Some Highlights of the 2015 Montreal Jazz Festival – posted 7/1/ 2015
I was very lucky to get to Montreal this year for the first few days of the Jazz Festival. It is a wonderful event with people coming from all over the world to Montreal.
For those who do not know about it, the festival goes on for two weeks. It is usually the last week of June and the first week of July. There are a number of stages set up in the area of the festival and music runs from late afternoon until midnight. Most of the shows are free although there are some paying shows too.
I wanted to highlight a few groups who played, including a couple I did not know about before:
Freshlyground – I must confess I did not know anything about Freshlyground, a group from Cape Town, South Africa, before they played outdoors on the biggest stage at the festival. The group is sensational. I think playing before a large crowd outdoors may be the best way to see them. The energy of their live performance, the danceability of the music, the good vibes generated were memorable. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen at the Montreal Jazz Festival and I started going about 15 years ago. For me, Freshlyground was the highlight of the whole festival.
They did a 9pm show and an 11pm followup last Sunday night. After hearing the first performance, I hung around to hear the second show. Some of the numbers I liked included Take Me To The Dance, Buttercup, and Fire is Low. Their most recent CD is titled Take Me To The Dance.
The band has seven members, including musicians from South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. The lead singer is Zolani Mahola, a very dynamic performer. She shared some of her past and her family did not escape the ravages of apartheid. The band members are quite diverse and reflective of the composition of the new South Africa. She and Kyla-Rose Smith, the violinist in the band, were also impressively gymnastic. The band was fun to watch.
I guess Freshlyground has been around for over a decade. They do have a big following in South Africa. They collaborated with Shakira in performing Waka Waka: This Time for Africa, which was a theme song of the 2010 World Cup.
They are just completing a North American tour. I am sure they will be back. Catch a performance if you can. You will not regret it.
Stephen Barry Band – This group was a total surprise to me although they have been together for 40 years. I guess they have mostly played in Canada. They are a very accomplished Montreal-based blues band. For a bunch of old guys they can still play and play really well. They have a new album, Treat Her Right and I liked that cut. They also did a fine version of the Rolling Stones song Salt of the Earth. As a group they really seemed to be enjoying the performing and there was a great comfort level there. It looked like they were great pals. It was cool to see people doing something they obviously love and doing it so well.
James Cotton Blues Band – Watching James Cotton was like watching history. Cotton is now 80 and he needs a cane and he can’t really sing anymore but he can play blues harmonica. Before his concert performance, the Montreal Jazz Festival honored James Cotton as the second recipient of their annual B.B. King award. The festival gives the award to recognize artists who have significantly advanced the blues.
The experience reminded me of a time I saw John Lee Hooker near the end of his career at a concert in Seattle. I felt lucky I got to see James Cotton. There is something great about honoring old blues legends.
It is an addictive experience to go to the Montreal Jazz Festival. When I was living in Alaska, I was very bummed out that I could not go that year. Once you go, you keep wanting to go back.