The seasonal debate surrounding the lineup of the annual Montreal International Jazz Festival is as dependable as the arrival of the summer solstice, though this year the discussion is likely to be a lot less heated. The artist roster at this 33rd edition of the legend-making fest is, hands down, one of the best and broadest they’ve ever put together, featuring appearances by musical A-listers like Liza Minnelli, Norah Jones, James Taylor, Wayne Shorter, Bill Frisell, Oliver Jones, Johnny Clegg and, in a fitting kick-off to the festival, Montreal’s very own and much-loved Rufus Wainwright…
On Thursday, June 28, Wainwright will play the Jazz Festival’s enormous – both in terms of actual size as well as anticipation – outdoor opening event in the crowd-friendly Place des Festivals, situated in the heart of Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles. And, as always, this annual concert tradition is free for the general public. Wainwright’s appearance will be a first on a number of fronts: it’s the first time a native Montrealer has opened the festival, the first time Wainwright has appeared at the fest, and the first time Montrealers will get a chance to hear songs from his latest album, Out of the Game, in a live setting.
The nearly-3,000 capacity Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Place des Arts (located adjacent to Place des Festivals) has been home to many of the biggest names the Jazz Festival has ever drawn, including the likes of Prince, Pat Metheny, Etta James and Ray Charles.
This year it will do much the same as it plays host to the TD Special Events Series, featuring performances by eternally popular singer/songwriter James Taylor (who will discover how sweet it is to be loved by you on June 27 and 28), German electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream (June 30), Montreal cinematic pop piano master Patrick Watson (July 4), a first-time appearance by the truly legendary Liza Minnelli (July 5), UK pop-soul sensation Seal (July 6) and much more. And to tie it up in a tight bow, 40-million selling jazz/pop/folk/blues/country/kitchen sink star Norah Jones will close out the series on July 7.
Highbrow jazz heads will take heart in the Grands Concerts Rio Tinto Alcan Series at Théâtre Maisonneuve, which breaks out of the gate with all-star ensemble Spectrum Road (a nod to fearsome drummer Tony Williams and his band Lifetime), featuring the playing prowess of Jack Bruce, Cindy Blackman, John Medeski and Vernon Reid (June 28). Virtuoso sax player Wayne Shorter – whose 40-year playing career spans jazz, classical, rock electro and more – will play with the inimitable Quartet (filled out by Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Danilo Pérez) on June 29.
The group Miles Smiles – comprised of Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney, Joey DeFrancesco, Omar Akim and Darryl Jones – pays tribute to game-changing jazz great Miles Davis (July 2). For what will be a truly memorable experience, Montreal jazz pianist Oliver Jones will perform his own songs for the very first time at the festival during the very appropriately-titled evening “Oliver Jones Plays Oliver Jones” on July 5. And in a weird but welcome twist, Montreal-based folk-pop trio Timber Timbre will bring the intensity of their most recent release, Creep On Creepin’, to the theatre stage, July 6.
The yearly Rythmes Series, at Metropolis, is among the most exciting for music fans of all spots and stripes. This year’s lineup is off the chart, beginning with an appearance by upstart American R&B starlet Janelle Monae, who’ll be playing selections from ArchAndroid, “a retro-futurist album that bonds science fiction and rock opera,” on June 27. Fans of island jams can get their reggae party started on June 28 when Ziggy Marley brings his “Wild and Free Tour” to town with opening band Inword.
Montreal indie-folk-rock-blues buzz band The Barr Brothers continue their remarkable ascent with a cabaret-styled concert on July 1 with opener Alexi Murdoch. On a daring July 3 double bill, Swiss star Sophie Hunger pays tribute to Bob Dylan with her show “Be Part of My Dream,” while rabble-rousing, crowd-pleasing, lefty folk-rock phenomenon Billy Bragg brings his hugely entertaining solo show to the festival for the very first time. And those are just but a very few in this ridiculously talent-packed series.
For this year’s Big Event Tuesday night free outdoor concert – a festival tradition that regularly sees 100,000-plus people fill the Quartier des Spectacles with a mind-melting mass of dancing humanity – 17-piece disco-pop party band Escort, dubbed “New York City’s best live band” by Time Out New York, will provide the high-energy soundtrack to many thousands of good times on July 3.
The total number of concerts is in the hundreds, but we’ll wrap things up here with a mention of internationally-acclaimed Montreal electro-dance-pop duo Chromeo, who’ve been given the honour of closing the festival (Saturday, July 7), and a quick look back at last year’s fest to help get your jazz hands in the mood.
Montreal International Jazz Festival, June 28-July 7, 2012
Guest blogger Jamie O’Meara is a Montreal editor and journalist who covers arts, culture and, er, stock car racing. Formerly the editor in chief of Hour Magazine, he is now an editor at Roverarts.com.