Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Nice work if you can get it

The Quartier des Spectacles here in Montreal, known more commonly as Jazz Fest central, has received $120M in funding from the city, province and federal government. While I'm impressed that our leaders have been nudged awake into realizing how important arts and culture is to the identity - and tourism revenue - of Montreal, I can't help but feel that it's too little, too late. The new plan is eerily similar to the old plan of Bernard Landry that, for whatever reason, was forgotten by Jean Charest and swept under the rug, thus contributing to the buy-out and demolition of Spectrum into a big box store and office complex. The empty gravel pit above Jeanne-Mance and Ste-Catherine (officially known as Balmoral Island) will house "Place du Quartier des Spectacles," a building again derived, if not entirely jacked, from the Landry plan that will house a Spectrum-like club. Under the Landry plan it would have also been the new home of the OSM, in a concept similar to Lincoln Center. The other empty lots on Ste-Catherine near Clark will be revamped with cultural exhibition spaces.

It is imperative to the history and character of this city that a room like Spectrum be replaced - not only was it the hub of both Jazz Fest and Francofolies, but it hosted various different artists throughout the year and was easily the best sounding room in the city. Sure, Salles de Gesu on Bleury sounds fantastic as well, but it's tiny compared to Spectrum and it cannot properly deal with electrified instruments. Its central location downtown was accessible to tourists - the only comparable venues in size are out in the Gay Village (Theatre National) or on the northeastern corner of Parc Lafontaine (Cabaret La Tulipe), certainly off the beaten path of most festival-goers.

At the latter venue, I saw Sharon Jones & her Dap-Kings on Sunday evening. Having seen her before on the outdoor mainstage of Jazz Fest and a sweaty, tiny basement club on St. Laurent, I know her vibe and enjoy every retro-soul-revue second of it. As Mwanji commented on her Belgian appearance, Jones is no pretender. She has always been a legitimate heir to the soul throne, and while retro, her sound isn't a nostalgia trip or whimsical props to the masters. The sound is delivered with conviction and strength and therefore rendered current. The theatrical production Mwanji referenced took place here, with the added bonus of some of the dancers Jones brought up on stage being local Montreal b-boys (and b-girl). Sharon was thoroughly impressed and even relinquished the spotlight briefly to showcase these dancers. I have to say though, that sound was an issue all night, with Jones forced to work monitor instructions into her stage banter, and the opening tenor sax solos were all but inaudible. How do you forget to put the horns - in a SOUL BAND - through the PA?

1 comment:

Mwanji Ezana said...

Nice to see you enjoyed Sharon Jones as well. I think she gave some in-song sound level instructions when I saw her, too. Although there was a brief trumpet solo or two, I can't remember a saxophone solo. Other than that, it was a non-stop flow of Jones singing, shouting, dancing and agitating, and what more could you want?