This Saturday the 40th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival is coming to an end with the Grand Closing Event featuring folk singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Matt Holubowski (at 9:30 p.m. at the TD Stage, Place des Festivals). Until the time of writing this piece, the weather has co-operated, which means that basically the outdoor performances that draw thousands of people at the Quartier des Spectacles, around Place des Arts, have been held with no problem. The same for the satellite location in Verdun –a pilot project for the Jazz Festival to stage some few concerts in peripheral areas of the city centre. So far, that decentralizing experiment seems to go smoothly, and people in that borough have been delighted with this idea of bringing shows to their neighbourhood.
Let’s now take a look at some of the indoor concerts I have had the chance to see until the time I am writing this article. Omara Portuondo, a grand lady of the melodic bolero, came to Montreal as part of her “One Last Kiss Tour” as her artistic farewell has been termed. She is already in her 80s, and that was noticed during her presentation at the Festival. The singer still keeps her voice and her charm on stage, but from time to time, she needed to catch some breadth and rest during the show. Omara even resorted to the cooperation of the audience: she kept asking the public to sing along, which the spectators did, although certainly most of them didn’t understand Spanish. Omara made the audience take a trip between nostalgia and curiosity for the last tour of this iconic Cuban singer, a member of the legendary Buena Vista Social Club with Compay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer. As her age was showing, making the audience sing along with the singer was a good manner to deal with her evident fatigue on stage, and the public collaborated by contributing to what in the end was an impressive performance.
Another well-known Cuban star was Chucho Valdés, a celebrated pianist, a Grammy winner, and also a frequent presence at the Montreal Jazz Fest. Valdés delivered an excellent performance creating an atmosphere between melancholic and exuberant. It was able to bring on stage the cadence of what could be seen as reflexive moments, perhaps as when one strolls by the Havana’s Malecon while the sea keeps coming; and at other times, he took the audience to more rhythmic Caribbean moments. In all these moments, he engaged an audience happy to partake in the musical journey that also took us to interesting references to that country’s African heritage.
One surprising aspect of Chucho’s show –happily remarkable, I should add– was the opening number, featuring a trio led by Colombian-born harpist Edmar Castaneda. (He lives in New York, and the other musicians in the group are an Israeli and an American, Castaneda’s wife, also a Colombian, made an appearance too, singing a couple of powerful and poetic songs). The harp is not an instrument that one associates with jazz, especially in such prominent role as Castaneda was able to play it, the result was very impressive, and I would be disappointed if the programmers don’t give this artist his own show in future editions of the Festival.
Roberto Fonseca, another Cuban pianist, delivered a wonderful presentation this last Sunday. A keyboard virtuoso, Fonseca was equally at home at the piano, the synthesizer, the electronic keyboard or digital piano, or even at a miniature piano. He delighted the audience with a performance that combined live music, recorded effects, Afro-Cuban expressions, and also the recorded voice of her mother singing some traditional Cuban boleros.
The Jazz Festival comes to an end this Saturday, and besides music, children may enjoy many of the amenities designed for them, and all visitors can also taste some of the food, beer, and ice cream offered on site (whose sales contribute to the funding of the free concerts). For detailed information visit: montrealjazzfest.com
Featured image: Once more, the Jazz Festival defines the summer of Montreal