It’s business as usual at the 36th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, which runs from June 26 through July 5 -- and that means hundreds of concerts offering a truly expansive gamut of music programming, including a large number of free outdoor shows and an impressive range of ticketed, indoor performances. Over these ten nights the Montreal festival will host approximately two million visitors enjoying all sorts of jazz as well as loads of international music, Canadian favorites, high-profile rock, pop and blues artists, celebrated hip-hop acts and late-night electronic dance music to boot.
Always mindful of classic jazz traditions while determinedly pushing the boundaries forward, this year’s program has gone even further by integrating both flamenco and folk music series into their already progressive program. Opening night events were suitably wide-ranging, including the Corsican vocal group A Filletta with Italian trumpeter Paulo Fresu, classic rock veteran Steve Miller, guitar heroes like Al Di Meola and Stanley Jordan, singer Beth Hart, and a massive free gathering for Le Grand Concert D’Ouverture with Zach Condon and his genre-bending American/World music ensemble Beirut.
The Montreal fest always makes a point of honoring some of its more beloved guests, and this year the powers-that-be presented the B.B. King award to Mississippi bluesman James Cotton, the Miles Davis Award to guitarist Al Di Meola, and the Ella Fitzgerald Award to the queen of neo-soul, singer Erykah Badu, who performed a dynamic two-hour show at the Place des Arts’s Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier auditorium.
Some unexpected cancelations left a few holes in the festival schedule, especially the absence of Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen, who was slated to perform for three consecutive nights as part of the Invitation Series but lost out due to visa difficulties, as did Nigerian juju-music legend King Sunny Ade. Cameroon bassist-singer Richard Bona also dropped out on short notice, and both American blues veteran Taj Mahal and Montreal’s favorite hometown trumpeter Vic Vogel canceled due to health issues.
Still, there has been plenty of great music at classic venues throughout the city center. The newly-revitalized Monument-National hosted jazz acts like Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava, the Robert Glasper Trio, and a threesome featuring coronet player Ron Miles, guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer-extraordinaire Brian Blade. The beautiful Théâtre Maisonneuve hosted fusion icons Al Di Meola and bassist Stanley Clarke, The Bad Plus with special guest saxophonist Joshua Redman, and the Joe Lovano-John Scofield Quartet. The ever-intimate Gesù theater provided stirring moments with NeTTwork featuring guitarist Stanley Jordan, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Jeff Watts, while guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkle kicked off his three-night Invitation series at the Gesù showcasing a band that included pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Allan Mednard.
More entertainment is on tap through Sunday, including jazz titan Wayne Shorter, singers Madeleine Peyroux, Patricia Barber, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jamie Cullum, Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens, a triple bill with Lucinda Williams, The Mavericks and Justin Townes Earle, and great American keyboard wizards like Vijay Iyer, Marc Cary, John Medeski, and Uri Caine.