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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2014

John Kelman By

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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Ambrose Akinmusire By Invitation
Tigran By Invitation
Tord Gustavsen Quartet / Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana, Mehliana
June 26-July 6, 2014

There simply isn't a festival in the world like the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Where else in the world can you find a city where, with a population of well over 1.5 million people, six square blocks are closed down for the entire duration of the festival—in this year's case 11 full days running from June 26 to July 6, 2014? Where can you find a festival that, with six outdoor stages putting on free performances from mid-afternoon until early morning, you can catch some truly world class acts like Partisans or Rob Mosher without paying a penny? Or have the pick of thirteen different ticketed indoor venues where an even broader cross-section of some of the best jazz, blues and world music can be found?

For its 35th edition, FIJM had one of its best overall rosters in recent years. With three By Invitation series guests including Harry Manx, Ambrose Akinmusire and Tigran Hamasyan, there was the chance to see these largely up-and-comers in some remarkable contexts, like Akinmusire in duet with guitarist Bill Frisell (taking a day off from his own tour of Guitar in the Space Age, seen just a few evenings prior at the 2014 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival); Tigran in duet with pianist Brad Mehldau; and Manx playing with everyone from eight-string wizard Charlie Hunter to Kevin Breit and David Lindley.

Large scale shows featured a terrific mix of performers this year as well. Singers including Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves and Stacey Kent shared the Place des Arts Théâtre Maissonneuve with Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion, festival stalwart Marcus Miller, Terence Blanchard and Oliver Jones, amongst others; while at PDA's recently opened Maison Symphonique de Montréal it was possible to catch everyone from the mercurial but marvelous Keith Jarrett and singer/songwriter Elvis Costello to Bobby McFerrin and Brad Mehldau solo. With Mehldau making a number of appearances at this year's FIJM, he also delivered his recent electronica-informed Mehliana (Nonesuch, 2014), with drummer Mark Guiliana; pianist Fred Hersch, the Heath Brothers, Ben Sidran and Peter Bernstein all had two-night residencies at the city's longstanding Upstairs Club; Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and B.B. King were all performing at PDA's large-scale Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier; while, earlier in the week, Canada's own Daniel Lanois, blues legend Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper, Pink Martini and soul-meisters Earth, Wind & Fire all performed at the same venue.

A truly international festival, up-and-comers and/or talent deserving wider recognition were represented by Israel's Shai Maestro, France's Baptiste Trotignon and American bassist Charnett Moffett, all joining Mehliana and others at the festival's own L'Astral club, situated on the ground floor of the Maison du Festival that was opened five years ago at FIJM's 30th anniversary edition; sublime Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen shared PDA's Théâtre-Duceppe with incendiary saxophonist Kenny Garrett, Joe Lovano's remarkable Us Five group and trumpeter Tom Harrell's beautiful Colors of a Dream (HighNote, 2013) project; while the late night Jazz Dans La Nuit series, back at the Gésu—Centre de Créativité venue that also hosted the By Invitation series earlier each evening, brought a variety of its own, ranging from saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak group, the Now This trio featuring Gary Peacock, pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron, and Jeff Ballard Trio, to the Christian McBride Trio, Dr. Lonnie Smith Octet, Monty Alexander and Felix Pastorius .

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