Montreal Jazz Festival 2022 reviews

REVIEWS: The 2022 Montreal Jazz Festival, pt. 1: The comeback that this city needed

“Did someone say the pandemic isn’t done yet? I couldn’t hear you over all that jazz!”

“Did someone say the pandemic isn’t done yet? I couldn’t hear you over all that jazz!” The 42nd edition of the Montreal International Jazz Fest is now well underway. And while it can’t be taken lightly that COVID is still with us, it also can’t be denied that people are ready to live with it and eager to enjoy a return to our traditions. I’m not trying to start a debate. So let’s be vigilant, remember to do what makes sense to protect ourselves and others, and have a good time when the opportunity arises. And now, here are some reviews from the first weekend of the 2022 Montreal Jazz Festival.

Thursday, June 30

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra brought the NYC institution to the stage at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on the first evening of the fest, helping start things off on the right foot and pleasing a packed house hungry for a true-school jazz experience. 

Marsalis led the cream-of-the-crop ensemble of seasoned old-timers and a new generation of talent through a brief history of modern jazz. Marsalis and company’s guided tour of its corners included absolutely blistering renditions of Charles Mingus’s “Freedom” and Thelonius Monk’s “Green Chimneys” among its highlights. 

An exhaustive set would have been welcome, but being treated to this calibre of ensemble performance and soloist excellence made for a 90-minute master class in styles, and a great start to the fest experience. 

Friday, July 1

Meshell Ndgeocello Jazz Fest Montreal photos 2022
Reviews: Meshell Ndgeocello at the Montreal Jazz Festival 2022. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Monument-National was the right venue for Meshell Ndegeocello, whose decades-spanning career is hard to nail down. Her ’90s R&B success was hardly a blueprint, and in retrospect, that part of her history is the outlier. A simple, quiet, attentive atmosphere was a fit. 

Ndegeocello and a pared-down quintet delivered mostly new yet unreleased music from “a multi-media project” based on James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, slated to coincide with what would have been the Civil Rights-era author’s 100th birthday in 2024. 

Themes of pain, reconciliation and joy coloured the evening. Earlier in the set, in the spirit of her return to the city and its best-known festival, Ndegeocello “called on St. Leonard” (Cohen, and not the northeast Montreal borough) for an intense cover of “Suzanne.” 

I also caught a decent amount of Montreal artist Fernie on the Club Montreal TD stage beforehand. This kid is great, period. Emotional, raw and relatable, Fernie brings weird goth energy to chill R&B and it’s a welcome matchup. 

Saturday, July 2

Reviews: Kamasi Washington at the Montreal Jazz Festival 2022. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Joey Bada$$ came on stage too late at MTelus for me to be able to catch outdoor headliner Kamasi Washington. So I had to make a judgment call and decided to check out the latter. 

Washington is widely recognized as heir apparent to the jazz traditions and as the leader of the modern movement. Whether he concurs with that, I couldn’t tell you. But after a powerful 90-minute set, the rapt, jam-packed Place des Festivals crowd — especially anyone discovering the composer/bandleader and sax god for the first time — would be hard-pressed to disagree. 

You had to be there. That’s a cheap review, I admit, but sometimes it’s just that simple. Anyone who can get that many people of all ages and cultures as unified and excited about complex jazz has something special going on. 

Sunday, July 3

Dominique Fils-Aimé Montreal Jazz Fest 2022 photos
Reviews: Dominique Fils-Aimé at the Montreal Jazz Festival 2022. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Montreal’s Dominique Fils-Aimé is François Legault’s worst nightmare: a Black, Québécoise woman singing in English and speaking in French between songs. 

The adoring crowd at Théâtre Maisonneuve was palpably excited to welcome back the Polaris-nominated singer and La Voix alum whose 2021 album, Three Little Words, concludes a trilogy project that explored blues, jazz, and now soul, which was on full display throughout a nearly seamless 90-minute set.

Fils-Aimé, backed by a prodigious six-piece band and complemented by a solid backup vocal trio, played to the love in the room. There is admittedly something a little too close to pretentious/precious for my liking in her presentation, but her talent and range cannot be denied. This was an epic show.

Opener Hanorah, another local light, got a well-deserved opportunity to shine, taking full advantage of an excited audience and the Place des Arts production value to show her hometown why she’s an artist that gets people talking. Not to be derailed by a pandemic, Hanorah’s momentum is in shape to keep the party moving.  

What’s on today at the Montreal Jazz Fest?

Montreal’s Sarah MK brings that voice to the Rio Tinto stage, 5 p.m.

Dawn Tyler Watson plays a pair of sets at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, at 7 PM and again at 9:30 p.m.

And for some late-night bounce, Busty and the Bass get it on at the Club Montreal TD stage at 11 p.m.

See you in a couple of days!

See our 2022 Montreal Jazz Festival photos here. For more on the Jazz Fest, which continues through July 9, please visit the festival’s website.

For more music coverage, please visit the Music section.