André 3000 montreal jazz fest festival 2024

André 3000. Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

The Jazz Fest had a great first week — here’s what we saw

Reviews of André 3000’s show and five other concerts at the Jazz Fest, which continues through Saturday.

The first full week of summer never fails to capture the hearts and minds of Montrealers ready for a season of merrymaking, and last Thursday’s unseasonably cool temperature turned out to be just right for day one of Jazz Fest. 

Chill people, crowds and music set the vibe for the festival’s 44th edition. 

If sweater weather wasn’t on anyone’s bingo card after the previous week’s heatwave, note that there are way less optimal conditions to break ground on an eight-day event that opens up the Quartier des Spectacles and its surrounding downtown nightlife districts to tens upon tens of thousands of visitors all the way through July 6.  

Hiatus Kaiyote at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 2024. Photo by Cindy Lopez

And what cooler way to set it off than with Australia’s modern soul/jazz torch bearers Hiatus Kaiyote headlining on Jazz Fest’s largest outdoor stage?

On the eve of dropping a new LP, Love Heart Cheat Code, the boundless Melbourne four-piece, fronted by singer/guitarist and all-around badass hippie chick Nai Palm, placed their trippy off-time symphonies in service to a respectable opening night crowd that brought die-hard fans to the front and impressed the uninitiated, as well. 

Halfway through fan favourite “Red Room,” Nai Palm abruptly halted the performance to check on an audience member who appeared distressed, calling for security and a medic and reminding the crowd to stay hydrated. Once satisfied that the situation was under control, Hiatus Kaiyote took it from the top, the crowd resumed its singalong and the show went on. 

Hats off to the band’s vigilance. As summer festival season goes into high gear, let’s all remember to take care of ourselves out there.

To that end, shout out to Jazz Fest for offering free bottled water at most of the official festival branded bars on site. The refillable aluminium bottles are (at least in my experience) offered with a smile, no purchase necessary, and can be refilled at the water stations found around Place des Festivals. 

While we’re at it, let’s also big-up the site itself. It’s remarkable how freely fest-goers are able to move from stage to stage, from a packed crowd to an accessible concession corridor or a sidewalk toward an exit and a metro station, even at peak hours. In terms of a safe, spacious and family-friendly atmosphere, Jazz Fest can’t be topped. And opening night was a success by any measure, sweater-weather and all. 

Sunny War. Photo by Cindy Lopez

A gorgeous Friday evening set the mood for night two and a long weekend, and I headed to the Rogers stage with my sights set on Sunny War. With her six-string and a voice that charts somewhere between Tracy Chapman and Mahalia Jackson (no lies), the Tennessee native gave the 7 p.m. curiosity-seekers an earful. 

With melancholic, gospel-infused slow jams, snarling acoustic punk numbers, a country ditty or two (inspired by “the hobo era,” she claimed) and a soul-searing cover of “She Loves You,” Sunny War left her emotional mark as only an artist with scars of their own can. 

I also caught the end of her second 9 p.m. set, where a larger crowd, a darker night sky and some simple stage lighting added just the right amount of gravitas to the whole affair until an intense hand cramp (later chronicled on the artist’s Instagram page) brought the proceedings to a sudden halt. 

Hammering bass notes on an oversized acoustic named “Big Baby” with the thumb of your fret hand will do it. Sunny War returns to Montreal next month, opening for Iron & Wine at MTelus on Aug. 16.

Kid Koala at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 2024. Photo by Cindy Lopez

Between servings of Sunny War, I’d stolen off to the comfort of Place des Arts’s Cinquième Salle and the warm, marsupial embrace of Kid Koala’s multi-discipline, cinematic musical theatre experience The Storyville Mosquito.

Where to begin when introducing a stage team of four puppeteers, two videographers and a sound engineer, 75 puppets and at least a dozen miniature sets, a three-piece string ensemble and the mastermind of ceremonies himself multitasking on turntables, drums, keys and effects, guitar, bass and clarinet at Jazz Fest? 

Koala pointed to the silver screen on the wall above the stage.

“We’re gonna make a movie up there. Because that’s what Miles would have done.”

Because I’d seen the production earlier this year, I had my head at least one-third wrapped around the volume of stimulus on display. My ADHD and I agreed that this time, I’d be allowed to pay attention to the screen, the story and the musical performance as much as possible. 

A strong urge to stare at the puppeteers working in the shadows of the stage was occasionally too much to resist, but by and large, I immersed myself in the message more than the medium. 

I’m not sure I’ve adequately described the majesty of The Storyville Mosquito, but it’s an experience not to be missed should the opportunity appear along any music fan’s travels. 

Salin. Photo by Cindy Lopez

With the joy and pain of Koala and two rounds of Sunny War in my pocket, I was looking forward to a nightcap of sophisticated soul and funk with Salin on the Rio Tinto stage. Born in Thailand, the drummer and bandleader is a world traveller who now calls Montreal home. 

She excitedly told the crowd that she’d received her first Canadian passport that very day. Wanderlust seems to be a theme. When last Salin played Jazz Fest, her band was composed of a who’s-who of Montreal players and her sound leaned into big, colourful, pop-embracing R&B. 

Two years later, with a new lineup of virtuosic players, her vision has shifted. The discipline of Afrobeat combined with sounds inspired by the music of Thailand’s indigenous people, delivered by players who embrace — and clearly impress each other — taking turns with big, proud, spotlight solos are what Jazz Fest stages are built for. Bravo. 

I returned to the festival on Sunday, taking my seat in Place des Arts’s Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier for André 3000

The Outkast superstar was given top billing as one of this year’s centrepiece fest headliners, invited to present his experimental jazz flute-and-wind instrument project New Blue Sun, which puzzled many and delighted others when it inauspiciously entered the conversation late last year; a leftfield surprise from a hip hop talent who, to be fair, has never marched to the beat of anyone else’s drum.

 “We’re gonna reach to the sky and bring it to the now,” the Atlantan rap legend declared after a lengthy intro jam. 

Contrary to conventional opinion, Three Stacks and his band, composed of Carlos Niño, Nate Mercereau, Surya Botofasina and Deantoni Parks, didn’t perform the album they made together, instead drawing improvisationally on the experiment that birthed it. 

I swear I spent the whole time reviewing the show in my head, and yet when all was said and done, I finally decided I’d been entertained, through and through. I went from meditating to forming ideas to forgetting them and losing interest in my own opinion as I was drawn further in. 

I believe André takes the project he and his band are invested in seriously, but by the same token, I don’t think he expects that — or even cares if — the audience responds in kind. Which is kind of nice. Progressive jazz can be insufferably pretentious. Whatever New Blue Sun is, it’s definitely not that. 

Robert Glasper at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 2024. Photo by Cindy Lopez

On Canada Day, the crowd gave it up to festival regular, modern jazz and Black music icon and key-killer Robert Glasper, who simply had a great time on the main outdoor stage — jamming on tracks from his Black Radio album series, paying tribute to J Dilla and giving his incredible band equal shine as the holiday weekend came to a close. No complaints here. ■

We’ll touch base again soon with more reports and photos as Jazz Fest continues through Saturday, July 6.

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