One way to define a music festival: the sum of its memorable moments. There were plenty of those moments to savor during the first four days of the 40th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, which kicked off in late June on 20 stages in the city’s downtown Quartier des Spectacles.
Which highlights were the most resonant? Tough choice. Ravi Coltrane, during his encore, did some earth-scorching via his father’s classic “Giant Steps.” Melody Gardot, after a thunderous standing ovation, opened her show with a hushed, affecting version of vintage Americana gem “Wayfaring Stranger.” The War & Treaty, under sometimes rainy skies, thrilled the Saturday-night crowd with a soulful explosion touching on “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” and “Respect.” Edmar Castañeda, on the aptly titled “For Jaco,” played his harp like a bass guitar, spinning out long, lean lines and harmonics. Afro-Cuban giant Chucho Valdés concluded his set with several gorgeously realized standards. Brad Mehldau, leading an all-star group, dug deep into gospel-blues terrain on Oliver Nelson’s “Yearnin’.” Donny McCaslin cranked it up on a roaring maelstrom of fusion, art-pop, and newfangled prog-rock.