This article originally appeared in the 7.10.14 issue of Metroland
Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2014
a 2 year absence, I was able to get back to the Montreal Jazz Festival.
I was delirious with excitement, as my
previous visits had been about the most fun I’ve ever had.
This time things were considerably less
awesome; I’ll spread to blame among me, the weather, and the Festival itself.
I took work with me.
I had no choice, but even so that’s just
Second, it was hot, searingly hot, and I
don’t do hot well. (Perversely, these two things worked well together—it was
too hot to do much but stay in my room and do work.
Third, for whatever reason, the Festival
didn’t provide me with press tickets to the small-venue shows, the shows where
something resembling jazz was being performed, the shows that make, at least
for me, the Festival so special.
the three nights I was there, I had tickets to a couple medium-sized shows, and
the rest of the time was left to wander among the numerous outdoor stages in
the lovely Place Du Arts.
have been fine, really, except it was too damn hot.
first stop, Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion.
Words can’t begin to describe what drummer Ginger Baker means to me,
having had the Cream albums burned into my DNA during my formative years.
If you’ve seen the excellent documentary
“Beware Of Mr. Baker” you know he’s had a singularly difficult life, is a
complex person, arguably a complete prick, and not at all a well man.
I saw him play at Iridium in NYC last year
and was fearful he wouldn’t make it through the show.
He whispered weakly into a microphone onces
or twice, took an unscheduled break, and played OK, but without his signature
different Mr. Baker roared into Montreal.
He told jokes, he mugged, he spoke fondly of his excellent band-mates: the
supremely tasty Pee Wee Ellis on sax, Alec Dankworth on bass, and the superb African
percussionist Abass Dodoo.
Took me a while to realize it;
I thought he was grimacing.
Baker was having himself a time.
show was, like most of Baker’s solo work, Afro-centric to the core, and
featured a bunch of things of his brand new (and excellent) album Why?
as well as Afroed-up versions of
jazz standards by the likes of Wayne Shorter and Thelonius Monk.
Baker played simply, but he played deadly
The crowd, which greeted him like a conquering hero at the start, was
I’m so glad I saw
2, Sly and Robbie and Burning Spear at the mammoth club Metropolis, an old
movie / vaudeville theater turned nightclub.
I just wanted to see legendary drum/bass production duo Sly and Robbie,
who have been since the 1970’s Kingston, Jamaica’s Wrecking Crew and George
Martin, responsible for zillions of hits for zillions of artists from reggae
stars to No Doubt to Serge Gainsbourg.
And they didn’t disappoint.
Metropolis’ massive sound system was perfect for their sledge-hammer
Sly, wearing a
gold-plated hard-hat, simply massacred his drums, playing from his shoulders,
not his wrists.
Early on he did a simple
little snare fill, and when I realized he was mimicking a slightly out-of-time
repeating echo, my mind was blown to smithereens.
With a cool band (with a horn section), they
could have done their thing all night, all week, in all its bass-dropping
But then they
introduced a singer, a tall slick-looking Rasta fellow in a suit who ran around
the stage trying to fire up the ladies and waiving his arms in the air like he
I didn’t either.
3 started with a nervous and tentative female blues trio better left
Then I moseyed over to the
international stage to see Mokoomba.
30 seconds in and I was moving
briskly toward the stage.
There was nothing
this band couldn’t do and do
well; play, sing (all 6 of them), move (same).
Singer Mathias Muzaza is one of the best pure singers and charismatic
frontmen I’ve ever seen, sounding like Sam Cooke one minute, throat-singing
multiple tones the next, then peeling off a perfect Steve Perry yowl the
What do you say to a band that
pounds a reggaeton beat while the guitarist is copping Dickie Betts licks over
Heat schmeat, I did something I almost never
do. I danced.
next year Montreal.