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Dispatches from Montreal (1): Round-up of opening night of FIJM 2023

  • Rémi Bolduc Quintet with Jerry Bergonzi at the Studio TD
  • Opening of photo exhibition “Le Jazz est Partout”
  • Melissa Errico at the Salle Wilfried-Pelletier
  • George Benson at the Salle Wilfried-Pelletier (the first two numbers)
  • Houston Person with Mike Rud at Upstairs

(Montreal. 29 June 2023. Round-up by Sebastian Scotney*)

The Place des Festivals, 29 June 2023. Photo: Frederic-Menard Aubin/ FIJM

The team at the festival told me they were expecting that the Montréalais would be out in big numbers this year in search of what is called “le fun” here. And they were right. On the evidence of this great photo from last night’ open-air Ibrahim Maalouf concert the Montréalais absolutely want it. Big time.

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The choice of events on the first night of the 43rd Montreal Jazz Festival is bewildering. So, straight off the flight…I threw myself into it, and flitted around town to parts of four concerts and even the “vernissage” of a photo exhibition for good measure. Overdoing it? Certainly.

Jerry Bergonzi (right in the photo above), was playing in the guest-of-honour role at an album celebration of the second CD he has made with alto saxophonist and educator Rémi Bolduc. Bolduc is on the faculty at McGill, and has a big sound and velocity. I was reminded of the late Peter King’s astonishing dexterity, but Bolduc’s sound is consistently just little bit more powerful and what tends to get called “muscular”. That sets a particular tone of energy.

He said he has once fulfilled a personal dream by persuading Jerry Bergonzi to come up North from Boston, but they had got on well, and have continued to work together. A peddler of cliches would talk of it as a “battle”. How wrong can that be? Bolduc was looking over at Bergonzi soloing with the amused smile of someone who is constantly pinching himself because he can’t quite believe he hasn’t had to wait till the afterlife to play with Jerry Bergonzi. The rhythm team were pianist Marie Fatima Rudolf (has anyone ever parsed that name and told her story?), bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Jim Doxas. Long story short: the level of rhythm section playing in this city is stupendous.

Houston Person at Upstairs. Phone snap

More of the top flight of Montreal jazz was at Upstairs later in the evening with the 88 year old tenor legend Houston Person, whose deeply soulful way of playing connects us with glorious eras from the past. He was with guitarist Mike Rud who has the complete armoury of sound from the diaphanously subtle to the slapstickishly silly. Alec Walkington is one of those experts in every gradation between flowing legato and short and to the point, and drummer Andre White, my best source tells me, is “respected and revered by every generation” of Montreal musicians, and has played every festival. Their “Who can I Turn To?” was a gem from start to finish.

George Benson receiving the Spirit Award from Alain Simard. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich

I went and heard the beginning of George Benson’s set and had left before his Spirit Award presentation happened. He has a hugely energetic band to support, protect, propel. And they do it very well. They launched in with a party version of Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Making Love”.

Opening for George Benson was Melissa Errico. She reminded me of an odd quote: “New York is a city that plays hard to get. You want me? You better work for it.” Every ounce of those NYC instincts were on show last night. Errico was energised, making sure with every breath that she would get the audience in the 3000-seater Pelletier really on her side. There she was, every high note was heroically held…It paid off. She got the standing ovation from this audience. Ridiculous generalisation coming: Montreal audiences always want to show their warmth and this one made her deservedly welcome.

*Sebastian is in Montreal as a guest of FIJM


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