Montreal Jazz Festival Day 11: July 8, 2007
The final day of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is a free one (with the exception of the second night of the Buddy Guy/George Thorogood & The Destroyers show at Metropolis), with a series of shows taking place around the seven stages situated throughout the six square city blocks closed off during the festival. Like Day One and Day Six, the culmination was a huge outdoor eventa Closing Party at the large Scéne General Motors stage, featuring Algerian-born singer Rachid Taha.
For the final three days of the festival the weather forecast was for rain all day, every day. Luck was with the festival, however; while an occasional (and brief) shower took place during the daytime, by evening the skies were clear, resulting in some of the largest outdoor audiences in the history of the festival.
While the counts are not yet in, eyeballing the crowd at the festival's final spectacle suggests an even larger crowd than the 100,000+ audience for Seun Kuti and Egypt '80 on Day Six. Taha's performance was politically charged, and a curious blend of Middle Eastern harmonies and textures with some hard rock posturing.
The most dominant voice of Taha's two-hour performance (aside from Taha himself) was Hakim Hamadouche. The lutist/vocalist opened the performance in duet with trumpeter Stéphane Baudet, drawing an unexpected line between Middle Eastern tradition and jazz on a beautiful version of Gershwin's "Summertime that ultimately saw complexion of the rest of Taha's core group, including keyboards, guitar, drums and percussion, turn more rock-edged. Despite Taha's commanding the stage, the more natural Hamadouche had his own charisma, and was an equally effective partner in encouraging the audience to sing, clap and yell.
l:r Stéphane Baudet, Hakim Hamadouche
Taha's appearance was greeted with tremendous applause by the crowd, as he actively engaged its participation throughout the set. Taha drew liberally from Diwan 2 (Wrasse, 2006), Téktoi (Wrasse, 2005) and Made in Medina (Ark 21, 2000). Powerful rhythms defined the entire set, made even more vital by the pairing of conventional drum kit and percussion including djembé and frame drum. Seun Kuti's performance on Day Six was characterized by joyous grooves, Taha's set was heavier and more aggressive, and no less compelling as the audience followed his every move and cheered loudly throughout.
Clearly energized by the huge crowd, Taha strutted all over the stage, going to the side to encourage fans down Jeanne Mance (perpendicular to St. Catherine's, which was the street to which the Scéne General Motors stage faced). His exuberance was occasionally a little over the top as he swung his microphone around, ultimately needing a replacement and, at one point, losing his balance and falling down on the stage. Still, the audience didn't care, and was with him 100% throughout the show.
Unlike Kuti's performance, which was a larger-than-life spectacle with images projected on buildings, fireworks and more, Taha's performance was less showy, though he did bring on some guests towards the end, including Québécois singers Lynda Thalie and Yann Perreau, as well as three scantily clad dancers (with whom Taha interacted). Still, despite the lack of pyrotechnics and spectacle, Taha's show had its own energy and excitement, and if crowd response was an indicator, was every bit as successful (if not even more so) than Kuti's. The set closer, a visceral version of The Clash's "Rock the Casbah, was impressive if only to hear over 100,000 people singing along.
Two encores, with everyone on stage for the finale, and the concert was over. Two additional free shows took place at smaller stages, running from the end of Taha's performance until midnight, but it was Taha's show that effectively drew the 2007 FIJM to close.
Since it's impossible to attend every single FIJM show, any list of top picks is inherently limited and inconclusive. The 2007 FIJM sported one of its most diverse line-ups ever, making top picks even harder to identify. Still, there were four shows that deserve special mention at the 28th Edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal:
- Allan Holdsworth Group The return to active touringwith both a collaborative group featuring keyboardist Alan Pasqua, Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Chad Wackerman, and the Allan Holdsworth Group with Wackerman and bassist Jimmy Johnsonis a welcome one for this legendary guitar innovator. Not only was it good to see him out on the road again, rebuilding a name for himself that has been somewhat lost in recent years, but his Montreal performance, with his preferred trio of Wackerman and Johnson, demonstrated that he's still got a large audience. He's playing better than ever, and his show at Le Spectrum was a tremendous experience in energy and interaction, all within a fusion context but with a language all its own.
- Jazzland Community with Bugge Wesseltoft Something of a work-in-progress and experimental laboratory, this tour celebrating the tenth anniversary of Norwegian keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft's Jazzland label brought other stars of the Nu Jazz scene including guitarist Eivind Aarset, singer Sidsel Endresen and saxophonist Hakon Kornstad. Individual mini-sets linked together by imaginative segues led to a finale with everyone in the pool. Technology mixed with conventional instrumentation created a unique sound, with one of the highlights amongst a thoroughly captivating set being Endresen's, who proved that even an all-acoustic voice has potential far beyond expected boundaries.
- John Abercrombie Quartet Guitarist John Abercrombie's late night show with his quartet of six yearsviolinist Mark Feldman, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baronranks as one of the festival's most richly nuanced performances. There was no lack of energy, but it was the subtler minutiae, in which a near- telepathic connection existed amongst the players, that defied expectation and turned material familiar to the audience into a new experience. If one goal of the improvising musician is to create a fresh outlook each and every night, then Abercrombie's quartet stands as a raised-bar benchmark against which other groups have to be measured.
- Esperanza Spalding / Russell Malone Quartet
l:r: Allan Holdsworth, Chad Wackerman, Jimmy Johnson
With Esperanza Spalding opening for guitarist Russell Malone at what, sadly, was the final jazz performance at Montreal's Le Spectrum club before it is demolished later this summer, audiences had the opportunity to see a true star in the making. Spalding is a strong bassist, charismatic singer and accessible yet substantive composer who's already got a great future ahead of her at the tender age of twenty-two. Her lithe scatting was particularly notable for its lack of over- the-top melisma, while still maintaining a passionate delivery.
Malone's show, with his longstanding quartet, cemented his position as one of the best mainstream guitarists on the scene. Despite his primarily centrist approach to the jazz tradition, elements of grittier blues and even brief forays into free play suggest a broader purview that may well result in an unpredictable future, in the best possible way.