Monthly Archives: July 2013

Montréal Redefines Jazz Music


(Astrid Lium photos)


The 33rd annual Montreal International Jazz Festival kicked off its festivities north of the border on June 28 and continued through July 7. For 10 days and nights, music, stages and crowds dominated several cordoned-off blocks in the city’s downtown area. Throngs of festival goers filled sections of Sainte-Catherine Street and De Maisonneuve Boulevard, nibbled snacks from street vendors and enjoyed an array of indoor and outdoor performances of musicians from around the world.

In 1980, the first Montreal International Jazz Festival featured Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Ray Charles and Vic Vogel, and attracted about 12,000 people. It now boasts some 3000 artists from about 30 different countries and more than 2 million attendees. Holding the 2004 Guinness World Record for largest jazz festival, the event has steadily grown in popularity and increasingly pushed the boundaries of jazz music.

Some of this year’s top names and sold-out performances included Ziggy Marley, James Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Norah Jones and Montreal’s own Rufus Wainwright. The free, outdoor venues boasted such performers as Italian crooner Patrizio, Japan’s funk group Osaka Monaurail, Boston-based Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica –– a 23-piece ensemble that offers an eclectic mix of experimental music –– and a slew of others.


Associated more with reggae, folk, pop and other genres besides jazz, such artists challenge traditional views of the musical concept. Since its humble beginning, the festival has introduced a growing number of musicians who crosscut various musical scenes. “Jazz” in Montreal has a multitude of names and faces.

André Ménard, the festival’s co-founder and artistic director, emphasizes the array of musical talent in an article featured in the festival program and schedule. He writes, “Once again, our musical menu unveils a kaleidoscopic diversity in a comprehensive program … Our programmers wore out their eyes, ears and shoe leather scouring the ends of the (musical) Earth.”

Patrons of the event have observed the expanding repertoire of performances over the years and how they fit into the “jazz” category. Julian Woods, a longtime resident of Montreal, has attended various shows at the festival for the past 15 years. He believes that the music featured, based on his definition of the genre, “goes way beyond ‘jazz’.”

Woods admits that his perspective may be stricter than that of others. He says, “When I think of jazz, I think of Dixieland jazz, blues, R&B, swing and traditionalists like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.” He believes that the festival fits more of a “Wikipedia definition” of jazz, which, he says, includes Latin and African rhythms, among others.

Despite the name, says Woods, the week-and-a-half long festival transcends its tunes. “The Montreal Jazz Festival is about more than just the music,” he says. “It’s about the ambiance, the staging, the ancillary entertainment, the crowds.”


Michel Bonin, a Vancouver-based pianist, entrepreneur and writer for Canada Journal, agrees that the festival offers more than music. He believes that it is as important economically as it is artistically to the Canadian city, attracting tourists from around the world.

“The jazz fest is really promoting Quebec and Montreal. It strengthens the French presence in Canada,” he says. “Besides music, it’s also about architecture, sustainability, city planning and business.”

As such, Bonin views the widening parameters of jazz as a shift toward inclusivity. He believes that the music has moved “beyond jazz.” “It used to be about ‘real jazz’,” he says, “strictly jazz.”

Now, the writer and musician believes that the event is expanding the genre itself and “making it more approachable to those who don’t know it as well.”


(Media honor bestowed upon veteran journalist Michael Bourne, left.)

Media veteran Michael Bourne focuses more on the musical aspect of the festival. The New York City-based music reviewer has attended the event religiously for the past 20 years. He views jazz as a continuum that evades an immobile, concrete definition.

Bourne uses the city as an adjective –– describing the festival and its combination of musical performances as “very Montreal” –– to underscore the uniqueness of the experience.

“This festival redefines jazz, but jazz also redefines itself,” he says. “Every generation thinks the new one isn’t ‘real jazz’, but it’s all jazz.”


(This article originally appeared in The Bay State Banner in July 2012.)

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Porter Café Adds Irish Flair to Centre Street

A modern Irish pub in West Roxbury offers craft beers, hearty food and a lively atmosphere.

 (All photos provided by Astrid Lium.)

Overview: , which , is the newest addition to Centre Street’s restaurant scene in West Roxbury. Located on the same block as and across the street from , Porter rounds out the area with a modern Irish pub option. Co-owners and Ireland natives, Paul Murphy and Dermot Loftus, have worked at various establishments around Brookline and Dublin, taking their expertise and experience to West Roxbury.

Atmosphere: Long and narrow, the pub utilizes its small dining space with a few tables and a lengthy bar. Red walls, warm lighting, high ceilings and virtually no artwork give the place a cozy, down-to-earth vibe. Wide mirrors reflect the light and walls, making the interior feel more spacious. The background music is low and folksy, but the chatter can reach almost intrusive decibels when the restaurant is packed with patrons. The size, ambience and exterior facade somewhat resemble Matt Murphy’s in Brookline, which may be explained by the owners’ previous experience there.


Drinks: Long on beer and wine options, Porter is really a bar with sit-down food service. By the glass ($7-$9) or bottle ($28-$45), wine options include sparkling, white, rosé, and red. The pub is best known for its beer (about 75 to choose from), which is categorized as draft ($5-$6), can ($4-$6), large format ($7-$19), fruit ($5-$8), or bottle ($3.50-$8). From local lagers and California pale ales to Irish cider and fruity Canadian brews, Porter runs the gamut. And, yes, there is Guinness.

Appetizers: The food menu takes up less space than the beer list. Porter keeps its options simple yet somewhat diverse in nature. Starters include mussels steamed in coconut curry sauce (served with crusty bread, $11), simple mixed greens (with goat cheese and lemon caraway dressing, $7), and grilled fish tacos (two of them, served with salsa and cilantro lime cream, $8).


Entrées: The meaty establishment offers one vegetarian-friendly main dish: roasted butternut squash risotto ($16), which is warm and filling. The others are all more carnivorous in nature: braised pork shank (fall vegetables, crushed Yukon potatoes, red wine reduction, $$19), roasted cod (buttered leeks, cauliflour, $18), and steak frites (maitre d’butter, cress salad, $18).


Desserts: What Porter lacks in liquor and sweets it makes up for in craft beers and hearty bar food. The filling dishes wouldn’t leave much room for dessert, anyway.


Service: Just like the restaurant itself, Porter Café’s service is straight-forward and no-nonsense. The waitress was accommodating when asked something, but granted enough privacy to enjoy a meal in as much peace and quiet as can be expected in a small, crowded pub. Competent yet not overbearing, the overall service was fine and reflective of Porter Café’s laid back nature.

Contact: 1723 Centre St., West Roxbury

Hours: Open nightly for dinner:
Tuesday-Saturday, 4-11 p.m.
Sunday-Monday, 4-10 p.m.
Bar is open until 1 a.m.

Owners: Paul Murphy and Dermot Loftus

Chef: Jimmy Whelen

Price: $$

(This article was originally published by West Roxbury Patch,, on January 25, 2012.)

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