Festival International de Jazz de Montréal: Gilad Hekselmann, John Benitez, Lucky Peterson & More

by Sharonne Cohen
Published July 7th on Jazztimes.com

The Gesù offered much in the way of quality and excitement, but there was so much other music to discover in other venues, not to mention the outdoor stages.

A few blocks west of the festival grounds is Montreal’s famed Upstairs jazz club, which hosted an excellent series, opening with the Gilad Hekselman Trio. This young, gifted guitarist, Israeli-born and NYC-based, locked in with Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums, mixing up standards (“Some Other Time”) with original material (“Suite for Sweets”) and tunes from his upcoming release Hearts Wide Open (“Brooze”). Hekselman played through complex harmonies with fluidity and lyricism, while not shying away from dissonant tensions that didn’t necessarily have predictable resolutions, keeping things fresh and exciting. His trio captivated the Upstairs’ attentive audience, offering Coltrane’s “Countdown” as an encore.

The John Benitez Quintet with special guest Yosvany Terry played three sets at Upstairs; I caught the middle, two-hour installment of Benitez’ unique brand of progressive, burning Latin jazz. The band offered extended explorations of tunes from the leader’s newly released Purpose. Gifted Pianist Manuel Valera, guitarist Tom Guarna and the virtuosic Terry on sax and chekeré all delivered compelling improvisations, and Benitez’s son Francis demonstrated serious chops on drums, offering in the pocket, hard-grooving support. Benitez occasionally accompanied his warm, melodic bass with vocal phrases and chants – an added bonus. The band’s evident joy in playing engaging tunes such as “Rumba” and “Yagrumo” had the audience dancing in their seats.

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