It’s the 32nd annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.
Hypothetically, there’s something for everyone at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I personally wasn’t interested in mainstream gigs like Diana Krall (in her first ever solo performance) or Chick Corea’s latest edition of Return To Forever, so I began my evening watching saxophonist Kenny Garrett sit in with the Time Capsule band. Their gig was a tribute to Sayyd Abdul Al-Khabyyr, a longtime Montreal musician (and Garrett’s father-in-law) who’s been debilitated by a series of strokes. The band features two of Khabyyr’s very talented sons, and they benefited greatly from Garrett’s added presence, playing some grooving Headhunters-styled jazz fusion before showing a brief documentary on the ailing Khabyyr.
Then, after a quick trip to Chinatown for refueling, I caught yet another homage, this time by Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos. As the name indicates, this is guitarist Ribot’s Latin project, and it features the music of Arsenio Rodriguez, a Cuban innovator who helped modernize crucial musical styles like the conjunto and developed the son montuno. Although the band was clearly under-rehearsed, the edgy rhythms of Rodriguez translated well under Ribot’s direction. I won’t say the band sounded like early Santana, but the guitar work was still hot, hot, hot. Sadly, Ribot isn’t much of a singer, but the Rodriguez compositions were very cool, the sound quite moving and Ribot’s fretwork consistently impressive.
Just as Ribot’s set was concluding, I walked right next door for an amazing duet performance by pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman. Performing mostly original compositions (as well as a blues written by Charlie Parker), the two men showed themselves capable of great intimacy and grand innovation, even in the large and formidable Théâtre Maisonneuve. Performing like a pair of grand elders, the two masters practically became telepathic as the concert unfolded, and their intense musical dialogue was both intellectually stimulating and emotionally riveting. Redman and Mehldau are festival regulars, clearly enjoy playing here in Montreal, and I can imagine this musical love affair actually continuing for decades to come.
Finally, I returned to the Gesù to see the Anat Cohen Quartet. Cohen is an Israeli-born clarinetist who resides in NYC. Performing some of the music of another nice Jewish clarinetist (Benny Goodman), Cohen and her band were totally in sync. The effervescent Cohen had already done one gig earlier in the evening with George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and fellow All-Star Howard Alden came out to play some bracing guitar with her for a few tunes, including a simple-yet-beautiful duet on Django Reinhardt’s famous composition “Nuages.” Pianist Bruce Barth was noteworthy, but the whole band was swinging, and Cohen’s star is clearly on the rise in the world of jazz. Stay tuned.