25 years ago, I first came to Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal.
25 years ago, the jazz/rock trio UZEB played the first Grande Evenement.
Every festival since that first in 1992, free "great events" have happened on one of the streets around Place des Arts in the heart of Montreal. Sometimes as many as a hundred thousand folks drink, dance, and enjoy whatever music is on the biggest outdoor stage.
I especially remember Stevie Wonder in the rain. I'll never forget Cirque du Soleil twice -- with acrobats and clowns everywhere. I actually shouted "WOW" -- frequently. FIJM celebrated New Orleans with Allen Toussaint and a Mardi Gras float that was driven up from NOLA. DJ Champion played a stage full of electronic whizbangs, alone and bustling about under a plastic tarp. Being musically all-encompassing (like jazz) festival events also have spotlighted a Balkan band and a Turkish band, disco and a hip-hop extravangaza.
Diana Krall was "grande" indeed one year, and Jamie Cullum was beyond flabbergasting last year. Jamie played and sang ecstatically with a big band of Montreal's best. He musically meandered the crowd, and after two hours non-stop, he slumped off the stage. "This is the best gig I've ever played," he shouted, and the crowd chanted him back. When he walked back out in a spotlight, his face was enormous in the Jumbotrons, with rivulets of sweat and happy tears. Jamie's "evenement" was for me one of the greatest concerts I've attended anywhere.
I don't remember much about the music of that first "grand event." I'd never heard UZEB before, or even heard of UZEB, though they'd been recording best-selling and award-winning albums since the mid-70's. Innovators of what came to be called "jazz fusion," UZEB was a power trio like Cream -- without the vocals. And this year's concert, indoors at the biggest hall of Place des Arts, was the trio's reunion.
Alain Caron playing electric bass was herculean. I've rarely heard a bassist's fingers playing so quickly (articulating every note) on the strings. Or playing so lyrically, even through (especially through) all the reverb and other tech. Caron's bass often sounded as if playing the lead. Michel Cusson nonetheless played spectacularly on the guitar, often sounding orchestral. Cusson's solo of "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" was haunting. And through it all, Paul Brochu at the drums was explosive.
The Montreal Jazz Festival is for me always a grande evenement.
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