(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.)
What is it about the sight of a beautifully designed and meticulously constructed guitar that makes a man’s heart beat faster? Maybe it’s a guy thing. Or at least a guy like me, raised on rock ’n’ roll and blues-rock, whose earliest musical heroes were Clapton and Hendrix.
For that kind of guy, entering a room with hundreds of stunning instruments can be plenty exciting. And judging from the many six-string aficionados similarly drooling at the Salon de Guitare de Montreal, I knew fellow brothers surrounded me. A prized adjunct to the jazz festival, The Salon, now in its fifth year, is a three-day
affair that brings together scores of luthiers from around the world, each displaying prize examples of their work. Marvelous electric and acoustic instruments (with a smattering of basses) are there to be played or merely gawked at. All of these devoted craftspeople are obviously phenomenally skilled and highly imaginative, but some stars stand out in the crowd. It’s hard to miss the work of Linda Manzer, the genius who designed and built the 42-string Pikasso guitar, most famously employed by Pat Metheny. There was a lovely sense of reverence for both the instruments and their makers that permeated the two exhibition rooms. Truly, it was an amazing display of expertise and vision in the service of music.
By nightfall I needed to hear some serious axe grinding, and I found it in the form of Nina Attal (pictured above), a comely 19-year old Canadian singer and guitarist previously unknown to me. Moving like Madonna, singing like a soul diva and playing like Robin Trower, Attal won over the crowd with two sets of original tunes that freely blended pop, rock, R&B and blues. With energy borne of age and ambition, she relentlessly pushed herself and her tight five-piece unit, yet the result appeared as if she was having nothing but fun in the process. Ah, youth …
Attal and Gizelle Smith, a young British R&B singer with an old-school vibe who took firm control of the huge Place de Arts performance space, were just two examples of the loose stylistic parameters of this “jazz” festival. In truth, it’s a proudly eclectic affair that finds room for a welcome variety of sounds. More power to its inclusive nature. —Steve Futterman