Saturday July 7 marks the final day of the 39th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. And although most of the 10-period of the festival was swathed in a blazing heatwave, that heat was remedied by a lot of cool music, whether it be jazz, blues, R&B, world music, fusion or classic rock. I managed to see my share of shows during the festival, and here are capsule reviews of four shows that I consider to be my highlights for this year.
DreamWorks Animation in Concert was a musical tribute to nearly 30 years of hit animated features that were produced by the DreamWorks studio, from “Shrek” to “Kung Fu Panda” to “Madagascar” and so many more. Accompanied by a live symphony orchestra, the audience was taken on a fantastic journey on how original animation – and original musical scores – went hand in hand to contribute to the art of movie animation, whether it was thematic clip montages, or tributes to a selection of six separate DreamWorks features (which were shown on a giant screen suspended above the stage). The end result was so dynamic, that at times, I had to glance down from the screen to realize that a live orchestra was playing the musical scores, and not a perfect movie theatre sound system. A real treat for families and animation buffs alike.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers delivered what they promised to the full house that showed up that night to Salle Wilfrid Pelletier: an evening of high-octane, kick-ass rock music. Thorogood delivered that in droves, and it was quite evident with the loud, enthusiastic reactions he got from the crowd with every song he played, such as “Who Do You Love?”, “Ain’t Going Home Tonight” and of course, “Bad to the Bone”. After he performed another of his signature tunes, “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer”, Thorogood was given the festival’s B.B. King Award for his lifetime achievement in music. “No one rocks the blues better than George Thorogood,” said jazz festival co-founder Andre Menard, who presented the award to him during the show.
Boz Scaggs has been writing and performing music for over 40 years, and after his show on July 2, proves that he doesn’t plan to slow down any time soon. Scaggs — with his familiar twangy voice — and his band provided a solid, entertaining two hours filled with new songs from an upcoming album (watch out for “Last Tango on 16th Street”), songs that inspired him, and a selection of his greatest hits (including “Lowdown”, “Jojo” and of course “Lido Shuffle”).
Watching the Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform on July 3 was almost like taking a trip to the city where the roots of jazz were planted: New Orleans. This septet worked their stand-up bass, saxophone, trombone, trumpet, piano and drums combo to envelope the audience into the world of Dixieland jazz, and they just ate it up! You can plainly see that these seven musicians loved the music they grew up with and enjoy playing it no matter where they are (whether it be on the Bayou or the Maison Symphonique stage), and their sense of joy and enthusiasm certainly rubbed off on every member of the audience.
Also, kudos to the three opening acts I saw during the George Thorogood, Boz Scaggs and Preservation Hall Jazz Band shows, who really distinguished themselves respectively: Montrealer Jordan Officer proved why he is one of the best guitar stylists around, and how he masters that instrument with lightning speed no matter what type of music he plays, whether it be blues, classic rock or western swing. Polly Gibbons from the U.K. gave a sultry set of jazz standards and original tunes; topped off with her sense of humour, she is almost like jazz music’s answer to Adele. And vocalist Ala.Ni, also from the U.K., dazzled the audience at the Maison Symphonique with her unique vocal talents, complete with flowing hand gestures, a charming, yet at times self-deprecating sense of humour, and her ability to carry her amazing vocal range beyond the stage and into the audience without the aid of a microphone. This is one artist who certainly merits her own show at a future jazz festival.
Feature image: George Thorogood