Where the jazz is at

The Montreal International Jazz Fest’s provides a smorgasbord of shows under the rubric of Jazz.


Blick Bassy

The eclecticism of the 38th annual edition of Montreal’s Jazz Festival is evidence of the evolution of this cultural institution that provides a smorgasbord of shows under the rubric of jazz.

However, the variety of music available at 150 concerts in a dozen or so venues underscores the idea that “Jazz” is a pretty useless word to describe it. “Don’t call it jazz — call it social music,” Miles reportedly said. Okay. But let’s add a proviso that improvisation and the blues are necessary elements of the art form and let’s see what’s in store during the festival that runs from June 28–July 8.

There are lots of Canadian and local artists on the program, like trumpeters Ingrid Jensen (June 30), Hichem Khalfa (July 3) and Rachel Therrien (July 7), all at l’Astral in the Jazz d’Ici series. The powerful Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir will play the palatial Maison Symphonique (July 2) and Quebec’s own l’ Orchestre national de jazz the more intimate Gesù (July 8). Then there’s the reunion of the fabled Quebec progressive jazz trio Uzeb at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier (June 29), to name a few.

Keeping the local focus, two nightclubs that nurture local talent year-round have interesting festival series in store: Dièse Onze will feature guitarist Carlos Jimenez (June 30), the Yannick Rieu Nonette (July 1) and the Joe Sullivan Quintet (July 8), among others, while Upstairs will bring in some jazz luminaries from south of the border, namely pianists Vijay Iyer (July 2) and George Cables (July 5) and trumpeter Wallace Roney (July 7), as well as locals like trumpeterbandleader Jacques Kuba Séguin (July 1) and vocalist Ranee Lee (July 8).

In some of the bigger venues, the festival has booked master improviser Charles Lloyd (June 30), fusion bassist Stanley Clarke (July 3), the Robert Glasper Experiment (June 29), bassist Christian McBride (July 1), guitar wizard Kurt Where the jazz is at Rosenwinkel (July 1 and 2), saxophonists Donny McCaslin (June 30) and Colin Stetson (July 1). The splashier concerts also feature the likes of Cuban ex-pat and Dizzy Gillespie protégé Arturo Sandoval (July 5), the Harlem Gospel Choir (June 30) and the Cab Calloway/Xavier Cugat big band battle (July 7).

The festival programming menu is also sprinkled with new talent like the free-jazz-leaning Shabaka and the Ancestors (June 29), rising mainstream trumpeter-singer-composer Bria Skonberg (July 3) and soulful vocalist Lizz White (July 5). Along with the novelty, there will be lots of proven jazz talent like adventurous trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (June 29), guitar stylist Bill Frisell’s duo with bassist Thomas Morgan (July 2), trumpeter Nicholas Payton with his Afro-Caribbean Mixtape (July 4) and Dave Douglas’s band with local tenor saxophonist Chet Doxas (July 6). The Invitation series this year features residencies by three artists: the Bad Plus, John Pizzarelli and Ravi Coltrane.

As usual, lots of music is woven into the programming, including several shows peripheral to the art of improvisation, but still cool-sounding. These include soul artist Charles Bradley (July 4), Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen paying tribute to Art Blakey (July 8), Inuk vocal artist Tanya Tagaq, who will do her amazing thing at Club Soda (July 7), and the Barr Brothers, who are billed with some musicians from Mali (July 7).

Fans of the blues will be well-served on June 20 with a night that includes Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite and the duo of Steve Hill and Matt Anderson at Wilfrid Pelletier. At the Cinquième Salle, a couple of homage projects look promising: “Jesse Mac Cormack is Muddy Waters” (July 3) and Blick Bassy’s tribute to Skip James (July 8). These last two shows are part of the Re: creation series featuring tributes to past masters, and includes Montreal pianist John Roney’s attempt to recreate Keith Jarrett’s legendary Koln Concert (July 2). ■

See the complete Jazz Fest program, including the free outdoor shows, here.

See our recommendations for hip hop and pop shows here