The 42nd edition of the jazz festival has only just begun and the bar is already very, very high.
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It was a perfect night, not too hot, not too cold, perfect.
And so, he was back. And in full swing. After two pandemic-toned-down editions, the 42nd Montreal International Jazz Festival kicked off Thursday night with a free outdoor performance by Australian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer Tash Sultana.
Sultana is something of a phenomenon: a one-man band that has been playing guitar since the age of 3, took piano, bass, trumpets, drums, beat-making machinery, and a seemingly endless list of other instruments along the way, and perfected it. his skills. at open mics and busking in Melbourne. Add a five-octave vocal range and you have a great performer for opening night.
It was surely no coincidence that Sade’s Smooth Operator played on the PA just before Sultana stepped onto the TD Stage. For the first time in memory, at the request of the artist, there was no official festival presentation for an outdoor explosion. Sultana just kept walking, picked up the guitar and started playing.
A bluesy riff turned into a head-banging beat, soon repeating itself and building with layers of nimbly plucked atmospheres. As Sultana released the rhythm, the bodies began to move. And then came her voice: sensual, soaring, and irresistibly moving.
As the tattooed Sultana danced across the stage, dressed entirely in black with dark blonde locks spilling out of a beanie, the effect was both thrilling and mesmerizing, heightened by the realization that only one person was making all the fuss.
Which brings us to another first: the first time an explosion at a jazz festival has been almost entirely a solo affair. (Sultana joined some musicians midway through the show.)
Earplugs came in handy when Sultana started shredding. Applause erupted as they relaxed to Mystik’s lilting riff, a deep roots reggae beat, with Sultana’s voice soaring overhead.
They took up the saxophone for a funky techno track, then took it down for spare guitar Cigarettes, a song about being on “a permanent soul vacation.”
Sultana showed a knack for catchy hooks on Pretty Lady, and showcased rap skills on funk-soul socio-critical gem Greed, both from last year’s Terra Firma album.
And so it went, into the night, as rapt crowds roared up and down the block.
“There are a lot of people here,” Sultana marveled. “I didn’t even realize it until I opened my eyes. If you look around you, you never would have known who was going to be here tonight. There are all ages, all races and all genders, and literally everyone. And that is the power of music; is the most beautiful of all.
“This song is called Coma. If you’re going to smoke a joint, smoke it now.”
This 42nd edition had just begun and the bar was already very, very high.
The site was buzzing with activity long before Sultana took the stage, just after sunset at 9:30 p.m., causing a traffic jam of bodies trying to make their way through parts of the site.
There was excitement in the air, along with the occasional whiff of cannabis and cigar smoke. Around the time that Wynton Marsalis was getting his start inside Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfred-Pelletier, Ottawa blues singer and double bass player Angelique Francis was outdoors on the Rogers Stage.
She showed no shyness, gathering an enthusiastic crowd shortly after 7 pm Francis’ website draws comparisons to Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters and it’s not too far-fetched. She has a powerful, raspy voice and knows how to use it.
Calls to “Shake your money maker” were heard, and references to Mardi Gras provided context for Francis’ festive and gender-confusing sound.
Its female trumpet section took center stage for a reggae-tinged number, while a rattling tune called Snow Rage felt Canadian très.
Toronto folk-rock singer-songwriter AHI (real name: Ahkinoah Habah Izarh) brought a soulful urgency to his guitar ballads on the Rio Tinto Stage. As the crowd filled the steps of the Place des Arts and lined Ste-Catherine St., it almost felt like just another day at the office.
It was almost enough to make you forget the last two years or more. Montrealers may be out of practice at this summer festival, but our muscle memory is kicking in.
The Montreal International Jazz Festival runs through July 9. For tickets and information, visit montrealjazzfest.com
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