Montreal Jazz Festival: Day 1, Thursday, June 28th, 2007
"Bienvenue au festival, Welcome to the festival. May I please check your bag? So began the experience at this, the 28th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.
Luckily, your faithful correspondent was not trying to hustle in beer bottles or any other unauthorized spirits, although the excitement did account for a slight stutter of step. After all, this year's festival ranks among the largest yet, boasting 500 concerts, both free and charged, that include a staggering 3000 musicians from 30 countries.
Over the next 11 days, many of the biggest names in music will descend upon this fair city, seeking to dazzle locals and tourists alike with their creative wares. Jazz luminaries like Keith Jarrett, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes and John Abercrombie are all expected to make appearances, along with countless legends from other realms, such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Cesaria Evora.
But perhaps most notable among all of the festival's guests is guitarist Mike Stern, this year's Miles Davis Award recipient for excellence in jazz, and host of the first leg of the Invitation Series. Over the next five nights, Stern will perform with a variety friends and collaborators, in the cozy confines of Théâtre Jean- Duceppe, before handing over the reigns to bassist Richard Bona, for second leg hosting duties. Look to Day 5 of this coverage, when both Stern and Bona share the stage with trumpeter Roy Hargrove.
Also worth mentioning is the festival site. Those of you who have yet to attend the jazzfest might find it hard to believe that the city hands over three square blocks of prime downtown real estate for the celebrations. Well, believe it. For this edition, the site includes no less than nine outdoor venues for free concerts, and over a dozen indoor spaces for paid performances. Add to this a panoply of merchandise tents, food and beverage kiosks, listening booths, and a play-place for kids, and you get a pretty good sense of the unique atmosphere created.
Anyway, that just about does it for the preamble. Now on to the music!
First up on Day 1 was a 6pm performance by the jazz world's newest super-group, Trio Beyond. Consisting of John Scofield on guitar, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Larry Goldings on keyboards, the band was formed last year in tribute to the music of drummer Tony Williams, and more specifically his acclaimed fusion trio, Lifetime. Since then, they've released a CD, Saudades (ECM), and toured extensively through Europe and North America.
L-R: Larry Goldings, Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield
Set in the smallish Théâtre Maisonneuve, there could hardly have been a better venue for this concert. The air was charged with anticipation as the group took the stage, both Scofield and DeJohnette being familiar (and very popular) faces to the festival, and fusion acts a steady favorite of Montrealers.
The opening number, Woody Shaw's "If , immediately gave the audience a sign of swing to come. The trio carved it's way through the tune with unrelenting energyall three parts perfectly attuned to each other. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have DeJohnette at the rhythmic helm: the proverbial glue that never gets unstuck.
From there, they went on offer a medley of songs strung through the title track of their recording, "Saudades , as well as memorable versions of Ornette Coleman's "Invisible , Woody Shaw's "Moontrane , and Scofield's own, "Flower Power . Throughout the two 45-minute sets, all three men were found at the height of their games, reminding the audience of why each is considered among the finest on their respective instruments.
What was perhaps most intriguing about the show was the interplay between the band on stage and the band to which they were paying homage. Here were three musicians with firmly established musical identities, paying tribute to three other musicians with legendary personalities of their own. The pollination between the two sides made for a peculiar type of magic, unmistakable to those in attendance. The same could be said of Don Byron's Ivey-Divey Trio (a tribute to the famous Lester Young Trio of the mid-1940s) at last year's festival. Invariably, one feels carried into a strange realm that straddles two separate times. Pure poetry...