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Published: 2001/07/13
by Dave Lawrence

Crosstown Traffic in Montreal: Jazz Fest, June 28-July 2

Crosstown Traffic In Montreal
By Dave Lawrence (on assignment for WZLX, Boston)

Redefining classics and emerging artists were a theme at the annual week-plus Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, or as it's more commonly called in the U.S., the Montreal Jazz Fest. This year's 22nd edition, June 28 to July 8, again took place over two weekends with a week of shows strung between. Taking in just one of these weekends can be a mind-boggling affair, as nine main outdoor stages, ten indoor clubs and music venues, and countless theatrical street performances, puppet shows, parades, and other cultural curiosities vie for your attention. Generally, the first weekend is the more heavily booked of the two, in terms of big name talent, and this year was no exception.

By its conclusion, two trends, or themes appeared. One was redefining the classic: taking a cover song, and using it to go deep. Whether Medeski, Martin, and Wood or Jimmy Scott; Femi Kuti, or Lonnie Baker Brooks, the act of bringing in classic songs, refrains, riffs, or familiar melodic passages, and then summarily transforming them into a new celebration, was a recurring trend. As was the concept of coming to the festival for tried and true favorites, but being more impressed by new comers or previously obscure or unknown artists. It happened time and again and too became a theme at this year's event. The indoor, ticketed shows were almost always where the big name acts played, while more up and coming, and unknown talent generally is offered for free on the outdoor stages, and at a handful of free indoor stages, like in the massive atrium at Complexe Desjardins, a hotel, retail, and office complex at the absolute center of the festival area.

THURSDAY / OPENING DAY
The first weekend had heavy hitters on Thursday's opening night: the David Murray Octet and appropriately double-billed World Saxophone Quartet; Michael Brecker, who kicked off a series called "Invitation", of which later shows would include special guests; Canadian Jazz goddess Diana Krall at the grandest hall in town, the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier; legend Charles Lloyd and his third-ever appearance at the festival; new jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon; and North African singing sensation Rachid Taha, whose message of multiculturalism and world-cohesion went hand in hand with the festival vibe.

Other first night artists included blues acts like Pat the White Blues Band and Bobby Parker, who did early and late sets at different stages, as many outdoor acts rotated time slots and locations, reaching a wider audience, and filling stage time. Bobby Parkers' second show of the day was also the opening gig of a late night free music series at Club Soda, a new venue in town. Club Soda became home to a great festival favorite of the last few years, the late light free indoor show. Each night the festival presents one free indoor club show at 12:30 am. This year Club Soda was the host, and the series based on the blues. By the end of the first weekend, it was clearly a hit, with jammed houses till the lights were raised each night. The series featured one blues act each night that had performed outdoors previously that day. The comfortable, roomy space, capacity 550 for the festival events, was, like many venues, used in the earlier part of the evening for another series ('!Chanteuses Chanteuses!,' a female vocalist expose). The multi-floored venue was perfect, and also conveniently around the corner from the biggest club in Montreal, Metropolis.

FRIDAY
Good weather brought people out in droves, and a dry, warm Friday afternoon saw the area of St. Catherine Street at festival-ground zero densely packed for the first time. There is no charge to enter the festival grounds, making the whole thing that much more approachable and inclusive. An early charge-up for the day came in the five o'clock hour, when a sprawling mass of costumed revelers, La Parade de la Louisiane, meandered through, it's Mardi Gras party flavor reminiscent of New Orleans' Jazz Fest. The colorful costumes and authentic music added a nice touch, as the relationship between the two cities and their festivals becomes more evident yearly: the nightly Repas-Croisiere Jazz de la Louisiane, river cruises with Cajun music and food; outdoor stages devoted exclusively to Louisiana-flavored programming, plus vendors with cuisine and other regional souvenirs on the site. It fostered a real bond between the vastly different locales, both rich in musical and cultural tradition. Later Friday night Lafayette, Louisiana's Moise and Alida Viator sizzled before a near capacity audience at the Scene la Lousiane Stage. Across the festival L'Esprit de la Nouvelle-Orleans had a show energized with Cajun dancing and singing at about the same time.

Friday night had many options for those purchasing tickets. At six p.m. alone, many struggled with the choice between the Joe Lovano Nonet, Bebel Gilberto, and Bob Walsh. Lovano, touring behind his latest album, 52nd Street Themes, wowed the audience with his horn-heavy tribute to the New York bebop that inspired the record. With crisp sound, and the benefit of such a prestigious venue as the Theatre Maisonneuve, he was a stand out. Also of note earlier Friday was outdoor act El Fuego, whose burning Latin sound poured from the Scene General Motors Stage, the largest outdoor venue on the site. Cuban and Brazilian flavor, with a lot of band member enthusiasm, won them new fans as many in the streets went in search of their CD.

The next wave of shows Friday came fast and furiously. A stellar 8:30/9:00 p.m. roster forced some hard choices: Cesaria Evora, Johnny Griffin, Nnenna Freelon (doing a second night), local act Detention, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood, with special guests John Scofield and DJ Logic (plus regional act Metalwood as openers). Johnny Griffin and his quartet played the Spectrum, a traditional Jazz Fest venue. His set was steamy in more ways than one, as the clubs air-conditioning was on the fritz, and the temperature inside reached outrageous proportions. The sweltering hall was almost too much for the venerable Griffin, who at one point shook his head in disbelief, exasperated, saying "Man, it's just too hot in here." Mercifully there were too many shows to catch to sit still, and the languid heat in the Johnny Griffin show was replaced quickly by the fresh air circulating in front of the Scene General Motors main stage, where a crowd later estimated at 40,000 funked with classic seventies groove children S.O.U.L. – a.k.a. Soldiers Of Unity and Love. The recently resurrected and resurging funksters slammed the festival with a rock solid, in-your-face set of originals and covers, keeping the Funkadelic/Brass Construction/Slave-like sound pumping for their all too short performance, which peaked on a cover of Donny Hathaway's "The Ghetto." The psychedelic properties of the groove were enhanced by the sound echoing and ricocheting off of the colossal buildings enclosing the festival site. Lost in a cacophony of funk, wah-wah guitar soloing, and soulful vocals, standing in a sea of people from all over the world, the term 'funk woodstock' seemed to capture the moment best. It truly appeared to be one nation – one continent – one earth – under a groove. Pulled from the depths of obscurity, S.O.U.L. tapped into the real thing, and were a huge hit, allowing thousands to discover their almost lost history, and to enjoy some revamped nostalgia via their tasteful covers.

Running to make it to the expected dissonance of local group Detention, the next street over from St. Catherine was immersed in a blues-rock orgy. Tens of thousands clogged every street, and from behind trees on the approach a giant video screen was visible, and at a closer vantage point, the giant Scene Labatt Blues stage with it's extended catwalk ramp. Thousands had flocked into the area for Montreal blues guy Jimmy James, who delivered a high energy, almost hard rock blues set that drew a younger crowd closer to the action. More like a Black Crowes or Blues Traveler in sound, kind of like Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Tommy Castro, Jimmy James' sound was tailor made for the younger set, which continues to become a bigger part of the Jazz Fest scene, drawn to the festival for the Bela Flecks, Medeski, Martin, & Woods, and other fringe-hippie attractions. This year's line-up offered several ticketed shows for that crowd, and the additional crunchy free acts seemed to soak up those shut out of ticketed shows.

Local artists Detention broke out the noisy and highly experimental free jazz, with the booking at the Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal, a gorgeous venue in the Place des Arts. Billed as a contemporary jazz series ('Jazz Contemporain'), yet steeped in exploration, the large square room was dimly lit with a blue hue, subtle lighting enhanced with tasteful billows of dry ice fog, and each table set with a large blue glass candle. The Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal clearly had the moodiest, most sublime, and simply delectable atmosphere of the weekend. Rarely did the environment of a show contribute so much. With patrons at tables isolated from one another, the privacy factor was high, lounge quotient higher, and cool meter off the scale. Drummer Alex Macsween and guitarist Mark Shalabi turned the room into a noisefest, and defied the limitations of being a duo. There were swooping torrents of feedback as Shalabi worked his Gibson hollow-body and Roland amp to disseminate layers of noise; Macsween was anything but ordinary, as he'd employ a variety of techniques, like when he ran drumsticks against inverted cymbals, and manipulated the sound with reverb, delay, and other processing effects. Various and seemingly incongruous handheld objects were rubbed on guitars and drums for sound inventions that pushed the limits of the imagination, as when Macsween joined Shalabi's guitar drone with an airy, otherworldly sound generated by twirling a glowing fluorescent tube through the air. Their creativity and dynamics were refreshing, and the fact that they are, in the larger scheme of things, unknown talent, was important to note, as it's one of the great facets of the festival, being exposed to new treats. Only the impending doom of missing the next show could force someone from such a relaxing, introspective moment like the bliss Detention made real in that space. Time could have stood still forever there.

From Detention at the Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal, it was a short haul through the thick outdoor throng on the festival grounds and around the corner to the Salle de Gesu, a venue that became a sleeper favorite for it's ambience and class. This little room, appropriately in a converted church, is an intimate reserved seating venue, again with moody lighting, but this time in a terraced bowl that provides everyone a fantastic view. Again cast in the glow of modern mechanized lighting and the fog of dry ice, Pianist Bill Carrothers and drummer Bill Stewart did the honors, as this series, 'Jazz dans la nuit', focused on the after hours side of jazz, and continued some of the same atmosphere as the Detention gig, albeit on a much lesser scale. Their edgy mix was not as provocative as expected, with Stewart seeming to stay more in the background, and a long valley stretched out from the beginning of the gig forward, as the musicians never really seemed to peak, though there were some highly melodic moments. Some in the audience noted that this was not Stewart's only appearance at the festival: he was also booked for a date with Michael Brecker as part of his series. Not at all uninteresting, but perhaps less than engaging due to it's melancholy; even a stellar, well-rounded platter would not have been able to stop the Jazz Fest train. From Bill Carrothers/Bill Stewart, it was off to the other side of the festival, many blocks away, as the next show called, and when there was a break in the music, like scurrying rats, many quickly got up and tore off on their evening's pilgrimages. The hustle was in full force.

To catch many of the shows, it meant not seeing really any one whole set. Some beginnings, some endings, some in the middle, some never sure what you just caught. It's an intoxicating frenzy. Tearing from one side of the festival to another, concert attendees raced down streets, through parks and alleys, cut into underground shopping corridors, and did anything they could do to get from one place to another and avoid the crowd, which had swelled to mammoth proportions, making the hype of 1.6 million visitors to Montreal that weekend seem real. Often clusters of revelers were huddled together on side streets, in small groups smoking marijuana, a common sight on the festival grounds between nighttime sets.

Medeski, Martin, and Wood and their second annual party with guitarist John Scofield and DJ Logic blazed. Arriving on the opposite end of the site, and joining the fun all ready in progress, openers Metalwood had apparently left the crowd primed for the real deal. MMW (as they're known to their legion of fans) were in full flight, trio-style, sans guests; it was their typical funky jazz/instrumental rare grooves-like thing. Then, almost appearing out of nowhere mid-set, John Scofield and DJ Logic entered the fray, and soon the party was in full force. The collaborative effort was at Metropolis, the largest club in the city, and a multi-level palace of partying. Over 3,000 very young festival-goers danced to John Medeski's sinewy Hammond B-3 grooves, as Scofield dropped in slick guitar lines, and a backdrop of turntable sounds from DJ Logic made the jam all the more surreal. Well after midnight, the encore blew the doors off the place as Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown traffic" was reinterpreted, a fitting, quite literal anthem for the pace of the festival. Again, a classic song was alive and kicked with new blood in Montreal, a great way to cap the evening.

SATURDAY
With Saturday came the first rain of the weekend, and a mid-afternoon torrential downpour gave way to periodically stormy skies for the remainder of the evening, putting a damper on many outdoor shows, especially at the crucial 6pm main stage performance of Three For All, featuring former Tito Puente and Oliver Jones sax/clarinet man Frank Lozano. Their solid presentation could not compete with the weather.

The earlier ticketed events Saturday offered tough choices: Charlie Haden with a band consisting of Joe Lovano, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Ingnacio Berroa, and Federico B. Ruiz; the Bernard Primeau Jazz Ensemble; Michael Breckers' 'Invitation' series and it's next installment (this one with Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart, and Adam Rogers); and legendary vocalist 'Little' Jimmy Scott. Scott and his entourage gave a dynamic, if undersold, performance at The Spectrum, and what a difference a night makes at that club; the air conditioning was fixed and the environment much more pleasant. This time the heat came from the stage, and Scott's charisma oozed as he leaned into songs with his trademark uncanny high timbre. The house was silent and attentive, and seasoned festival-goers noted echoes of Freddie Cole's show in the same room just a few years earlier, similar in how a classic vocalist had his audience in rapture with a diverse palate like the one Scott painted from. Even with ample time for his band to solo, the momentum never lost it's pace, and his heartfelt set peaked twice, with covers both times: John Lennon's "Jealous guy" and an encore that offered a reading of Elton John's "Sorry seems to be the hardest word", accompanied only by piano. 'Little' Jimmy Scott was huge in Montreal.

Barreling from one side of the grounds to the other, reggae groovers Yelen and the Shadows did their best to respect Jah at the Scene de Maurier stage, as sporadic downpours kept the crowds at the free outdoor areas thin. Many knew from the festival program that the local reggae act would also appear as the opener for Steel Pulse the next night.

The later indoor shows Saturday night were again difficult to decide on: guitar monster John McLaughlin's Remember Shakti up against new school guitar hero John Scofield; rockers Stereolab over at the Metropolis, and Chilean female vocalist Claudia Acuna played the female vocalist series at Club Soda. Experimental pianist Lee Pui Ming continued the free jazz journey at the Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal.

John Scofield had two new guys in his band (drummer Adam Deitch and also guitarist Avi Bortnick). They freshened his show up and kept everyone on stage alert. His electric, funk-oriented show ("based around his Bump album) was quite popular, and drew a young audience. After playing alongside Medeski, Martin, and Wood with DJ Logic the night before, it was refreshing to hear him step to the forefront, and sink his considerable teeth into his own gig. Sadly, there were too many great shows going down, so it was a case of hitting the road in between songs to get to another show.

However, it really can't be a bad thing having to leave John Scofield to get to John McLaughlin. McLaughlin has been touring behind the reformed/reworked Remember Shakti project for so many years now (since 1997), that he is sort of eclipsing the original band's work, and it was the second time in three years that the outfit has played the festival. His spectacular performance at the elegant Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier was well received, if sometimes frustrating as a fan. With tabla master Zakir Hussein, U. Shrinivas on mandolin, and V. Selvaganesh on kanjira, gatham and mridangam, McLaughlin and his group faced the enormous seated audience on large pillows. The show was at Montreal's biggest, most prestigious theatre, the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. McLaughlin and company proceeded to improvise, and occasionally over-noodle new compositions and even a couple Shakti classics, if you can call them that. Take for instance the Shakti song "Bridge of Sighs," from the epic 1977 album Natural Elements. Here was one cut of the night that many people who owned Shakti records would recognize and be able to rejoice in its warm familiarity. Yet the song's primary riff was trotted out just a couple times, while long and complex improvisations spun the composition far from its original base. This was often the case, as McLaughlin would redefine his own music so much at times to be unrecognizable, sharing the award for most frustrating performer with blues great Buddy Guy, who has a habit of teasing his audience to death with quick references to songs, only to move on to other material in the same breath.
Though performed deftly and with utter poise, McLaughlin dusted off vintage chestnuts, like "Lotus Feet", only to skirt around the most melodic, obvious segments, toyng with the juicy lines fans remember, though never enunciating or articulating the most familiar phrases. Sometimes even Mahavishnu Orchestra-sounding references were thrown in, further adding to the nostalgia. The effect left many in the crowd hungry for more. The superb musicianship, however, made up for the precious little time devoted to the wealth of accessible Shakti material, and even though one felt cheated that so many great hooks had been passed over for the sake of often self-indulgent chop-blowing, it was enough just to witness in the flesh musicians of their caliber.

Stealing away from the McLaughlin gig during post-song applause, the next venue was the welcoming Salle de Gesu, with it's dark intimacy and comfort, and upon arrival ticket holders who had just raced through streets mobbed with crowds of people found out the show was delayed. Eventually the sold out event got under way, as The Cinematic Orchestra, hailing from the UK and led by DJ/instrumentalist Jason Swenscoe vacillated between moody rhythmic tracks and free form noise, complete with an array of sound effects and unearthly tones created by Swinscoe and another "electronics specialist," as he referred to him. Drums, clarinet, bass, and keys augmented the line-up, as sequencers, turntables, synthesizers, and various triggered voices came together most of the time quite harmoniously. The modern devices gave the music a futuristic edge, and at times the funky grooves were not far from what Medeski, Marin, and Wood with DJ Logic sounded like. However, lulls and valleys between peaks were commonplace throughout their set.

Saturday's sleeper hit was the 12:30 a.m. blues show at Club Soda with the Kristi Johnston Band, hailing from Manitoba, Canada. Having all ready played outdoors earlier in the evening, the young and attractive singer/songwriter/guitarist Johnston was set to close down the festival for the evening as well at the late night blues series. Most in the club were seated, and many people appeared sleepy. But her youthful charm and girl-next-door charisma soon turned the tired, worn-out crowd into a dancing frenzy, and within her first three songs the entire space in front of the stage became the jammed dance floor it was meant to be. She played without a pick, and had a voice not unlike crossing Jewel with Susan Tedeschi. Handling herself well on stage, and keeping the tempo high for the shuffling partiers, Johnston was definitely young, unpolished, and in need of a lot of grooming that comes with maturity. But her raw talent and bubbling onstage personality gave her the aura of a star to be. A jewel in the rough, if you will. Dressed in a head to toe tight black outfit, belting soul with her voice into every song, and roughly working the guitar like it was some misbehaving child, Kristi Johnston gave the impression that she could very well be a major star someday. As the clock hit two a.m., and Club Soda's security emptied the capacity crowd into the street, another night in Montreal was over.

SUNDAY
With the festivities going strong, Sunday's early evening line-up was less about the making a decision on who to see, and more about finding any available tickets. The Afro-Cuban All-Stars (led by Juan de Marcos Gonzales) were sold out long in advance, clearly demonstrating that they could be booked in an even larger room than Montreal's Spectrum club. South African singer Lorraine Klaasen, Roman pianist Enrico Pieranunzi performing solo, and the sold out Wayne Shorter, who led a supergroup of musicians at the Theatre Maisonneuve, with pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Brian Blade, and bassist John Pattituci, rounded out the early evening offerings. Wayne Shorter came through with a stirring performance. He had the capacity crowd's attention from beginning to end, and the short intermission between sets barely afforded time to catch your breath. His stellar musicians created the perfect backdrop for his soaring sound.
Outside fans were treated to the sounds of The Bulletproof Afro-Beat Orchestra, which was actually New York band Antibalas, for some contractual reason going under a different name. They played the Scene Bleue Legere stage, and quickly exhibited an incredibly tight and well-rehearsed routine. With a massive pumping horn section (made up of trombone, baritone, tenor, and alto sax, and two trumpets), a rock solid layer of background percussion, their undeniable afro-beat grooves were more than authentic, leaving the outdoor crowd shouting for more. Almost unheard of before the gig, many international and world music fans left their show ready for more.

Difficult to obtain tickets to, Michael Brecker's ongoing first weekend series featured a solo session Sunday evening, plus duets with bass legend Charlie Haden, and pianist Danilo Perez, who rushed over from his gig with Wayne Shorter. Brecker's warm, easy going personality was welcoming, and he told stories in between songs, including a time when he was cutting his teeth, taking any gig that came his way, like one that put him in a small Mexican bar, practically playing for free. The locals would make him extremely hot and spicy food, and test him, to see if he could take the jalapeno peppers and intense seasoning without water. He used this monologue to introduce the tune "Hot House." His humor and humility were refreshing, and the gig took on a new light as he took turns performing as a duo with both Haden and Perez, for a memorable, if mellow show.

Racing to catch later indoor shows, Coffee featuring Ernest Scott could not be missed on the way, as they worked a Louisiana flavored set much to the delight of thousands assembled at the Scene La Louisiana stage. Not only was it enjoyable having the New Orleans vibration so present, but the fact that a person could discover new and exciting Cajun-spiced artists like this added to the sense of discovery.

Competing for attention later Sunday night were the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Michel Legrand, sensual vocalist Jane Monheit, Benoit Delbecq 5, and reggae institution Steel Pulse, backed by local reggae act Yelen and The Shadows. Wynton Marsalis led his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra through their paces in the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, as their formative mass joined together in one roaring swing. Top-flight musicianship and remarkable acoustics made the event special. There was a great juxtaposition at hand that night too, having come from Michael Brecker, who performed for the most part solo onstage with his horn, and arriving at the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's show, with it's overwhelming numbers filling the stage. From one horn to an army of them, it was a treat to see both performances basically back to back.

Yelen and The Shadows, a Quebec reggae group with a developing following, opened the Steel Pulse show up with full force. Their propulsive ska-influenced sound had the dance floor shaking at the colossal Metropolis, and Steel Pulse was a natural segue. From "Rollerskates", to "Sound system", to "Here comes Rastaman", the beat went on, and the dancefloor stayed a sea of bodies. The show did not stray far from their recent live album Living Legacy, and was essential for the unique flavor it brought the weekend.

Getting to see Wayne Shorter, and then later in the same evening see someone pay tribute to him is certainly a once in a lifetime experience. But that is exactly what happened on Sunday, as the Chris Potter Quartet did their showcase at the Salle de Gesu. One of the two late night paid gigs for Sunday (the other being electronic experimentalist Nils Petter Molvaer and his drum n bass meets jazz project), the program was a tribute to Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane. The young tenor saxophonist Potter, touring to support Gratitude, his CD that honors those jazz gurus, did his best to keep it interesting, but too often there were valleys. Not a bad show, but after Steel Pulse's raucous energy, it was hard to be as interested.
Finishing off Sunday at Club Soda, Frankie Lee, who had performed outdoors earlier in the evening, kicked out the blues for a rowdy crowd not ready to go home. Drawing from his current Here I go again release, Lee worked the audience, taking an elongated trip from the stage out into the rear of the club, ala Buddy Guy, and he sang to and with the boisterous crowd. His experience with Albert Collins and Johnny "Guitar" Watson certainly give him credibility, and the Texas bluesman's soulful voice easily won him over to the fans in search of late night music. Not a young man, but certainly in the 'lesser known artist' category, Frankie Lee was the real thing.

MONDAY / WEEKEND ONE ENDS
All good things have to come to an end, and as the first weekend came to a conclusion in Montreal, it was tough to face leaving the musical mecca. Monday was really the closer to the first weekend, as even though the festival continues through the week, the schedule is sparse, most so on Tuesday's line-up.
Vocalist/pianist Patricia Barber had only Ugandan singer/guitarist Geoffrey Oryema as real ticket competition, and both shows were packed. Oryema, returning after seven years away from the festival, was hot and had the Spectrum sold out by show time. Straddling the fence between international folklore and pop, his set went beyond linguistic barriers and illustrated the power and primal glory of African rhythms. Across the street Patricia Barber delved into her Night Club album, featuring a fantastic second set improvisation with vibes master Stefon Harris. The impromptu jam saw Barber and Harris trading solos much to the delight of the Theatre Maisonneuve crowd.

It was impossible not to be impressed with Canadian blues act Jo Hell and the Red Roosters. Hitting hard with power blues, many on the street were caught off guard by the group, who most attendees had never heard of. The local Montreal band had gusto and really caused a commotion, as passers by crowded in at the Scene Labatt Blues stage to see and hear what was going on. If not for more pressing indoor shows, it seemed many would have stayed longer to soak up the raw blues and boogie.

Later night shows on Monday included Michael Brecker concluding his series, appropriately with brother Randy and an acoustic set; Buena Vista Social Club's Ibrahim Ferrer completely sold out at the enormous Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier with special guest pianist Ruben Gonzalez; The Terence Blanchard Sextet, with Cassandra Wilson at the Spectrum; singer Jane Monheit doing a second night; and perhaps the most anticipated show of the evening, at the Metropolis, Femi Kuti, son of Nigerian legend Fela Kuti, the founder of afro-beat. His double bill with Antibalas, a Brooklyn-based afro-beat group that basically cloned Fela's sound, was a real treat for the thousands gathered. Antibalas delivered nothing but quality danceable, groove-heavy beats that even Kuti himself gave praise for when he hit the stage.

A limitless ball of energy, Femi Kuti did not stop or slow down once. His pedal-to-the-metal show kept the African rhythms coming at a non-stop pace. With a big horn sound, colorful dancers, and a wall of percussion, Femi Kuti has truly inherited all that was great about his father. In the last several years he has truly developed, and as he introduced his fathers' brutally honest "Cross Examination", and proceeded to deliver the cut note for note as Fela himself would have done, all the evidence was on the stage. A force to be considered in popular African music today, Femi Kuti has risen to be a star.

Something of a letdown was the Steve Lacy Quartet, and their subdued show at the Salle de Gesu. Clearly the man is an amazing sax player, and his group a talented bunch, but coming off of the high energy, driving afro-beat, rushing across the festival site, only to settle into a quiet, almost unconscious pace with Lacy and his men, it was a bit of a disappointment. Not a bad gig, just pretty sleepy, and better perhaps if not proceeded by two first class afro-beat hoedowns.
The final act of the first weekend was Lonnie Baker Brooks, son of Chicago blues legend Lonnie Brooks. Having all ready played outdoors at the festival, Brooks was all energy as he hit the stage at Club Soda for their late night blues show. His four-piece burned on ferocious covers played back to back of Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Couldn't stand the weather", Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" (including a quick Ohio Player's "Fire" jam contained within), B.B.King's "Rock me baby" (featuring an incendiary guitar solo where Brooks played with his tongue), and Willie Dixon's "I just wanna make love to you." He appropriately closed down the set with an original, the title track from his recent release She's a gold digger.

Brooks embodied both of the trends or themes readily apparent at this years' festival. He's and up and coming artist, not very well known, but burning with talent, and infused his scorching set with several covers that he brought to life with an energy and style all his own. As the staff at Club Soda packed up for the night, it was sad to think of the first weekend finally being over. A few hardcore festival attendees planned to stay through the week and into the second weekend, when another slew of tourists and artists would come together, and more memories be made, with stars like George Thorogood, Roy Hargrove (hosting another festival series), Prince, Oscar Peterson, Gil Evans Orchestra, Arto Lindsay, and John Hammond, among others. Those legends would be for another army of festival warriors to enjoy. Upon leaving it was hard not to imagine racing to the next show, eager with the anticipation of discovery.

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