Montreal Jazz Festival: Day 4, Sunday, July 1, 2007


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It was perhaps unrealistic, or overly ambitious, to expect that everything would fit together on Day Four. First up, there was Manu Chao, the Zapatista-rock guru and notorious rabble-rouser, scheduled to perform before an immense Canada Day crowd at Parc Jean-Drapeau. The show was penciled in for 5pm, but with a laundry list of special guests and opening acts, it was anyone's guess when the headliner would finally take the stage.

Rubbing up against Chao was an 8:00 PM date with the Keith Jarrett Trio, in their first performance at the festival since 2004. This one was not to be missed, even if it meant leaving the jazzfest's largest event part-way through. In retrospect, there was really no way the two concerts could be reconciled. But it seemed worthwhile to at least make the attempt, if for no other reason than to soak in two completely different atmospheres.

In spite of over 20,000 people in attendance, the scene at Parc Jean-Drapeau was surprisingly contained. People from every walk of life mingled and gawked, under scatters of sun and showers. Some sipped while others chugged their beer out of plastic cups, with clouds of green smoke wafting in every direction. To be sure, the mood was more Woodstock than Newport, which would no doubt send festival purists into a long rant, but on this day seemed strangely appropriate. After all, it would be foolish to expect that jazz could win the hearts and minds of every living soul, so why not offer an alternative for those less-inspired by the rest of this year's program? It is Canada Day—and plus, the event would likely help in keeping the rowdy types from wreaking havoc on the festival's main site.

As it were, the hours passed by with nary a note played. The first opening act (The Saint Alvia Cartel) took the stage at around 6:00 PM, in front of a mostly indifferent crowd. By 7:00 PM, the air was silent once more, and, with another opening act still on the card (Montreal's own Planet Smashers), it was clear to this beleaguered correspondent that the Jarrett show would soon trump any chance at seeing Manu Chao.

Although in a way, it was liberating to find oneself in an atmosphere where firm schedules and strict show etiquette were decidedly absent, there was also a sense of relief in finally leaving the bedlam behind...

As mentioned in the Day 1 coverage, Salle Wilfred-Pelletier is by leaps and bounds the largest of Montreal's festival venues. Intended for symphonies and the ballet, it can often dwarf smaller acts. One notable exception to this rule is the Keith Jarrett Trio.

Having played here in 2004, they proved that Wilfred-Pelletier could be subdued by even the most diminutive of ensembles. In spite of impossibly high ceilings, a vast, mostly vacant stage, and some audience members more that two-hundred feet from the action, a feeling of intimacy was achieved. Every key struck, every brush and pluck, even the slightest touch was heard with brilliant clarity.

Suffice it to say that little has changed in the three years since. Again it looked like an uphill battle to present three men in a room so large, and again it was done with remarkable success. Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette gave the audience a performance to remember.

With well over 20 years together, the threesome enjoys a level of synergy that simply boggles the senses. Their music seems to transcend earthly concerns, guiding its listeners into a realm of pure pleasure, where all is left behind but the moment at hand.

On this particular night, they focused their efforts on numbers like Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight and Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser, leaving mouths agape and spirits cleansed. What was perhaps most amazing about the performance was the sheer depth of emotion attained, without once resorting to sentimentality. And so it came as no surprise that when the final set ended, the audience saw fit that the trio be called out for not one, but two encores.

Last but not least this evening was a solo performance by Italian pianist Stefano Bollani. Scheduled as part of the "Jazz Dans La Nuit" series, the concert took place at the intimate Salle Gésu. Located in the basement of an old church, Gésu is one of the festival's gems, and the logical choice for a solo recital.

Bollani's reputation as a brilliant musician was in clear view from the moment he walked on stage. Filling the space with a flurry of notes, he dazzled the crowd with several of his own compositions, masterful interpretations of two songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as a wild and woolly take on "Sweet Georgia Brown. Between songs, he regaled the audience with the sense of humor that could easily win him the title for "clown prince of Italian jazz."

As if that weren't enough, for an encore Bollani called out for requests. Once ten songs has been tallied— including Duke Ellington's "Caravan, Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata and the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood — he proceeded to break into an improvisational medley that inspired both laughter and awe.

A memorable ending to yet another memorable day...

Tomorrow: Mike Stern and Richard Bona with Roy Hargrove; the Tord Gustavsen Trio; and the arrival of second week correspondent, John Kelman.

Photo Credit
Stefano Bollani: Stefano Bazza

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