Montreal jazz festival – some gospel music, Rufus Wainwright, Kool and the Gang
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca
Since June 29, it’s been nonstop quality music for me, as I covered the Montreal International Jazz Festival for the ninth year in a row. And as in previous years, I have been continually been amazed at the shows I have seen that represent so many musical genres and styles that not only represent jazz and blues, but also folk, country, theatrical, R&B and classic rock.
And with the fest wrapping up this weekend, I have decided to give capsule reviews of the following shows I have seen so far (with the balance to appear in my column next week).
I started off my jazz fest with a lively concert by the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, which played at the majestic Maison Symphonique. From the moment the choir singers entered the venue wearing their flowing red and white robes from either side of the hall, I was automatically swept up in their joyful energy, as they sang an uplifting repertoire of religious songs, gospel tunes and traditional spirituals that made you feel you were in the middle of a highly spirited Sunday church service, and all under the boisterous direction of its leader Trevor Payne. And as an added bonus, Payne gave a large number of willing audience members the opportunity to go onstage and be gospel singers in their own right for a few minutes with what he called “the Montreal Jubilation Jazz Festival Choir”.
The following night, I got the chance to see how multi-talented Rufus Wainwright is as a singer/songwriter/composer with an engaging two-part show at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. The first half was the presentation of an opera he composed called “Prima Donna”, which was performed by three opera singers, and backed up by a full symphony orchestra and a simultaneous film presentation to offer a unique visual operatic experience, which tells the sad story of a former grand opera star who is on the verge of her declining years (and has many parallels to the late operatic singer Maria Callas). The second part of the show was a lively, entertaining showcase of Wainwright’s talent as a pop vocalist (using the same symphony orchestra as his back-up musicians), which featured a very moving performance by Wainwright, his sister Martha and two of their cousins of Leonard Cohen’s iconic song “Hallelujah.”
Watching Kool and the Gang perform on July 4 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier had me amazed at the fact that they have been recording hit songs and performing them in concert for over 40 years, and they were having just as much fun doing them onstage now as if they were singing them for the first time way back in the 70s.
This was indeed a greatest hits show, and Kool and the Gang delivered the goods with flying colours, as they had the audience on their feet, dancing and singing along with the group from the moment they played the opening notes of the first song on their playlist. And what an impressive playlist of soul, funk, R&B, disco and rock hits that constantly entertained the full house crowd: “Joanna”, “Hollywood Swinging”, “Too Hot”, “Get Down On It”, “Reggae Dancing”, “Cherish” and of course, “Ladies Night” and “Celebration”. And as a gesture of how much they appreciate their fans, several veteran members of the band stood at the edge of the stage at the end of the show to shake hands with the audience and even posed for some selfies. The name of Kool and the Gang’s current tour is called “Keeping the Funk Alive”, and that’s what they certainly did during their high-energy 90 minutes onstage at the jazz festival.