The Roots Montreal Jazz Fest Festival 2022 photos

REVIEWS: The Roots at the Jazz Fest will go down in Montreal history as the rebirth of cool

“Their non-stop barrage of covers, classics, impeccable musicianship and showmanship, and unrelenting force was the festival’s crown jewel for 2022, a standard-bearer for years to come. If this is the new normal, sign me up.”

If the first leg of Jazz Fest got off on the good foot, its second leg was about to stomp furiously. Here are the highlights from mid-week all the way to its righteous conclusion on Saturday night.

Wednesday, July 8

Robert Glasper Montreal Jazz Festival Fest 2022 reviews
Robert Glasper accepting the Miles Davis Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 2022. Photos by Cindy Lopez

Right before Robert Glasper’s DJ came out to get crowd at Théâtre Maisonneuve warmed up, the four-time Grammy-winning composer and Jazz Fest regular was handed the festival’s Miles Davis Award honouring his overall body of work and his contribution to the advancement of jazz music.

He was grateful, he later stated. And he seems like a laid-back guy. At one point, his two-year-old daughter adorably came out on stage to give him a hug.

“That’s what I did during COVID,” he joked.

But if that’s the most interesting thing I can say about the first half of the set, I’ll admit some disappointment. Glasper was joined on stage by an energetic DJ, Jahi Sundance, a solid bassist and highly respected drummer Chris Dave.

That couldn’t save us from the fact that the song selection, the mostly off-key singing and the fact that Glasper’s overall enthusiasm was lacking — and this despite the technical precision of the musicians. 

A sleepy cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a welcome, fun little interlude and a good-natured drum challenge gave the crowd a chance to appreciate Dave’s talent up close.

And it’s of course possible that if I’d been able to stay for the whole show, I’d look at this experience through a different lens. 

But a friend of mine (a hardcore music fan, DJ and experienced musician) told me the next day that things never really picked up and that he, too, had been underwhelmed.

I mean, a so-so Glasper show is still pretty good. But at a festival where attendees were treated to such a high level of diversity at every turn, it’s unfortunate that this show didn’t meet the bar that Robert Glasper has set for himself in the world of live music.

If you’re gonna leave a Robert Glasper concert, you better hope you have a good reason. Would my FOMO over DOMi & JD Beck, major buzz makers of this year’s Jazz Fest, prove misguided? 

DOMi is a 22-year-old keyboard prodigy from France; JD Beck is an insanely gifted 19-year-old drummer from Dallas. Having met at a convention in 2018, the duo gained YouTube notoriety for the complexity of their jams, from jazz standards to a Madvillain medley. 

Industry interest followed, earning them a seat at the table with Thundercat and more recently signing to Anderson .Paak’s APESHIT label.

A new single featuring .Paak, “Take a Chance”, dropped the very day of the show. I’m not sure they even mentioned that once between one riveting number after another. 

Which is a great example of how charming their presence was, over and above their ridiculous chops. DOMi (aka Domitille Degalle), her no-nonsense, cheerful stage banter (en français) and her constant attention to rearranging her stacks of sheet music perfectly offset the shaggy teenage sincerity of Beck (who must have apologized a half-dozen times for what amounted to apparently missing triplets that he quite endearingly didn’t realize not even Buddy Rich could have called out).

Their 80-minute set left every single person in the building mind-blown, grinning ear to ear and certain that we had just seen greatness in its incubation. 

No regrets whatsoever for walking out on an established giant to witness the future unfold. And If I may say so, I’m pretty sure Glasper himself would feel the same. 

CRi Montreal Jazz Fest Festival review reviews 2022
CRi. Photo by Cindy Lopez

I was only able to catch the final five triumphant minutes of Quebec electronic star CRi at his jam-packed outdoor headlining set. I can’t say much more than that enormous crowd gathered appeared to have been delighted by what they had experienced. And so did CRi.

Thursday, July 7

I took the night off to rest, recoup, write this interview with the Roots’ keyboardist Ray Angry, and get ready for the home stretch of Jazz Fest No. 42. 

Friday, July 8

Cadence Weapon review reviews Montreal Jazz Festival Fest
Cadence Weapon. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Cadence Weapon never disappoints, and his performance on Friday evening at the Rio Tinto stage was no exception. With his easy-going stage presence and a true MC’s flair for making the complex look almost effortless, he easily won over a crowd that grew exponentially as the show went on. 

A handful of bangers from 2021’s Polaris Music Prize winner Parallel World warmed things up and offered a pretty good taste of what Cadence Weapon is about for an uninitiated crowd, before a five-piece band joined him to reinterpret cuts from across his catalogue. Safe to say more than a few new fans were won over by the end of the affair. And we old-timers were pretty thrilled, too. 

Bran Van 3000 review reviews Montreal Jazz Festival Fest photos 2022
Bran Van 3000. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Speaking of old-timers, Montreal’s Bran Van 3000 was the top-billed outdoor event of the festival’s penultimate evening, in honour of the 25th anniversary of Glee, the album that gave the world “Drinking in L.A” and offered Montreal’s music scene a new hope for legitimacy on a global scale at a time when a local indie band’s threshold for making it was whether they could afford a second run of die-cut stickers. 

I’m not going to pretend that Bran Van gave us a master class performance on Friday night. With so many people and personalities on stage, joyful discord is about as kind a thing one could say about a 90-minute concert that often struggled under the weight of its own ambition. Strangely, it was non-Glee material that often packed the biggest payoffs in terms of the power of their delivery. 

Their debut was undeniably ahead of its time. Let’s make it personal. Glee is one of my absolute all-time favourite records, marking a place and time that shaped me and my friends as we entered early adulthood in the Montreal party scene. 

So after 25 years, you’d think the BV3 crew might finally want to learn how to perform the classics without leaning into improv and sloppy charm. It might have been cute in 1998, but we’re all grownups now. That music is fucking amazing and it would be nice to hear it performed with the nuance it deserves.

However (and I’m not just being nice here) a Bran Van party has as much to do with the crowd as it does with the music. And the tens of thousands gathered had a great time. 

The band shone brightest when all of its original lineup was on stage at the same time together. In those moments, it didn’t matter who hit the right note or the wrong note — it was just beautiful. And I’ll quite happily be going to see them again in Quebec City this coming weekend.

Saturday, July 9

The Roots Montreal Jazz Festival Fest 2022 reviews review
REVIEWS: The Roots at the Jazz Fest will go down in Montreal history as the rebirth of cool

There is nothing sentimental about the Roots. In the 11-year span between their last Jazz Fest show and Saturday night, the Philly-originated, late-night TV dominating hip hop band has become a cultural juggernaut in its own right. 

And after nine days of world-class entertainment freely offered to Montreal and anyone who wanted to partake, there was no better sendoff imaginable for the 42nd edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. 

The Roots Crowd Montreal Jazz Festival Fest reviews review 2022
The Roots crowd at the Montreal Jazz Fest, July 9. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Was that the largest crowd ever gathered in Place des Festivals? It certainly seemed like it. 

And the Legendary Roots Crew just made it feel even bigger. Their non-stop barrage of covers, classics, impeccable musicianship and showmanship, and unrelenting force was the festival’s crowning jewel for 2022, and a concert that will go down in Montreal history as the rebirth of cool, a standard-bearer for years to come. If this is the new normal, sign me up.

Those of us who piled into Studio TD afterwards for a not-so-secret DJ set from Roots drummer Questlove are, no doubt, keeping the rapid tests handy this week as we recover from a well-deserved, sweat-soaked dance party. 

But so far, all my aching muscles can only be contact-traced back through nine days of interrupted fun, musical excellence and all-in-all incredibly good times at the Jazz Fest. Bravo, et merci. ■

See more reviews from the 2022 Montreal Jazz Festival here and here. For more on the Jazz Fest, please visit the festival’s website.

For more music coverage, please visit the Music section.