This week marks the home stretch for 40th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival and this year, I lined up a total of eight shows to get my share of the festivalâ€™s expansive music programming. And I am always amazed the diversity of music that is celebrated here, whether it be jazz, rhythm & blues, wolrd music or even classic rock. Here are capsule reviews of five selected shows that I have seen at this yearâ€™s jazz festival.
Norah Jones: This Grammy Award-winning songstress, who is the daughter of legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar, showed she still has what it takes to dazzle an audience 17 years after her remarkable debut. And she did that with flying colours (and her haunting, melodic voice) to a packed house at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts, in which they were treated to an evening of Jonesâ€™ greatest hits. It was a real relaxing night of topnotch mellow music.
Blue Rodeo: What can you say about a band that gets a standing ovation from the audience before they got the chance to play a single note? Thatâ€™s Blue Rodeo, the Canadian country/rock music band that has blazed trails in the Canadian music scene for the past 35 years. The band played their catalogue of hits, which were topped off with interesting anecdotal introductions of the stories behind the songs (including one that was based on one of the worst nights the band experienced during a gig that just went so wrong). With their catchy songs and their laid back rural style, Blue Rodeo looks destined for the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville (if they havenâ€™t played there already).
Nikki Yanofsky: The 25-year-old Montreal-born singer marked 13 years to the day of her jazz festival debut with a homecoming concert that attracted a capacity crowd to Club Soda. Still exhibiting the same kind of youthful bubbly enthusiasm that I saw during her previous three past performances at the festival, Ms. Yanofsky also showed how she has matured musically, in which most of her songlist was comprised of tunes from her upcoming album, which received the same warm, enthusiastic reception from the audience.
George Benson: Itâ€™s been about six years since I saw this 10-time Grammy winning vocalist/guitarist perform at the jazz festival; and judging by the solid show he delivered at this yearâ€™s festival, Benson shows no signs of slowing down during his 40+ years in the music business. The packed house at Place des Arts just ate up Bensonâ€™s nearly two hour set, which was a mix of his greatest hits (i.e., Give Me the Night and On Broadway) and tracks from a new album that is filled with cover versions of Fats Dominoâ€™s and Chuck Berryâ€™s greatest tunes. George Benson certainly knows how to play this here guitar; and he doesnâ€™t have to quit, because he is a star.
Holly Cole: The other jazz festival homecoming show this year involves the much revered Canadian jazz singer who, with her trio, debuted at the jazz festival back in 1987 and quickly became a festival regular. And the full house at the Lion Dâ€™Or club on Ontario Street East â€“ where she is playing a four-night stand during the festival â€“ welcomed her back with open arms. Her torch song interpretations of a selection of popular music and jazz standards (and the energetic ovations she received after each song) proved why Holly Cole is the reigning queen of jazz singers in the world.