Day Two (Wednesday, July 6) in Montreal started with a tourist excursion over to Old Montreal, where I checked out the Notre-Dame Basilica, the gorgeous stone church that was completed around 1880. Among other amazing architectural feats, the Catholic cathedral features an organ with 7,000 pipes, played via 4 keyboards with 99 stops. It’s a place of great beauty but, frankly, not much reverence, at least during the day, when it’s invaded by the tourist hordes (including me).
I also checked out Point-A-Calliere, the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, which offered an informative and entertaining walk through the city’s fabled history, and close-up views of some key artifacts. I didn’t know, or had forgotten that “Montreal” is shorthand for “Mont (Mount) Royal.” Bonus: Our tour guide, an archaeologist, was deeply knowledgeable and passionate about the origins of his city.
The history of Montreal, of course, is going to have to include a chapter on the Montreal Jazz Fest, which has had such a positive impact on the city’s music and arts scene. This year’s event, the 37th edition of the fest, marks my third (or is it fourth?) time covering the event.
Four years ago, I found myself in bass heaven at the Montreal fest, thanks to performances by Esperanza Spalding, Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten, Meshell NdegeOcello, and the late Jack Bruce (with Spectrum Road), among other great bassists and bass guitarists I got to see in 2012.
So it was great seeing Miller again, leading a five piece that included trumpeter Russell Gunn, alto and soprano saxophonist Alex Han, keyboardist Brett Williams and drummer Alex Bailey. Miller, wielding two of his signature Fender Jazz bass guitars (and, for inquiring minds, Aguilar cabs and amps), again demonstrated his astonishing agility as a master of a certain brand of funk playing — slap-and-pop and finger style.
Miller’s band, veering among straight-up jazz funk, fusion and rock styles, focused on the African-rooted grooves and textures heard on his new “Afrodeezia” album. The nearly two-hour set also included “Tutu,” one of several tunes Miller wrote, played on and co-produced for Mile Davis’s 1986 album of the same name; and a newfangled version of Edgar Winter’s early ’70s instrumental hit “Frankenstein.”
In addition to bass guitar, Miller played his bass clarinet and a kind of wooden box guitar. The bassist made an engaging figure, energetically moving around the stage, visibly responding to his bandmates’ playing and speaking (fluent?) French and English to the audience.
Half the fun of this fest, of course, is checking out unfamiliar (to me) bands from around the world playing free shows on the multiple outdoor stages.
Last night, I happened on Orlando Julius & the Afrosoundz, an eight-piece band led by the Nigerian singer and saxophonist, a long-running exponent of Afro-soul. Dressed in brightly colored traditional African garb, Julius, his wife and singing partner, and a group that included a rhythm section and two horn players, pumped out appealing grooves that occasionally reminded me of the likes of a countryman, the late King Sunny Ade.