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Montreal International Jazz Festival 2023

Great emotions on the menu!

by Nicolas Pelletier, from June 29 to July 8, 2023

The 43rd Festival International de Jazz de Montréal gave us a great quantity and a vast variety of musical emotions, at the beginning of summer. Great voices that captivate the attention, insistent (and justified!) demands for justice and fairness, inner contemplation... we experienced many intense moments with the artists on the program this year.

Let me share some impressions...


Rogers Stage, Thursday, June 29, 2023

My favorite of the FIJM 2023! This woman can sing, oh my! Soul well felt, delivered with as much power as delicacy, passing through the whole range of emotions. Radiant, confident and savoring every moment, Danielle Ponder allowed herself two occasions:River Deep Mountain High in tribute to the recently deceased Tina Turner, as well as a masterful version ofcreepy, Radiohead's first hit (video below). 


You would have heard a pin drop so the spectators were captivated by such a performance. It's rare that we experience this kind of almost ecclesiastical moment on an outdoor stage. This woman is beautiful for her passion for singing, for her complete abandon in music and for her humility, although she has had great success since the launch of her album: Billie Eilish's manager took her under his wing , and she recently sang on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show and Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Ponder, casually, already has a fine repertoire of his own songs, some of which are recognizable hits (like the excellent So Long and the bewitching Someone Like You). The one who was State attorney in New York not so long ago, has indeed launched and will not look back. Like what everything comes to the point for who knows how to wait.


TD Studio, Sunday, July 2, 2023


The free series at Studio TD (the former Astral), brings twice a night a crowd of curious and curious people who come to savor in this beautiful little room emerging jazz talents from here or elsewhere. 


Brandee Younger is a New York harpist who has distinguished herself by multiplying collaborations: Makaya McCraven, Common, Drake, John Legend... She came to Montreal surrounded by two excellent musicians: Allan Mednard on drums and Rashaan Carter on double bass and electric bass. The repertoire of Alice Coltrane was of course mentioned on a few occasions: one does not play jazz on the harp by avoiding this great musician. Younger also has his own compositions, several of which (Moving Target, Running Game) were taken from his most recent album, “Brand New Life”, released last April, on the Verve label. 


Brandee Younger's music is pretty quiet, but her bandmates' acting was pretty spectacular! Drummer Mednard pulled out all the stops, which contrasted with the sweet 47-string instrument. The contrast was not unpleasant and kept the spectators on edge of their seat, although it was almost Tuesday at the end of the recital.


Cute note: it was his parents who managed the “merch” table at the exit of the TD Studio and who sold his albums in vinyl and CD format.


Rio Tinto Stage, Sunday July 2, 2023


A pop singer with enthusiastic fans, Mereba appeared on the Rio Tinto main stage in a trio format with two multi-instrumentalists. While these two gentlemen held rhythms, bass, electric guitar, keyboards, violin and backing vocals, the elegant Mereba relived broken and past loves (Highway 10). Her audience ignited on these greatest hits: Black Truck, Rider, and cheered for her new songs, like Aye.


Mereba may not have the type of voice that allows her to get into soul music, which she tries all the same regularly. She seems much more comfortable in syncopated pop rap where she asserts her independence and strength that comes from her experiences. Mereba is more a voice that thirsts for justice, a woman who will seek happiness in her life, than a soul singer.


TD Studio, Sunday, July 2, 2023


It was at Studio TD that the Frenchwoman Naïssam Jalal made us discover her unique universe: that of ambient jazz where her flute playing and her aerial singing, surrounded by magnificent jazzmen: the pianist Leonardo Montana and the double bassist Claude Tchamitchian.


Each note was played sparingly and tactfully, letting the rests become part of the space. The TD Studio was so crowded that we had to wait outside. Less thrilled by her singing, I admit I was really interested in the variety of sounds she produces with her flute, depending on the strength of her breath and the distance between her lips and the instrument. A fascinating game between the breath, the flute and the voice!


Outdoor stage, Sunday July 2, 2023


This sympathetic musician, pregnant “up to the ears”, shared these songs with us, which ranged from pop to soul, with a touch of electro and afropop without complex but without pretension. Honored as she was to be part of the program of the prestigious FIJM after only two years of professional activities, she was living a dream of performing in front of an open, enthusiastic and warm crowd. 



Outdoor stage, Thursday, June 29, 2023


The trio of Houston pianist James Francies was in great shape Thursday evening under the marquee of the FIJM relaxation area. A very energetic performance, sometimes a bit too free jazz for my personal taste but clearly appreciated by the crowd who followed him in his delirium. The three musicians were able to bring the public into another dimension, at times, which clearly did not displease them.


Outdoor stage, July 5 2023


Son Little performed an amazing hour of his songs at the Montreal Jazz Fest a few nights ago. A few connaisseurs of his great music were very happy to finally see him live! I am a big fan since I heard his "Aloha" album, which ai had ranked in my top 3 best albums of 2020. I was not disappointed.


Scène extérieure, 5 juillet 2023 - deux concerts

Sous un emballage funk rock, les dynamiques Congolais Jupiter & Okwess ramènent tout le groove tribal ancestral de l'Afrique… et ceux et celles qui pourraient douter que nous venons tous du même endroit n'ont qu'à écouter J&O live pour constater que leurs rythmes sont irrésistibles et qu'ils font danser tous les humains de la Terre. Difficile d'être plus universel que ça!

Deux fois qu'ils me font le coup! Je les avais vus il y a quelques années sur la même scène et étais devenu un fan instantané!

Comme ils jouaient de nouveau à 22 heures, on y est retournés pendant que Thundercat essayait de battre le record du nombre de notes jouées en une demi-seconde.


Outdoor stage, July 5 2023

We were given a warning to keep our minds open and to be curious, even silent, before the beautiful Annahstasia took the stage… no need to do this with the Montreal public. It is with the greatest of respect that several thousand people landed on the Place-des-Arts esplanade to let themselves be lulled by the bewitching tunes of this little woman with the big voice.

It's impressive how strong this young woman is! She starts slow and low, then suddenly gets passionate, her sensitivity on edge!

Five musicians taking care of creating a sumptuous framework, with cello, keyboards, guitar and double bass, and very light percussion, the young American singer was able to set off without a net. Sensual and aerial at the same time.


Scène extérieure, 5 juillet 2023

Honnêtement, je n'ai pas du tout aimé la performance de Thundercat, sur la grande scène de la Place des Festivals. Lui et ses deux complices (claviers et batterie), faisaient du free jazz complètement inaccessible, vraiment bordélique, voire cacophonique. Je n'éprouve absolument aucun plaisir à écouter des musiciens qui s'élancent dans des solos sans fin, tous en même temps, et qui se trouvent épatants. Ca va cinq minutes, mais pas 90. J'étais parti après 20.

Bien des spectateurs - la plupart dans la jeune vingtaine - essayaient de suivre, de comprendre... de ne pas avoir l'air largués par cette avalanche de notes éparpillées. Je ne saurais dire s'ils ont aimé leur soirée, et si cette intro au jazz (car ca semblait être le cas) va leur donner le goût de poursuivre dans cette voie. On verra.

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