Live review | Montréal Jazz Festival

Posted on July 19th, 2017 in Recent posts by .

Buika-Montreal-Jazz-Fest-©Michael-Jackson-Free
Photo by Michael Jackson

Martin Longley explores the abundance of global music on offer at the Montréal Jazz Festival

Like many jazz festivals, Montréal has ample room to present other musical forms, so it’s easy to experience a complete global music orientated schedule, if so desired. Most of these choices are available freely on the Canadian city’s multiple open-air stages, with abundant alternatives made possible via the sheer overload of what is famed as the world’s biggest jazz festival. The entire arts complex part of the city is completely overrun with indoor, ticketed gigs and freebie outdoor shows, creating a temporary community of thousands.

Feisty female singers were to the fore. Even in this three-day slice of the 11-day feast (July 2-4), it was possible to catch Betty Bonifassi, Buika (pictured above), A-WA and Flavia Coelho, all delivering tasty sets. The latter Rio singer/guitarist doesn’t sound massively Brazilian, spending most of her set spouting tongue-twisting ragga, dancehall and heavy dub numbers, with the occasional frothy French chanson dribbled into the cocktail. Coelho’s keyboardist and drummer helped to create a full and heavy reggae weight, the latter stepping forward during the encore to voice rugged and deep in the Prince Far I fashion. Coelho is a dynamo – singing, dancing, spouting Afro-Brazilian semi-acoustic guitar licks and transforming into a ragga gyrator, sometimes all in the space of a single number.

Buika played a ticketed show in the Place des Arts, subtly bathed in a deep crimson lightshow glow, which was presumably a deliberate aid to enhance the sultry atmosphere. Unfortunately, her audience were more inclined than most to bathe themselves in a cellphone glow, shooting and snapping incessantly, and working directly against the mood-flow. Regardless, this Spanish singer’s deep-toned power was sufficient to grasp and hold our attention, as she skirted away from her flamenco roots into more generalised song-forms. It was actually the more flamenco soaked
parts of Buika’s set which held the most power, where her band appeared to be most natural in their negotiations.

A-WA are a trio of Tel Aviv sisters with Yemenite roots, melding traditional vocal harmonies with quirky electro-pop, and progressing towards a psychedelic rock climax. Their open air set magnetised a varied crowd, many of whom appeared to be discovering these sounds for the first time. All were most emphatically converted.

The main outdoor TD stage is right next to the Place des Arts, and every night it features a pair of crowd-magnet sets, with the same act appearing at 9pm and 11pm. Brazilian combo Bixiga 70 have a samba funk core, but are just as likely to rove into Afrobeat or reggae territory, with three horns, two percussionists, drums, bass, keys and a pair of guitarists. They’re squarely directed at the festival circuit, but this makes them prone to an overload of crowd-goading tactics. One of the most appealing sequences was a percussion work-out, with djembe and cowbell, guitar and cheese-grater joining later, and the horns riffing back into the fray. Each band member gets a chance in the spotlight as the set progresses, with a particularly impressive trombone blast-off being a stand-out.

Adding to the Latin presence, Roberto Fonseca played with an added horn section, and the Peruvian ensemble Bareto started out on the smaller Hyundai outdoor stage with a slightly cheesy approach. Their tunes steadily toughened up, and their leading man drew the audience closer with some witty banter, so there was a markedly altered vibration by set’s end.

The Heineken stage (this is the fest’s beery overlord, so craft brews are not much in evidence) is the home for rootsy Americana, whether country, rockabilly, blues or rock’n’roll. The French/Québécois Youngstown trio inhabit most of those styles, but can mainly be described as countrybilly, with a high quavering singer operating on the punky Dolly Parton front. Local blues harmonica man Guy Bélanger also had a repeated midnight slot on this stage, inflating the crowd with bonus energy following their full days of music cramming.

On the actual jazz front, the ‘discovery’ of the festival was trumpeter Hichem Khalfa, residing locally, but born in France. His soloing has a pronounced Middle Eastern attack, with crisp, staccato phrases dodging around the reverberant electro-washes of his keyboardist, creating a highly effective sonic contrast. An Arabic modality scampers above tough fusion precision. The jazz purists could have their own hardcore experience by choosing different shows, and likewise with the frothy pop kids, but one of the pleasures of this Montréal festival is that the attendee
can plot completely alternative pathways through the dense number of potential entertainments.

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