Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 16, No.3, 2017

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache Emanuel Pordes
Diane Gordon
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
Tord Gustavsen
Sarah MK
Julie Lamontagne
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Becky Noble
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
Christine Jensen
Vincent Rehel
Kat Edmonson
Jaga Jazzist
Cline & Lage
Fred Hersch
Gregory Porter
Takuya Kuroda
2010 Montreal Guitar Show (Sylvan Luc)

Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard

ruminations and recommendations

report filed by Robert J. Lewis




It’s the best of all trades, to make song;
and the second best to sing them.
Hillaire Belloc

He who sings prays twice.
St. Augustine




Of all the instruments that are called upon to express and articulate the language of jazz, none is as immediate as the voice, which often plays second fiddle in jazz festivals, in part because the voice can’t go where other instruments make their home – especially in the newer and more exploratory genres of jazz: Bebop, free-form, expressionism. In the 1920s, Louis Armstrong introduced Scat, the singing of nonsense syllables, which allowed the voice to mimic the more fluid and capable sequences of notes produced by all other musical instruments, but it was ultimately found wanting, though in the hands of its most formidable practitioners, such as Ella Fitzgerald, it gained legitimacy as a mode of jazz expression, albeit which audiences did not particularly cotton onto.

The jazz voice came into its own through the standards, many of which were written for musicals and later turned into jazz: Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, to mention a few among the legends.

The 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival offers a full schedule and panoply of female voices in jazz, covering everything from The American Songbook to jazz that has fused with the musics of other countries and continents, such as Brazil and Africa, to post-modern jazz that incorporates elements from soul, hip-hop and even folk.

That by far and away most jazz voices are feminine is an on-going subject of speculation, to which I’ll add my own 12-bars. The sheer physicality involved in playing and mastering the saxophones and trumpet is a challenge that many women are not up to, while the unwieldy guitar, for the most part, has always been man’s best friend. In jazz, women are disproportionately attracted to piano and voice. If we can agree that constitutionally, women are more generally more comfortable in their emotional skins than men, the voice -- the only instrument that doesn't require external mediation -- will quite naturally be their first choice. When we look to the language that speaks to the human heart, la condition humaine, and that crazy little thing called love in all its guises and disguises, it is surely the voice that best speaks that language.

"So I go at a maddening pace, and I pretend that it's taking your place,
but what else can you do at the end of a love affair."

Among the very best and versatile of the voices performing at this year's jazz festival belongs to Lizz Wright, who, on July 5th, will be performing songs from her latest CD, Freedom and Surrender, as well as the standards. Her astonishing, probing version of “The Nearness of You” must rank near to the very best.

Morgan James's (July7th) preternaturally clean and powerful voice tilts to the soul side of jazz. She can take any lyric and turn it into a liquid for the gods.

Youn Sun Nah returns to Montreal for a third time June 28th. Her sometimes delicate, sometimes pained but delectable and purposeful vocalese belie the empathy she pours into the lyric. Audiences everywhere have found a place in their hearts for her very particularized takes on The American Songbook and heartfelt, compelling original material.

Xenia Rubinos (June 29th) and Kandace Springs (June 30th) are new voices soon to become familiar voices. Both accompany themselves on the keyboards. Rubinos, with Cuba pulsing through her veins, is all energy and sublimated upset. She’ll be presenting original material, most of it from her just released Black Terry Cat. She looks up to Nina Simone for daring to combine music and the politics of race in her repertoire. Springs brings a more conventional sound to her music, and is equally comfortable performing pop and jazz.



Somi needs no introduction to Montreal. Also back for a 3rd time (July 5th), she combines great intelligence and restraint with a staggering vocal range transmuted into a mother lode of haunting original material that evokes both Africa and growing up absurd in the contradiction that is America. If you’re looking for raw nerve and confession, Somi is the real deal.


And then there’s the deep-throated, dirt-road flamenco voice of Concha Buika who brings her life long experience to Theatre Maissonneuve (July 4th). She’ll be performing songs from her just released Para Mi. Nota bene: flamenco guitar aficionados will not be disappointed. In the same rich flamenco vein that is southern Spain, singer Rosalía and guitarist Raül Refree will open the show in what promises to be a memorable evening under an Andalusian sky.

Another voice to which we should lend our ears is that of Lisa Simone (July 6th). Yes, Nina’s daughter, who discovered her love of jazz relatively late in life, but she brings to the art form considerable Broadway experience. In the time it takes to flick a switch, you’ll discover that she doesn’t need any lineage boosts or publicity favours. She’s her own voice, her own soul on spice.

Not on everyone's radar, make a point of checking out Catherine Russell (July 3rd) who will be backed up by gifted guitarist/singer John Pizzarelli, one of the greats of his generation. He’s the recommendation a singer can only dream of. If too many singer’s are guilty of pouring too much voice into material that can’t support the weight, Russell’s understatement-restraint is a welcome change of pace, while her voice shines like a beam of light on whatever lyric she’s working out. She'll be paying tribute to our Lady in Satin, the one and only Billie Holiday.

When it comes to voice, best said by Ella: “The only thing better than singing is more singing.”

So for all that jazz and more, keep your calender open from June 28th until July 8 for the 38th edition of the mother of all festivals, the Montreal International Jazz Festival.




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