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Hiromi, Christian Scott at JVC Newport

Montreal vibrates in the summer. When the sun finally comes out and the mercury gets stuck in the sweaty 80-degree range, the pent-up energy of three million souls who have survived another long, arctic winter finds delirious release, and the city positively throbs with cultural activity. Between June and August, Montreal hosts almost a dozen important festivals, showcasing everything from film, stand-up comedy and African music to kites, fireworks and musical instruments. But the cultural season hinges on the Montreal International Jazz Festival, an event that turns the downtown theater district into a nearly two-week party with an ideal balance between populist entertainment and aficionado flair. This year’s festival, the 27th annual installment of what is arguably North America’s most prestigious jazz event, was middling compared to previous years. But even a less spectacular installment of the Montreal Jazz Festival is a bracing experience.

What makes Montreal such an adrenaline-inducing event is the way that the festival grabs hold of the city’s imagination, becoming the dominant cultural story for a huge metropolitan region. With a typically Canadian embrace of sensible urban planning, Montreal has developed the ideal infrastructure for throwing a huge, multi-venue event, and the total cooperation of the municipal government means the festival can turn several major blocks into a car-free zone while transforming the plaza in front of the Contemporary Art Museum into a vast outdoor party with libations and food stalls. The festival’s eight indoor venues, which offer ticketed concerts, are either on the plaza or within a few blocks, from the palatial Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Theater to the cozy intimacy of the Salle du Gesú, a converted church.

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