The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is paradise for jazz gluttons.
Not that you have to be a major jazz hound to sniff out great music there, as there will be plenty of pop between now and the festival’s July 6 finale. Whether your taste runs to venerable veterans like Aretha Franklin and B.B. King, genre-bending songsmiths such as Elvis Costello or Beck, or edgy alt-rock along the lines of Whitehorse or Woodkid, there’s enough on hand to ensure that FIJM can still be your thing even if you don’t care for swing.
But for the jazz faithful, the only real questions the festival poses are: “What to see?” and “Can I be in two places at once?” Although the laws of physics preclude an answer to the second, we’re happy to offer a non-stop guide to the best jazz of the festival’s first weekend.
Saturday, June 28
Be sure to work in an early dinner, because the musical feast starts promptly at 6 p.m. One of FIJM’s signature features is the Invitation series, in which an artist is invited to perform for three or four successive evenings, each night with a different collaborator.
String virtuoso Harry Manx, who has mastered everything from Delta-style dobro to Hindustani mohan veena, is this year’s first invitee, and Saturday’s performance at Gésu Centre de créativité pairs him with former Jackson Browne sidekick Dave Lindley, whose late-1960s recordings with Kaleidoscope presaged the world music movement.
Afterward, as you walk back through the Place des Arts, it may be tempting to duck into Théâtre Maisonneueve to catch an 8 p.m. recital by Europe’s favourite jazz thrush, Stacey Kent. Steel yourself. What you want is over at the Maison symphonique de Montréal, where piano titan Keith Jarrett will hold forth from a concert grand in a totally improvised solo concert. Expect bursts of brilliance, possible along with a flash of the famous Jarrett temper.
Then it’s back across the plaza to Théâtre Maisonneueve, where pianist Danilo Perez has a 10 p.m. show with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade. Last summer, those three shared that stage with Wayne Shorter, whose band they’ve been in since the turn of the century. But they’re amazing even without the legendary saxophonist, thanks in no small part to Patitucci’s virtuosic bass and Blade’s explosive drumming.
Still hungry for sounds? Then head over to Savoy du Métropolis for a midnight performance by Franco Proietti’s endearingly eclectic Morph-tet. But don’t stay up too late, because you’ll be busy Sunday.
Sunday, June 29
Midafternoon may be a bit early for a dry martini, but not Pink Martini, who’ve scheduled a 3 p.m. start for the first of two shows at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. The suave, ultra-eclectic lounge orchestra – whose principals, singer China Forbes and pianist/arranger Thomas Lauderdale, met as opera-obsessed undergrads at Harvard – are joined on their current tour by the Von Trapps, whose great-grandmother was the Maria of The Sound of Music fame. No problem there.
After a quick bite at a nearby bistro, you’ll want to be at Gésu by 6 p.m. for the start of a second Invitation series. This one features the brilliant, young trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire. But, instead of his usual band, this show finds him in duet with guitarist Bill Frisell. Two great minds, two unique concepts, one memorable performance.
Speaking of great minds, pianist Fred Hersch, whose take on jazz standards is as fresh as it is idiosyncratic, will be at the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill all weekend. You’ll probably arrive a bit late for his 7 p.m. show after Akinmusire and Frisell, but with Hersch, even half a set is heaven.
You may have to hurry to get back to Place des Arts, where Jack DeJohnette and his trio have a 9:30 show at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe. It will be tempting to simply stay outside and take in the free show by Diana Krall, who will be concluding her Glad Rag Doll tour at FIJM. Her husband, Elvis Costello, will have just finished a solo show at the Maison symphonique, so you can probably expect a cameo. (You can also expect a massive crowd cramming onto Maisonneuve.)
Still, if you can resist Krall’s siren call, DeJohnette’s tribute to John Coltrane, with the saxophonist’s son, Ravi, on tenor, and bassist Jimmy Garrison’s son, Matt ,on bass, is sure to be a multigenerational spectacular.
Exhausted yet? If time, budget and energy allow, there’s always one more concert to squeeze in at FIJM. So how about closing out your Sunday with drummer Jeff Ballard, who has a 10:30 p.m. gig at Gésu? A sideman whose employers have ranged from Chick Corea to Kurt Rosenwinkel, he’ll be playing here with the brilliant Benin guitarist Lionel Loueke and Puerto Rican sax giant Miguel Zenon. Global cross-pollination is seldom as sublime.