It’s the 30th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.
So I took a day off from all that jazz and went to see new documentary Rocksteady: The Roots Of Reggae in anticipation of the evening’s free, outdoor concert extravaganza featuring a most solid crew of rocksteady all-stars. Filmmaker Stascha Bader may not have had the same kind of resources that Wim Wenders had when he filmed The Buena Vista Social Club, but he still manages to document this blessed reunion of elder Jamaican musicians and give us a good history lesson, too. Spanning the short few glory years between ska’s reign and the advent of reggae, the rocksteady vibe was a slow and easy groove with deep soulful vocals.
Much like the films Standing In The Shadows Of Motown and West Coast equivalent The Wrecking Crew, Rocksteady focuses on lesser-known backing musicians and old entertainers who still have an important story to tell. Building to a rousing reunion concert in Jamaica, we hear from veteran ’60s crooners like Leroy Sibbles (of Heptones fame), Ken Boothe and Derrick Morgan as well Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley (once known collectively as the I-Threes). Bader mixes vintage films and old photos between candid interviews, plaintive home visits and new recording sessions as we learn about the roots of reggae from the people who were there. Of course, the music is what seals the deal, and hearing singer Dawn Penn discuss and reprise her magical soul single from 1967, “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No),” is a highlight, as was watching Morgan rise one more time to sing “Tougher Than Tough” in rudeboy style. Accomplished and versatile musicians like the great Ernest Ranglin populate the veteran backing band, and these old-school Jamaicans can still play as sweet and soulful as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or as in-the-pocket lowdown as the Funk Brothers.
And that’s how it was on Tuesday night in Montreal, as the skies cleared after a rainy afternoon and more than 100,000 folks gathered in front of the General Motors stage to see the show. The event was much more of a reggae revue then a strict rocksteady affair, but when you’re entertaining a crowd this size, you have to give the people what they want—that is, a fair amount of tribute being paid to Bob Marley. The stage lighting was bright and festive, and it was a long parade of stars as Hopeton Lewis, Stranger Cole (pictured), Sibbles, Boothe, Mowatt,Griffiths and the Tamlins took their turns in front of a huge grooving band of rocksteady players. The Tamlins sang “Stop That Train” and Boothe did “Shanty Town.” Griffiths and Mowatt were beautiful, and they really gave the show their all. Griffiths sang “The Tide Is High” (originally recorded by John Holt and the Paragons back in 1967) and Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No),” while Mowatt delivered a loving version “No Woman, No Cry.” All in all, another sweet night of good music and good times at the Montreal Jazz Festival.