Hot Fun in the Summertime: The Montreal Jazz Festival Burns Away the Bluster
BY ALISA CHERRY
As the namesake city of the internationally renowned jazz festival it’s hosted for the past 39 years, Montreal is a cool, cool city. However this year it was hot, very hot in fact. And that has nothing to do with the hot acts… or, for the matter, the cool performances either. With temperatures approaching the mid-90s, and the stifling conditions that made even brief walks between venues a daunting challenge in itself, this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival which took place June 28 to July 7 was not without some tedium due to its temperatures. (Go HERE for our 2017 coverage.)
Nevertheless, those who attended either the free outdoor performances, the dozens of ticketed events or a bit of both, mostly agreed it was worth dealing with the heat at least for the sake of witnessing some amazing music. And indeed, with choices between dozens of world class artists, both known and occasionally obscure, the 2018 Montreal Jazz Festival proved yet again how all-inclusive it is when it comes to its musical offerings. As anyone who has attended the fest over the course of the past several years will attest — its handle aside — The Montreal Jazz Festival isn’t just about jazz. In years past, such rock luminaries as Brian Wilson, King Crimson and Bob Dylan have graced its stages, either as featured artists or associated performers. This year, such popular luminaries as Ry Cooder, Jann Arden, Seal, Boz Scaggs, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull took to its stages.
It may be sweltering outside, but the Montreal Jazz Festival — or as it’s referred to so eloquently in French, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal — is cool. Very cool indeed.
Montreal is indeed a model city for a festival so sprawling it takes up several city blocks just to contain it. Fortunately, the heat notwithstanding, all the venues are easily accessible. The venues come in all varieties, from a multitude of clubs to the expansive Place des Arts, home to several ample staged stages within its massive confines. Then of course, there are the outside locales spread along the main drag, Rue St. Catherine, all of which invite the choice of a concerted devotee.
Naturally, those who consider themselves diehard jazz aficionados had plenty to cheer about. Herbie Hancock, Carla Bley, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Dave Holland, and Terrence Blanchard were among the more iconic names that headlined the many stages and featured concerts. Those weaned on a rock or pop pedigree had opportunity to soak up the blues, bluster and boogie of George Thorogood or marvel at the performance by Number 9, a group comprised of young musicians who faithfully reproduced every note and nuance of the Beatles famed “White Album.” A spectator whose tastes weren’t necessary confined to any particular parameter could marvel at the genre-bending abilities of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, the classic and contemporary musical fusion of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, or simply find themselves dazzled by the ageless Dee Dee Bridgewater and the sultry sounds of Beth Hart.
Personally, we found ourselves immediately impressed on the first night by the combined talents of John Medeski and Marc Ribot. It was jazzy indeed. Or was it? The sheer sweep and intensity of the music’s remarkable dynamics had us completely held in sway.
That perhaps is the greatest gift the Montreal Jazz Festival provides for all, an opportunity to venture into unknown realms, jump between genres and learn to understand and appreciate sounds which may not be immediately familiar. Those who normally find adventurous sounds of this sort alien or intimidating in any way are given a chance to explore on their own without judgement or disdain. It’s a vast musical market boasting a wide array of wares, all of which make Festival International De Jazz De Montreal one of the coolest festivals around.
Even when it’s just too damn hot.