32nd Annual Montreal Jazz Fest
" July 2 - 4, 2011 "
The Legacy Continues
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones reunite with mixed results according to Robert Putignano who returns to the eclectic Montreal Jazz Fest to see acts as eclectic as rockabilly's Wanda Jackson and Christian McBride. Don Wilcock Blueswax editor.
This was my thirteenth consecutive Montreal Jazz Fest, and it began at Club Soda within the funky neighborhood that also borders Chinatown on Saint-Laurent Boulevard where the ageless Wanda Jackson and her band took to the stage. Prior to Jackson's appearance, her crack band of Nashville musicians delighted the crowd with three very hot instrumental tunes, including a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry's "Carol" and Bo Diddley's "Roadrunner." This band rocked and rolled from the get-go, and it was clear that this was going to be a special night. Jackson joined the fray in full regalia, showing why her latest album, The Party Ain't Over, isn't over at all. Jackson proved that at Club Soda, and much more.
An annual visit to Montreal, Quebec, is always a pleasant experience with its unique architecture, excellent cuisine, a diverse and hip cultural experience. And if you happen to be there during Jazz Fest, you also get to soak up mass quantities of quality music. That being said, this thirty-second edition of the Montreal Jazz Fest was yet another fascinating display of outstanding performances, some of which are outdoors and free, and others that are not free and typically held at gorgeous venues, both historic and some relatively new.
Following Wanda Jackson's party, I moved on over to Theatre Maisonneuve at the Place des Arts to see pianist and Montreal native Oliver Jones, who's still quite sharp at seventy-six years young. Jones' performance was a tribute to the great Oscar Peterson who passed a couple of years ago. This same jazz festival dedicated their event to Peterson the year of his passing in 2008. The connection: Jones studied with Peterson's sister Daisy, and the hard-swinging influences are obvious. By the way, Peterson was also born in Montreal, thus with the Daisy Peterson/Montreal association, this festival smartly paired both Peterson and Jones together in performance in 2004. As expected, this year's show by Jones was not only emotional, it was also heartwarming and, oh, so very swinging!
On day two I got to see the exceptional bass player Christian McBride with his Inside Straight band at the intimate Gesu Theatre on Bluery. Gesu is an old church that has since been converted into a great sounding performance venue. McBride just turned thirty-nine, is one of the most sought after bassists on the scene today and has ten albums credited to his own name, the most recent being Kind of Brown, his first for the Detroit-based Mack Ave. label. This version of McBride's Inside Straight band was not the exact band he recorded with, but it did include Steve Wilson on sax and the incredible vibraphonist Warren Wolf, Jr. playing chops with ease and grace throughout their mesmerizing set and delighting the crowd from beginning to end. McBride's material is akin to late 1960_s, early '70_s bebop, with a lot of soulful influences, yet they offer contemporary sounds that exemplify some of the best sounds in today's modern music and jazz.
Then, it was time to head back to the Theatre Maisonneuve for a reunion of the original Bela Fleck and Flecktones band with Howard Levy on keyboards and harp and Roy "Future Man" Wooten on "drumitar," an electronic drum shaped like a guitar. The amazing Victor Wooten was on bass, and Bela Fleck played various electrified banjos. Can you say eclectic? It was, but I found the band members did not engage each other. The only person who attempted to interact was Victor Wooten, and for the most part this performance lacked any special interplay.
I got the impression that this band was just there to collect a paycheck. In all fairness, each and every band member did solo well, but it wasn't spontaneous, and after a few songs their set diminished itself into an all out egotistical showcase to show off their chops, technically proficient, but very boring and uninspiring!
Back to the Gesu venue where pianist Cyrus Chestnut's trio was performing and telling stories. Chestnut lamented recently deceased fellow keyboardists. Near the top of Chestnut's list was the great Ray Bryant, an obvious influence. Then Chestnut paid homage by performing Bryant's "Tonk." It was a moving moment as was Chestnut's entire set capturing many genre styles. Cyrus took us to church with some gospel, played the blues and hard bopped. Yet at every stop Chestnut performed from within his soul. This was my first time seeing Cyrus perform, and it won't be my last.
Blue Rodeo, Canada's most popular roots rock band, became an institution in their home country, but never fully grabbed traction in the United States. Their sound is a mix of country, folk, and rock. Imagine a north-of-the-border, later-day Poco. The strong songwriting team of vocalists/guitarists Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor was more than apparent at the Metropolis Theatre as those in attendance clearly sang along the lyrics of just about every tune. Blue Rodeo's performance was a pleasant surprise for me from end to end. Not only were their songs well structured, they also jammed out many of their songs with ease, and at times with reckless abandon, showing off their keen instrumental prowess with solid vocals and harmonies.
Canada's Darling of the Blues, Layla Zoe, was fronting a band assembled by Montreal Blues Society President Brian Slack, and she sure did deliver the goods! One of her highlights was when she sang well wishes to Etta James with a powerful rendition of "I'd Rather Go Blind." Not hip to Zoe? Check out www.layla.ca
The B-52's closed out the Montreal Jazz Fest with a free outdoor show on the streets of Montreal where it was reported that there were more than one hundred thousand people in attendance. I did not get close enough to hear their finale, but based on the crowd reaction I can safely report that they were well received. Immediately following was a grand gala display of fireworks that appropriately signaled an end to the thirty-second Montreal Jazz Fest.
Thanks to the staff and all those connected that allowed me another wonderful year at the Montreal Jazz Fest, I will be looking forward to their thirty-third! Until that time, keep checking www.MontrealJazzFest.com
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com