Honoring the Best at the Montreal Jazz Festival

Jul 7, 2018

The Montreal Jazz Festival every year presents awards named for some of the greatest artists who've played at the festival. All of the awards were created to celebrate an artist's life's work.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones awarded the Miles Davis Award
Credit Valeriegay Bessette for FIJM

I couldn't see all of the awards shows this year. Some of the shows were happening at the same time. George Thorogood, honored with the BB King Award for a blues artist, was playing down the hall from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, honored with the Miles Davis Award for an international musician whose work and influence the jazzfest acknowledges as "regenerating the jazz idiom."

Two of the artists honored played a double-header at the Symphony Hall. Renee Rosnes was presented the Oscar Peterson Award for a Canadian artist. Renee's quartet played music especially from her newest album Beloved of the Sky. Renee's mirroring at the piano back and forth with the vibes of Steve Nelson was especially beautiful in the acoustics of all the wood in the hall. Robert Hurst on bass and Lenny White on drums were also featured and often quite lyrical.

Zakir Hussein receives the Jobim award.
Credit Victor Diaz Lamich for FIJM

Zakir Hussain was presented the Antonio Carlos Jobim award for an artist of world music. A tabla master like his father, Alla Rakha, Hussain has been touring in a trio with bassist Dave Holland and saxophonist Chris Potter. Holland has played the festival countless times, and several of his FIJM concerts have been instrumentally unusual, like the trio with Hussain and Potter.

One hallmark of Holland's groups is that the players fulfill all of the musical angles. Potter's tenor sax was sometimes playing rhythm. Hussain's tabla was often playing a virtual melody -- and very quickly. Holland's bass was always at the center of the music, sometimes an anchor, sometimes a kite. Most amazing is how rapidly and suddenly the trio moved together. As if telepathically. And always thrillingly.

Ben Harper receives the Ella Fitzgerald award.
Credit Benoit Rousseau for FIJM

FIJM's Ella Fitzgerald Award honors a singer, this year presented to a long-time favorite of the festival, blues/rocker Ben Harper. He was emotional at his press conference. He acknowledged that he was not a jazz singer, but he was inspired by the "trajectory" of Ella's life, that she kept going higher and higher all of her life. Harper's newest album No Mercy In This Land is a reunion with blues great Charlie Musselwhite, honored at last year's FIJM with the BB King Award.

I missed the Harper/Musselwhite show. I was attending the best concert of FIJM 2018 -- one of the best shows I've ever enjoyed in 26 years of great shows at the jazzfest. More on that in the next installment.