So the countdown is in full swing - less than one week till the 2008 Montreal International Jazz Festival kicks off with three special shows by Leonard Cohen, and one week exactly till Indigone Trio hits the CBC/Best Buy Stage.
This year's selection for the Grand Prix is heavy on talent from both my hometowns - representing Montreal: my friend and colleague Mario Allard's Quintet is in the running too, along with trumpeter Jacques "Kuba" Seguin, pianist Arden Arapyan, the electric jazz of WAZA, and guitarist Reno De Stefano. Coming up from Toronto: drummer Daniel Barnes, trombonist Avi Granite (with my Toronto drummer of choice, Nick Fraser), and the killing Cuban ex-pat trumpeter Alexis Baro. Rounding out the group of ten is Alberta's Jerrold Dubyk.
Here's my picks, leaving aside the big ticket concerts like Steely Dan, Return to Forever, et al.
Multiple nights: Harry Manx - a great Canadian acoustic bluesman that over the years has also incorporated Indian ragas into his work; Daniel Lanois - the great guitarist/songwriter/producer in four different venues.
June 26: Gilberto Gil - one of the pioneering forces of tropicalia and MPB, now Brazil's Minister of Culture; David Murray's Black Saint Quartet - revisiting the hallmark era of this brilliant, hard-blowing tenor saxophonist.
June 27: Nordic Connect - sisters Christine and Ingrid Jensen, both phenomenal composers, joined by pianist/composer Maggi Olin; Hank Jones & Joe Lovano; Alice Russell - the voice of Quantic Soul Orchestra, this is what British soul is all about.
June 28: Steamboat Switzerland - described to me as "MMW meets metal"; Yaron Herman Trio - Herman played solo as an unannounced opening act last year and completely captivated me. DO NOT MISS THIS.
June 29: Roberto Fonseca - first seen at the Festival playing with Ibrahim Ferrer, a superb Cuban jazz phenom; Hank Jones & Charlie Haden.
June 30: Effendi JazzLab - a band showcasing the top talent from this Montreal label; Public Enemy - with a live band, no less; Corkestra - Dutch composer Cor Fuhler's large ensemble, in the vein of great American avant-gardists; Marc Cary Trio - a brilliant NYC pianist's acoustic group.
July 2: Orchestra Baobab - the grand masters of Senegal; Dirty Dozen Brass Band/Blind Boys of Alabama - from the street to the church, if this doesn't move you, check your pulse; McCoy Tyner solo.
July 3: Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra - the irreverent slide trumpeter accompanies the silent comedies of Laurel & Hardy; Miguel Zenon Quartet - the brilliant alto player, part of Guillermo Klein's Guachos and the SFJazz collective, leads his own group.
July 4: Cassandra Wilson - her honeyed, husky alto wraps around every song she sings; Dave Brubeck Quartet & Octet - the first jazz pianist I ever really appreciated revives his little-known octet music!; Christian Scott Sextet - trumpet wunderkind from NOLA with a hip-hop attitude.
July 5: Lee "Scratch" Perry & The Wailers - dub heaven!; Torngat - another jewel in Montreal's indie-rock crown, with members from Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre.
June 26: Ecos de Portoalegre - Montreal has a long history of turning out fantastic Latin-inspired party bands, and this group is no exception; Empirical - a buzz-worthy jazz ensemble from London
June 27: Roberto Lopez Project - the multi-talented musician/composer brings his Cuban street-party sound; Jacques Seguin's Oddlot; INDIGONE TRIO.
June 28: Joel Haynes Trio f/ Seamus Blake - a bunch of McGill University alumni now back in Vancouver, with the award-winning NYC sax player; The Dynamites f/ Charles Walker - an old school Stax/Chess soul revue.
June 29: Jose Conde y Ola Fresca - another great urban Afro-Cuban party band; 3 Na Massa - a showcase of Brazilian women over broken bossa beats; Jamaica to Toronto - a showcase of Canada's unsung roots reggae talent from the 1970s heyday in Toronto.
June 30: Alexis Baro; Mario Allard Quintet; Björkestra - Travis Sullivan's big band explorations of Björk, NOT TO BE MISSED.
July 1: The big news is the Bran Van 3000 block party, but I'm more partial to keyboardist Daniel Thouin's Terra Firma band.
July 2: Percussion Jam - meet at the mainstage, get a drum, and play along!; Chicha Libre - Brooklynites venturing into Peruvian music; Naturally 7 - a killing R&B a capella group;
July 3: Felix Stussi & Give Me Five - last year's Grand Prix winner; Chris Tarry Group - the great electric bassist, now living in NYC, brings his always fantastic band; Papagroove - who says Québécois can't do Afrobeat?; New Groove Orchestra - my McGill buddies formed this updated, horn-driven funk extravaganza.
July 4: L'Orkestre des Pas Perdus - the twisted brass band of trombonist Claude St-Jean; Antoine Berthiaume - this brilliant guitarist indulges his more straight-ahead side in trio; Zaki Ibrahim - an up-and-coming conscious soul singer from Toronto, daughter of South African activist Zane Ibrahim.
July 5: Raymond Scott Quintette - Concordia University has a band paying tribute to this unsung genius composer; Gokh-Bi System - the new sound of Senegal; Sonny Landreth - the slide guitar master.