Our Montreal Buzz writers are all over the Festival International Jazz de Montréal. Read their reviews of amazing concerts by Trombone Shorty, Bootsy Collins, Mark Berube, Ernest Ranglin, Steel Pulse, Return to Forever IV, Hugh Masekela, Theophilus London, Men Without Hats, Nikki Yanofsky and more…
Mark Brube and The Patriotic Few, Savoy du Metropolis: I’ve never had a bad time at the Savoy du Métropolis. It’s most often a venue for festival shows (Jazz Fest and Mutek, namely), but seeing Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few there the other night (the first night in the band’s two-night run at Jazz Fest) made me wish I could spend more music-listening time in its intimate, wall-to-wall carpeted confines.
With their eclectic blend of folk, indie-rock and jazz plus some serious musical talent, Mark Berube and The Patriotic Few have gathered quite a loyal following in the past few years – not only in their home base of Montreal, but, due to extensive touring, they’ve made die-hard fans from all around North America and Europe. The band’s Jazz Fest shows come hot on the heels of the recently launched album, June in Siberia, so many songs in the set were new ones, beautifully showcasing the poetic Bérubé’s songwriting evolution and the inventive collaboration between band members Kristina Koropecki (cello), Patrick Dugas (drums), and Amélie Mandeville (bass).
With Berube leading the way on keyboards and vocals, the band happily played tunes that would be as at home on a windy prairie wheat field as they were in festival-packed downtown Montreal, the music moving from slow and contemplative to layers upon layers of bombastic, fun, foot-stompin’ sound. Perhaps the most profound part of the live show was witnessing the band’s gorgeous harmonies – that an acapella song from Bérubé’s childhood in Swaziland could bring down the house kind of says it all. A night of meaningful music from a band innately connected to its audience.-Robyn Fadden
Ernest Ranglin, Metropolis: The Montreal Jazz Fest is notorious for booking real heavy hitters. How heavy you ask? Ernest Ranglin, inventor-of-ska heavy. And he did it in the 50s. You can’t underestimate Ranglin’s influence on music as we know it, he even played guitar on the first Jamaican song to ever achieve worldwide success, which for the record was Millie Smalls’ My Girl Lollipop. This fact was not lost on the throngs of people who gathered at Metropolis to see Ernest Ranglin in the flesh. Although he’s nearly 80, he doesn’t look a day over 65 and he still managed to play an incredible 75-minute set. In the 1960s, he took up jazz guitar and his set for the Jazz Festival reflected that. The show had the loose, jazzy feel that only musicians with serious chops can achieve. Ranglin also had an amicable rapport with the band that were all players from Montreal. At the end of the set, Ernest Ranglin thanked the crowd, played the intro to a song and walked off stage while the band played on. He was done, but the music didn’t stop.-Sophie Naima Caird
Steel Pulse, Metropolis: Legendary Rasta/Roots/Reggae band Steel Pulse brought their wildest live show for Montreal’s Jazz Fest and performed for a crowd of adoring fans. Although they’ve been around since 1975, thankfully the members of Steel Pulse still have the frenetic energy of up and comers. The entire band played expertly, all sharing turns in the spotlight with lead vocalist David “Dread” Hinds who ran slowly around the stage and danced and laughed through the set. One of the guitar players occasionally stepped out from the shadows of the band to gyrate against his guitar, making the ladies at the Metropolis swoon.
Steel Pulse dropped a new album in 2010, but their set was mostly comprised of their hits (although sadly they didn’t play Barack Obama Song). They did however play Leggo Beast, Chant a Psalm, Your House, Rollerskates and as if that wasn’t enough, they sang a Bob Marley cover, which made the sea of Bob Marley t-shirt clad fans dance their best Rasta dance. Through the stage lights you could see billows of smoke rising from the blissed out crowd up front who danced from start to finish. They finished their generous set with a classic band/audience sing along, the oldest trick in the book but it thrilled the fans. Even though Steel Pulse have been around for a long time, they still know how to make people dance and they don’t appear to be stopping anytime soon.-Sophie Naima Caird
Return to Forever IV, Salle Wilfred-Pelletier: The thing that has always amazed me most about Montreal Jazz Festival crowds is also maybe the thing we’re all looking for in the end: an abundance of respect. It can happen – and it happens often – at an $80-a-ticket indoor show or a free early evening outdoor show, that moment when there’s nothing but the music, no one dares to speak, no one really needs to. And right before the end of whatever song caused such reverie, is a pause, and then the clapping, whooping and outpouring of audience love. This happened for three hours during the Return to Forever IV show.
Of course, the whole thing started out with legendary bass player Stanley Clarke being handed the Miles Davis Award by Jazz Fest President and Founder Alain Simard – and being totally gracious, self-effacing and downright call-to-arms poetic about it (he spoke about the importance of the arts now more than ever, against whatever odds we’re facing these days – “our job is to keep the planet… cool.”). When Clarke returned to the stage, it was with his equals in jazz-great weight: friends and collaborators for 40 years, band leader Chick Corea (piano, keyboards) and Lenny White (drums), as well as Frank Gambale (guitar) and Jean Luc Ponty (violin). Sure, we all knew this was going to happen, but nevertheless, the room shook with palpable jaw-dropping (and sustained applause). The musicians had their well-earned time in the spotlight, with multiple solos and renditions of their own songs, but the best times of the night came as the band played on in heart-felt collaboration, stirring new energy into 70s space-rock-jazz sounds and incredible feats of harmony, the sheer joy of playing together melting out from the stage and into the crowd, forever and ever, amen.-Robyn Fadden
Hugh Masekela, June 27 at Club Soda: As happy as I was to be standing barely 10 feet from Hugh Masekela as he played Club Soda on Monday night, I was also quaking in a humbling sort of excitement, knowing that this man had straight-up owned crowds of thousands at massive outdoor concerts for decades. He’d been at Monterey Pop, on stage with full choir and band with Paul Simon, opened last year’s FIFA World Cup. I mean, come on. But, like any real pro, he was humbled too (in that disarming way that certain geniuses have), in front of a few hundred enthusiastic fans, giving us his all.
In the course of two sets, the South African musical legend – trumpet player, singer, percussionist, sometime imitator of a wavering Louisiana accent – played songs that spanned his long repertoire, with trademark dance moves, story telling and sense of humour (somewhere between dry and rascally trickster) intact. Joined by incredible musicians in their own right on drums, guitar, keyboard, bass and percussion, Masekela lead us on on a journey from smooth jazz meanderings to South African rhythms to a long version of Coal Train, maybe the sadness song anyone has ever grooved to. We were all glad to hear that whistle blow.-Robyn Fadden
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Metropolis: Prince may have brought the house of Metropolis down a couple times during his 2-night run, but 25-year old phenom Trombone Shorty and his capable band of supporting players also managed to take serious aim at the building’s stability. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, who hails from the Treme neighbourhood on New Orleans (that inspires the HBO show, Treme, in which he’s appeared several times), is more than just a virtuoso trombone and trumpet player. He’s a singer and charismatic frontman with a penchant for musical parlour tricks. That work. During a rousing rendition of Sunny Side of the Street, he held a note for several minutes, a feat of circular breathing that was pretty amazing. During the encore, the musicians switched instruments, with Shorty taking over drumming duties mid-song. But what made this oft-used crowd-bait fly wasn’t Andrews, it was his supporting players. Many musicians can hold down some basic percussion, but when his bass player and drummer took up lead horns, it was, again, pretty amazing. After wrapping up a rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In (which I believe all NOLA musicians legally have to play when touring), he confidently shouted “See you next year” to the crowd. Montreal should hope so.-Brendan Murphy
Bootsy Collins, Metropolis: I spent the day of the concert on the hunt for Bootsy. One scheduled interview was missed and then another miraculously appeared. I showed up and waited in the Metropolis dressing rooms to meet the legendary Bootsy Collins. It happened.
The concert turned out to be one of the craziest I’ve ever covered. The full stage of supporting players- percussionists, keys, backup singers, some dancing girls, horns, a DJ and a hype man wearing the loudest vest I’ve ever seen- warmed up the crowd with the “slow reveal” of Bootsy, who then erupted onto the stage. It’s easy to forget, possibly because he’s wearing a full gold suit and star-shaped space bass, that you’re watching one of the world’s most influential bassists. Until he gets into the groove.
He dropped into some heavy galactic funk and all was well at Metropolis- the first song/medley/jam-out went for about 20 minutes without pause. He played songs, like Mothership Connection (Star Child) that the older funk fans recognised immediately and younger fans picked up on when they heard the part that Dr. Dre sampled in Let’s Ride. Things were funking merrily along and then Bootsy intro’d a Jimi Hendrix tribute and disappeared from the stage. I assumed it was for a costume change, having personally seen the splendours of his dressing room earlier that day. 40 minutes later he still wasn’t there and, despite the best efforts of the other musicians, the momentum in Metropolis slowed. A cold front seemed to have settled over an area that had been promised a “rain of funk”. Bootsy did return, in a pretty spectacular Mohawk and leopard skin tights, but my own personal momentum was, like some but not all, done for the night. Regardless, a disappointing show did nothing to diminish the fact that I HUNG OUT WITH BOOTSY COLLINS!-Brendan Murphy
Theophilus London, Club Soda: Up and coming rapper Theophilus London took the stage at Club Soda last night as part of Montreal’s Jazz Fest. As soon as the lights went down, London grabbed the packed crowd in an iron fist and didn’t let go until the very end. I think the rumours are true: Theophilus London is the next big thing. They show was short and sweet and filled with fun. Appearing on stage in a wide brimmed gold glitter hat and matching gold tank top, immediately you could tell he wasn’t your average rapper. He did all the songs from his EP Lovers Holiday, and all his singles, including my personal favourite Girls Girls $ which had the crowd waving their hands and eating from his. He also treated us to a few songs off his upcoming album being released next month which he pushed shamelessly.
All in all, the show was thoroughly enjoyable. Blending Soul, Rap, R&B, Electro, and Electro-Punk all into one neat little package. I love when you get to witness an artist at this stage in their career. Established music, a expanding fan base, and still having fun. Fun enough to invite everyone onstage at the end of his show as he played his encore. I couldn’t reach the stage personally, but everyone looked like they were having a super good time. More over Kanye, there’s a new breed of rapper in town: Hipster Rap. And I love it. -Alex Dunphy
Men Without Hats, Metropolis: Montreal’s Men Without Hats should have their own holiday observed by dancing and a refusal to wear a hat no matter what. The band chose their name based on their wintertime propensity to prize fashion over function and stylishly abstain from a practical hat even though it means that they’re gambling with frostbite. It’s a good thing they did too, otherwise who else would tell us to dance if we want to and leave our friends behind? Probably someone would, but it wouldn’t be as catchy. Only the singer Ivan Doroschuk remains of the original lineup but that didn’t take away from the performance in Montreal.
The lead singer was in fine form; he riffed between songs and jokingly announced that they were veiled critiques of the allegedly demonic Starbucks coffee company. Then he’d seamlessly transition into a spot on rendition of Pop Goes the World or another one of the group’s classic hits. Throughout the performance the lead singer Ivan Doroschuk danced something that looked like the mashed potato and looked genuinely happy to play to a hometown crowd. The fact that he’s the only remaining member of the band doesn’t matter really, it’s not like they are a band revered for their musical ingenuity. They are however adored for their sythn pop masterpieces and they played every one of them but singer Ivan Doroschuk wore a cowboy hat, which makes me wonder.-Sophie Naima Caird
Nikki Yanofsky & L’Orchestre Metropolitain, Salle Wildrid-Pelletier: On July at Places des Arts, something curious happened. I’m calling it “The Curious Case of when that 17 Year Old Olympic Girl Belted it Better than Aretha”. We all remember when little Yanofsky stole our hearts with her Olympic song “I Believe”, well she’s only getting better. The show was less spectacle and more sheer talent than I have seen in awhile. She walks on stage wearing a tight caped-sleeved dark navy dress, with matching Louboutins, and gives a shy wave. From the very first song, you knew she was something special. I’m mostly unfamiliar with her current body of work, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t enchanted by her voice. In a day where I am seeing pop shows with lasers, pyrotechnics, video screens, smoke and lip-syncing, it was a welcome reminder that this is what singing is supposed to be like.
Adorable beyond words, she took a few breaks between songs to speak some heavily accented french. “Pardon moi, mon francais est pas très bon” she said to the great amusement of the audience. The only parts where I felt a little unease were her song introductions that came off as a bit rehearsed and childish. “Ok guys… It’s Aretha Time!” Then I remember that she was a child a few short months ago and I forgive her instantly. Her voice is nothing like her stature. It filled the room with every song, from the jazz, to the slower ballad-esque ones. Nikki, you’ve made a believer out of me. I’m interested to see where this big-voice-small-shoes girl will go! I think she will be out vocal saviour, so the world will forgive us for Justin Bieber.-Alex Dunphy