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Friday, June 30, 2017

The world's greatest jazz festival is in real danger of slipping off of its lofty perch

NOISE FEST: The official guidebook to the 38th International Jazz Festival in Montreal describes Xenia Rubinos, above and below, as an "American diva" with "a voice utterly unique," but all she did at Le Club on Thursday night was to scream words over two other musicians and do herky-jerky dancing in a highly amplified performance that left me cold.


MONTREAL -- I won't bore you with the list of great jazz singers and musicians I've seen in the five years we've been attending the International Jazz Festival in this French-Canadian city.

But on Thursday night, I saw the worst performance by a singer ever -- and that includes all of the shows and concerts I've attended in the past 50 years.

Now in its 38th year, Montreal's jazz festival has long been considered the world's greatest.

The 11-day party began on Wednesday and will run through July 8, offering more than 500 concerts -- two-thirds of them free -- and nearly 3,000 musicians from around the world.

Even though the "jazz" festival developed years ago into a world music festival, the noisy performance by singer Xenia Rubinos on Thursday night defies all classification -- except to say it was just awful. 

She shouted to be heard above two other musicians, but most of her words were incomprehensible, and her herky-jerky dancing wasn't even sexy, as my wife pointed out. 

Early in her set, she shouted, "I know this is a jazz festival ..., but do your own thing." 

Then she jumped off the stage, and climbed back on.

Big names absent

This year's program is missing most of the great jazz singers I've seen in Montreal in the past, including Gregory Porter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, and English pop and jazz singer Jamie Cullum.

And although this year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald, Montreal somehow missed the opportunity to put on a special show to honor her and her collaboration with Louis Armstrong.

I saw an Ella and Louis Tribute Band at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans in April that would have been a perfect fit here. 

So, I have to wonder how long this jazz festival will be able to hold onto the title of world's greatest.

GIVE ME SHELTER: Lounge Heineken is the only venue for free concerts that provides shelter from the elements, especially important this year, when rain is forecast through the weekend. Showers also fell on Thursday.
SOGGY SOUNDS: On Thursday night, only a couple of hundred hearty souls stood in the rain to see a free concert on one of the main outdoor stages in Montreal's Quarter of Spectacles.


Montreal's International Jazz Festival runs through July 8. Website: Jazz Me Blues