At Montreal Jazz, A Global Sound

Milo Miles highlights the 30th Montreal International Jazz Festival, the largest event of its kind in the world.

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TERRY GROSS, host:

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Jazz Festival. Music critic Milo Miles attended the first few days of the event in early July and discovered many unexpected musical pleasures.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES: Although some people complain about it, one of the best things about music festivals is that they don't stick tightly to their stated format. Lots of performers show up who have little or no relation to the official style of music. For example, I recently attended the first five days of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. But I'm here to celebrate the international aspect and all of Canada, including Montreal, rather than the jazz. That's because in my experience you can see more diverse international music at Montreal Jazz than in any other North American festival.

There are major stars from other countries like King Sunny Ade, but also heavy hitters from the U.S. like La India who earned her title, The Princess of Salsa, with a potent, inventive knockout of a show. I discovered at the festival that the Latin fusion group Kuduro were braver, spunkier and more funny than their albums. The Wesli Band, a group I had never heard of, delivered a fresh variant on Haitian kompa that was saucy, irresistible dance music.

(Soundbite of song)

THE WESLI BAND (Musicians): (Singing in foreign language)

MILES: Finally, at Montreal Jazz, I found out that Cuban-born Luis Mario Ochoa is not only a charming and warmly cosmopolitan singer-guitarist and bandleader, but the founder of the Latin scene in Toronto, which I didn't know existed. Yes, I'm a typical American music fan, uninformed about the North. And with tight tour budgets and tight radio formats, it's harder than ever to hear new Canadian performers. The Montreal Festival seems to champion two things: speaking French and being Canadian. It certainly works these days as a worthy form for locals to reach outsiders. So, I also endorse the Montreal Jazz Festival for street pop kicks you won't hear otherwise.

I didn't hear a world-changer like Neil Young or Joni Mitchell, but anybody alive to big beat fun could enjoy the zany dance rock of the band Creature or The Lost Fingers, who combined Django Reinhardt and dance hits of the age.

(Soundbite of song, "Pump Up The Jam")

THE LOST FINGERS (Musicians): (Singing) Uhh… Uhh. Pump up the jam. Pump it up. While your feet are stompin'. And the jam is pumpin'. Look at here the crowd is jumpin'. Pump it up a little more. Get the party going on the dance floor. See 'cause that's where the party's at. And you'll find out if you do that. Ooh, ayyyh, a place to stay. Get your booty on the floor tonight. Make my day. Ooh, ayyyh, a place to stay. Get your booty on the floor tonight. Make my day. Make my day. Make my day. Make my, Make my, make. Make my day. Make my day. Make my day. Make my, Make my, make…Pump up the jam…

MILES: There were many non-Canadian highlights, particularly Stevie Wonder's glorious free opening concert, sparked by his fervent tributes to Michael Jackson. But I kept coming back to the Northern natives. The Montreal Jazz Festival show that Canadian musicians are listening to American pop all the time. Shouldn't we give them at least a little more love and attention in return?

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site: freshair.npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

I'm Terry Gross.

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