The 34th Edition of The Montreal International Jazz Festival – Part One

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone …

Bill Withers

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The above lyrics could not be more suited when a summation of the 34th Annual Montreal International Jazz Festival is complete.

Musically and weather – wise …

jazz Mother Nature appeared to be somewhat undecided  with her decision to join the festivities. For many tourists and locals  – a moot point.  The sights and sounds of the festival outweighed the wet and the grey. For a Montreal contingent,  fresh off the heels of a harsh winter and tales of corruption  – a little rain, an improvement from  the political storms blowing through the province on a daily basis.

For the most part, musicians ( homegrown and from places where Google Maps cannot locate), delivered wonderful shows and placed smiles on people’s faces. Some folks may be pleased some of the time yet most folks are never pleased all of the time. If happiness were universal – homeless musicians would have better acoustics and not a negative word would be said of  any performance at the Jazz fest.

And as for the Lord, well, he’s just doing his best…

Chris De Burgh

A Spanish train did not transport  Burgh, the Lord and the Devil to the city. The organizers of the Festival should have at least sent a Mexican cab driver to pick them up.

feistThe decision to have FEIST as the cover page to a novel considered the best in the world – a faux pas. A legendary fest requires a legendary opening act. The ‘flavor of the moment’ choice scrumptious to those who dine on the chosen group’s CDs – somewhat sour for a mass population raised on Dick Clark and his top-forty contemporaries. FEIST should have declined. Nothing good could come from a misplaced gig. For anyone involved.

Australia’s The Cat Empire, a band who tore the roof off the Metropolis for two nights and followed it up with a free ‘surprise’ show on July 6th – a rightful choice for an opening act regardless of their corporate status.  If a big name cannot be added, the next logical choice? A circus-like party band complete with horns and dance grooves. A mood -altering handshake to everyone arriving on the Festival’s grounds. A definitive ‘blow-out’  for the opening ‘blow-out’ show if there ever was one …

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The Cat Empire

The Empire of ‘feline persuasion’ – are a must see band of Gypsy-like carnival dwellers. With Harry James Angus leading the way with a horn ripe for the blowing. The Metropolis crowd never seated, never bored. The group’s Latin – influenced grooves combined with catchy lyrics and equally entrapping stage presence,  placed an exclamation point on the Jazz festival. The added show plus the free one – leaving  indentations of ‘Wild Animals’, ‘The Patriot’ and ‘Brighter Than Gold’ into the eardrums of fans and Empire virgins alike. One of the most entertaining bands on the global circuit today.

Holly Cole, the native of  Nova Scotia and Canada’s adopted daughter of Jazz – kinda opened up the Festival. Her three evenings along with the reception of the 2013 Ella Fitzgerald Award, a fitting welcome for the lovers of Jazz and a hint of Pop. The audience at Le Theatre du Nouveau Monde treated to festival founder Alain Simard ( the man also responsible for jump-starting Cole’s career) greeting Cole for her 25th appearance at the festival. A heart-warming moment for a pair who were privy to the origins of the festival.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaCole ( along with Aaron Davies and Kevin Breit) rewarded Simard and the ‘punters’ in attendance by completing sets with memorable tunes such as ‘Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues’, ‘ The Train Song’, ‘I’ve Got a Secret’ and ‘Down, Down, Down’.  The highlight? ‘The Train Song’. A stage suddenly transformed into an oncoming locomotive musically. Cole’s voice –  appearing from the fog with hints to an evening spent with her Father as a young ailing child in this nation’s east coast. A midnight stroll upon her Dad’s shoulders as the fog opened Cole’s eyes to the night. A learning curve for what would become a lifelong night – owl addiction and the name of Holly’s latest disc.

One of the strangest, diverse additions to the Festival was The Virgins at Club Soda on June 30th. This rag-tag bunch of young ‘Stooges’ wannabes – hopped off a plane from Germany and onto the stage on St.Laurent blvd. They appeared lost as did the crowd who may have misinformed their way through a forest of humanity attempting to find the gig. A last minute arrival from many fans (or curiosity seekers), saved what may have been an embarrassment for the band and the Festival organizers. Once the surprise factor was overcome – the New York city based  quasi – Punk Alternative kids, settled into a set complete with songs from their new album; ‘Strike Gently’. An album which has not received the accolades of the group’s first and self – titled disc in 2008. Hopefully for the band and their fans – a return trip to Montreal as part of an Indie-Festival upcoming. If not – these ‘Rich Kids’ may run out of money – quickly …

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Darting the streets, daring the traffic – sometimes instills respectable surprises on a Festival patron. Between shows and halfway through money-making agents and record companies, gems are discovered glistening within the cracks of sidewalks paved by corrupt contractors.

A Bluegrass Band. A trio from Nova Scotia. Hard-working young ones peddling their talents for an unsuspecting public. Guitar case open for money to return home or a meal and a shower. The blueprints of office towers with names like Dylan, Myles Davis or Billie Holiday.

holler‘Eat n’ Holler’ – as fine an hour spent this side of wooing a loved one. Selling discs for money that the general public may otherwise spend daily on processed snacks, alcohol and brain damaging cable T.V shows.

Music provided with ears to legendary men such as  Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatts. Carrying the tradition against all odds and peer pressure beyond comprehension. Hats off to the salt of the earth.

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Please stay tuned for Part Two ….

Read my interviews with;

Holly Cole

Harry James Angus

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