Montréal Jazz Festival Embraces All the Colors of the Musical Palette
By Doug Hall, Contributing Writer, July 10, 2018
Celebrating its 39th year, the Montréal Jazz Festival has remained true to its mission as stated by president/director general Jacques-André Dupont to offer “a massive festive urban event with a major component of free programming” while also “delivering a superb cross-section of music from all over the world.”
The 10-day Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (June 28-July 7), with over 500 concerts, spread out into 13 venues and on seven outdoor stages, remains the largest in the world. But yet again as demonstrated this summer, Montreal’s embrace of “all the colors of the musical palette” was a winning formula, said Dupont. He added that hand in hand with that success was the tangible multicultural representation and an “assembling of all the varied communities regardless of language, age or origin under the banner of music.” There was clearly a positive vibe created by a diverse crowd and a feeling of sharing in the mix of music, fun and energy on any given day or night, indoors or outdoors, presenting “the very best of the Montreal spirit” as proudly stated by André Ménard, co-founder and artistic director of the Montreal Jazz Festival.
With a daily performance schedule of concerts running in multiple venues from 11 a.m. to way past midnight, there is a massive amount of talent to enjoy. Not surprisingly, Montreal’s listeners are faced with a musical paradox—finding themselves with so many options performance-wise, there’re trying to be at the edge of two stages or three stages, all at the same time. Fortunately, you can’t go wrong. The choices are all great. Here are four highlights from this year’s 2018 season:
• John Medeski and Marc Ribot Trio: Driven by his astounding command of the organ, Medeski, the “wizard of keyboards”, and his trio set an intense pace in this tightly packed, intimate Gesù Theater venue. Medeski and guitarist extraordinaire Marc Ribot added heated jazz-rock fusion-like exchanges, with drummer JT Lewis accentuating the crescendo. Experimental and never cooling down, the trio’s tempo featured Ribot’s John McLaughlin-like rapid fire jazz scales and keyboard-hammering pyro-techniques from Medeski.
• Ry Cooder: The legendary American instrumental guitarist and career-long explorer of the roots of blues and ballads made his festival debut in concert at the Théâtre Maisonneuve. Onstage, he accepted the 2018 Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit Award from Ménard. Cooder, showing expert precision on slide and using no fewer than five different styled guitars, mixed in American songbook classics of his own and (from latest release Prodigal Son, 2018) by Blind Willie Johnson, Pilgrim Travelers, Johnny Cash and a special heartfelt version of folk icon Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man”—with lyrics, Cooder pointed out, that are just as relevant today. His son Joachim Cooder opened the evening with a multi-instrument device in lap, with a soulful voice on simple ballads and processed-synthesized accompaniment by sax player Sam Gendel (both joined Cooder’s band onstage). With his excellent tight band, Cooder added The Hamiltones, a gospel-like vocal trio providing a “going to church” sound that was perfect accompaniment. A rare and precious performance from the 71-year-old Cooder. Two encores were not enough, as the band left to a standing ovation.
• Kamasi Washington: Top-billing L.A.-based saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington, playing to a packed house at MTELUS theater, brought a super-charged rhythm, funk and hip-hop sound to his jazz explorations. Following on two acclaimed releases, The Epic (2015) and Heaven and Earth (2018), a funkified spiritual jazz was delivered, in force, by bandmembers, bassist Miles Mosely, trombonist Ryan Porter, keyboardist Cameron Graves, drummers Ronald Bruner and Tony Austin, with supreme vocals by Patrice Quinn—all solid contributors to the evening’s universal “groove,” getting everyone on their feet and moving. A special tribute moment came together as Washington’s father, Rickey Washington—his mentor and inspiration—played his horn and soared with interplay between father and son and the band as a whole. Washington’s set not only reached a wider audience that night but included them in the journey of this rising star.
• Terence Blanchard featuring E-Collective: Fresh from the release of Live (2018), Terence Blanchard, Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and a “Young Lion” in his early days with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, with a small electric synthesizer and horn brought a heavy vibe of Miles Davis into the air, laying down a brief set of notes then left to sizzling interpretations and solos by band members. With a stand-in keyboardist Gerald Clayton on a be-bop mission with bounding chords and Chick Corea-like tempo, and the 20-year-old guitarist Matt Sewell from Berklee College of Music (mentored by Blanchard) showing all signs of brilliance with running jazz scales up and down the fretboard, coupled with Oscar Seaton, a drumming force of nature and long-time Blanchard collaborator, there was a fantastic momentum of sound. A performance full of cosmic-jazz compositions with a “bad-ass attitude.” With Blanchard breaking through with soaring synthesized trumpet solos, he was taking no prisoners.
So many other acts (some lesser known) and performers (some yet to be on the main stage) were well worth the attention—a distinction of musicians putting their notes, compositions and passion for their interpretation of jazz in all its flavors on the line at this year’s 2018 Montreal Jazz Festival.
For the latest news and reviews on jazz in New York City and beyond click here.
Cover: An evening performance at Montreal Jazz Festival; photo: Frederique Menard-Aubin / Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.