What can you expect from the Festival international de jazz de Montréal when you're used to the North Sea Jazz Festival? This question popped into my head a few months ago when I boarded a transatlantic flight that would bring me to Montreal. This city, known for its chilly winters, boasts a legendary festival season that culminates in the Festival international de jazz de Montréal.
It's only a few minutes' walk from the old city center to the urban festival grounds. For ten days, 34 indoor and outdoor venues offer great live music to a massive audience: the Place des Festivals alone welcomes 25,000 visitors. The combination of free and non-free concerts draws an enormously varied audience: men and women of all ages flock to enjoy the diversity that contemporary jazz has to offer.
The festival's first day features Canadian bands such as The Franklin Electric, Milk & Bone, and Cœur de Pirate. A day later, The Bad Plus is the first band to perform at the atmospheric stage of Gesù - Centre de Créativité. The audience embraces the energetic trio during this rock-solid performance, where drummer Dave King makes a particularly lasting impression. Later this evening at the Théâtre Maisonneuve it becomes evident that this is a drummers' night: in a brooding, masterful exploration of hard bop, funk, and pop, drummer Justin Tyson demonstrates why pianist Robert Glasper chose him as his sideman.
Whereas headliners mainly perform during the late afternoons and evenings, La Petite école du jazz takes center stage during the day. With their mouths agape, young music lovers and their parents take in this educational spectacle led by Victor-Jacques Ménard. His crash course prepares these little jazz lovers to continue their festival visit as they hold their parents' hands. A father and his son dance to Cory Henry and his The Funk Apostles who play a smashing show at Club Soda. This venue, which somewhat resembles the Max hall of Amsterdam's Melkweg, offers a varied selection of artists, from Somi, Ron Sexsmith, and Her, to Jacob Collier and Flavia Coelho. The shows of the latter two match Cory Henry's in terms of danceability: the Canadian audience instantly falls in love with the utterly charming Coelho, as well as the Quincy Jones protégé and multi-instrumentalist Collier.
An absolute highlight is Charles Bradley's performance at nearby Metropolis. The intense emotionality in Bradley's show transports his audience to another reality. The singer, who was diagnosed with gastric cancer only last year, is more energetic than ever before. Saying that Metropolis adores Bradley would be an understatement – and what's more, the feeling's mutual!
Charles Bradley live at Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. July 3, 2017
The other indoor venues, each wonderfully lit and decorated, are dedicated to more jazz-oriented artists such as Vijay Iyer, Gwilym Simcock, Ravi Coltrane, Mark Guiliana, Lisa Simone, and Phronesis. The latter Danish-British ensemble, led by bassist Jasper Høiby from Copenhagen, causes a quite a stir. This power jazz trio enjoys performing, and it shows. Their sublime interplay in the space between a tear and a smile touches the hearts of the Monument National audience.
The contrast between the indoor venues and the outdoor stages couldn't be bigger. Whereas the indoor venues focus on subtlety, attention, and concentration, the outdoor venue mean "party!" Starting at nightfall, concerts by the Afro-Brazilian groove collective Bixiga 70, the folk and roots band Pokey LaFarge, Quebec's very own world famous funk ensemble The Brooks, and Pat Thomas & Kwashibu Area Band deliver grandiose spectacles. And as if this isn't enough, July 1 is dedicated to Canada's 150th anniversary. In celebration of the occasion, a 24-piece band plays an unparalleled show with Carly Rae Jepsen, Men Without Hats, Radio Radio, and Muzion. Despite a hint of commercialism, the collective delivers an unforgettable evening of dance, fireworks, and electrifying music.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is a great gift for artists and visitors alike. Impressed and visibly touched, Anderson .Paak closes the festival in style with an amazing performance. Well into the small hours of the night, the ecstatic audience cheers when a reprise of Come Down is played in one of the numerous music cafés. The festival exceeds expectations: everybody feels included in this one great urban party. Ten days of music, ten days of partying, an actual marathon of musical energy. Was it worth crossing the Atlantic for? Absolutely! Keeping in mind Under the motto "images speak louder than words", I share with you some of my favourite photos of the festival.