Montreal International Jazz Festival 2010: Allen Toussaint at Theatre Jean-Duceppe of Place des Arts; July

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There was a wonderful moment during Allen Toussaint's superb concert at Theatre Jean-Duceppe of Place des Arts last night. With only clarinetist Don Byron on stage with him for Just a Closer Walk With Thee, Toussaint seemed to marvel at Byron's wonderfully melodic playing. When Byron had completed a particularly satisfying lick, Toussaint looked slyly over at the audience, grinned and raised his eyebrows. He seemed to be saying "Aren't we all lucky to be here listening to this?"

Were we ever! Toussaint continued to claim ownership of the jazz festival's closing days with a very different show from his magical one-man journey at the Gesu Sunday night. Showcasing his brilliant album of jazz standards, The Bright Mississippi, Toussaint was supported by the same astonishing group of musicians that backed him on the album --- a retro term he proudly reclaimed.

Apart from Byron, who played "everything with a reed," in Toussaint's words, Nicholas Payton blew trumpet, Herman Lebeaux sat behind the drum kit, David Pilch laid it down on bass and Marc Ribot handled the guitar work. The five top-notch players blended marvelously, with Toussaint's piano licks keeping a New Orleans flavour locked into these well-loved compositions. If anything, it was even more engaging live than it is on the disc.

Proving that the tone of a show can make a huge difference to the audience reaction. Toussaint gave the band a break and reprised the previous night's musical Tourette's extended solo, with its snippets of everything from show tunes to classical evergreens and R&B. At the more lighthearted Gesu concert, the crowd chuckled and had a great time with it. Last night being a less talkative, more serious affair, they sat in hushed admiration and waited until it was over to voice approval.

Toussaint's long story about visiting his family in the country, with Southern Nights as the foundation, was also flown in from the Sunday night show. And it was just as charming the second time, if a little jarring within the Bright Mississippi context.

"I don't take this for granted," Toussaint assured the audience, referring to the enthusiastic reaction.

Nor do we.

--- Bernard Perusse --

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