Take six of Canada's top musicians with a foundation in jazz, mix in influences from Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Arabic musical traditions, add great writing and exciting soloing and what do you get? The all-night dance party that is Rick Shadrach Lazar and Montuno Police. And this Saturday night, as part of the Geary Lane Jazz Series, they'll celebrate their 25th anniversary.
I can't remember when I first saw the Montuno Police, but it would have been in the early days of the band, when I was attending the Festival as a new student of jazz music. I knew that their regular Festival performances were not to be missed; not only was the playing top notch, but at that time they were bringing new sounds to the Festival stage, and new sounds to my ear. Toronto has changed substantially over the 25 years of the band's existence, and we can now hear music from an amazing variety of cultures played regularly in the city. The fact that the Montuno Police has remained a vibrant and relevant musical presence I think is a testament to their collective talent, the creativity of their work and their constantly evolving repertoire. Here's a taste - their tune "4 Day Runner", recorded live at Geary Lane back in 2017 (I was at this show!):
Here we can get a sense of the seriousness of the groove - and the variety of sounds - Montuno Police brings to every performance. That's thanks in part to the work of Rick Shadrach Lazar, who has a passion for learning percussion instruments and techniques from around the world - a passion he applies to his work with Montuno Police as leader, percussionist and composer, but also with his other projects like Samba Squad, his teaching at Humber College and York University, and his touring with artists like Bruce Cockburn, Barry White, Jesse Cook, Paul Shaffer and Loreena McKennitt, among many others.
But a good leader, percussionist and composer is nothing without an outstanding ensemble of musicians, and with Montuno Police, Rick has assembled not only some of the top players, but artists who share his vision and passion for musical traditions from around the world. (You can read everyone's bio on the Montuno Police website.) Each member of the ensemble boasts an impressive array of musical credits, touching on almost every imaginable style of music. As a result, the collective is able to aptly - and authentically - bring to life basically any piece of music placed in front of them. On this track, "Rgt" from their album Nomads, Rick and drummer Mark Kelso are kept busy with an almost "drum and bass" groove, laying the groundwork for some fiery soloing from John Johnson and Gord Sheard:
It's cliche perhaps to say that a particular act "defies genre"...but when it comes to Montuno Police, I think it's an accurate description. The band lists their motto as "One Heart, One Mind, One Groove" - and no matter which musical tradition they're drawing from, they are a tight, cohesive unit, and groove reigns.
Come join the party this Saturday night, January 25 at Geary Lane. Doors at 7 pm; concert at 8 pm. Complete details here.