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Review of Festival International de Jazz de Montréal

31st Edition, June 25 – July 6, 2010

Diego "El Cigala" performing at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Ranee Lee
Ranee Lee performing at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Victor Deme performing at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Sophie Hunger performing at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Crowd at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Crowds at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Crowds at outdoor stages at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Cuban pianist Rafael Zaldivar performing at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Roy Hargrove leading his big band in performance at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Congo’s Staff Benda Bilili performing at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Congo’s Staff Benda Bilili performing at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Etienne Charles performing with Jacques Schwarz-Bart on sax at the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival
Allen Toussaint closing the Montreal International Jazz Festival
Allen Toussaint closing the 2010 Montreal International Jazz Festival

As the discourse surrounding the integrity of jazz programming at corporate-sponsored festivals rages on, the 31st edition of the Montreal International Jazz Fest featured a plethora of quality jazz on any given night. In fact, it was impossible to catch all the jazz that was out there. Yes, there was lots of pop and hybrid-genres; and Lionel Richie played the main concert on opening night (on a double-bill with Cassandra Wilson); but Day 1 also featured the Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa duo, the Bitches Brew Revisited project, David Sanborn’s Trio Featuring Joey DeFrancesco, the Yosvany Terry Quartet, and Vijay Iyer’s trio, among others. Enough said.

Year of the Trumpet

The Festival boasted a staggering variety and quantity of music – 370 free outdoor shows on 9 outdoor stages and 180 ticketed indoor concerts in 10 concert halls. This seemed to be the year of the trumpet, offering a wide range of sounds and styles: Paolo Fresu, Graham Haynes, Etienne Charles, Nils Petter Molvaer, Roy Hargrove, Wallace Roney, Ibrahim Maalouf, Dave Douglas, Terrance Blanchard, Tomasz Stanko, Christian Scott and others. My trumpet journey began opening night at the intimate Salle de Gesù with Paolo Fresu, who shared the stage with Omar Sosa as part of his Invitation series (subsequent concerts featured a duo with Ralph Towner and a trio with Nils Petter Molvaer and Manu Katché). Sosa and Fresu engaged in a spontaneous exchanged of ideas, alternately soft and frenetic. Sosa added samples (pebbles crushing underfoot, hooves galloping), ruffling sheet music over the piano strings, and both musicians employed electronics, enhancing the overall effect of their atmospheric sound.

Trinidad-born Etienne Charles brought his sumptuous Caribbean flavors to the famed Upstairs club. With strong support by drummer Obed Calvaire, bassist Ben Williams, Guadeloupian saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart and the promising young pianist Sullivan Fortner, Charles explored the vibrant folkloric traditions of his native homeland through original compositions, closing with the infectious “Santamanite” (Patois for sans humanité).

Roy Hargrove showcased his superb big band, performing music drawn mostly from Emergence. The syncopated, bluesy opening number “Tschpiso” testified to the strength and crispness of the band, shining on compositions as diverse as Frank Lacy’s “Requiem” and Chuco Valdés’ “Mambo for Roy.” Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer played an electronics-heavy set with his trio, impressionistic visual backdrop augmenting the progressive, trippy, almost hypnotic feel of the music. Dave Douglas and the formidable Keystone (Gene Lake – drums, Adam Benjamin – Rhodes, Brad Jones – baby bass, Marcus Strickland – tenor) performed music from Spark of Being, the soundtrack to Bill Morrison’s new film. With themes rooted in the film’s storyline – “technology, humanity, people inventing other people” – the music was compelling even without its visual context.

Octogenarian Honors

Sonny Rollins graciously accepted the Miles Davis Award recognizing his body of work and influence on the jazz idiom at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on June 27th, quickly breaking up roaring applause to get right into the music. Accompanied by Bob Cranshaw’s electric bass, Russell Malone’s beautiful guitar, Drummer Kobie Watkins and percussionist Victor Yuen, the Saxophone Colossus performed material ranging from his calypso “Global Warming” to “My One and Only Love.” Ending an astoundingly energetic set (Rollins turns 80 in September) he sang a blues verse from “It’s a Low-down Dirty Shame” and drifted offstage, leaving an adoring audience yearning for more.

Ahmad Jamal, who celebrated his 80th birthday the day he performed (July 2nd) at a packed Théâtre Maisonneuve, was greeted by an adoring audience singing an impromptu “Happy Birthday.” Joined by longtime partner bassist James Cammack, percussionist Manolo Badrena and drummer Herlin Riley, Jamal vigorously traversed material from various recordings, including the effervescent “Flight to Russia” off his most recent A Quiet Time and the gorgeous ballad “Papillon,” his artistry soaring as high as ever. Honored with three standing ovations, Jamal, all smiles, was noticeably moved by the reverence and love expressed by the Montreal audience.

International Flavors

A tad slimmer on the international component this year, the Festival nonetheless offered an assortment of music from around the globe. Among the artists I caught were Burkina Faso native Victor Démé and his blend of African blues, Mandingo ballads and Latin influences; phenomenal Flamenco vocalist Diego “El Cigala” ; the soulful sounds of Congo’s Staff Benda Bilili, a vibrant band of polio-stricken musicians created on the streets of Kinshasa; and L’orchestre Septentrional d’Haïti, formed in 1948 and still going strong, with a new generation of musicians delivering irresistible konpas.

Other concerts of note: The John Zorn Masada Marathon – 5 hours played by 10 different constellations, old and new – a comprehensive, satisfying review of Zorn’s music; Montreal’s own Juno winner, singer Ranee Lee; Robert Glasper‘s Invitation series, kicking off with his Trio (the inimitable Kendrick Scott on drums and Vincente Archer on bass) and hosting Terence Blanchard the following night, and Bilal, with Casey Benjamin on saxophones, the next; the trio of Cuban pianist Rafaël Zaldivar, a rising star on the Canadian jazz scene; captivating Swiss singer-multi-instrumentalist Sophie Hunger and her brand of jazz-blues-folk-electronica; and monster drummer Ari Hoenig‘s engaging Punk Bop outfit with Tigran Hamasyan – piano, Matt Penman – bass and Gilad Hekselman – guitar.

A New Orleans-style Mardi Gras event closed the Festival, as throngs followed a colorful parade of floats, dancers and acrobats drifting along Ste-Catherine Street towards the Festival’s main outdoor stage. Trombone Shorty dazzled the audience with his New Orleans-style jazz-funk, and Allen Toussaint (who had performed a solo concert as well as Bright Mississippi on previous nights) gave us a beautifully spirited finale under the Montreal skies, thousands of merry revelers dancing in the streets.

The Festival was, as always, meticulously planned and executed. The number of festivalgoers is expected to match last year’s 2.5 million (250,000 of whom are tourists). We can only hope the upturned streets (part of the massive infrastructural overhaul the city is currently undergoing) and the chaotic complex that is Place des Arts (where an additional auditorium is currently under construction) will be completed by next summer. Even if it isn’t, though, given the general spirit of patience and enthusiasm, it won’t even matter.

Originally Published