(Editor’s note: Frequent JAZZIZ contributor Steve Futterman spent the 4th of July weekend at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. We asked him to share his thoughts and experiences. Here they are.)
At the Montreal International Jazz Festival, you enter an alternate universe where music is free, the food is great, and the sets start exactly on time. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. If I exaggerate about the costs (yes, there’s plenty of excellent free shows, but the A-list events can be costly), the grub and the organizational skills behind this mammoth festival are first-rate.
This is my third time here, which makes me a mere novice — most writers I know register their visits in the double digits. And who could blame them for wanting to spend quality time in this lovely city, basking in the pleasures of a truly civilized musical extravaganza. On my first day here, the festival is so far living up to all my memories and expectations.
Not that I had time to catch much after a day of travel. But what I did catch was pretty grand. I didn’t know much about the singer Susie Arioli (pictured above) except that for all the respect that she garners in Canada, she hasn’t caught on below the border. At the first set of her free performance in front of a huge and enthusiastic crowd who had gathered at the Place des Festivals area, Arioli came prepared to swing and she did.
If the fare was comfortably familiar (“Blue Skies,” “Out of Nowhere,” “The Way You Look Tonight”), Arioli nonetheless dug in deep, her rhythm as steady as her tone was sweet. She also made sure that variety was introduced through changes in the instrumental configuration of her accompanying septet. On a few numbers she handled the percussive end, keeping a swinging beat on a standup snare which she played while singing (ever see another jazz chanteuse do that?); on a few intimate songs she was supported by just bass and the agile guitar of longtime partner Jordan Officer; on others, the full contingent of three horns, two guitars, bass and drums kicked her joyfully into overdrive. Smart and fun, Arioli won me over. —Steve Futterman