ROUND-UP (2): 2018 Montreal International Jazz Festival

The view out from the Rio Tinto Freestage onto the Rue Ste Catherine
Photo credit: MIJF/ Frederique Menard-Aubin

Montreal International Jazz Festival 2018
(Montreal, 30 June- 2 July. Round-UP (2) by Sebastian Scotney)

For this 39th Montreal Jazz Festival, the festival’s Twitter feed has cast away all false modesty and now clearly intends to be "fabulous at forty," by declaring FIJM to be, yes, “the greatest jazz festival in the world!”

With over 500 events, its combination of a massive free programme plus the highly impressive concert hall programme and all the ancillary events (like Leah Blythe's great tours of the history..) , and estimated total audiences of about a million and a half...economic value added nearing C$50m and additional tax receipts of over C$10m ....it would be hard to argue.

From this year's vast jamboree I have so far done four pieces of coverage:

- a round-up of the first and second nights which includes a mini-review of Robert Lepage's controversial SLĀV (I actually saw it rather than just joining in the argument)

- and three individual gig reviews
 Ry Cooder at the Théâtre Maisonneuve
Houston Person with the Emmet Cohen Trio at Upstairs
Orchestre National de Jazz’s Hommage à Carla Bley.

From the remainder of my time in Montreal and the festival I've picked TEN moments I will treasure:

Vinicius Cantuaria (and Paul Sokolow) at L'Astral


1)  Vinicius Cantuaria at L'Astral. This was my gig of the festival. The way Cantuaria just glides, slides through changes, particularly in Jobim songs, is something I never cease to find quite miraculous. I have previously heard him do it solo, and here he was with a quartet musicians who needed to match his lightness of touch. And they did. Helio Feirrera Alves at the piano and a ubiquitous New Yorker Bill Dobrow on percussion found absolutely the miracle of weightlessness that is required to support this remarkable musician.

2) Gentiane MG Trio. This was a good set with an introspective Mehldau-ish vibe - with titles such as The Road to Nowhere or Empty Canvas. She unselfishly gave her drummer and bassist the prerogative to play loud. But there was a moment when all her calmness and composure were viciously torpedoed: she was targeted by a complete pain in the audience, an entitled woman heckler demanding loudly and vociferously her right to be addressed in French. Ouch.

Laid-back but with limitless melodic invention: Reg Schwager

3) Al Muirhead's Canadian Quintet. A friend from the local scene tipped me off to listen out for guitarist Reg Schwager. He was in the quintet of veteran trumpeter/ bass trumpeter Al Muirhead. Schwager sits back with the guitar resting almost horizontally, but the flow of his melodies and countermelodies is as effortless as it is undemonstrative  - he made me think of Jim Mullen.

4) The Suffers with vocalist Kamerra Franklin. The gutsy Texan soul singer was causing quite a buzz around the press room. I went out, heard her on a free stage and was not disappointed, quite the contrary.

5) The Bela Fleck press conference. The festival puts on events for the large number of us writers in town, and Bela Fleck and his bandmates did a very good interview as they received their Miles Davis Award, the first complete band to do so.  They were asked whom they would like to work with, and top of their list came harpist Edmar Castaneda, whom they described as “one of us”. It also turned out that all four Flecktones are huge admirers of Finchley's own Jacob Collier.

6) Gilad Hekselman with Mark Turner Jonathan Pinson and Rick Rosato at Gesu. Hekselman and  Turner made a fascinating contrast with each other in a late night session at the Gesu Centre with musicianship off the scale. Hekselman plays with positivity and drive. Turner acts as the perfect foil

7) Polly Gibbons. This one is a bit of a cheat -  I didn't actually hear them. I had heard the top-flight New York band that agent Mary Ann Topper put together last year on a free-stage, and this year noted that they have been promoted to be the support for Boz Scaggs. PG's American band included pianist Taylor Eigsti and a bass player with an irresistible sense of propulsion Richie Goods (try this on video). Polly's career has come a long way from Ipswich and is now really going places in North America, with both a Birdland residency and a new album imminent.



8) Jerry Granelli feat. Robben Ford. This was one of those 'I-really-should-have-done-my-homework-better' moments. I turned up at a freestage to hear a band led by a drummer from Halifax Nova Scotia called Jerry Granelli, only to discover that the featured guitarist was no less a personage than Robben Ford.  Which in turn led me in the direction of this album from Justin Time Records.





9) The Festival finding another hub for its 40th next year...? There is a new initiative afoot to give the jazz festival an additional hub in one of Montreal's boroughs in 2019. It is apparently up for grabs where it will go, but an area I have got to know now is the Plateau. A song by Mike Rud, sung by Sienna Dahlen seems to haunt me and hover over me. It described the delights of the tree-shaded Parc La Fontaine - where I try to fit in a morning run under the trees while in Montreal.




10)  Playing hookie. Sorry. I admit it. Some journalists are far more diligent and focused than I am. For example, John Kelman'sdevilishly detailed round-up is a masterpiece. But in Montreal there is...So much to see!!!  I can't help wandering off and exploring the delights of the city. Like these Habitat 67 Apartments. Amazing.

Sebastian was in Montreal as the guest of FIJM

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