Montreal Dixie is a hardworking band that puts in plenty of time playing hour-long sets throughout the festival week. Veterans of cruise-ship bands, the ensemble’s five musicians seem as amiable as it’s possible to be while playing in an unshaded plaza in mid-afternoon, 90-plus-degree heat.
Maybe it was the unavoidable torpor that usually results from such punishing temperatures or maybe it was their own musical aesthetic at work, but Montreal Dixie was the most understated Dixieland band I’ve ever heard. Classic New Orleans jazz tends to have a stomping, soaring lilt to it, but the guys in Montreal Dixie approached the music as if they were some cool jazz unit from, say, 1956. Call it “chamber Dixie.” Once I got used to the group’s restraint, their sound began to fascinate and finally delight. Hearing a trumpeter channel Chet Baker rather than Louis Armstrong may not be everyone’s idea of satisfactory Dixieland, but it made me smile.
Corey Harris and the Rasta Blues Experience had the luxury of playing on an outside stage as the sun was setting. Harris and his mates played reggae and blues, both with aplomb. A pleasingly gritty voice, some mean guitar chops and a committed approach to both genres won him the day.
And speaking of committed approaches, Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica (a portion of which is pictured above) has got to be one of the most intensely realized labors of love in recent pop music history. Led by Brian O’Neil, the 22-piece Orchestrotica re-creates the lounge music sounds of Juan Garcia Esquivel, the legendary “King of Space-Age Pop.” My tolerance for lounge music is minimal, and my tolerance for camp even less, but I respect obsession in its grandest forms. O’Neil and the gang won me over with the incredible precision and, yes, passion of their playing. Approaching Esquivel’s pop concoctions with the seriousness of a top-notch jazz repertory ensemble, Orchestrotica enchanted the crowds during two free shows. The mambo, it seems, will never die. —Steve Futterman
Photo credit: Victor Diaz Lamich