REVIEW: Youn Sun Nah on the opening night of the 2017 Montreal Jazz Festival

Receiving a standing ovation: L-R: Jamie Saft
Youn Sun Nah , Lindsey Horner, Clifton Hyde, Dan Rieser
Youn Sun Nah 
(Monument National Ludger-Duvernay, Montreal. 28 June 2017. Opening night of  the Montreal Int Jazz Festival.  Review by Sebastian Scotney)

There are, of course, all kinds of bigger, glitzier events that could have been used to usher in the start of a monster jazz festival like Montreal's.  Indeed, many huge concerts are still to happen in the next ten days, but this opening concert of the 2017 festival at the Monument National set the right tone in many ways.

Youn Sun Nah was performing at the festival for the third time, and appeared sincerely emotional as she remembered the much smaller room where she had made her festival debut, and from which she has moved onwards and upwards to last night's concert at the 800-seater Salle Ludger-Duvernay, opened in 1893, a gem of a venue.

That progression to bigger halls mirrors her growth not just in renown, particularly in France, but also in her increasing heft and communicative power as a performer. In her spoken introductions she is always, endearingly, the ingénue, but her voice and presence are those of the seasoned, self-aware artist. It also reflects well on the programming team taking the longer view with artists. Last night's set had an astonishing variety to it, with a great band of versatile musicians delighting in visiting several stylistic domains. For Youn Sun Nah, the capacity to dig deeper into American repertoire like Lou Reed's Teach the Gifted Children   or - even more bold and sassy - Jockey Full Of Bourbon by Tom Waits (not on the album) does seem to have given her a promising new direction.

Her new album She Moves On (ACT), recorded at Sear Sound near Hell's Kitchen in New York, is such a balanced and integrated piece of work, it was fascinating to see how this band (with a different bassist and guitarist and minus the string quartet which appears on just one track) would adapt to the live context. One point where they really excelled was in the extended free introduction to Fairport Convention's A Sailor's Life. Sometimes, with an American band as fundamentally tight as this, complete freedom and the ditching of all pulses and bar-lines can seem like a self-indulgence. Here it was a very strong moment; it seemed to draw the audience in to the narrative.

Jamie Saft played piano and Rhodes from the start, but kept the delight of his Hammond playing in reserve until nearly the end of the set. It was great playing, and well worth waiting for. Dan Rieser was flawless, and bassist Lindsey Horner derived a surprisingly full and rich sound out of a travelling "peanut" bass. Mississippi- raised Clifton Hyde on guitar (replacing Marc Ribot on the album) is an astonishingly versatile player.

The audience absolutely loved the show, and showed it, which allowed Youn Sun Nah to tease with a cat-and-mouse game involving 'last' songs. The audience was up on its feet after the first 'last' song and them again after the next 'last' song'. It then was left to Clinton Hyde and Youn Sun Nah to give the audience their last, quiet goodnight, a gentle song by Paul (Stookey) of Peter Paul and Mary entitled No Other Name. It  was the perfect closer, and bodes well for the bolder and brasher things to come, as Montreal celebrates 375 years and (locals are telling me the upstart nation's birthday is FAR less important...) Canada celebrates 150 years of existence.

LINK : Youn Sun Nah Tour Dates

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