A jam-packed weekend opened the 40th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, with inspiring performances by luminaries and rising stars such as pianists Chucho Valdés and Brad Mehldau, and saxophonist Melissa Aldana (see JazzTimes review here). With six more days ahead, July 1—Canada Day—was a microcosm of what was to come, with music for every palate: George Benson charmed an audience of close to 3,000, packing the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier concert hall, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah performed at the historic Monument-National theatre, Dianne Reeves played Théâtre Maisonneuve, and the Grammy-nominated Mardi Gras funk band Cha Wa of New Orleans took the main outdoor stage.
The night offered a couple of the festival’s highlights. Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca, on his third and final night of the prestigious Invitation Series, welcomed New York producer/DJ/percussionist Joe Claussell for a unique night of sheer improvisation. “You’re free to dance, even though it’s a seated venue,” said Fonseca in his opening words, anticipating that the dynamic, intuitive interaction with Claussell would inspire the audience out of their seats. Accompanied by Yandy Martinez González on bass, Fonseca and Claussell, who seamlessly synthesized electronic equipment with claves, bells, chekeré, and an assortment of other percussive instruments, created an array of captivating soundscapes and moods. Eyes locked, the two danced between anticipation, tension, and resolution, constantly imagining enticing new pathways. A one-man percussion orchestra, Claussell reflected the pure joy of this shared creative experience in his expressions and animated body language. It was exhilarating, spontaneous spirit music at its purest.