(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.)
Whoever coined the phrase “wither into truth” was definitely on to something. On July 4th, Marianne Faithfull demonstrated that with the proper emotional force and theatrical gravitas, a singer can triumph using the barest of vocal tools. There’s not much of a voice left — in fact, Faithfull was never really much of a singer to begin with. She was always all about style, even from the early “As Tears Go By” era. By now, you can hear every second of her up-and-down-and-up life in her raw-toned voice and the result is devastating in its unaffected power. Faithfull isn’t a jazz singer and never has claimed to be, but it’s impossible to not to be reminded of Billie Holliday in her “Lady in Satin” late period when the British songstress sings. A similar naked force can be heard from both classic vocalists, both at a point when their vocal equipment was at best serviceable. For me, a similar cut-to-the-bone strength can be felt in the final work of saxophonists Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. It’s not always pretty, but it is always real. And when you’re confronted with true artistry, that’s as real as it gets.
The B-52s (pictured above) were given pride of place on the final night of the festivities, putting a sweet ribbon on the gift box that was the 2011 Montreal International Jazz Festival. Never much a fan, I was delighted by the sheer intensity and frivolity of their free performance on the main Place des Arts stage. After 30-plus years of music making, these New Wave pioneers know just how to work a crowd. I had little doubt they could whip up some fun, but I had no idea how distinctive and inventive they were as a vocal unit and how, with the support of a superb touring drummer and bassist, they could turn in a smashingly tight and rocking performance. After an encore of “Planet Claire” and — you guessed it — “Rock Lobster,” the band exited to tumultuous cheers and fireworks.
It’s difficult not to over-praise the whole Montreal shebang. It features an unpretentious vibe, spectacular music — much of it free of charge — and precision organization that might take on a fascistic tinge in other cities yet was just another case of service with a smile here. I miss it all already.