Festival International de Jazz de Montreal

Indie rock music festivals could learn a thing or three from the Montreal Jazz Fest

Amadou & Mariam
Amadou & Mariam (Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin / Courtesy of Festival International de Jazz de Montreal)

Festival International de Jazz de Montreal

Montreal, Quebec, Canada, July 3–7

Here in Festival, Texas® – trademarked by Chronicle music listings czaress Anne Harris – high season runs from March's South by Southwest to Chaos in Tejas at the beginning of June, boomeranging back in October for the Austin City Limits Music Festival and November's Fun Fun Fun Fest. That first one, big daddy, also sets in motion Coachella, Bonnaroo, and August's sold-out Lollapalooza, all rotating a Rubik's Cube of talent that then feeds regional music fests from Washington State to Florida. Missed Depeche Mode in a 600-person venue at SXSW this year? Multiply that capacity by more than 200 over two weekends of ACL in a few months.

Vieux Farka Touré doesn't grace any of those rosters. Each member wearing a shin-length, desert neon dashiki with matching pants, the bandleader in green, bassist draped blue, second guitarist donning chocolate brown, and the seated tabla player rocking red, the West African quintet looked like superheros onstage deep inside Club Soda at the 34th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. Headed by the son of late Malian guitar god Ali Farka Touré, their stinging Afro-rock laid down a musical bed of coals white-ember hot. Tiptoe, skitter, and dance to a base roots groove you won't witness at most North American music festivals this year.

"D'accord?," wondered Touré in Africa's universal fluency, French. ("All right?")

"Oui!," rose the answer in a tongue native to most Quebecers, who initially greeted the darkly handsome, young thirtysomething at the venue in 2008, same year Leonard Cohen began a global comeback at his hometown jazz jubilee.

"D'accord!?," demanded the six-string scion, born oh-so-appropriately in Niafunké, title of his father's final studio séance. Ali Farka Touré's own Malian birthplace helped brand his and the region's Western breakthrough, 1994 Ry Cooder collaboration Talking Timbuktu.

"OUI!" roared the house.

"D'accord," grinned Touré.

Where Stubb's Kings of the Mic package the previous night boasted and bounced with the supreme extroversion of hip-hop's new Big Four (De La Soul, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and LL Cool J), 2,000 miles and 24 hours later that same genre's source – the blues – generated equal black power through trademark introversion, its hydroelectric current as singularly possessive as its hypnotic drone. Vieux Farka Touré's shredding, monochromatic solos and overall "Safare," from his fourth LP Mon Pays, crescendoed into a stomping, clapping whirlwind by the end of the buzzing 75-minute set. That was only the beginning of me and my wife's African uprising over four days and nights.

You want festivals? Montreal (say mon-rey-al), the second largest city in Canada after Toronto, hosts 10 of them between July 3 and August 11, including dedications to comedy, circuses, and one entirely for la musique d'Afrique. By the time Agnes and I arrived, the 11-day jazz fest – which flies in and puts up media from all over the world – was halfway over. Charles Lloyd, Charles Lloyd with tabla king Zakir Hussain, Wayne Shorter, Chucho Valdés, Ravi Coltrane, Jason Moran, Bill Frisell, Charles Lloyd with Jason Moran and Bill Frisell, Trombone Shorty, Jacky Terrasson, and David Murray with Macy Gray had the gathering's jazz elite still basking in their afterglow. A free Feist show on the outdoor mainstage lived on in the gig posters plastered throughout the city's centrally located arts grid, the Quartier des Spectacles.

A long way from home, Texans stuck together. From the nascent (Austin's Shakey Graves) to a pinnacle of Lone Star exports (Lyle Lovett), the Southwesterners stood out, too. Charged with two-a-days on consecutive afternoons at the sponsoring Heineken Lounge, the former Alejandro Rose-Garcia effortlessly achieved what he does locally: got the ladies looking and wiggling. That his busking, electric folk beat more rattletrap suitcase percussion than actual songs mattered less, especially in the face of Lovett's Acoustic Group later that night in the headliner's hall.

Tall tales, stand-up comedy, and even hits ("Private Conversation") came and went during the latter's masterful, two-hour concert, much like his sit-down with A&M bud Robert Earl Keen at the Paramount in May, only this time – and unlike his Large Band – Lovett commanded the stature of a rock & roll frontman. Luke Bulla (fiddle), Viktor Krauss (acoustic bass), Keith Sewell (Ricky Skaggs' protege and mandolin), and drumming great Russ Kunkel nailed harmonies ("I Will Rise Up"), cosmopolitan bluegrass ("Keep It in Your Pantry"), a Bulla/Guy Clark "Temperance Reel," and finally Townes Van Zandt ramrod "White Freightliner Blues."

Even then, Kat Edmonson took home the gold Maple leaf.

Opening for fellow blue-eyed Billie Holiday tinge Madeleine Peyroux, the Houston-raised, Austin-taught sparrow received more than one standing ovation at the conclusion of her intimate 45-minute confession. Edmonson's limited range can't stunt her effectiveness as both singer and interpreter, given her genuine vulnerability. Accompanied by an ace acoustic guitarist, her reading of Fastball guitarist Miles Zuniga's "Hopelessly Blue" cut to the heart. Neither Madeleine Peyroux (too Bones), Molly Ringwald (considering 2012 novel When It Happens to You, too diversified), nor Chrysta Bell (too Lynchian) sent their audience home with a part of them as Edmonson so clearly did.

Jazz: folk music. Some of that was left as well. Modern piano pretension (Vijay Iyer) to traditional rent party, brass band, blow-out (Preservation Hall Jazz Band), most importantly, perhaps, rippled Montreal institution Oliver Jones, at 78 ("been 'retired' 12 years now") the inheritor to piano caresses by Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and fellow homey Oscar Peterson. A native sovereign to rule them all: Montrealer Benoît Charest, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Oscar-nominated Triplets of Belleville by re-creating his original score for the animated musical live at a screening. Singular, even by Alamo Drafthouse standards, the guitarist-bandleader owes film music the great favor of bringing his riff on Forties radio to a cinema near you.

That left mostly politicized downtempos from Ivory Coast rasta Alpha Blondy and South Africa's 20-strong Soweto Gospel Choir, which put on a Saturday matinee as epic as Nelson Mandela. Eleven men and nine women, whose rainbow garb made Vieux Farka Touré's crew look drab, bundled Mama Africa – Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) – together with Peter Gabriel's "Biko," Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross," and Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" into a divine song as deep and majestic as Montreal's ark-like symphony hall, in which the 90-minute service rose. We all walked into the light after SGC's closing cover of "Oh Happy Day."

Ivory Coast Malian Fatoumata Diawara ascended similar heights Sunday, something of a guitar-slinging, head-wrap novelty at Wobeon Fest's ambitious local debut in April, but in the rainy mist of the festival's closing evening, her African spell evoked no less than Bob Marley. A Frenchman plucked glittering notes from his hollow body guitar, while the rhythm section repping Cameroon and Togo flowed like water under Diawara's shamanistic cries and whirling dervish possession. In a swelling parking lot, another laser-focused, multicultural throng held its chatter and between-song exclamations of devotion just as it does every year.

Bamako's blind blues dyad, Amadou & Mariam, took that quasi-religious smelting of vibe and riff to a Hendrix-at-Monterey precipice, wherein the Malian pair followed Diawara with another free closing spectacle by unleashing a burning blast from another crossroads altogether. The Eric Clapton of West African guitarists, Amadou pulled off one five-minute solo against a Robert Rodriguez-like Tierra del Fuego stage backdrop matched by his wife Mariam's piercing, nasal rap that could've been in Chinese. Mountain high, river deep.

Around the millennium, an ACL booker asked me who needed Austin festival indoctrination. Manu Chao, I offered, setting in motion a chain of events that literally took years to pay off in French/Spanish punk at Lollapalooza then ACL. To that mother of two and the Fun Fun Fun Fest bookers who brought Tuareg nomads Tinariwen to Auditorium Shores in 2011, Chao's charges on 2004's Dimanche à Bamako are my last words on 2013 music festivals: Amadou & Mariam.

Montreal, Quebec: Five Days, Five Diversions

Jean-Talon Market/Little Italy Eden-esque farmers' market grows its own province inside Montreal's satellite Boot republic.

Botanical Garden: Mosaïcultures Internationales Animal sculptures inhabiting this sprawling horticultural wonder include the 100-metric-ton Tree of Birds.

Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Art) Four exhibition buildings, 17 floors, mostly gratis. Magical realism: Inuit art.

Chinatown Dumplings, bakeries, and sake bombs due south of Club Soda.

Notre-Dame Basilica/Old Town (Vieux-Montreal) Cobblestone commercial warren gets its bells wrung by gilded Parisian namesake, home to Celine Dion's wedding and Luciano Pavarotti's 1978 Christmas concert.

Never Travel for Music, Parts 1-6

Ali Farka Touré Live Shot, 2000

Manu Chao at Lollapalooza 2006

Montreal Jazz Fest 2008

Montreal Jazz Fest 2009

Montreal Jazz Fest 2010

Kat Edmonson, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," April 6, 2012

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Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, Amadou & Mariam, Fatoumata Diawara, Soweto Gospel Choir, Lyle Lovett, Kat Edmonson, Shakey Graves, Oliver Jones

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