The 34th Annual Montreal International Jazz Festival – Part Two

In a way – the 2013 Festival, with it’s humbled beginnings on rue St. Denis back in 1979 , belonged to the ladies. For different reasons and sounds …

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Chrysta Bell – Club Soda

Holly Cole, Emelie-Claire Barlowe, Tia Fuller, Sharon Jones, Youn Sun Nah, Madelaine Peyroux, Martha Wainright, Christine Tassan and her Imposters, Alexandra Streliski, Sarah Slean, Julie Lamontagne, Christine Jensen, Sienna Dahlen, Elizabeth Shepherd, Serena Ryder and Marian Trudel.

A group of defined women all accomplished or rising stars in the music scene. A delight to the ears and eyes alike.

cbChrysta Bell, director David Lynch’s muse – performed on the 5th of July before an ecclectic audience. Fitting. Bell’s presence and choice of songs – straight from a Lynch episode of Twin Peaks. The Texas – born statuesque beauty ( they grow them big in Texas), stunningly dressed in a gold sequined dress. Her strawberry -coloured hair complimenting the fiery backdrop of the many visual effects on the screen behind her and the band. Musically – ethereal. Haunting portrayals of songs from the Lynch – produced Cd ; ‘This Train’.

In front of the stage, a trio of beautiful women, cut from the same Bell cloth. Gyrating and disappearing into Chrysta’s world. An existence from another planet while songs such as ‘ Right Down to You‘ and ‘Polish Poem’ provided the rocket fuel for such a far away excursion. Bell’s performance – mesmerizing not just for the sheer presence of a mystical creature, important for the talent of her voice. A delight who surprised everyone by showcasing her Blues upbringing complete with a Telecaster in hand.

In a world where too many female artists sell their souls and musical integrity for radio airplay and all the riches that come with it – Bell’s appearance a welcome relief amid a storm of talentless divas touring the world today …

Speaking of actresses …

Molly Ringwald, the red-haired star of such films as ‘The Breakfast Club‘ and ‘Pretty in Pink‘ – made her way to the Jazz festival for a vocal performance at Club Soda on the 6th of July. Say what …?

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According to Ringwald, she started singing around the age of three. Easy to do as her father; Robert Ringwald – a Jazz composer, had her daughter sing with his Big, Swing and Dixieland bands. Following a ‘somewhat short’ and successful film career, Molly has decided to return to her ‘roots’.  The audience at Club Soda in attendance for curiosity – more than as a fanbase for Ringwald’s musical catalog.

Crooning tunes from ‘The great American Songbook’, Ringwald did not mollyblog3disappoint. Not to be mistaken for Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday ( or to be mentioned in the same breath), Molly’s renditions carried out like a class ‘AAA’ ballplayer called up to the big leagues for one hot summer night. No errors, a couple of hits and a sound education of the game around her. Ringwald performed songs from her album; Except Sometimes. Tunes such as  Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Sooner or Later’, Lionel Bart’s ‘Where Is the Love’ and a touching version of  Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)

The charm in Ringwald’s performance? The simplicity and the self-depreciating humor exuding from the forty-five year old married woman with three kids. Holding up her new CD ten times in a playful ‘buy my album’ kind of way, combined with tales of her then-young children listening playfully in the studio over the years, forced a packed audience at Club Soda to fall in love with Molly and forget ( if only for a minute) – once upon a time, Molly Ringwald was bad enough to be part of The Breakfast Club.

Speaking of bad ….?

Bettye LaVette was in Montreal as part of a double bill with the Queen of Rockabilly – Wanda Jackson at The Metropolis on July 4th.

The opening act – Bettye arrived on stage like a comet blasting into Earth without warning from NASA. A sixty year old ‘cosmic wonder’, finally landing on a planet filled with record executives who – for many years mismanaged this lady’s career. A poorly kept secret until recent years. Montreal loves passion and LaVette delivered …

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Lavette – Knockin ’em Dead

Bettye first toured with legends Otis Redding and Ben E. King. She learned her chops and skill from not just watching these men, sleeping with them as well. In her own words; ‘ Nobody took women singers seriously back the so I did what I had to to learn and get ahead’.

bettyeblog2LaVette’s energy and powerful voice is a testament to that experience gained. Her stage presence ( amid banter somewhat lost in translation), a throwback to a different time. An era where showmanship lay not in plastic eggs but in the sheer tuning of vocal chords. LaVette performing songs such as Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’, Gnarls Barkley‘s ‘Crazy’, Lucinda Williams’ ‘Joy’ and Fiona Apple’s ‘Sleep to Dream’. Tunes which earned Bettye a couple of long and loud standing ovations.

It has been over fifty years since the diminutive woman broke into the music business with her 1962 hit ‘ Let Me Down Easy’. In recent years – she has performed in front of  U. S President Obama singing with Jon Bon Jovi. If Bettye’s final song at Metropolis is any indication, a tune which saw LaVette exit stage left three times while continuing singing – ‘Close As I Get To Heaven’ may just might be the theme song to Montreal’s 34th edition of the International Jazz Festival. It now is for the hundreds in attendance that night.

Images can be deceiving …

Poor Wanda Jackson …

Sitting backstage, moments before her performance – a tired looking seventy-six year old Jackson explained how her luggage had arrived just an hour earlier. Given the fact that her and her husband / manager had been here from the night before – a pleasant stay marred by airline people.

An excuse for Jackson’s somewhat erratic performance? No. She does not need one …

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Jackson, whose career deserves more respect than a firefighter amid a blazing office tower fire complete with small child in tow, is allowed to mess up. While most women her age are sitting in rocking chairs delivering tales of adoring Elvis Presley from afar to the bored ears of restless grandchildren – Wanda is still carrying on with a lifelong passion. Singing Gospel, Country and Rockabilly songs from her immense catalog. In between – spinning tales of dating Elvis Presley to an audience filled with people the age of her grandchildren. These facts a mulligan to whatever errors  carried out via miscues on stage.

An appreciative crowd ( notably two young ladies crying; ‘Wanda you are wanda-jackson1awesome!’ ) witnessed history. Backed by a band; The Lustre Kings – a group  fit for a wedding reception. What you saw is what you heard. Renditions far from musical mastery yet tight as a cork for an already drunken man.

Jackson’s first hit; ‘I Gotta Know’ from 1956 – set the evening up for a trip down memory lane. ‘Shakin’ All Over’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ decorated the dinner table for all the seniors in attendance while cover versions of Amy Winehouse’s ‘You Know I’m No Good’ kept the kids interested until the desserts arrived. After dinner treats such as ‘Fujiyama Mama’, ‘Let’s Have a Party’ and ‘Mean Mean Man’. Hits from Jackson’s wonderful and storied career.

The evening’s most charming and funny moment? Wanda explaining how she was backstage while Elvis was performing and gearing all these girls screaming. ‘ I thought there was a fire or something …” Explained Wanda. Little did she know that the cause of the ruckus was a growing spark that would eventually be known as an inferno with the name; The King of Rock n Roll.

Little did anyone know – Wanda Jackson would outlive him and still be singing. Respect …

Straight from Nova Scotia !

Mo Kenney played the last night of the Festival at Le Savoy Metropolis. A quaint upstairs room beside the venue where so many wonderful performers entertained Montrealers.

A perfect setting for Kenney’s folk-ish, country sound.

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Straight out of the K.D Lang classroom of  powerful vocal range, Kenney – with acoustic guitar and sharp tongue in tow – electrified an audience complete with fans and music lovers alike. Kenney was just announced as the winner of Socan’s 2013 Songwriter Award, becoming the very first Maritimer to take home the prize. ‘Sucker’ – the song which will now warrant her national recognition, a tune written after Kenney was dumped. A heartfelt message to anyone (everyone) who has been in the situation at least once.

Mo’s guitar playing so complete, her outstanding voice almost overshadowed. Until she really starts to sing …

Poems accompanied by music – tunes such as ‘Deja Vu’ and ‘Somewhere Else’ providing lasting imprints on both the soul and the conscience. Lullabies starting so soft and escalating to pyramids immense in strength. Immense in their power to provide ponderers  with pressure points to the heart. Places where few have traveled without Kenny as their guide. A homegrown talent to follow as she makes her way from the Oceans of the east to the Mountains of the west.

Watch her climb …

Please stay tuned for Part Three of my Jazz Festival Review …

Stay tuned for my interview with Bettye LaVette

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