Ala.Ni and Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Montreal Jazz Festival

A Turbulent Jazz Evening at the Maison Symphonique

  • The highlight of the evening was the opening act Ala.Ni, a musician, singer and songwriter who seduced the public with her mesmerizing voice. Photo Caitlin Yardley

  • Soon after, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band stepped onto the stage and dove right into their first song. Photo Caitlin Yardley

The highlight of the evening was the opening act Ala.Ni, a musician, singer and songwriter who seduced the public with her mesmerizing voice.

On July 3, as part of the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Maison symphonique hosted the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Orleans ensemble scorched the stage with an energetic performance.

Music is ubiquitous in Montreal. The local guitarists strumming in parks, the impressive freestylers on the corner of Ste-Catherine St. W. and Stanley St. and the percussionists at the Tam-Tams continually prove that a venue isn’t needed to make a show great.

In this case, the Maison symphonique and home of classical music did not suit the evening’s performances. Even with dimmed lights, the room was never completely dark; you could clearly see far into the audience, a situation that wasn’t conducive to concentrating on the performers. Yet, Ala.Ni’s resonating voice was captivating and filled the whole venue.

Ala.Ni

“It’s so hot, I’m melting,” said Ala.Ni humorously, right before enchanting the crowd with an ethereal setlist with her guitarist, Marvin Dolly.

Home to the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the stage that usually holds 92 performers felt enormous for Ala.Ni’s set.

Yet the spotlight that illuminated Ala.Ni and Dolly was soft and lent a holy quality to the performance. The stillness the venue demands of the audience members added to the feeling that something important was happening on stage that couldn’t be disturbed.

There is nothing superfluous in Ala.Ni’s songs. Photo Caitlin Yardley

“She sings like a sparrow,” said Lucia Nascimento from the audience.

There is nothing superfluous in Ala.Ni’s songs. Her clear and piercing voice carried over the chord changes making for a performance equivalently powerful as it was simple.

Ala.Ni’s set showcased the range of her vocal abilities. She remained in control of her instrument at all times. Her musical performance, from tragic to humorous, was cohesive and revealing of her personality.

Sonically and atmospherically reminding of Doris Day and Nina Simone’s velvety delivery, Ala.Ni’s voice dipped into the tragic and clear sound of a violin. She also expressed a humorous side as she imitated a trumpet while scatting.

Ala.Ni fits among these iconic and illustrious artists, but her sound is unique and personal. Her songs are original and contemporary, but they are also timeless.

The Maison symphonique’s acoustics created pristine sound that travelled seamlessly across the venue. Ala.Ni basked in it, letting go of the microphone and utilising the architecture to carry her voice instead. During a climactic portion of a song, she walked into the audience while powerfully vocalizing with her arms open wide.

Concert-goer Gilberto Nascimento spoke highly of Ala.Ni’s performance; saying “she sings with her body.” He also praised the brilliance of her interpretation.

The acoustics of the venue later proved to be unfortunate as Ala.Ni powerfully dove into the first few bars of her closing number, “Cry Me A River”. The melancholic song was halted as someone in the audience spoke too loudly and suggested to another she “get her off the stage.”

The singer paused to address the comment and others thundered in anger and discomfort. Awkwardness in the air Ala.Ni followed through with the song, and despite the ambient bitterness the performance was highlighted by multiple standing ovations.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Soon after the Preservation Hall Jazz Band stepped onto the stage and dove right into their first song. Having five decades of experience, the notorious band has a rich musical baggage and deep roots.

The performance was very engaging, for the band members, clearly experienced and comfortable on stage, encouraged us multiple times to clap along during climactic moments of their songs.

Our voices were incorporated into the show; we were led into a series of vocalisations which the band repeated on their instruments. Ronnel Johnson, the trombonist, knew how to navigate the crowd and entertain, using the space of the stage to move around, dance, and sway his trombone around.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band performs. Photo Caitlin Yardley

Johnson’s loud outfit of a pink shirt, red vest and blue tie, reflected his on-stage exuberant personality. His instrument was often at the forefront of the songs, punctuating musical phrases with energetic interventions. He fully explored the registry of his instrument, resulting in a performance that never tired.

The show’s pacing was impeccable. Evidently well-rehearsed, the band transitioned to the next song smoothly and cleanly. The focus of the performance was the music; there was little to no talking during their set, which highlighted the band member Ben Jaffe’s gesture.

In the middle of one song, Jaffe, tubist and bassist, slowly made his way to the front of the stage. He turned his back to the audience to reveal the words “I Care” stitched onto his jacket. The crowd cheered and many responded by yelling from the audience that they cared, too.

On June 21, Melania Trump had sported a jacket saying “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” on official duty, en route to a shelter for children that have been separated from their families at the U.S. border. While the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was not available for an interview, the presumably political statement did not go unnoticed.

Many people⎯myself included⎯bobbed along the septet in our seats, our urge to move restrained by the formal environment of the Maison symphonique. Attendees shook their shoulders and hips in their seats, the groovy and joyous music loosening up the crowd.

For their last song, the band encouraged us to stand, and the crowd enjoyed to the fullest the band’s swinging crescendos. We rose to our feet and finally danced for the first time.

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