2012 Montreal Jazz Fest
June 28 – July 7
Review and photos by Robert Putignano
Every year at this time I look forward to making the five and a half hour journey to the unique city of Montreal; it’s approximately three hundred miles north of the New York City area and worth the trip. This thirty-third edition makes for my (give or take one or two) thirtieth visit to this great festival where there’s a mixture of jazz, blues, soul, funk, pop, and world music performed by artists from around the world.
I only had two days allocated for my coverage, and my first stop was at the gorgeous Maison Symphonique theatre where the Canadian Harry Manx performed. Most know to expect the unexpected from the multi-instrumentalist Manx, and this performance was no exception, and it certainly only offered hidden glimpses of blues. Manx’ band was a quartet consisting of Yeshe on guitar, percussion, and African instruments; the Australian keyboardist Clayton Doley; and the Indian-born singer Kiran Ahluwalia. It was an odd mix, Manx is undoubtedly a master guitarist, but I wasn’t thrilled with Kiran who sang like Yoko Ono. She had a wide octave range, but I mostly found her to be an odd fit in this band. Doley displayed some interesting keyboard work but was limited by his one-handed playing on the keys.
That being said it was time to move on where I found the Toronto-based Tyler Yarema performing for free on Sainte-Catherine Street. Yarema was in full throttle trotting through pop and blues standards, and he and his band had the crowd eating out of his hands. This was a mighty fine group effort, and as I hadn’t known or heard this band prior, they are now on my radar screen.
Next up was the Canadian-born (now living in the Saint Louis, Missouri, area) Anthony Gomes at the free outdoor blues stage. Gomes was on his game playing tunes from his latest new and strong recording Up 2 Zero. Note: I also got to see Gomes perform solo at the Tremblant Blues Fest a few days later, and you can read more about his performances there in a separate article on Tremblant. My last stop of the evening had me entering the exquisite and intimate venue Ges’u where the great Cedar Walton was chiming on his piano in a trio setting. Walton’s resume includes work with Art Blakey, J.J. Johnson, Abbey Lincoln, and countless others on the Blue Note and Prestige recording labels. It was his first performance at this festival,and based on what I saw, it won’t be his last.
Day Two found me back at the blues stage for a performance by Ruf recording artist Oli Brown. Brown was named the 2011 Band of the Year by the British Blues Awards, and it was his first visit to the Montreal Jazz Fest. Performing in a power-rock trio, I was not impressed. I was looking forward to seeing the Toronto-based Molly Johnson, but unfortunately it was sold out. I have seen Molly perform in Montreal in the past, and she’s well worth your efforts to check out her bluesy-jazzy recordings as she possesses a very captivating set of pipes. She can belt it out with the best of them, and she can create captivating moods as well.
The best was yet to come as Anthony Gomes hipped to the Nashville-based Bart Walker Band. Walker was on fire, and was immensely aided by having ex Stevie Ray Vaughan’s keyboardist extraordinaire Reese Wynans on board. Man, I hadn’t see Wynans perform since I saw him with Stevie Ray Vaughan! Walker didn’t disappoint and unleashed a dynamic set of hair-raising blues rock, closing his set with an amazing cover of “Little Wing.” Walker isn’t your everyday blues-rocker and deserves watching in the future. His debut recording, Who I Am is a good one, and it’s also important to note that Walker also won the 2012 Gibson Guitar award (formerly the Albert King Award) at the International Blues Competition in Memphis. Additionally I also got a second chance to see Walker in Tremblant, too, which was all good by me, especially getting to see Reese Wynans again. Rounding out Walker’s solid unit was bassist Paul Ossola and drummer Lynn Williams. For more evidence, check out Walker’s site at www.BartWalkerBand.com.
This concludes my 2012 Montreal Jazz Fest report, if you’ve never been there, you should visit this very safe and friendly city, as not only is this a world-class festival, it’s also one of my favorite cities on the planet. Those from the northeastern points of the United States (and Canada) will find this festival a very worthwhile experience, and even if you are on a budget you’ll find an awful lot of free shows that won’t hurt your wallet. Here’s to Montreal’s thirty-fourth, and until that time keep checking www.MontrealJazzFest.com
Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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