The Montreal Jazz Festival, the crown jewel of Canada’s festival season, always has a healthy component of New Orleans content. This year was no different, with the Preservation Hall band, Terence Blanchard and Corey Henry all playing concert performances and Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses, Sweet Crude and Bryan Lee playing free shows on outdoor stages. Nealand was her usual inspirational self leading the Roses in a varied program that offered many different elements of New Orleans music history.
Nealand’s current edition of Royal Roses — Tomas Majcherski on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Jon Ramm on trombone, Matt Bell on guitar, Nathan Lambertson on bass and Paul Thibodeaux on drums — is as versatile and eager to play as their indefatigable leader. Auroroa herself was a whirlwind on soprano saxophone and clarinet, leading the band through a set of crowd pleasing anthems one day and a challenging display of deep cuts the next. She greeted the crowd in French and English and had them dancing in the sweltering heat before long. The band started with a collective improvisation piece that was as contemporary as anything you’ll hear out there, followed by a Sidney Bechet piece that enforced the idea that the collective improvisation of early New Orleans jazz is similar in form and spirit to the open improvisation of the great contemporary players.
Nealand continued to offer a history lesson in New Orleans music that was heavy on dance beats — a couple of Bechet vehicles, a song recorded by Jelly Roll Morton, some Bessie Smith, a second line line strut — and employed Bell and Ramm in solo vocal spots as well as singing herself in that joyous, out-of-the-corner-of-her-mouth style that is so surprisingly strong. She finished up with her own piece, “Ferryman,” that worked the crowd up to a standing ovation.