We’re taking a break from this week’s World of Music to spend some time at one of the premiere outlets for great jazz in the Northeast. However, you can count on hearing music far beyond jazz at the Montreal Jazz Festival: Eastern European Gypsy brass bands, griots from Mali, blues singers from Australia and North Africa…I’ve seen them all there. Along with Ravi Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Werner, you-name-it for top names on today’s scene.
For straightahead jazz you’re still in the right place. Before arriving at the festival, the early evening held a stop at the Cinematheque Quebecoise, where a triple film feature revealed three classics: Now (1965), from Cuban director Santiago Álvarez (with Lena Horne singing over a civil rights video montage); Ken Levis’ 1980 film Jackie Mclean on Mars, a documentary on Mclean’s legendary passionate classes at Hartford University, along with a couple of unexpectly insightful, personal practice sessions; and Serge Leroy’s concert footage from the John Coltrane Quartet’s 1965 Comblain-la-Tour date, with the Man and his ace quartet at their top in Naima, and My Favorite Things. It’s one thing to listen to recordings from that era. They give you a good feel for the energy that fueled the Quartet at that time. It’s another thing to SEE the steam pour off of McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones working through the Coltrane charts on that chilly summer night in Belgium.
Last night was a good cross-section of the diversity the Festival offers, with roadhouse blues, soft jazz fusion from Haiti, Arab hip-hop, and a big band version of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love (wherein the female Robert Plant surrogate did a fairly creditable job with the howling vocals). The freshly rain-slicked Place des Arts glowed in reflecting puddles of Festival lights and banners while the warm, VERY humid night hummed with its own musical vibrations.
I experience many different things each year in Montreal – but even if I just came for the jazz I’d leave happy.