Festival International De Jazz De Montreal 2019

Wendy Ross By

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Festival International De Montreal De Jazz
Various Venues
June 29-July 1, 2019

 Billed as the largest Jazz festival in the world, the International Festival de Montreal de jazz has over its 40 years presented some 16,000 concerts with thousands of artists from all over the world. The aim is to offer a space where new and established artists perform side by side in a confluence of genres and cultures. To pull this off it has to be a well-oiled machine, but the one thing, no one could control was the weather. The rain a constant threat, was a deluge midday Saturday, but undaunted, musicians, workers and fans alike, found shelter, donned rain gear and stayed the course. The reviews below are a sample of the eclectic mix of concerts available during the first weekend of the festival.

L'Astral Maison du Festival June 29th

Marianne Trudel and Karen Young joined forces to reprise their independently produced 2018 Joni Mitchell cover album called "Portraits: The Songs of Joni Mitchell." Keenly aware of Mitchell's painterly esthetic, they brought tenderness, spontaneity, and a slice of humor to their interpretations. Marianne Trudel is an award-winning Canadian pianist/composer who has led many jazz and chorale projects. The duo has been performing Joni Mitchell covers for some years but Trudel briefly spoke of choosing songs for the album, before turning to introduce Karen Young, an American singer/composer who began singing folk music in the early '70s before exploring jazz and classical music, an arc that somewhat echoes Joni Mitchell's.

They began with the song "Tin Angel," Trudel seated upright at the grand piano, her strong fingers releasing sparkling notes into the dimmed room, as it heralded the voice of Karen Young. Young's interpretation was sophisticated and relaxed, exploring the conflict of letting go of memories to find a "right now" love with a fixer-upper. "Cactus Tree" was also sung with sensitivity and commitment, as Young moved her body to the music almost like interpretive dance, her hands punctuating the sentiment. At one point her knees dipped as if collapsing under the weight of emotion before pushing her body back up in resistance and resilience. She rested patiently beside the piano during Trudel's solos, nodding encouragement, then taking over to sway in time to the lyrical phrases which were emphasized with a wave of her hands as if assisting the words to escape her mouth. Marianne Trudel introduced the song "Drycleaner from De Moines" by talking about Joni Mitchell's work with the great jazz musician, Charles Mingus and what a departure it was for her at the time. The song was performed whimsically, the staccato rhythm of the piano a perfect foil for the amusing story about a dry cleaner with an unbelievable run of luck in Las Vegas. Karen Young scats instruments like a pro reminiscent of the group Manhattan Transfer. On the song "Sunny Sunday" Marianne Trudel stood and reached inside the raised lid of the Grand Piano plucking the strings pizzicato.

Young's take on Mitchell's most popular early songs "Both Sides Now" closely followed the original rendition. And finally, "Shine"which Joni Mitchell released on her album by the same name in 2007. The piano notes were dramatic and improvisational as Karen Young speaks rhythmically almost like performance poetry, with a shimmering echo on the word "shine." Joni Mitchell's songs have been covered many times, but this talented duo brings all their gifts to bear to interpret this gifted lyricist. Joni Mitchell claimed her songs should reflect to each listener their own meaning. Most of the audience seemed eager to appreciate the lyrics and hold that mirror up once again.

The War and Treaty The Main TD Stage (Free Concert)

War and Treaty's performance was a rollicking good time from beginning to end. The husband and wife duo perform genre-bending, blues, soul, gospel, R&R, R&B, and country often within the same song. There's a raw honesty in the music that harkens back to a more innocent time, that combined with a fearless delivery takes the music to an almost visceral level.

Michael and Tanya Trotter singly and together have a rich musical history that has at one time or another embraced all the genres mentioned above. When they teamed up in marriage and music, what the union produced is high energy roots-Americana. A brilliant singer/songwriter keyboardist, who literally sang himself off the front lines in Iraq when he wrote a song for a fallen comrade and was then asked to more songs and performances. After that experience, he began to become known as velvety soul singer-songwriter highly influenced by Gerald Levert. Tanya also has a strong musical legacy, as Tanya Blount. she sang a duet withLauryn Hillin Sister Act 2 and recorded the R&B album "Natural Thing" in 1994. The single from the album "Through the Rain" peaking at #20 on the Billboard Charts. Their first number, "Hi Ho" seems to tell their love story. How love came out of nowhere and set its sights on them. The song has a country vibe, lots of energy and a base fiddle runs. They have been compared to Ike and Tina Turner, but you can go back even further to Brook Benton and Dinah Washington" in the 1960s.

The second song, "All I Wanna Do," from their 2018 album,Healing Tide, continues the love theme but with a driving rock and roll beat syncopated by Tanya on the tambourine as they encouraged the audience to join in. Michael scatted as the pair sang samples of "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by The Temptations, "Here I am Baby Signed Sealed Delivered" by Stevie Wonder "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." by Aretha Franklin.

"We are so happy to be here" They announced as they introduced themselves. "Everyone looks so beautiful and we are going to have a good time together tonight. We look around and we see what heaven should look like. The only race is the human race. The Montreal Jazz Festival is the best festival in the world."

"Mother's Child" and "Set my Soul on Fire" are deep, and soulful with a subtle sensuality. Tanya, in a Leopard dress, was a study in contradictions, pacing with the restlessness of the big cat she wore, even while she flounced the petticoats underneath. There was nothing dainty in her approach to the music as she attacked each song with a deep gut-wrenching delivery. In one song, Michael playfully tells her to hold back and she slyly agrees she will and then contrary to that promise, she blew the roof off.

On "Jeep Laredo" —The Trotters exude naughty suggestiveness with the lyrics, "You keep on peeking through the foggy windows. Ain't none of your business what we doing in the back of our J-E-E-P Cherokee Laredo." Toward the end of the performance, there is a gospel medley of "Take Me to the River," "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Down by the Riverside" and "Amazing Grace." Their music is deep, old school R&B that takes you to the honky-tonk one minute, and the next you are down by the river washing away sins. If their performance had a tagline it would be "Naked and Unafraid." Unafraid to sweat, to squeal, to groan, and to be vulnerable with the audience and with each other.

L'Astral Maison du Festival June 30th

IFE's music is electronica with an incessant rhumba base beat, vibrant and fresh, yet garnered from rhythms older than time. The Afro-Caribbean mix of rhumba, Jamaican dance hall, and R&B had the audience up and dancing through the performance. The musicians, four drummers, and one female vocalist wore white linen with strings of beads around their necks. Exuding a mixture of tropical cool, and ethnic reverence, the men wore Kufi and Kofia hats and sunglasses, as they chanted and played congas, claves, maracas, shaker gourd instruments, and synthesizers. The vocalist, sometimes led, while the men followed in chant and sometimes the reverse. Each song was a variation, some raw and danceable, others meditative. There were songs of protest, and praise, love, and longing, often intertwined. The music was hypnotic, with a masked costumed dancer interpreting each song. It was reminiscent of the Puerto Rican Bomba style, which celebrates a conversation between the drums and the dancer.

How does a North Texas State scholarship drum major, parented by Mennonites in Goshen, Indiana end up as Yoruba priest, and a major producer of Puerto Rican music. It's not a riddle but tells the background story of African American drummer/producer/singer Otura Mun. He has been at the forefront of the Puerto Rican music scene since shortly after settling there in the late 90s. ÌFÉ is his most recent musical project. Mun's interest in Yoruba culture was sparked when he was performing and was intrigued when he noticed that the Puerto Ricans and Nigerians could communicate through the Yoruba language. The songs performed were from the group's debut album "IIII+IIII,"pronounced "Edgy-Og-Beh" is the ÌFÉ. It merges genres organically based in the Afro-Latin Diasporas. "Bangah" (Pico y Palo) is a protest song which speaks of being free from colonialism. Mun gives a tribute to his grandmother in the soothing song "House of Love." "Umbo" Come Down is a healing meditation on freedom and empowerment. "Higher Love" is more closely derivative of the original R&B version, but the beat and echoing calls add a complex tapestry of sound.

The curtain call was in Mun's words "a super, simple stripped-down duet" with him and a fellow drummer. Afro Cuban Rhumba is the heart and the soul of IFE," said Mun. "Drum conversations sparked the beginning of the whole project. We have never done this duet before, so this is for Montreal, merci, beaucoup." The bare beat of the drums began a call and response, before his voice, raw, and entreating, rose and fell in a sinuous stream that finally led to a chant of Ave Maria. What followed was a climatic repetition of chants that held the audience spellbound until they broke into enthusiastic applause. The mix of English, Spanish and Yoruba challenge literal interpretation while revealing meaning in the rhythm that needed no translation as it offered healing as bittersweet as honey.

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Montreal July 1

Kandace Springs-Opening for George Benson Stunning in a red mini-dress, light brown curls falling in a soft afro, Kandace Springs walked out on stage and sat at the grand piano and with the support of the band began to play. The audience had come to worship at the feet of the iconic George Benson and many of them had never heard of her, so they could be excused for thinking they might be twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the main act; if so, they were disabused of that thought in minutes as the dynamic jazz, R&B vocalist and pianist demonstrated her chops. No rank beginner, she has three albums, under her belt, the last two" Soul Eyes"(2016)and "Indigo" (2018) on the illustrious Blue Note label. She can also boast a musical lineage, her father is bandleader and Nashville session musician, Scat Springs, and she was handpicked by Prince to perform on stage at his 30th-Anniversary Purple Rain show.

She sang Duke Ellington's "Solitude," Springs owned it with the mellowness, of a Nora Jones, but lingered on the low notes in a way that was reminiscent of the late Phyllis Hymen. She paced her phrasing giving it space to breathe. Springs interspersed the songs with bits of classical piano, short skilled flourishes including Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata which was one of the first songs she tried to pick out on the piano by ear, leading her father to get her piano lessons. He seems to have been a major influence on her career taking her with him to recording sessions where he often sang back up for singers such as Aretha Franklin, Donna Summer, and Roberta Flack. Which all ended up being her idols. She sang "Stronger Than Pride"-She did justice to Sade's 1990's hit but she kept it fresh and made it her own. From her "Indigo" Album, she also covered another one of her influences Roberta Flack, as she sang "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."

She has a new album coming out with David Sanborn next year. Her self-titled EP released in 2014 had more of an R&B pop vibe. But Springs seems to want to keep the walls between musical genres fluid and she is now at a stage in her career that she can determine her own path.

George Benson-Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Montreal July 1,

George Benson walks out on the stage in a dark jacket and white pants and the applause is deafening. A gifted 10-time Grammy winner with royal jazz guitar mentors such as Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian, Benson, has inherited the crown and made it his own for the last half-century. He performed "Don't Know Why" made popular by Norah Jones on her debut album, "Come Away with Me"in 2002. His first few vocal notes sounded a bit strained, but few in the audience noticed, and others quickly forgot as he went on to deliver a stellar performance. He had great support from his band, in particular, percussionist/vocalist, Lilliana de los Reyes as she joined him in many of the vocals.

The audience was there for him and he was able to fulfill their expectations by jamming with his guitarist in a funky playoff and even thrusting his pelvis in a humorous way. This legendary triple threat is a gifted singer/songwriter and guitarist, and it may depend on who you talk to, which skill they value most, but the majority are fans of all three. A self-taught child prodigy, Benson plays in a particular rest stroke picking technique that is similar to {Django Reinhardt}. He began playing jazz guitar professionally at 21 and now at 76, Benson is a legend in his own right. Many musicians try to steal his licks, but there is a particular dexterity of combining descending scales, arpeggios and extensions that are grounded in hard bop and takes years to master.

Benson introduced the band, most of whom have been with him for over a decade; keyboardist and Musical director, David Garfield, drummer Khari Parker, guitarist, Michel O'Neill, and keyboardist, synthesist, Thom Hall,. Then they each had solos on their instruments.

Benson's setlist was impressive, and no one was left disappointed. His licks and riffs on "Love X Love" from the 1980 Album Give Me the Night" were stunning. That particular album and much of his music is lifted by his guitar virtuosity which gives it a movement that feels like flying. As Benson says, "a guitar can take you anywhere." Benson's love ballads are nostalgic and beautiful but it's the guitar that makes them magical. He went through many of his most requested songs but managed to mix in songs from his latest album "Walking to New Orleans" 2018 aFats Domino and Chuck Berry Cover. He played "Havana Moon" which was Chuck Berry's first record listed on the Blues Charts. He talked about how in Nashville, this kind of music was jumps off the streets. The standing ovation started half-way through the show and by the last third of the performance, the whole audience was up dancing and singing along.

His 1976 album "Breezin'"a breakout recording and catapulted his career to crossover. It included the instrumental hit "Breezin"' and Masquerade, both which he performed that night with his skilled scatting. After performing the 1976 "Give Me the Night" he exited the stage. The guitar licks were so thrilling that they vibrated through the audience. He was called back to perform the fan-favorite "On Broadway" from his album. George Benson is an entertainer first and foremost and he will bring all his miraculous gifts to bear to make sure an audience leaves entertained.

Exiting the concert hall George Benson fans mixed with fans of Dianne Reeves, whose concert was also releasing from another hall within the Salle Wilfred- Pellitier venue. It was a delightful if somewhat overwhelming crush as fans that had shared the similar experiences followed each other lemming-like to the nearest exit. Instead jumping off a cliff, they exited into the warm night, tripping down stairwells, their relaxed smiles reflecting an open joyous light, the aftermath of being uplifted by beautiful music.

For some it was their last night, for others the adventure was just beginning-Festival International De Jazz De Montreal turned 40 with aplomb. The biggest jazz festival in the world can be intimidating for first timers, but all that is needed is a guide, be it person, paper, or digital, and a plan. Do make sure the plan allows for changes, cancellations, weather, and the delight of finding new and unexpected musical grooves.

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