Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Jul 6th 2011 5:00PM by Tad Hendrickson
Eva Hambach, AFP/Getty Images
Each year, the festival puts together a thousand performances that range from student bands to music legends. The festival has seven clubs, two large theaters and five outdoor stages that dot over the festival grounds. On the plaza at the center between the Downtown Hyatt, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier theater and Theatre Maisonneuve is a variety of temporary restaurants, food stands, children's play areas and seating for just chilling out. On a warm summer afternoon or evening, you can walk the grounds eating, drinking and listening to your hearts content. There are small booths hosting live radio broadcasts, CD stores and intimate performances (We saw Esperanza Spalding playing a small side stage for free just a few years ago).
While much of the club billings leaned towards jazz of various types, the outdoor stages offered music that ranged from blues of Studebaker John and the Hawks to the New Orleans groove of Galactic to a variety of Dixieland bands early in the day to festival closing night headliner the B-52s. Music starts at noon with an assortment of local student bands.
While visions of Ellington big band arrangements played at shaky tempos usually come to mind for us (and we did hear a bit of it this year too), we also got a surprise or two. One that jumped out was Fleischmarkt Trio, an award-winning student band from Concordia University. Led by guitarist Myriam Bleau with tenor and saxophonist Severin Smith and baritone saxophonist Stephane Duchesneau, the trio had a remarkable chamber-like feel. Bleau anchored things by laying down a solid rhythm by playing both bass notes and melodies. The horn players came in and out, sometimes doubling up on a melody and sometimes intertwining the leads. While the unusual rhythm-section-less line-up would seem to indicate an artifice, the band's sound was playful and went down as easily as cold white wine on the band's warm afternoon set.
Novalima had the crowd moving during two sets on Saturday night. The band from Lima, Peru, played a danceable blend of electronica, dub, salsa and hip-hop fused with Afro-Peruvian rhythms carried by the band's three drummer/percussionists. We've seen them turn a small club into a hot sweaty dance party, but the energy projected by the band on a big stage was more than enough to get thousands moving with small groups dancers amidst a general crowd sway.
Led by the very tall and skinny singer and namesake, Baloji from Belgium and the Congo was straight out of the sunny West African guitar tradition, complete with a red-hot old guitarist who played sitting down. The singer worked the stage from side to side, dancing, exhorting the crowd with a megaphone and showing an endless variety of pelvic thrusts that might even school Prince. The crowd on this late-night Canada Day performance responded with gusto, seemingly being in just the right mood for a night of hot African dance music. Towards the end, two dancers in black came on stage and acted out some sort story that made no sense to me, but by this point no one seemed to care -- the band had conquered.
One of the most uniquely Canadian performances of the grounds was also on its biggest stage. Singer Susie Arioli led a large swing band through a packed set with tens-of-thousands of people watching from a block-long plaza area called Place de Festivals. Ironically Arioli didn't seem to alter her show a whole lot, adding a few extra horn players and a drummer, but sticking to that classic swing jazz sound carried on the broad shoulders of Jordan Officer's guitar playing and arrangements. At one point Arioli, Officer and upright bassist Bill Gossage held the crowd's attention with a trio segment of ballads that could have happened in some tiny nearby club. Arioli carried it all off, tapping away at her signature snare drum with a pair of brushes, offering up playful in-between song banter to the crowd and moving effortlessly between French and a distinctly Canadian accented English. It's obvious that she's the queen of the Quebec jazz scene, and the band does well in France, but it'd be interesting to see if the singer ever transitions the international/non-French speaking jazz scene. Based on the crowd size, it doesn't seem that she needs to.
We've seen dozens of performances in our four visits to the festival. One thing that's consistent amongst all the varied performers is that many of talk about how much they love playing the Montreal Jazz Festival. The audiences who flock from all over the world to take in this amazing festival and its beautiful cosmopolitan setting could express the same sentiment.
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