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Festival International de Jazz de Montréal 2020

Mark Sullivan By

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2020 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Various Venues
Montréal, Canada
June 27-30, 2020

Above all else the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is a spectacular ten-day event: with around 2 million visitors and 500 concerts on 20 stages, it is ranked as the world's largest jazz festival in the Guinness World Records. Its 2020 cancellation due to the pandemic was a huge disappointment to the many jazz fans who have attended it year after year. It would have been impractical to replicate that scale online, but for this "Édition numérique" (special digital edition) the festival programmed a combination of live streaming and filmed musical performance for four nights, each lasting approximately four hours. Not nearly as massive, but the spirit of the event was definitely present.

The physical festival includes several outside stages with free performances, day and night. The programming is diverse—jazz and jazz-adjacent music like blues, soul and World Music—and often features local musicians. The first two and a half hours of the digital festival mirrored that, opening with an hour long live-streamed set from a Canadian headliner, followed by four twenty-minute sets pre-recorded in the same space. Major jazz headliners are usually reserved for ticketed evening events in concert halls: here each day the festival presented an entire filmed concert from past years, again mirroring the format of the physical festival (but without the need to buy a ticket). On the first night there was even a virtual after-hours event as well.

Saturday, June 27

The opening show kicked off the Festival by celebrating diverse cultures and artists in honor of Canadian Multiculturalism Day. The whole festival was quite diverse, but this program was indeed the most diverse night of the festival. The live viewership averaged between 1,200 and 2,000 viewers all night, as it did through most of the broadcasts.

Malika Tirolien

Singer-songwriter/keyboardist Malika Tirolien was born in Guadeloupe. Outside of her solo work her main claim to fame is singing on the band Snarky Puppy's Grammy Award winning album Family Dinner—Volume 1 (Ropeadope, 2013). She was joined by a second keyboardist, an electric guitarist, and a drummer. Her opening piece was a lush ballad, with a chorale-like sound. Funk was next, followed by a tune that opened with a striking unaccompanied vocoder chorus. Somber, and sung in English (a rarity), it featured a looped vocal chorus and a lyrical extended guitar solo. During the introduction of the next tune Tirolien introduced the band, then demonstrated her vocal prowess in a vocalise section with guitar doubling.

At around the 45 minute mark Master of Ceremonies Myriam Fehmiu came onstage for a brief interview, a pattern that was repeated each night. The set closed out with vocal and keyboard soul music, followed by "Don't Come Around No More" (including scatting with guitar accompaniment). The final tune was a big lush ballad, a call back to the feel of the opening number. For this and the other new performances the bar/restaurant l'Astral, in La Maison du Festival (the festival's headquarters in the heart of the physical festival grounds) was converted into a studio, which allowed for physical distancing. It was an especially appropriate setting for Tirolien, an exceptional musician with a relatively low-key presentation.

Rafael Zaldivar

Cuban-born pianist/composer Rafael Zaldivar took the festival to a more explicitly jazz space for his segment. Accompanied by Rémi-Jean Leblanc (electric bass), Louis-Vincent Hamel (drums) and Elli Miller Maboungou (Congolese percussion) his set began with a soul jazz sound, reminiscent of pianist Ramsey Lewis. The second tune recalled Herbie Hancock with its synthesizer solo, bass groove and percussion. Then back to piano for a powerful two-handed groove (shades of McCoy Tyner), even incorporating some dissonant clusters of notes. The final piece referred directly to Zaldivar's Cuban heritage in its final montuno section (it also showcased bassist LeBlanc in a fine solo). A powerful short set, and a nice contrast to the one preceding it.

Djely Tapa

Vocalist Djely Tapa hails from Mali. Her music explicitly aims to fuse traditional Mandinka griot traditions with contemporary sounds. Supported by Jean-François Lemieux (bass & laptop), Assane Seck (guitar) and Auguste Donatien Dogbo (drums) she launched into an irresistible rhythm (and also drummed a bit during the instrumental breaks). On the second song the laptop's contributions became evident, supplying both the clave pattern and the backing vocals. It featured a dramatic shift into double-time and back again. Seck's guitar parts were pivotal, as he was playing what would traditionally be Kora parts: fast, intricate and demanding. For the final tune the laptop provided a keyboard ostinato as well as backing vocals. The band often sounded larger than the number of musicians onstage.

Clerel

Singer/songwriter Clerel is a Cameroon native. He accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, joined by electric guitarist Kento Kataoka. He acknowledges American Soul music as a major influence, clearly audible in the sweet falsetto singing on his opening tune "Lonely Dance" (again sung in English, perhaps another American influence). "Kiss The Whole World" recalled the smooth vocals of Bill Withers. The set concluded with two more originals, "Wild Things" and "Talking About Love." Clerel is a charming performer, with a lovely voice and an accomplished approach to pop songwriting.

Bïa

Brazilian singer/songwriter Bïa was joined by cellist Sheila Hannigan, bassist Dan Gigon and drummer Sacha Daoud. Her opening tune featured her on vocal horn solos; the next sounded like a French folk song. "Sigh" was a bossa nova, directly referencing her Brazilian roots. It also featured melodic cello and electric bass solos.

Oscar Peterson

The historical film for the night was legendary Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson's 2004 festival appearance, backed by Swedish jazz guitarist Ulf Wakenius, Danish double bass virtuoso Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and American/Swiss drummer Alvin Queen. The concert opened with an up-tempo blues to bring the band in one by one. Then they played three Peterson originals: the ballad "Night Time," "When Summer Comes" (which Peterson joked should be "If Summer Comes," referring to the colder than normal temperatures at the time), and "Cakewalk."

This was a razor-sharp band. Peterson's virtuosity goes without saying, and Wakenius and Pedersen were both soloists who can keep up in such fast company. Peterson composed "Requiem" for pianist John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet: one of several jazz deaths that year. The encores began with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's standard "Satin Doll." Then Peterson was joined by fellow Canadian pianist Oliver Jones (who had opened the concert). The two pianists were clearly delighted to be playing together: a dream team. They played two songs, concluding with Peterson's "Hymn To Freedom."

Pierre Kwenders

The Fin De Soirée (after hours) session starred singer/rapper Pierre Kwenders, whose sound is based in Congolese rumba. He was backed by "one-man band" Olivier Pépin, video jockey Boycott and painter Kando. So the presentation was both visual and auditory, a hyper-realistic version of a late night Montréal club experience. The only things missing were friends and a friendly bartender.

Sunday, June 28

Sunday's show began with a filmed remembrance of festivals past, a feature that would recur for the rest of the festival. The first was Argentinian pianist Manuel Fraga, from Buenos Aires. His big moment was seeing pianist Oscar Peterson live for the first time.

Jordan Officer

Singer/songwriter Jordan Officer has guitar chops far above the average for that genre. Accompanied by Sage Reynolds on double bass and electric bass and drummer Richard Derwingson, his set ranged through all of his stylistic influences. As he put it during one song introduction: "one jazz, one blues, one country." They opened with the instrumental blues "Found It All." "I Wish That You Could Learn To Love Me" followed with a traditional country feel. For the country song "When We Were Just Two" Officer moved to lap steel, starting his solo with only hand claps for accompaniment. His brash approach carried right over to the new instrument. He told a story about seeing Ray Charles at the festival before launching into the standard "Pennies From Heaven." It was a loose, swinging version that moved into a rock feel at the end.

After a jump blues that included trading fours during the solos, Officer further demonstrated his versatility by taking up a fiddle, playing a Cajun tribute (a two-step) solo, then a couple of fiddle songs. After speaking about the influence of Swing era jazz musicians Eddie Lang (sometimes called the father of jazz guitar) and violinist Joe Venuti, he played an unaccompanied guitar arrangement of "A Little Love, A Little Kiss." After the usual onstage interview, the band closed with the blues "Why Not." Of all the musicians in the festival so far, Officer and his band showed the most delight in playing together again: wonderful energy.

In another video reminiscence, a long-time festival attendee recalled hearing Kool & The Gang, Stevie Wonder, Leonard Cohen and Herbie Hancock.

Mateo

Singer/songwriter Mateo Barrera Gonzalez (who performs as Mateo) hails from Colombia. His backing band was Dan Fyah Beat (drums, voice); Diego Cruz (bass); and Tito Sono (guitar). His music shows a strong reggae influence. His powerful vocals stayed front and center, all the way to the soaring vocalise chorus that ended the set.

Marianne Trudel Trio

Pianist Marianne Trudel and her trio with double bassist Morgan Moore and drummer Robbie Kuster brought things back into contemporary jazz territory. Trudel began the set by introducing her band mates and dedicating the first tune to Canadian jazz musician Hugh Frasier (all while wearing a white face mask, as she did throughout the set). There was a rubato, impressionistic opening: sparse piano chords answered by double bass melodies and skittering percussion. It developed into a flowing piece with rhythmic accents, recalling an ECM piano trio date. Moore provided a rhythmic (but still lyrical) bass solo, and it ended with an abstract drum solo from Kuster.

It blended into the second piece, which featured a beautiful unaccompanied double bass solo. The set ended with a ballad, and a final rhapsodic flurry from the piano. A beautiful set of music, one of the most striking in this year's festival.

Jeremy Dutcher

A Wolastoqiyik member of the Tobique First Nation, Jeremy Dutcher is a memory keeper. He sings everything in the indigenous Wolastoqiyik language. Accompanied by cellist Blanche Israël, he also incorporated vocal recording samples. Some of the time Dutcher's music feels like rhapsodic settings of the traditional songs. It's a powerful presentation, like a dialog between past and present. Dutcher has an especially lovely falsetto range. This was his third performance at the festival.

Charlotte Cardin

Singer/songwriter Charlotte Cardin is a pianist. If nothing else, she has a healthy instinct for self-promotion: displaying her name on the back of her keyboard headed off the inevitable chat questions asking who was performing. She was accompanied by Mathieu Sénéchal (keyboards, electric bass and electronics) and Benjamin Courcy (drums). She announced the second song as "My Boy Is Not A Man Yet," with an electronica sound featuring electronic percussion and a synthesizer ostinato. The overall impression was one of electronic soul music. "Main Girl" had a bit of a reggae feel, and the set closed with a ballad. Cardin made her announcements in French, but most of her lyrics were in English: she clearly is aiming for a broad international audience, which she deserves, based on this performance.

Jaco Pastorious

Electric bassist/composer Jaco Pastorius (best known for his tenure in Weather Report) revolutionized the playing of the electric bass—he created a fretless bass by removing the frets on a Fender Jazz Bass and filling the gaps with wood strips and epoxy. For this 1982 performance he led his large Word of Mouth band. The all-star lineup: trumpeter Randy Brecker; saxophonist/woodwind player Bob Mintzer; steel pan player Othello Molineaux; percussionist Don Alias; and drummer Peter Erskine, a Weather Report band mate.

"The Chicken" opened the show with an infectious soul/funk groove. Mintzer began Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" on unaccompanied bass clarinet, joined by drums, trumpet, then the whole band. Pastorius took his solo accompanied by only drums and congas before leading the band back into the head. He took the inevitable bass solo with digital looper—a very novel thing at the time, and a signature part of every performance—on "America the Beautiful."

For the encore Jaco sang the blues song "Baby Won't You Please Come Home?"(originally a Bessie Smith hit, it became a jazz standard performed by many others). Solos all around, finally featuring congas and drums. Jaco was an arresting performer, strolling all around the stage while making magic on the bass. The rest of the band was more than capable of keeping up, fully justifying their reputations.

Monday, June 29

Fredy V. & The Foundation

Fredy V. & The Foundation demonstrated that funk is now international music. Frontman Fredy V. is also a bassist, but stuck to vocals this night, backed by keyboards, electric bass and drums. "Time For Me" included news clips of police violence and protests, amplifying Fredy's "Black Lives Matter" hoodie. After "Do You Hear Me Calling?" he said that much as they were enjoying performing again, only half of the band was onstage: so he gave a shout out to the three missing bandmates. The set continued with "I Will Not Let You Steal My Joy," a new song called "One Step," and an instrumental titled "Fungi." Making a dedication to a Montréal record producer, they went on to play "Ain't Going Nowhere," "Fly With Me," and "Intertwine" from his album It Takes A Village (Self Produced, 2017).

American singer Melody Gardot (a frequent festival performer) sent a film from Paris. She reminisced about being at the festival—"it's like a circus"—and recalled hearing Ella Fitzgerald, as well as a memorable night with Artistic Director André Ménard, running from concert to concert, about eight in all. She acknowledged that could be seen as disrespectful to the performers, but it was absolute paradise as a listener. Finally she presented a song with a virtual orchestra, a way of performing at the festival from a distance.

Carl Mayotte

Electric bassist Carl Mayotte was joined by drummer Stéphane Chamberland, keyboardist François Grégoire and saxophonist Damien-Jade Cyr for a set of electric jazz. The show began with up-tempo funky fusion, featuring a blazing fast solo from the leader, followed by trading fours with the drums. The next tune alternated between Latin and swing feel during the solos, demonstrating that funk was not the only language spoken by this band. About here there was a "broadcast terminated by host" message, which interrupted the action for a moment until everyone could get reconnected. The perils of live streaming, even with technical facilities as advanced as these. The final tune had an impressionistic, rubato opening (with what sounded like bird calls), before going into Latin mode.

Renowned Australian finger-style acoustic guitarist Tommy Emmanuel sent along a brief filmed greeting at this point, as well as introducing the next performer.

Jack Broadbent

British roots musician Jack Broadbent opened his set with a fast, intense slide guitar (lap style) that morphed into "On The Road Again," Canned Heat's boogie tune inspired by blues-man John Lee Hooker. "If You're Leaving" was played finger-style, while "She Said" was more boogie. The set closed with the ballad "6,000 Years." Broadbent is a striking performer, easily able to hold the stage all by himself.

Elisapie

Inuit singer Elisapie was backed by guitarist Jean-Sébastien Williams, bassist {oshua Toal and drummer Pascal Delaquis. The opening of "Darkness Bring The Light" had a droning, ritualistic sound, with Williams' guitar providing melodic counterpoint and atmosphere. The lyrics were in English, and the song moved into a steady rock rhythm. She introduced a ballad by Charlie Adams, which featured a lyrical guitar solo by Williams. The final song "Woman" rocked out, with a stirring chorus to boot. Experimentalist Tanya Tagaq is probably the best known Inuit vocalist, but Elisapie's approach shows that the tradition can produce more approachable contemporary music.

Jean-Michel Blais

Pianist/composer Jean-Michel Blais has been described as "post-Classical," but he does not use the electronics often associated with the style. Trained as a classical pianist, he abandoned music until rediscovering the joy of improvising. His solo piano playing is rhapsodic, a lush sound that was complemented by the beautiful camera work in his segment. The second selection was a waltz, concluding with a slow piece. So the entire performance can be taken as a kind of modified sonata form. It should be noted that the live viewership reached 3,000 during this part of the broadcast, possibly the peak for the festival.

Miles Davis

Trumpeter Miles Davis had recently released the album You're Under Arrest (Columbia, 1985) before his 1985 festival appearance, so the band personnel and song selection both reflect that. The band members were Bob Berg, saxophones; John Scofield, electric guitar; Robert Irving III, keyboards; Darryl Jones, electric bass; Steve Thornton, percussion; and Vince Wilburn Jr., drums. "One Phone Call" featured a long, intense Scofield guitar solo. "Human Nature" (a Michael Jackson cover) was a trumpet feature, with Miles walking around the whole stage, and no other soloists.

"Something's On Your Mind" spotlighted Scofield, and Berg's soprano saxophone. The version of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" (another staple of Davis' later live performances) was memorable for the trumpet solo as well as the brief guitar solo. "Code M.D." ended with rhythmic hits as the band members took bows one by one. The set concluded with "Jean-Pierre" (another recurring favorite), a sing-song theme that was given a very slow burn here.

This concert shows Miles Davis in fine form on trumpet, backed by a first-class band. It also presents an excellent opportunity to witness his band leading skills. His direction is subtle, but one can see him moving the players in the desired direction. Good as they all were, they were even better under his direction.

Tuesday, June 30

Jacques Kuba-Seguin

The programming sequence once again seemed to cross days: trumpeter Jacques Kuba Seguin's electric fusion was a logical continuation from the Miles Davis concert that closed the previous night. The opening tune recalled the funky fusion of Mwandishi-era Herbie Hancock, with electronics on the trumpet (and a brief quote from Miles' "Jean-Pierre"). Kuba-Seguin introduced his band mates: Rhodes electric pianist Johathan Cayer; double bassist Rene John LeBan; and drummer Kevin Warren. A medium tempo swing tune came next (featuring a striking double bass solo), followed by a tune with a rock feel. It included a fine extended piano solo, and a trumpet solo that was both lyrical and intense.

The leader started the next tune with live sampled trumpet drones, as well as a harmonizer: like a trumpet choir all by himself. The tune itself continued in the same atmospheric vein. The next piece heavily showcased LeBan's bass playing: he played the introduction solo, then played another one to lead back into the final head. Kuba-Seguin's interview segment included conversation about film music, which he said was a frequent influence. "I Remember Mary in April" included a nice swing section. The set ended with a rock groove, similar to In A Silent Way-era Miles Davis.

Excellent opening to the festival's final night, full of great playing from the entire band and a great variety of original jazz. They played rock, funk and swing with equal authority.

Naya Ali

Hip-hop vocalist/rapper Naya Ali was backed by DJ John Brown: Brown provided all of the accompanying music, as well as backing vocals (sometimes functioning like a chorus). She put on quite a show, dancing and singing to the camera. Musically it was almost karaoke, strictly speaking. But it did feel like a stage performance, a difficult thing to pull off in a nearly empty room (throughout the festival the cameras would occasionally pan out to the enthusiastic staff, applauding in face masks).

Alain Caron Trio with Paul Brochu & John Roney

Electric bassist Alain Caron led a fusion/bebop trio with drummer Paul Brochu (who had been a band mate in the long-running fusion band Uzeb) and pianist John Roney. He opened with a melodic feature for his six-string fretless bass. In a way this was a callback to the earlier Jaco Pastorius concert: it is hard to imagine this style of playing existing without that precedent. After introducing the band, Caron launched into a beautiful ballad in 6/8 time. The band could swing, too, as they demonstrated on the next tune, which featured a long, high energy piano solo. They went into a vamp, showcasing Brochu's powerhouse drumming, and ended the set with a flourish.

Dominique Fils-Aimé

Singer/songwriter Dominique Fils-Aimé takes her inspiration from iconic vocalists like Billie Holiday, Etta James and Nina Simone. She began her set with a dramatic reading of the final stanzas of poet Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise." Joined by drummer Salin Cheewapansri and keyboardist David Osei-Afrira she sang an atmospheric opening song. "Cry Me An Ocean" was soulful and rhythmic, with the two backing musicians sounding like a trio. The keyboardist even took a long solo, accompanying himself on bass with his other hand. Cheewapansri was an excellent timekeeper throughout, and proved to be a powerhouse soloist as well on "Did I Pull The Trigger?" After thanking the festival, Fils-Aimé closed the set with the spiritual "I've Got Peace Like A River."

The Barr Brothers

The Barr Brothers are Andrew Barr (drums and vocals) and Brad Barr (guitar and vocals), joined for this performance by Morgan Moore (bass and vocals) and Évelyne Grégoire Rousseau (harp and voice). They are usually described as an indie folk band, but their set was quite diverse. They opened with acoustic guitar and voice. As the brothers gathered around a single microphone to harmonize a message flashed on screen (in French and English): "Don't worry, Brad and Andrew Barr are brothers, they live together!"

The next tune was dreamy electronic pop, and featured a truly ferocious electric guitar solo, even employing some kind of electronic feedback device at the end. Definitely a long way from folk music as usual. After introducing the band, for the song "Coauthors" (co-written with Al Howard) Brad switched to ukulele. He even soloed on it, accompanied by double bass, brushes and what sounded like volume-pedal swells from the harp. A gentle ending to a lovely set.

Before broadcasting the final performance of the festival the screen was filled with the names of everyone on the production team. Not nearly the small army required to run the physical festival, but still a substantial number.

Sarah Vaughan

It was late in legendary jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan's career when she performed at the festival in 1983, but vocally she was still at the height of her powers. The audience had to wait a bit, though, as her trio opened the concert with their version of Charlie Parker's "Au Privave." She came onstage to scat with the band (including a short "Autumn Leaves" quote), then launched into Jimmy Dorsey's "I'm Glad There Is You." She introduced the band: pianist Mike Masner, double bassist Andy Simpkins, drummer Harold Jones..."and my name is Della Reese." Big laugh from the audience.

Harold Arlen's "I've Got The World On A String" was next, followed by a special song. "If You Could See Me Now" was written for Vaughan by jazz composer Tadd Dameron. A delightful Gershwin medley included "But Not For Me," "Love Is Here To Stay," "Embraceable You," and "Someone To Watch Over Me." "On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)" was done very fast, and featured scat and piano solos.

Vaughan said that when she recorded a Duke Ellington tribute album, she wanted to include Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge"—but did not realize that it had no lyrics! So she performed it as a wordless vocalise. Double bassist Simpkins was featured on "East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)," then the set ended with Cole Porter's "From This Moment On." Called back to the stage for an encore, Vaughan made a big show of listening to shouted audience requests. Then she laughed and said she wasn't singing any of those, but she had one she thought they'd like. She delivered an exquisite version of "Send In The Clowns" (a Stephen Sondheim song from the musical A Little Night Music). A terrific conclusion to the concert, as well as this year's festival.

Recordings of all of the shows will be available on the festival's website until July 30, 2020.

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Live Review oscar peterson Mark Sullivan Braithwaite & Katz Communications Canada Montreal Festival International de Jazz de Montreal Malika Tirolien Snarky Puppy Myriam Fehmiu Rafael Zaldivar Rémi-Jean Leblanc Louis Vincent Hamel Elli Miller Maboungou Ramsey Lewis Herbie Hancock McCoy Tyner Djely Tapa Jean-François Lemieux Assane Seck Auguste Donatien Dogbo Clerel Kento Kataoka Bill Withers Bïa Sheila Hannigan Dan Gigon Sacha Daoud Ulf Wakenius Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen Alvin Queen John Lewis Modern Jazz Quartet duke ellington Billy Strayhorn Oliver Jones Pierre Kwenders Olivier Pépin Manuel Fraga Jordan Officer Sage Reynolds Rich Erwin Ray Charles Eddie Lang Joe Venuti Kool & The Gang Stevie Wonder Leonard Cohen Mateo Barrera Gonzalez Mateo Dan Fyah Beat Diego Cruz Tito Sono Marianne Trudel Morgan Moore Robbie Kuster Hugh Frasier Jeremy Dutcher Blanche Israël Charlotte Cardin Mathieu Sénéchal Benjamin Courcy Jaco Pastorius Weather Report randy brecker bob mintzer Othello Molineaux Don Alias Peter Erskine Charlie Parker Bessie Smith Fredy V. Melody Gardot Ella Fitzgerald Carl Mayotte Stéphane Chamberland François Grégoire Damien-Jade Cyr Tommy Emmanuel Jack Broadbent Canned Heat John Lee Hooker Elisapie Jean-Sébastien Williams Joshua Toal Pascal Delaquis Charlie Adams Tanya Tagaq Jean-Michel Blais Miles Davis Bob Berg John Scofield Robert Irving III Darryl Jones Steve thornton Vincent Wilburn Jacques Kuba-Seguin Johathan Cayer Rene John LeBan Kevin Warren Naya Ali DJ John Brown Alain Caron Paul Brochu Uzeb John Roney Dominique Fils-Aimé Billie Holiday Etta James Nina Simone Salin Cheewapansri David Osei-Afrira The Barr Brothers Andrew Barr Brad Barr Évelyne Grégoire Rousseau Al Howard Sarah Vaughan Jimmy Dorsey Mike Masner Andy Simpkins Harold Jones Della Reese Tadd Dameron
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