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At the Montreal jazz festival, an eclectic mix of icons

Marianne Faithfull performs last year in Poland.

© Peter Andrews / Reuters/Peter Andrews/Reuters

Festival international de jazz de Montreal

Various artists at various venues in Montreal

Kids played in the reflecting pools on the terrace of Place des Arts in the late afternoon sweltering heat. Thousands of people ambled into the area in front of the main stage of the Quartier des spectacles for the final, blow-out performance of this year's international jazz festival, the B-52s. Yes, those B-52s of the post-punk new-wave fame. By the time the concert got under way at 9:30, there were over 100,000 people ready to bop the night away.

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Meanwhile, in the air-conditioned comfort of the Théâtre Maisonneuve, an enthusiastic crowd of mostly people over 40 came to see a different sort of icon, Marianne Faithfull. A former rocker, a sometimes cabaret singer, a throaty interpreter of R&B, she remains a consummate performer. No wonder her show sold out almost as quickly as Prince's.

Back to that in a moment.

Kudos to the programmers of the festival for another eclectic mix. You could catch Holly Cole, Diana Krall in a rare solo show, Tony Bennett - a festival stalwart -and a raft of local talent such as Florence K, François Bourassa or Nikki Yanofsky.

Last Wednesday I opted for the Hilary Kole Quartet at L'Astral. This small venue is a great setting for her. One of Kole's claims to fame is being the youngest singer to perform at New York's legendary Rainbow Room, and she/ performed at the Roy Thomson Hall tribute to Oscar Peterson back in 2008. Travelling with her to Montreal were Paul Gill on bass, Carmen Intorre on drums and John Hart on guitar.

The set started with Haunted Heart from the album of the same name and while the band was solid, Kole's voice seemed small and tight, rather than rich and colourful. Luckily she has a wicked sense of humour and quickly had the audience on her side. As the show continued, her voice opened up. She said that she wasn't sure she would tell us, but since people hadn't bolted for the doors she was happy to explain that two days prior to the Montreal gig, a bronchial congestion had left her voiceless. Pretty impressive "show must go on" moxie. Her rendition of Alec Wilder's Blackberry Winter was stunning.

The next night, a different crowd, different vibe and a much larger venue - the Théâtre Maisonneuve for Colin James and Chris Caddell. Here, an R&B inspired rock guitar roll out.

Caddell opened the show solo and between the first two pieces told how his grandfather had brought him to the festival years ago to see Colin James perform. That's when he figured he wanted to be a guitarist.

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Well, the two got along just fine. Their guitars produced a huge sound with Caddell's rhythms playing off of James's dexterity. James would switch guitars almost after every tune. He's got to travel with a good dozen. Black Eyed Dog had an intensity and fierceness that was riveting. The set had the audience roaring for more. Alluding to Prince's two-and-half-hour encore, James joked that his would be shorter.

On a totally different guitar register was Kurt Rosenwinkel's show at the Cinquième salle. Famous among jazz guitar aficionados, Rosenwinkel is an American graduate of the Berklee School of Music who now teaches at the Hanns Eisler music school in Berlin. His playing can be atmospheric and haunting, as it was on Sunday night. When he is playing with the reverb, you can close your eyes and think you're listening to a pipe organ in a cavernous church. Then he'll shift into a more mellow mode. The tonal play is hypnotic.

Back to Marianne Faithfull. The concert began with material from her recently released Horses and High Heels, an album of songs that suit an older and more mature voice. On Stations her music director Kate St. John switched from keyboard to English horn with the measured backing of the rest of the band. Like Hilary Kole, Faithfull was performing with health issues. Thrombosis would require her to sit periodically and apologize a little too often. The audience loved basking in her presence and in return she blessed us with some grand old hits such as Sister Morphine and Broken English. For her final encore, she performed Strange Weather, composed for her by Tom Waits, accompanied only by her guitarist Doug Petitbone.

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