate Smith. Phone snap

This is why one goes to gigs, and in particular attends festivals: in the hope to see an encounter of musicians whose coruscating energy, deep chemistry and empathy, and palpably nascent friendship really deliver the goods.

Nate Smith, who has a three-night residency at Gesu, informed us that the group he invited have even collectively decided on a name. Which is a promising sign, because it is to be hoped they will be appearing again. “The Virginia Trio”, as they would like to be called henceforth, deserve to be heard. And often. Whereas drum phenomenon Nate Smith and Michael League genuinely are from the Old Dominion, apparently Loueke apparently chipped in his willingness to support the venture with a knowing smile, and the line “Hey, I’m from Virginia too”.

A complete hour went past in a flash. These three are as adept at heavy funk as they are at producing a heartfelt “Infant Eyes” in homage to Wayne Shorter. And much more. Loueke’s contrapuntal solo spot was an insane moment of virtuosity with deep emotion. Smith has that mix of creativity, subtlety, timbre, provocation and support to keep the listener engaged throughout. Loueke is an “instant composer” of such unlimitedly fertile imagination, one easily understands why Herbie Hancock is often content to sit back, comp, and let him hold centre stage. League was keeping both on their toes by landing heavily, every time in a rhythmically unpredictable and always happy place.

My friend David Beckett’s picture below is a lot better than my group shot above. But let’s be clear: neither of us have done justice to one of the best gigs of the festival.

Nate Smith. Photo by David Beckett.

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