2013 Montreal Jazz Festival: June 28-July 2, 2013
June 28-July 7, 2013
After taking a year off to curate an All About Jazz Presents: Doing It Norway at Norway's 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival, it was great to return to the city that hosts what must surely be the largest jazz festival in the world. Where else can an artist like Stevie Wonder open up the festival with an outdoor Grand Spectacle, in front of nearly a quarter of a million people? Or guitarist Pat Metheny finish his world tour in support of Pat Metheny's last record, 2005's The Way Up (Nonesuch) with a powerhouse outdoor show in front of over 125,000? The answer is? Only in Montréal, Canada, the city that, for the duration of its annual jazz festival, closes off six square blocks of the downtown core and turns it into a place where, whether you're there for a day, a weekend or a week, it's like living in a jazz bubble; everything that's needed is right there, within easy walking distancehotels, restaurants and indoor ticketed venues, while the numerous outdoor stages provide additional world class performances, free of charge. In fact, while plenty of people from around the world make Montréal an annual destination for the breadth of artists who, sometimes, put on events that can only be seen in Montréal in ticketed venuesranging from the multi-room Place des Arts to more intimate spots like L'Astral, the club situated in the festival's Maison du Festival that opened during the festival's 30th anniversary in 2009, or Gésu, a room that's seen everyone from Norwegian pianist Ketil Bjornstad and guitarist Eivind Aarset (together and individually) to American guitarist Bill Frisellthere are those who come to the festival solely for the outdoor events, and walk away equally happy.
This year's line-up was, as ever, representative of the broadest possible purview that jazz has to offer. Celebrating its own anniversary this year, the By Invitation series opened with a tremendous three-night run by saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Three outstanding shows brought his current quartet, last heard on Athens Concert (ECM, 2011); his more improv-heavy trio with drummer Eric Harland and tabla master Zakir Hussain, responsible for 2006's remarkable Sangam (ECM); and an evening of duos and trios featuring Lloyd Quartet pianist Jason Morandocumented as a duo for the first time this year on Hagar's Song (ECM, 2013) and a first-time encounter with guitarist Bill Frisell, who'd delivered his own solo performance at L'Astral the prior evening.
Pianist Vijay Iyer was the festival's second invitée, but with so many venues, so many choices, it's impossible to cover even a small percentage of the 800 concerts taking over the festival's 10-day run. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel's New Quartet performance overlaps with pianist Steve Kuhn's outstanding trio with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joey Baron (who gave the 2013 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival one of its best shows of the year just a few days earlier); Lloyd's Sangam show intersected with a spectacular 80th birthday celebration for saxophonist Wayne Shorter, that included, in addition to his now 13 year-old quartet, performances by Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano's Shorter-inspired Sound Prints group (which also gave a knockout performance in Ottawa last year) and Trio ACS, a new constellation with pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding will have to decide between one guitarist/vocalist and another, Boz Scaggs, who performed just a few hundred meters away in another of Place des Arts' beautiful theaters.
It's also a treat to see all the construction taking place on Rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, when last visiting FIJM in 2011, largely completed, too. Two years ago, the street was completely torn up, making it difficult to get from one side to the othernot a problem for those who knew that there was an indoor tunnel from the shopping mall abutting the Hyatt Regency Hotel that goes directly into Place des Arts, but still something that disrupted the jazz bubble that year. Now, with work mostly done, the whole outdoor festival area is back to being a beautiful place to hang between shows, where, along with the free shows at the outdoor stages, it's possible to see mimes, brass bands parading down the street, and so much more. The first day of the festival may have been marred by some heavy rain, but the clouds began to lift on the second and, by the third day, the weather had returned to the sunny, warm summer climate that's always made this the perfect time of year for a visit to FIJM.