WBGO Blog
  • FIJM 2016

    July 2, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: FIJM, FIJM 2016

    After an all-day odyssey with Air Canada, I did not get to Montreal until midnight Day One, but the feeling on Day Two was after 24 years at  Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal, about as usual. I awaken to a big band soundcheck on a stage below my window. I get a glad-hand from the hotel manager, happy to have me back and finishing a story from last year -- when someone stole my credit card number. "Did you catch him?" I asked. "Yes," he smiled, slightly dangerously, "a Roumanian..." I gallumph up the hill -- just one block from the Hyatt Regency to the Maison du Festival, but my legs and my lungs feel as if I'm climbing actual Mont Royal.

    Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings perform at FIJM 2016, photo by Brnoit Rousseau
    Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings perform at FIJM 2016, photo by Brnoit Rousseau

    An extraordinary commitment from the city to the festival, the street alongside Place des Arts, Rue Jeanne-Mance, was terra-formed into the festival's main street, complete with the giant TD Bank stage -- where  Sharon Jones sang an ecstatic "Grand Concert d'Ouverture" to countless thousands of fest-goers.

    Sharon Jones performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix
    Sharon Jones performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix

    One of the abandoned buildings around the Quartiers des Spectacles was resurrected as  the festival "house" -- with a jazz joint, a restaurant, a museum, an historic video archive, and the press room. They're now transforming several more of the long-useless buildings into another arts center, especially for dance, and the near-finished facade is hugely gleaming. Bigger, the festival has grown year after year, astonishingly. Better, the festival has become, artistically, economically, even spiritually.

    Farewells, this year. Oliver Jones, the most beloved musician of the Montreal jazz scene, will play a farewell concert with a trio and an orchestra, Thursday the 7th at the Maison Symphonique. Guy Nadon, known as "le roi du drums," played his 33rd (and said to be last) gig at L'Astral, the year-round festival jazz joint.

    One cannot resist saying that Guy Nadon is elfin. Maybe it's his little hat. Or little smile. Or the charm as he talked about being a child and first playing with a nail on tin cans, as he played at the gig's outset -- little tunes on (not kidding) tuned tin cans, complete with soup and veggie labels. Then his 11-piece band came out swinging. "Killer Joe" (in a hiply-elongated arrangement) was a highlight, with solos all around and "the king of drums" having a last blast.

    Lisa Simone, daughter of Nina Simone, played the opening for Melody Gardot -- two nights sold-out at the big hall, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Lisa's voice is powerful, but it's her physical energy on stage that blows the roof off. Lisa's presence in moments reminded me of how intimately Nina's presence connected with an enormous audience. Lisa sang soulfully with a guitar-bass-and-drums power trio, and her encore of "Work Song" was seismic. One of my friends wondered how Melody Gardot could follow Lisa, but she did follow, and she did acknowledge that Lisa was "not an opening act," she was proud "to be sharing" a stage with Lisa.

    Lisa Simone performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix
    Lisa Simone performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix

    I'd never heard or heard of Melody Gardot when she first played the festival in 2008, and I'll never forget her entrance: walking with a cane, in dark glasses in a half-light, and alone. She snapped her fingers, she tapped a foot, she sang a spiritual, and she transfixed all of us. That was a star-making performance -- jazzy, bluesy, exotic, erotic, and often sweet. She sang, she played guitar and piano, she became the star Andre Menard, the festival's artistic director, predicted as he introduced Melody, now a star indeed.

    Melody Gardot performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix
    Melody Gardot performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix

    She came out strutting, with a rocking jazz band (or a jazzy rock band) with lots of frenzied solos from saxophonist Irwin Hill, even playing two horns at once, echoing Rahsaan. Melody was delightful, telling stories in French and in English, playing raucous guitar or lyrical piano, singing always with her South Philly roots sounding through. "You Don't Know What Love Is" was the highlight. And as an encore, Melody conducted a very musical sing-along -- with the balcony especially sounding like a choir of angels.