The 40th Montreal International Jazz Festival took place from June 26-July 6. This milestone iteration of the venerable festival, one of North America's biggest, stayed true to their long-standing mission of presenting a vast cross section of musical idioms in a constellation of venues ranging from a intimate church amphitheater to a symphony hall.
Although wide spread construction projects and renovation initiatives were underway throughout the Quartier des spectacles for the duration of the festival, the makeshift walkways along the central corridor on Rue Sainte-Catherine did not compromise proceedings logistically. Blessed daily with warm and sunny weather, metro-area Montreal music lovers and tourists alike witnessed the turning of the festival's stages into a perpetually refocusing prism through which the world's preeminent vocalists and musicians from across genres and generations came to perform for audiences that were as diverse as they were appreciative.
But at the heart of the proceedings was the music, and music is what this festival did exceedingly well. Montreal's International Jazz Festival has always been particularly adept at traversing the line between its diverse, thoughtfully curated free performances and its stellar ticketed shows. And this year was no exception.
The festival's five free stages hosted nightly performances by a broad swatch of artists from across an array of genres: Canadian blues vocalist Molly Johnson, R&B inflected singer/guitarist Victory, New Orleans brass band Cha Wa, New York-based jazz/soul unit Michael Mwenso and The Shakes, and British saxophonist Nubya Garcia were but a few of the dozens of musical offerings that attracted tens of thousands of listeners nightly.
Ticketed shows spanned the gamut from mainstream stalwarts like George Benson and Dianne Reeves to notable newer names like the jazz/funk aggregation Butcher Brown and pianist-composer Kris Davis.
Internationally renowned artists Richard Galliano, Omara Portuondo, and Chucho Valdes enraptured audiences, while Canadian favorites Ranee Lee, Holly Cole, and Jordan Officer delighted all who listened.
A series of concerts commemorating the 50th anniversary of the ECM record label included outings by the Tord Gustavsen trio, Vijay Iyer & Craig Taborn, bassist Larry Grenadier, and a solo set by pianist Bobo Stenson.
Standout performances included a sold out offering by New Orleans native Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah, whose smokey, sonorous tone on trumpet was supported by his explosive, propulsive five piece band.
The pairing of Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez and American vocalist Kurt Elling, put together especially for this year's Montreal Jazz Festival, gave a performance that was nothing less than delightful. Employing repertorial choices that found Elling singing in French, Spanish, and English, the duo's intense listening and unadulterated virtuosity personified percision and patience.
While this year's iteration of The Montreal International Jazz Festival undoubtedly held fast to its core musical principles, there were some concerns that organizational changes might be in the works due to the retirement of Alain Simard and Andre Menard, the festival's co-founders and guiding lights since the institution's inception.
While questions about what lays ahead for the festival may remain, optimism about its future is both palpable and widespread. One such an example is this year's creation of The Oliver Jones Award, named after the legendary Canadian pianist who has become synonymous with The Montreal Jazz Festival. The award will focus on cultivating a fresh crop of young musicians at local colleges and universities, with each year's winner earning the right to perform under their own name at the next year's event.
Ricardo Burke is a Brooklyn, NY based writer and lover of jazz, cinema and art.