Montreal Jazz Festival By
In Canada during late June/early July, the country hosts a series of overlapping
jazz festivals that often stretch for 10-12 days. This year, Winnipegs ten-day
festival (June 15-24) and a relatively modest seven-day marathon in
Alberta (June 19-25) mostly preceded festivals in Ottawa (June 21-July 2), Edmonton,
Saskatchewan, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria (each of which took place June
23-July 2), topped off by the largest one in Montreal (June 29-July 9).
I n July 1, there were no less than seven major festivals going on at the same
time. While this makes it difficult for fans to go to more than two festivals,
it makes it relatively easy for musicians to go festival hopping, performing at
a variety of major events across the country. Why doesnt the United
States have a similar situation?
The Montreal Jazz Festival (officially known as the Festival International De
Jazz De Montreal) was founded in 1970. The festival features huge free outdoor
concerts each night (although surprisingly little takes place before 5 PM) and
ticketed indoor events, attracting over 100,000 fans. There is never any
attempt to limit the roster to just jazz, particularly in the outside extravaganzas,
mixing together Canadian, European, and American musicians from a wide variety
I was fortunate enough to attend 11 indoor concerts during the first half of the
festival. Guitarist Bireli Lagrene and drummer Aldo Romano were the major
guests this year; both appeared with five different groups. Lagrene, originally
known as a young teenager who had mastered the Django Reinhardt sound and style
to a startling degree, has since played a wide variety of music without discarding
his roots. He was teamed with organist Joey DeFrancesco (who has no peers
on his instrument) and drummer Andre Ceccarelli in a trio that offered for me
the highpoints of the festival. Lagrene and DeFrancesco, who had rarely
played together before, constantly challenged and broke up each other with their
virtuosity and witty ideas. They swung up a storm on basic material (medium-tempo
blues, What Is This Thing Called Love, I Wish You Love,
All The Things You Are, etc.), exciting the audience and each other
with their joyful music.
Second place in my estimation was John Zorns Masada, a quartet featuring
altoist Zorn, trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Greg Cohen, and drummer Joey Baron.
Using Eastern European folk songs and Jewish melodies as a base, the group played
very adventurous improvisations with Zorns squawks, honks, and slap-tonguing
often becoming both violent and purposely humorous. Douglas was not overshadowed
and the rhythm section was constantly pushing the lead players. This group
was a big hit, being forced into not only two encores but a pair of curtain calls.
Although some of the other music I heard was more conventional, every group was
in top form, being inspired by the enthusiastic crowds and the prestigious settings.
Singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli paid tribute to Frank Sinatra with the assistance
of a big band of top local players. Although Pizz did not play enough guitar
(usually scatting along in unison with his solos), his charm and wit won everyone
The immortal pianist McCoy Tyner headed a septet for what was called The
Story Of Impulse Records. Though nothing was said about Impulse, the
band (trumpeter Wallace Roney, trombonist Steve Turre, tenor-saxophonist Eric
Alexander, altoist Donald Harrison, the brilliant bassist Charnett Moffett, and
drummer Eric Gravatt) played well on a variety of hard bop classics including
Stolen Moments. Tyner and Harrison were in particularly fine
Among the Canadian performers, I was impressed by tenor-saxophonist Yannick Rieu
(doubling on soprano), who utilized a two-bass quintet with pianist Francois Bourassa
on atmospheric originals and Sonny Rollins tunes, pianist Julie LaMontagne, whose
writing for her trio utilizes tricky time signatures and unexpected rhythms, a
fine up-and-coming jazz singer Melissa Stylianou, and altoist Christine Jensen,
whose increasingly original approach to soloing and writing is letting her emerge
from the shadow of her sister trumpeter Ingrid Jensen..
The very popular European trio E.S.T. fused together jazz, fusion, pop, folk and
classical music in their intriguing and stimulating performance. Altoist
Kenny Garrett was quite intense during his blazing solos with his quartet, other
than on a pair of lyrical ballads during which he switched to soprano. Drummer
Aldo Romano, bassist Henri Texier, and Louis Sclavis on clarinet, bass clarinet
and soprano performed purposeful and concise originals that included rambunctious
free bop, folkish melodies, episodic improvisations, a mysterious Near Eastern
ballad and a drunken comical march, all of it consistently inventive and colorful.
This is just a partial summary of the hundreds of performances that took place
in Montreal during the 11-day marathon. This festival is well worth attending,
and further information can be gained from its website, www.montrealjazzfest.com.