Les Bon Temps Are Back at the Montreal Jazz Festival

In its first full edition since the onset of the pandemic, and with a new director of programming, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal returned for a 42nd go-round from June 30 to July 9. With a revamped site and a solid, diverse program, the festival presented around 500 concerts featuring 3,000 musicians from 30 countries. Many of the artists commented on how good it was to reconnect with audiences after such a long, hard time of isolation, and the thousands of music lovers flocking to the city’s expansive festival district were clearly elated. This report focuses on the first six days of the event.

Day 1 felt like an entire festival all in itself. A staggering 33 concerts were presented across the many outdoor and indoor stages, showingcasing a wide range of artists spanning a plethora of genres. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis performed at Place des Arts; Minneapolis-based, Grammy-nominated guitarist, bassist, and songwriter Cory Wong was at Club Soda; Australian multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Tash Sultana rocked the opening mega-concert on the main stage; guitarists Jeff Parker and Julian Lage played simultaneous late-night sets (Parker’s was solo and Lage’s was in a trio with Scott Colley and Dave King); and saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins featured his band at a new outdoor/indoor space. Wilkins, recipient of the festival’s Rising Star Award, had the large crowd riveted; Their attentive and appreciative responses, even through the more intricate passages, were a testament to the openness of this Montreal audience.

Immanuel Wilkins at the 2022 Montreal International Jazz Festival (photo: Sharonne Cohen)

Local headliners included pianists Kate Wyatt (who performed with her quartet), Marianne Trudel (with New York drummer John Hollenbeck), and Jean-Michel Pilc (who, like Trudel, is currently teaching at McGill University); Juno-winning guitarist Mike Rud in quartet with New York saxophonist Joel Frahm; Toronto-based R&B singer Tanika Charles; and one-man-band Frédéric Pellerin, also known as They Call Me Rico, who drew hundreds of fans to the blues stage.

Also that night, gifted trumpeter Rachel Therrien opened for bassist Christian McBride at Monument National, a historic and beautifully preserved concert hall. Unable to present his band for reasons unmentioned, McBride surprised and delighted the audience with venerated pianist Kenny Barron in a beautiful set of duets that included Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” sharing stories about the legendary trumpeter, and entrancing the sold-out room.

Kenny Barron Montreal 2022
Kenny Barron at the 2022 Montreal International Jazz Festival (photo: Sharonne Cohen)

Finally, adventurous drummer Makaya McCraven presented his first installment of the Invitation Series, a much-anticipated event that enables artists to curate and create singular collaborations of their choice, with the cozy, sonically superior Le Gesù amphitheater offering the perfect setting. McCraven performed with three different configurations of the personnel featured on his Blue Note debut, Deciphering the Message: trumpeter Marquis Hill, guitarist Jeff Parker, vibraphonist Joel Ross, and bassist Junius Paul, with guest trumpeter Keyon Harrold on the final night. The band dug deep into classics by Joe Henderson (“Black Narcissus”) and Hank Mobley (“A Slice of the Top”), and converted “Autumn in New York” into “Spring in Chicago,” maintaining the integrity of this iconic music while bringing it into the present with a unique bounce and flavor. A festival highlight.

The second Invitation Series (July 4-6) was presented by another gifted drummer. The highly influential Terri Lyne Carrington played with her latest ensemble, Art of Living, with guest Kris Davis on her final night; for her two earlier installments, she shared the stage with pianist Aaron Parks and poet/activist Moor Mother, who presented a Fourth of July-inspired piece. Carrington following performed two more sets: so at the Gesù night, and as part of Irreversible Entanglements (July 5).

Makaya McCraven Montreal 2022
Makaya McCraven at the 2022 Montreal International Jazz Festival (photo: Sharonne Cohen)

Among the artists featured on Day 2 were vocalists Gregory Porter and Corinne Bailey Rae, pianist Christian Sands, organist Cory Henry, Louis Cole’s Big Band, the Tord Gustavson Trio, and bassists Marcus Miller and Meshell Ndegeocello; the latter opened her set by calling on Montreal’s own “Saint Leonard” with a gorgeous, emotive rendition of Leonard Cohen’s legendary “Suzanne.” Following tender covers of Bernard Wright’s “Who Do You Love” and TLC’s “Waterfalls” with vocalist Justin Hicks, Ndegeocello dedicated the second half of the set to material from her new project, inspired by James Baldwin, set to be released next year.

Several positive new developments were evident at Montreal 2022. The fest’s massive 760,000-square-foot site was enhanced with more seating, eating, and resting areas, and a captivating mural by Montreal-based multidisciplinary artist Kezna Dalz, known as Teenadult—whose work touches on themes including feminism, self-love, self-care, and anti-racism—was created on the Esplanade de la Place des Arts. Following 2021’s abbreviated local-only program, many more local musicians were offered opportunities to feature their projects at this year’s festival. In addition, notably, more music was free to the public, presented as usual on several outdoor stages, and also in two new, well-attended indoor series at Le Studio, featuring headliners such as the Yes! Trio (drummer Ali Jackson, bassist Omer Avital, and pianist Aaron Goldberg), vibraphonist Joel Ross, London saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael, and trumpeter Keyon Harrold.

Harrold was one of the busiest musicians at the festival this year, playing three gigs in one night: first at McCraven’s third concert (filling in for saxophonist Ravi Coltrane), then as bassist Avishai Cohen’s surprise guest, and finally with his own group. The Ferguson native referenced the BLM movement, performing “When Will It Stop” (The Mugician, 2017). “I need your help,” he said as he opened “Stay This Way,” calling on the audience to lend their vocals to the ballad. “Let’s send love, good visceral vibrations and inspiration into the world. Sing it with me; sing it to the people who are out there needing to be lifted.” The room erupted into song, etching this as one of the festival’s most memorable moments.

Keyon Harrold Montreal 2022
Keyon Harrold at the 2022 Montreal International Jazz Festival (photo: Sharonne Cohen)

Other headlining trumpeters of note: Montreal’s own Kevin Dean; Chicago’s Marquis Hill with his New Gospel project; the Juno-nominated Toronto-based Tara Kannangara; and Christian Scott, aka Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah, who unveiled a brand-new string instrument, the Adjuah ​​Bow (an electric double-sided harp, pictured), on July 5. “What is that?!” An audience member hollered after the first tune, and Scott responded: “We hear about the harmonic and rhythmic fervor of the Mississippi Delta, but not about the instruments that carried the music from Africa, like the ngoni and the kora.” Scott explored the Adjuah ​​Bow, clearly based on the two African instruments he’d mentioned, through several new compositions, adding his vocals, before picking up his horns, dazzling his adoring fans, and inviting flutist Elena Pinderhughes to join in.

On Day 4, Ravi Coltrane presented his Cosmic Music: A Contemporary Exploration into the Music of John & Alice Coltrane to a rapt audience at Maison Symphonique, while drummer Allison Miller performed with Boom Tic Boom (with special guest Kris Davis) nearby, and at the same time, the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal drew thousands to one of the larger outdoor stages. Billed as the Equal = Orchestra, the band notably included a large share of female players, led by saxophonist/composer/conductor Christine Jensen and featuring her sister, New York-based trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. “These are all compositions by women,” the conductor noted. The sublime set opened with guest saxophonist Tara Davidson’s “The Epitaph” and included the suite “Dans la forêt de ma mémoire,” penned by Marianne Trudel (who shone on piano), and the conductor’s own “Swirl-a-round” and ” Starbright.” The orchestra closed its set with Carla Bley’s “Lawns,” featuring Christine on soprano sax.

Ingrid Jensen ONJ Montreal 2022
Ingrid Jensen performs with the Orchestre National de Jazz at the 2022 Montreal International Jazz Festival (photo: Sharonne Cohen)

As in years past, the festival presented several prestigious awards, honoring pianist Robert Glasper with this year’s Miles Davis Award, Canadian vocalist Ranee Lee with the Oscar Peterson Award, and Bebel Gilberto with the Antônio Carlos Jobim Award celebrating world music and cultural crossover. Drummer Questlove of the Roots received the Spirit Award.

Montreal sits on native land known as Tiohtià:ke. Representing First Nations at the festival was Laura Niquay, an award-winning Atikamekw singer/songwriter; Aysanabee, a Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist, producer and singer/songwriter of Oji-Cree ancestry; and Dap-Kings saxophonist Cochemea, a California native of Yaqui/Yoeme heritage.

Shows in the festival’s remaining days included saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart with guest vocalist Malika Tirolien, an extraordinary Montreal-based, Guadeloupe-born talent who would also feature her own band; Canadian drummer Larnell Lewis, best known for his work with Snarky Puppy; pianist John Roney’s Chick Corea re:imagined project; Walter Smith III and Matthew Stevens’ In Common; Melanie Charles, a Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter and flutist of Haitian descent, with her Verve Remixed project Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women; two nights at Upstairs Jazz Club with Montreal drummer Jim Doxas, his trio and guests: Hungarian-Canadian pianist Robi Botos; and American saxophonist Donny McCaslin. Closing night featured Ari Hoenig & Friends, Chicago blues band Mississippi Heat, and the Roots, scheduled to rock the main stage, to name a few.

Though several artists experienced travel delays and COVID-related complications, causing last-minutes and substitutions, the joy of music filling venues and flooding the streets tested to Montreal’s ability not only to bounce back but to thrive. As the festival’s new director of programming Maurin Auxéméry told JT“In the end, the music wins!”

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