While the audience roared with delight, one of the members of the all-female band, the Latin Grammy-nominated Mariachi Flor de Toloache, raised her fist and shouted “GIRL POWER!” The entire audience, female and male, young and old, joined in the exultation with total approval. It was just another example of how the women of jazz are making their names like never before in the history of the music. During my last two days at the 37th Montreal Jazz Festival I made it a large part of my business to check out what they had to offer on the stages of the festival. The history of jazz is most certainly dominated by the names of famous, talented, important men. There are a number of important women vocalists and instrumentalists in the annals of jazz greats and may I just say that as the history continues to be written be ready for more of their names to join the great men. Some of them played this year in Montreal!
I’d already seen the dynamic pianist, composer and one of the great bandleaders in jazz today, Hiromi Uehara, performing to a packed house of screaming fans. I invite you to read my report on that show and add her name to the list of women I’ll focus on. My day began with a visit to one of the newest and most comfortable outdoor venues, the beautiful, wooded setting called the Montreal Casino. Under the band shell on this simply perfect summer afternoon, appeared the trio led by inventive Canadian pianist Marianne Trudel and her special guest, fellow Canadian and one of the premier trumpeters in jazz today, Ingrid Jensen. Ingrid had been featured earlier in the festival with her sister Christine, so the crowd was being treated to a real Canadian girl-fest.
Ms. Trudel put together a set filled with ever-changing dynamics, inventive and uplifting melody followed by adventurous passages of free jazz. The music was primarily taken from her latest release titled Life Begins Here, a musical investigation of mindfulness and living in the present moment. One might call this “chamber jazz” with the all-acoustic instrumentation and song structure, but it fits into a genre that I seem to be noticing more and more these days. There is a movement of acoustic jazz that sounds like it comes from electronica patterns and rhythms. Ingrid Jensen’s contribution fits perfectly with this style as she shifts from full sound to muted and changes rhythms with equal facility. The sun was setting on the row of tall trees in the background that seemed to be applauding as the wind caused their leaves to constantly rustle. Coupled with the magnificent music coming from the stage, it created a scene that made for a show that was difficult to see come to an end. I was off to take in my next set of music dominated by the ladies of the Montreal Jazz Festival 2016.
Another of the free, outdoor concerts at the festival featured the afore-mentioned, New York-based Mariachi Flor De Toloache, named for the Mexican flower used to create an aphrodisiac. The ladies created an intoxicating mix of traditional Mariachi with high-level jazz improvisation, beautiful vocalizing and even a little rock to craft an enticing Latin fusion. The group did not bring their full complement of musicians as they were lacking their percussionist, Jacquelene Acevedo, and more horns but the sound was full enough to thrill the audience, many of whom were probably greatly surprised at how much they enjoyed this style of music. I’m betting that some walked away thinking of the set by Mariachi Flor De Toloache as one of the major surprises of the festival. You can always count on that kind of surprise happening at least once at every Montreal Jazz Fest!
It’s always exciting to see a performance by an artist that is absolutely exploding. Such is the case with the dynamic and mesmerizing vocalist Cyrille Aimee, whose performance on Saturday, July 2nd at the Club L’Astral was nothing short of delightful! With her quartet of talented men Ms. Aimee captured the audience with one unique song after another. I try to avoid using the word unique in describing a musical performance but in the case of Cyrille Aimee it most certainly applies and to a major degree because of her interesting background. She was born in France to a French father and a Dominican mother. The story goes that she would sneak away to hang out with the musicians at the Django Reinhardt music festival and fell in love with gypsy jazz. There’s still much of that influence in her style along with occasional Latin tinges, pop and rock influence, scat singing that would make Ella Fitzgerald nod with approval, electronica and a heavy reliance on some of the most famous standards that she absolutely crafts to be her own.
From the moment Cyrille Aimee took the stage the crowd belonged to her. She sings like a veteran but is only 31 and has an inviting, girlish voice that is authentic and both powerful and gentle at the same time. Since setting up shop in Brooklyn, NY, her current base of operations, she’s acquired a singing and speaking style that belongs to only her. She seems to be moving at all times and also seems to be having the time of her life on stage. One can’t help but be caught up in the feeling of wanting to join in on the party she’s having! When the band took a break she employed the service of an electronic device that allowed her to loop tracks of her own voice and improvise with the loops. Cyrille Aimee is charming and enormously talented. She’s off to tour Europe for most of the next few months but will be back in North America from time to time. Check her schedule, catch her show and prepare to be a fan for life!
My final day at this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival began with a very entertaining duo show featuring NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron and the versatile guitar sensation Lionel Loueke. Before the show at the Gesu Theatre, festival director Andre Menard presented Mr. Barron with the festivals “Miles Davis Award”. Kenny Barron’s contribution to jazz is an important one and any award he receives is most certainly deserved. The blending of his piano and the unique guitar style of Mr. Loueke in a set of mostly standards was remarkable and most enjoyable. Both gentlemen had been involved in multiple shows at the festival and this performance had the air of two old friends being very spontaneous and having fun. After this pleasant experience I was off to take in my last show featuring another of the great ladies of the 2016 Montreal Jazz Fest.
If there ever was an artist that is truly international it is “citizen of the world” vocalist Stacey Kent. She was born and educated in the USA then moved to London, England to further her education. She married British saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and began her career by playing London clubs like the legendary Ronnie Scott’s and making her name in Europe. Here is a lady with a tremendously compelling voice who has been nominated for Grammy awards in her native United States, and received various awards for her contribution to the arts in both England and France. She addressed the crowd in the Montreal concert in both French and English and sang in various languages. Can you say “International?”
I actually first believed Ms. Kent was British until I heard her whole story, and after seeing her performance in the beautiful Theatre Maisonneuve I am even more confused, in a good way that is, as she presented a set of Brazilian flavored pieces taken from her latest release Tenderly. The concert was a dreamy visit to Brazil with timeless standards from the great American songbook turned into bossa nova magic. Her husband Jim Tomlinson was along for the fun and played Stan Getz to Stacey’s Astrid Gilberto to perfection. A gentle, tender, loving atmosphere was conjured in the hall and I kept thinking that in the crazy world we seem to be living in these days we could all use more moments like this one to soothe the nerves and calm the soul. I send a large and heartfelt thank you to Stacey Kent and her fellow musicians for giving me this great gift on my last day at the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival.
There would be many more great ladies, such as Roberta Gambarini, Ranee Lee and Lauryn Hill, that would take to the stages at the festival, which ended this year on July 9th. There would also be any number of major shows featuring some of the greats of jazz representing the male of the species too such as the reunion of Larry Coryell’s Eleventh House featuring Randy Brecker, Marcus Miller, Roy Hargrove, Erik Truffaz, Vijay Iyer, Joey DeFrancesco, newly named NEA Jazz Master Dr. Lonnie Smith, Fred Hersch and dozens more. It’s always tough to choose what days to attend the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal as you know you’ll be missing some magical moments. I’ll take what I got this year and look forward to the 38th edition in 2017 as the men AND the WOMEN of jazz gather to thrill the crowds again in the beautiful, magical city!
Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting MOJA Radio’s website… http://www.mojaradio.com