What to See at the Montreal Jazz Festival

A guide to the acts you won’t want to miss

Jason Moran
Molly Ringwald

1 of 2   Next

It’s hard to go wrong at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

The 10-day festival, set for June 28-July 7 in downtown Montreal, is once again absolutely bursting with great options. The 2013 offerings include such jazz giants as Wayne Shorter and Charles Lloyd, top pop acts like Feist and Belle & Sebastian and celebrated performers hailing from many other genres.

Yet, you can’t see everything, right? (Although, some will surely try.) So, we’ve come up with this guide to some of the best options for those bound for Montreal this year.

Here are 10 can’t-miss shows, organized by date:

Charles Lloyd Quartet (June 28): The legendary saxophonist, who celebrated his 75th birthday in March, is your host for the first half of the festival’s popular Invitation Series. He’ll be performing three shows, in three different musical settings, during opening weekend. Of the trio, the opener (on June 28) looks the most appealing, since Lloyd will be joined by pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. Lloyd also performs with tabla player Zakir Hussain and Harland on June 29; and with guitarist Bill Frisell and Moran on June 30.

Wayne Shorter 80th Birthday Celebration (June 29): Not all birthday parties are created equal, and this 80th b-day bash should certainly be an event to remember. Shorter’s terrific quartet (featuring pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade) is the headliner, of course. Yet, fans should be just excited about the party guests, which include saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Dave Douglas and bassist-vocalist Esperanza Spalding. In all, we’re talking about more than three hours of superb musicianship, in honor of one of the greatest living jazz virtuosos.

Jason Moran (June 29): The dynamic young pianist comes to Montreal to lead a “Fats Waller Dance Party.” His co-host for the evening is the ridiculously talented bassist-vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello. Expect anything but a faithful run through the Fats songbook. Instead, look for a wild re-imagination of Waller tunes, with hip-hop, funk and other musical flavors all part of the equation.

Youn Sun Nah (June 30): Her voice is utterly bewitching, the kind that you hear once and likely never forget. Yet, the Korean vocalist has yet to achieve the kind of success in North America that she’s garnered elsewhere, especially in France and Germany. She comes to the festival in support of the recently release Lento, ready to enlist new converts to the growing cult of Youn Sun Nah.

David Murray Infinity Quartet with Macy Gray (July 1): Gray came to fame, in a major way, with the 1999 debut On How Life Is, which went on to sell more than six million copies worldwide. Since then, however, it’s been a steady downward commercial spiral for the singer. Yet, one thing hasn’t changed: she still possesses a wonderful, instantly recognizable voice. It should sound great paired with Murray’s saxophone during this evening of funk, blues and pop. Let’s hope Gray, Murray and crew play their cover of the Canadian band Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.”

Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet (July 2): The 42-year-old Philadelphian is a stunningly talented guitarist, who appears well on his way to living up to those early comparisons to John Scofield, Pat Metheny and other longstanding kings of the frets. This evening’s program focuses on the guitarist’s latest album, Star of Jupiter, and will feature pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner.

Alain Caron (July 3): The French Canadian returns to his native Quebec to once again amaze with his six-string electric bass. Caron is funky to the core, delivering the kind of fluid fusion sounds that make jazz and rock seem like natural bedfellows. He’s perhaps best known for his work in the fusion band UZEB, but he’s also released several well-received solo records.

Vijay Iyer Duo with Craig Taborn (July 5): Following Charlies Lloyd is a tall task. Yet, Iyer, the host of the second half of the festival’s Invitation Series, should prove up to the task. He’ll also be playing three shows in three nights, each of which will offer a different musical setting. The best of the bunch may turn out to be the second night (July 5), when Iyer partners with fellow piano man Taborn in a duo setting. Iyer also leads his trio (with drummer Justin Brown and bassist Stephan Crump) on July 4 and then performs solo on July 6.

Molly Ringwald (July 6): Aren’t you at least a little curious? You saw her in Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and seemingly a zillion other coming-of-age John Hughes films in the ’80s. Now, it’s time to find out how the star can handle a jazz standard in concert. Ringwald is touring in support of her newly released debut album, Except… Sometimes, which finds her giving voice to such gems as “I’ll Take Romance” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” Jazz, by the way, is in her blood-she’s the daughter of pianist Bob Ringwald.

Tribute to Dave Brubeck (July 7): The gifted pianist-composer, who died in late 2012, was a true festival favorite. Thus, it’s entirely fitting (as well as touching) that organizers are dedicating the entire 34th festival to Brubeck. The festival will further honor the great jazz man with a special tribute concert on closing night, featuring the Brubeck Brothers Quartet and such guests as saxophonist Chet Doxas, bassist Adrian Vedady and pianist Lorraine Desmarais.