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Jazzing It Up Grandly In Montreal


MONTREAL — Call it what you will: A carnival, a festival, a party; by any name the seventh annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal adds up to the largest and most diversified assemblage of jazz or jazz-related talent ever distributed around one city.

The statistics are a press agent's dream: 1,000 musicians over the 10-day span, offering at least 25 concerts daily, half of which are indoors at various theaters and clubs; the remainder are free concerts held on sidewalk stages. The $1.5 million (U.S.) budget is provided partly by commercial sponsors, partly by the Quebec Ministry of Cultural Affairs.

This year the number of areas blocked off to vehicular traffic has been increased, but this seems to have done little to alleviate the congestion. Along the Rue St. Denis by mid-evening the street is so crammed with revelers--not to mention jugglers, clowns, fire-eaters, Canadian Dixieland street bands--that movement from one concert hall to another becomes a near impossibility.

Midway through the festival, on Canada Day (July 1), the national holiday, normally the action slows down, but this year an exception was made for Chuck Mangione. Playing at an outdoor setting on St. Catherine Street, he drew a crowd estimated by police at 22,000.

If Mangione was the most spectacular crowd collector among the free events, the honors to date for the most remarkable indoor concert must go to Milton Nascimento. The emotionally captivating Brazilian singer and showman packed the handsome Salle Wilfred Pelletier in the Place des Arts, Montreal's counterpart to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Like several of the presentations since the festival opened last weekend, this was a unique recital. Nowhere else has Nascimento offered a comparable series of surprises. Four numbers into the show he brought on Wayne Shorter. No stranger to Nascimento, who made a guest appearance on Shorter's "Native Dancer" album more than a decade ago, the saxophonist redoubled the energy of the soul-rock-bossa groove during his three tunes.

After intermission Nascimento introduced the guitarist Pat Metheny, who, as one observer told me, "is like a God in this city." Metheny, who has yet to miss a Montreal festival, added his vivid, throbbing presence to a samba and a ballad. Not long afterward, Herbie Hancock, hot and ready after a concert with his own quartet a mile away, merged with spellbinding control into this unconventional context, with a pair of electric keyboard solos that blended all the elements: Brazilian, jazz, West Indian, African and rock. The audience exploded into an ovation so uproarious that both Hancock and Metheny returned for an encore during which the entire jubilant crowd remained standing and swaying.

There were other groups that have never been heard in the Southland. The quartet known as Clarinet Summit made an LP two years ago, but has rarely been seen in person. Since John Carter lives in Los Angeles, the bass clarinetist David Murray in New York, Alvin Batiste in New Orleans and Jimmy Hamilton (a 26-year veteran of the old Duke Ellington band) in St. Croix, it took some effort to bring them all back together. The result, with its unorthodox mix of mainstream and avant-garde, was like a clarinet counterpart to the World Saxophone Quartet, though its impact was reduced by Murray's use of old-fashioned slap tongue effects.

Another rare sight was the Paris Reunion Band, nine black Americans who at one time or another have been Paris expatriates. Their neo-bop themes and solos, with the trombonist Slide Hampton and the soprano sax master Nathan Davis contributing the compositions, drew a standing ovation at the Spectrum, a room that is half theater, half cabaret with tables and bar service.

The Continental overtones of this group, and the unlikely appearance of such Europe-based virtuosos as the pianist Kenny Drew and the trumpeter Benny Bailey, typified the cosmopolitan ambiance that dominates much of the festival. Such artists as the French pianist Michel Petrucciani (now a U.S. resident but a world traveler) are particularly popular in this French Canadian setting, though there was similar receptivity for Monty Alexander, the pianist from the West Indies; for Bobby Enriquez, the flamboyant keyboardist from the Philippines; for Jay McShann, the Kansas City blues veteran; for Gerry Mulligan, in cool control leading a splendid quartet; and for a big band from Finland and various combos from other remote jazz havens.

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