A nice cat manning the Festival's airport kiosk name of Nicola got me a ride into town. I got the VIP treatment at the Hotel Wyndham Montreal, met old friends in the press room (Claudia, Natalie, Katia, Alain), new faces (Sophie, Myriam) and the estimable Andre Menard (Premier VP and Artistic Director). Double-cheek kisses, hugs, smiles, high fives all around. Got tix for evening shows tout suite. These Festival folks always keep it together.
After unpacking, I pulled out the map and roamed the site. Let's see: ten outdoor stages, seven indoor venues, and one nightly jam session in the bar/lounge of the Wyndham in a five-block radius. Whole shebang located downtown in Old Montreal. A real "village" atmosphere. Food/snacks-beverages-tchotske stands-underground-shopping-mall. It's all low-key; sponsor product placement (Labatt Bleue, General Motors, Grand Marnier)*far more feng shui-discreet than festivals Stateside. Multi-culti security forces stationed every which-a-way are young, low key and helpful.
Monday, July 2nd: 8pm caught Coffee Featuring Ernest Scott outdoors on the Gumbo Louisiane stage. Straight outta Lake Charles, LA, Coffee is a rockin' blue-eyed soul band. Scott tall, brown and round with laughing eyes and pearly whites - has a classic soul man thick-as-molasses baritone... and he knows how ta use it. Together they move the crowd, catching mad wreck with the classics (King Floyd's "Groove Me", Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On").
Trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard's Sextet's 8:30pm concert up the block at the Spectrum was 180 degrees-opposite. I respect his skills (mellifluous tone, mad technique) and artistic vision, but Blanchard's albums and live gigs have always been a bit too neat, clean, cool, colorless for my tastes. Unfortunately, tonight's gig was the same ol', same ol'. By the time Cassandra Wilson came on and sang the bejeesus out of four Jimmy Mchugh songs from Blanchard's new Let's Get Lost album, it was a case of too much too late.
9:30pm, pianist Jean Baudet's trio is midway through their set. Baudet is burning down the house. A fleet, improvisationally fluid player on the Paul Bley/Keith Jarrett tip, Baudet rains down dazzling torrents of corrugated notes. Too many notes, actually. A virtuoso no doubt, brother man needs to lay out a little more often, just play all the right notes. TDWR.
10pm: Femi Kuti is mashing up the massive (2500) sardine-packed into the Metropolis theater. Outside, weather is sweet; inside it's hothouse humid. The floor is rammed with non-stop ecstatic dancers. Onstage, the horns are crazy blapping, guitars going chinka-chanka-chunka, keyboards bubbling/spitting/choogling, percussion swishing-shaking-slapping left-right/right-left, drum 'n' bass be fiercely sweating the Afrobeat boom bap. Stage right, three African Queens (silk-entwined Afros, tribal-drama makeup, pink-red shim-sham-shimmy gear) busting joyfully sensual head-to-toe body shakes here, funky three-part harmonies there. In the center of it all is Femi Kuti. The spitting image of his late father Fela Anikulapo Kuti, he's off the meter - spitting very dirty alto sax solos, trading sweaty booty-grind moves, chanting-singing-rapping like a shaman - charismatic, iconic, stone immaculate.
Femi and the crew played for over two hours. All of the songs were taken from his Shoki Shoki CD. Everyone of 'em destroyed the originals (especially "Black Know Yourself", "Beng Beng Beng", "Sorry Sorry"). Still, the floor wanted to go higher. "Fela, Fela, Fela!" BAM! "Water No Get Enemy". Carnal/spiritual/tribal, slo-burn slamming, this version reeks of Fela, stanks like reincarnation. Still, voices shouted out in Yoruba for Fela's "Zombie". With a soupcon of dry sarcasm and a smile, Femi replied, "People from Nigeria are never satisfied." Rawk 'n' Roll! One of the best live bands on the planet (regardless of genre). The Festival high point?
Tuesday, July 3rd: It's a down low white cumuli/blue sky kinda day. Save for the odd tourist poking about, the main drag (rue Sainte Catherine) is deserted...Montreal is at work. It's the calm before the storm. Tonight at 9pm, over 100,000 punters will be nicing up the area for the Festival's traditional block party blowout Le Grand Evenement. It's a full on spectacle (butt-booming sound system, flood/searchlights, and humongous video projections). Last year it was Brazilian bloco legends Olodum (50-odd drummers and percussionists, singers, rappers, dancers on two stages). This year its gonna be Groove Alla Turca.
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