Montreal Jazz festival continued yesterday (29 June) with the sizzling heat wave temperatures met with staggering performances from the likes of Ry Cooder, Metronomy, John Medeski & Marc Ribot Trio, and Noubi Trio.
Montreal-based band Noubi Trio have members hailing from Senegal, Quebec and Italy, this new Afro-acoustic trio is a melting pot full of blues, folk, jazz and traditional West African inspired music. Within a few minutes on stage and a warm “Salam Alaikoum” (Peace be unto you in English), the charismatic singer-songwriter Noubi immediately captivated the audience. His voice was soft yet so deep and intense, and he was truly embodying the essence of his music.
Children, couples, baby-boomers, and middle-aged men and women were dancing, clapping hands and smiling. Considering the fact that the lyrics were neither in French nor English, this was truly prowess to see.
On the other side of the street, at the grand Theater Maisonneuve, a much more intimate place, legendary artist Ry Cooder was stepping onto a Montreal Jazz Fest stage for the first time ever.
In recognition of that fact, and, more specifically, his storied 50 year career, he was recognised with the festival’s equivalent of a lifetime achievement award, honors which will be bestowed on other artists of a similar stature throughout the festival’s run.
The elder Cooder’s headline set was preceded by that of his son Joachim, his father’s drummer during his day job. He takes a direction noticeably different froths dad, one that draws more on atmospheric ambiance and the drone produced by tapes, samples, an accompanied saxophonist, and what appeared to be an electric autoharp which he tapped to create the music’s mesmerizing rhythms. His vocals sometimes seemed strained, but it was the intriguing ambiance that set the songs alight regardless. With much of the set drawn from his recent album Love on a Real Train, he was offered opportunity to step out from his father’s shadow, doing so with riveting results.
After a brief break, Ry himself took the stage, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar and started to sing the old blues standard, ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine,’ a song originally made famous by blues great Blind Willie Johnson. “I’m back”, Cooder remarked, before adding, “I had to lose the hat though. Can’t play with a hat on anymore. Too much trouble when it’s time to switch guitars.” The crowd clapped appreciation, and with that, the mood was set succinctly.
With Cooder’s latest album, The Prodigal Son, released a month ago, this current tour marks his first individual outing in 10 years. He performed with The Hamiltones, a gospel-style, Grammy nominated trio from North Carolina whose mesmerizing vocals imbued the show with a gravitas that reflected a sense of reverence and rejoicing throughout.
Not surprisingly then, Cooder also included a song from his recent album, the blues and gospel-inspired Everybody Ought to Treat A Stranger Right. Here again, at age 71, he proved that he still had what it takes to make an emphatic impact on his audience, thanks to his cross-genre guitar playing, his voice, his carefree attitude (minus the hat), and his rock’n’roll spirit, borne out by his final song prior to the encore, a spirited take on a song. He said he hadn’t performed in 40 years, the sassy, sprightly ‘Little Sister’.
In 2003, Rolling Stone named him as one of the ten greatest guitarists of all time. Last night’s performance offered additional evidence as to
Then was on to a celebration of a different sort. If Canada’s 151 anniversary wasn’t cause enough for excitement, this week also marks the ten year anniversary of Metronomy’s Summer 08. Given that fact, it only seemed right for the band to play songs off of the album on the Great White North’s birthday weekend. The band took to MTelus (voted Canada’s best club venue) on Friday night to celebrate both affairs in style. The band wasted no time running through tracks, treating performing like a true nine to five. The first five tracks are performed back-to-back, with not even a moment of stopping for the group to briefly offer the crowd a brief “Thank you” or admonish them to “Make some noise!” Yet, the few moments when Metronomy did stop to chat were always memorable. Band founder Joseph Mount can speak French, for better or for worse, and though he can form coherent sentences, his delivery is hilariously bad. Fortunately, his struggle to find the right words made for surprisingly great pacing. In one instance, Mount takes a long pause before telling everyone that “Canada made me feel better!”, following a number of days feeling under the weather.
Speaking prior to the show, Mount frequently emphasised the importance of being present at this stage of his lifetime. This philosophy about living in the moment reigns true with the band’s performance, with the singer and guitarist frequently feeding off of fans’ energy. While he may serve as the face of Metronomy, in truth, there is no true leader when the band performs live. Each member rely unanimously on one another. Olugbenga Adelekan’s bass playing is just as mesmerizing as Oscar Cash’s keyboard skills. Mount describes the band’s next record as “nice atmosphere [music]”, a seeming departure from the in-your-face tunes Metronomy performed for their return to Montreal.
A few blocks down from the Metronomy madness, at the Hyundai Stage, a free, family friendly venue located in the heart of Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles area, Bryan Lee, a blues artist who is a legend in his own right, entertained an audience of his own. While he may not have the diehard followers who would normally flock out to see him, he certainly made a lasting impression on any passersby who came to bear witness.
Legally blind from the age of 8, Lee’s distinct sound draws equal influence from both the Chicago and New Orleans scenes. His guitar can cry like Muddy Waters’, his voice more Cajun-embedded than Al Pacino in Carlitos’s Way. The performance had both elders on their feet dancing, and toddlers getting their first taste of the genre. “This is the blues, are ya listening?”, Lee asked. “If you dig the blues, let me hear ya say “Yeah!”” He ought know that the Montreal Jazz Festival has consistently made strives to preserve the genre. One of B.B. King’s final performances was alongside Gary Clark Jr. at the 2014 festival. Buddy Guy frequents the city year after year for shows presented by the festival. While blues may be fading some quarters, here it still stays strong.
Still, for those who had opportunity to witness it at The more intimate Gesu, the performance by the John Medeski & Marc Ribot Trio is destined, even at the outset, to remain a festival highlight. The deft interplay between the 3 musicians was nothing short of remarkable. Building intone and tension, the music swelled withers own magic and momentum, building from peak to peak as the set went on. The trio exchanged solos, followed by the crowd’s rapturous applause, and indeed, it was all but impossible not to get caught up in each captivating crescendo.
To their credit, the trio never allowed themselves to over indulge. While there is a certain abstraction inherent in songs from Horace Silver and George Benson, the melodies remained fluid and the drive and pacing stayed solid, Even those whose affinity runs more towards rock and rhythm could find cause to immerse themselves in the music without regard for nuance or novelty. It was, as the program promised, “an evening of unchained sounds.”
Eventually, the crowd drifted back into the night, crowding along the festival’s main thoroughfare, Rue Sainte-Catherine, in search of something to eat while absorbing the music that hummed from the outdoor stages for the final soundtrack to the night. Evenings don’t end at the Montreal Jazz Festival; they simply hum as happenstance and fade freely, nocturnal sounds given to emotional indulgence.
Stay tuned… Catch Daniel Caesar, Thundercat, Jessie Reyez, and many more at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, on now until July 7th.
Words: Mari-Ange Zibi, Lee Zimmerman + Mr. Wavvy