" Highlights from The Largest Music Festival In The World "
2009 Montreal Jazz Fest Review
By Bob Putignano

Happy thirtieth birthday to Festival International De Jazz De Montreal! This year's celebrations were heralded with the opening of their new multi-level offices and gorgeous performance space, too. Attending the largest festival in the world always is one of my annual highlights of each of the twenty-five or so Montreal Jazz Fests I've attended. What makes this festival unique and fun is that there are free shows as well as paid indoors performances. So, if you make the trek to this fabulous city for the festival, you don't have to spend a penny on concerts if you so choose.

The endless quantities of free shows permit you to wander the streets and decide which concerts appeal to you.The programming is consistently high thanks to the excellent work by the Vice President of Programming Laurent Saulnier who year after year sifts through piles of music and ultimately decides who those fortunate musicians will be showing off their wares to a throng of music lovers. The Montreal Jazz Festival attracts more than two million visitors.

Russell Malon performed solo in a very cozy theater that held approximately four hundred patrons. Russell played brilliantly, culling songs from his back catalog as well as several surprises. For instance, he covered a Michael Jackson tune as a tribute to Jackson's recent passing.

The gorgeous Theatre Maisonneuve de la Place des Arts hosted an all-star aggregation called Miles From India that paid tribute to the beginnings of the fusion era, specifically Miles Davis. There were fourteen musicians on stage who attempted to mix the mystical sounds of India with Jazz improvisations. Unfortunately, this performance had its flaws in spite of the incredible level of talent on stage. There were three drummers: Lenny White, Ndugu Chancler and Miles' nephew Vince Wilburn, booming bass by Rolling Stones own Daryl Jones, plus two keyboardists, tablas and four other seated Indian musicians.

Nicholas Payton played Miles' parts on trumpet, and Bill Evans on tenor and soprano excelled just like he did with Miles back in the 1980s. This two-plus-hour show also featured amplified sitar that really rocked at times. But as a whole, this crew sounded a bit unrehearsed causing the unthinkable and occasional train wreck to occur. Kudos go to sax man Bill Evans who sparkled on every solo he took, but even with Evans' fascinating licks, this much anticipated show left me disappointed. But you may want to check out their one recording Miles From India which is far more cohesive. This might have a lot to do with arranger/producer Bob Belden's presence. Interestingly, Belden was not in attendance in Montreal. But I count myself fortunate to have been able to see this rare and unique show.

The weather was not very cooperative, but outdoors we went searching for some musical nirvana.The South Florida Blues Society's (http://soflablues.org/) winner of the 2009 International Blues Challenge; JP Soars and the Red Hots, performed flawlessly and tantalized and energized the large crowd outside of the free Les Spectacles Blues stage.

David Rotundo's group had the good fortune of having his buddy from Italy Enrico Crivellaro on lead guitar. The two sets I witnessed by this very professional band were by far the highlight of my stay in Montreal. First off, this was the first time (and certainly not the last) that I got to see Enrico perform in a group setting, and he did not disappoint! Secondly, David Rotundo and his band were so full of energy and had deep chops. Rotundo's vocals and keen harp playing were a joy to observe, and watching David strut his stuff as a band leader was immediately impressive. Rotundo also allowed Crivellaro ample time to show his wares and often prompted the large somewhat rained-on crowd that stayed to push Enrico on. The enormously talented Crivellaro was not overbearing, yet certainly made his mark in Montreal with his powerful and explosive outbursts that rocketed from his guitar amp. If you are not familiar with Enrico, take a moment to checkout his playing on his new Mojo Zone disc on Electro-Fi records. You will not be disappointed.

Another fine year of great music courtesy of the Montreal Jazz Fest. I'm looking forward to their thirty-first anniversary next year, and you should be too. For updates go to: http://montrealjazzfest.com

Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob maybe contacted at: Bob8003@yahoo.com

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com