Montreal Fest Impressions

Montreal Fest Impressions

by Arnold Jay Smith

copyright © 2005 Arnold Jay Smith

The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal had to come up with something different to top their 25th anniversary of 2004, so they opted for a world music theme. Perhaps this is where jazz should be going: out of the mainstream. Some highlights follow.

Let's begin in the press office, which for we foreigners means Sophie Desbiens and her team. They take care of your indoor concert needs and other desires such as CDs and interviews. There are, of course, those outdoor stages throughout Place des Arts but you must have tickets for the formal concerts. The outdoor venues this year were packed, with from 50,000 to treble that for the big blowouts on July 5 and the closer starring Pat Metheney. And they're free.

One of the sold-out concerts was the Dave Holland Big Band, redux. I was asked by band manager Louise Holland to join them for a soundcheck at Theatre Maisonneuve. While they didn't run down any complete tunes — they are after all a functioning, touring unit — what I got was an inside taste of the excitement to follow.

Later the same evening, Charles Lloyd appeared at the Spectrum de Montreal with pianist Geri Allen leading the rhythm section. The once smoke-filled former movie house was packed, but in the end it was Allen who carried the day, and, I might add, the leader. Lloyd, appearing tired, meandering through the chord changes on tenor sax until Allen's first solo. Wham! Things changed palpably. Lloyd appeared again at the annual Invitational the first half of which featured the phenomenal tabla player Zakir Hussain. Here Lloyd was spot-on, playing tenor, alto flute, piano and a soprano pitched like a fakir's horn.

Keys plus percussion equals Randy Weston's trio with added conguero Candido. These old friends romped through a tribute to Chano Pozo. Randy and Candido hadn't played together in decades. Together, they represent easily more than a century of jazz. Add more than another half-century just living on the planet. And they're still in peak form.

Some final words heard from passing journalists about the pressroom: "[You're treated by] the p.r. here like you would be in a small club; very personal" (a British scribe). "They are efficient and accommodating" (broadcaster and JJA member Jon Hammond). Dr. Michael Bourne, who hosted his WBGO afternoon show live from the festival for three days, said that the international hang is sometimes as good as the music — "but not as good as the food."

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