By Victoria McGrath

The Montréal leg of the Messthetics most recent tour with James Brandon Lewis was nothing short of jazz fusion excellence. Lewis’ rich and energetic saxophone performance perfectly complemented the multi-layered post-hardcore percussion of drummer Brendan Canty. The atmosphere of the concert felt quite serious, as the bare bones and no frills setting of Bar Le Ritz created a feeling of proximity between the musicians and the audience, and produced a sea of solemnly nodding heads trying to hold onto every fleeting note.

The new album portion of the concert was strikingly true to the recordings, which I would normally be disappointed by, but in this case it was so well executed I was left in awe of the musicianship of the group, as well as with a deeper appreciation for the tracks themselves. The rich and multilayered sounds I already loved on “The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis” were exponentially better in a live setting. Starting off with a bang with “That Thang”, an electrifying and powerful track, the energy of the room immediately changed, as the speed of head nodding in the crowd immediately picked up, and I heard a few impassioned yelps. With the bright and bold notes of “Emergence” filling the room and bouncing off the Bar Le Ritz walls, I could palpably feel the enthusiasm with which every note was played and I marveled at the speed-of-light nonverbal communication and technical mastery of all four performers.

My personal favorites were the tracks that were softer and more slow, like “Asthenia” and “Boatly”. While other more energized tracks displayed the ensemble’s impressive musical prowess through their impossibly fast paced and multilayered parts, when they played “Boatly”, I found myself moved by the subtlety of the unbearably bittersweet emotions the group was able to communicate through the medium of one short but compelling motif played in synchronicity. Later when the concert was finished, I exchanged a few laughs with my friend when I realized we had both gotten a little misty-eyed at that same part of the show.

In the second part of the Messthetics set, the performance shed its flawlessly polished presentation and took a more free-form and gritty sound, becoming more reminiscent of Canty and Lally’s post-hardcore past. This segment really gave me an appreciation for how the spontaneity and harshness of the Messthetic’s post-rock style melded seamlessly with the spirit of improvisation central to the jazz tradition and embodied in James Brandon Lewis’ performance. Seeing Canty’s drumming skills up close and in all its glory was my personal highlight for this section. The speed, longevity and sheer control with which Canty was able to exercise on that drum set was truly awe-inspiring, clearly the product of a lifetime of dedication to the craft from his time in Fugazi to the present day. Overall, my main takeaway from the performance was that the Messthetics are a well-oiled machine and tightly run ship of talented musicians who don’t play when it comes to jazz fusion.