Famed American composer and pianist Dave Brubeck, whose 1959 album Time Out was the first jazz record to sell over a million copies, did what was the unthinkable for a good many jazz musicians of his era: he lived a long, very long, life. Brubeck, who played the Montreal International Jazz Festival no less than 14 times, went to the great jazz club in the sky last December just shy of his 92nd birthday, and only six months after his final Jazz Fest appearance. This 34th edition of the Jazz Fest is dedicated to his memory…
An homage to Brubeck by The Brubeck Brothers Quartet (anchored by sons Chris and Dan, manning trombone and bass respectively) on July 7 is among the tributes planned, and one of the many top-tier performances slated for this year’s instalment of the Jazz Fest. In fact, this year’s roster is a veritable who’s who of jazz greats, a kind of all-you-can-hear buffet for ravenous jazz-heads, including Wayne Shorter, Joshua Redman, George Benson, Bill Frisell, Wynton Marsalis, John Abercrombie, Ravi Coltrane, Chucho Valdés, Montreal’s own Oliver Jones and many, many more. (One notable name who will not perform as planned is Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who had to cancel due to health reasons.)
Because Montreal, like just about everywhere else it seems, can never get enough of multicultural pop/jazz/swing/classical cocktail orchestra Pink Martini, the sprawling conglomerate have been tapped to open the Jazz Fest’s indoor programming on June 28 starting at 7:30 pm. And on the topic of opening concerts, the annual, highly anticipated free opening concert – which in the past has featured the likes of Stevie Wonder and Pat Metheny, and routinely draws more than 100,000 concertgoers – will this year feature Canadian indie-pop hit maker, and 11-time Juno Award winner, Feist, at 9:30 pm. Word to the wise: get there early. Like really early.
If the free outdoor shows are your thing (and for many folks, it’s the thing), then this year is looking particularly pleasurable with more than 300 hundred of them featuring more than 3,000 musicians scattered around 10 stages across the sprawling downtown Montreal Jazz Festival site (which encompasses the entire Quartier des Spectacles). Other must-see free concerts include Montreal indie-folk-rock phenomenon The Barr Brothers (June 29), legendary bluesman Bryan Lee (July 6), the always entertaining (and intriguing) “surprise concert” (also July 6), and the invariably epic festival closing concert, which this year will be hosted by Malian world music stars Amadou and Mariam featuring special guest Fatoumata Diawara (July 7).
Diversity is once again the word when it comes to the bill. There aren’t too many places where one can take in rock legend Boz Scaggs on the same day as funky New York “neo-new wave” outfit The Virgins (June 30), or “the Hendrix of the Sahara,” Vieux Farka Touré, on the same day as soul-funk sensations Sharon Jones The Dap-Kings (July 3), or country-soaked stars Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaak, who are not only playing on the same day, they’re playing the same double-headliner show (July 4).
And that’s just the obvious stuff. For this writer, the real fun is to be had at still other performances, namely rapidly ascending, homegrown hypnotic rockers Suuns (pronounced “soons,” July 7) and their cinematically styled, similarly up-and-coming Montreal-based compatriots Thus:Owls (July 2-4). Classic British ska band The Specials promise a party (July 7), and Scottish indie-pop superstars Belle and Sebastien will bring a different kind of intensity to what promises to be an epic appearance on July 5. Also at the top of the list are the Soweto Gospel Choir (July 6), internationally acclaimed Montreal songwriter (and sister to Rufus) Martha Wainwright (July 4) and, for reasons I can’t (and don’t want to) fully explain, ’80s acting heartthrobette Molly Ringwald, who will be, apparently, singing jazz standards (July 6). Which is fine. She will be there, and that’s all that matters.
Montreal International Jazz Festival, June 28-July 7, 2013
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