(Originally slated for print)
Various Artists – Montreal Jazz Festival
June 28-July 1
The 33rd annual Montreal Jazz Festival, which ran for 10 days ending July 7, attracted two million visitors, taking in 1,000 concerts and other events on more than 20 indoor and outdoor stages. Fans of the fest rightfully rave about the consistent high-quality and creativity of the programming, which encompasses top-shelf performers from jazz, blues, world music, New Orleans sounds, pop, rock, folk, electronica and other genres.
That eclectic approach was demonstrated right away with a performance by guitarist Bill Frisell, playing music from last year’s All We Are Saying …, a John Lennon tribute. Frisell, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen employed air-hanging notes, Americana and fusion textures, avant-jazz noise and dissonance to reinvigorate Beatles tunes and Lennon solo material: a raucous “Come Together” and a duly poignant “Julia” were among the highlights.
This year’s fest offered a parade of top-shelf bassists, with Stanley Clarke leading shows on four consecutive evenings. Superbass group S.M.V. also featured Miles Davis collaborator Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones; the three bass guitarists popped, slapped and slammed their way through deep funk grooves and speedy unison and harmony lines. Clarke, on upright, led his own quartet on old and new favorites, including Return to Forever favorite “No Mystery,” and Clarke’s “Song to John,” “3 Wrong Notes” and “Paradigm Shift.”
Esperanza Spalding, playing and singing the sophisticated jazz-pop from her Radio Music Society album, mostly lived up to the hype. Wooten, with a band including six-string fretless virtuoso Steve Bailey, also brought his own set, as did Meshell NdegeOcello.
Spectrum Road, with Vernon Reid, John Medeski, Jack Bruce and Cindy Blackman Santana, turned in relentless volleys of intense jazz-rock fusion ala the Tony Williams Lifetime. Veteran fusioneer Larry Coryell, solo, wielding acoustic and electric guitar on jazz standards and a smashing “Bolero,” was a joy to behold in an intimate setting.
Then there was Boston-based Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica, a big band with a quartet of vocalists, doing artfully arranged exotica and lounge in the style of Esquivel. Like everything else at the fest, it was unforgettable.