Jonah Yano Brought Fake Storms and Real Feelings to Montreal

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Montreal QC, June 29

Photo: Nadia Davoli

BY Mathias PageauPublished Jun 30, 2023

For years now, it seems like the Montreal International Jazz Festival has broadened the meaning of jazz, and opened the door to artists operating on different horizons. Jonah Yano is one of those names who might be more familiar to fans of left-field indie pop than to the hardcore jazz aficionado, yet the artist's show on the Esplanade de la Place des Arts proved that his band was right at home on the program.

Singularly enough, the first sounds that could be heard after Yano embarked on stage weren't music notes, but rather rain and thunder foley. Creating a contrast with the perfectly clear — albeit a little smokey — sky of Montreal, these sonic textures set the tone for what was to come: an intimate collection of songs that would sometimes be brightened by larger-than-life streaks of vivacious light.

Not to make too much of this creative wink that was soon taken over by Yano's five-piece band, setting the tone musically with a chaotic jam that rose in a crescendo, preparing the crowd for the show to come and catalyzing the chemistry between the musicians.

What followed was a set of songs plucked from the group's catalogue. The tracks often sounded much fuller and self-assured  — if not unrecognizable — in their live iteration, and almost always devolved into spirited jams between the musicians. On stage, Yano had a slightly awkward but magnetic presence. The songwriter kept his stage banter to a minimum, kicking off the show with an enthusiastic "Allô!" and, elsewhere, stopping the intro to a song to point at the sky and exclaim: "Hold on! Look at the moon! Let's cheer for the moon!" pointing at the satellite planet that appeared exceptionally large that night.

Ultimately though, his musicianship outshined his somewhat timid demeanor; during the one-hour set, the BADBADNOTGOOD collaborator reaffirmed his place among the Canadian indie pop auteurs of his generation — think a jazzier Homeshake or a funkier Andy Shauf — with vocals that gained in assurance as the night went on.

Yano also never missed a chance to put his talented band at the forefront, giving them the leeway to improvise and elevate the songs with epic solos. Notably, Christopher Edmondson's omnipresent saxophone provided a quirky charm to the ensemble's compositions, offering a replacement of sorts to the keys that are an important part of their record's universe.

The set went into the home stretch with two new tracks from Yano's upcoming album, which Yano confirmed they were currently recording — the first of which was a ballad with powerful falsetto vocals that quickly became the highlight of the set. The show ended at midnight sharp, with a visibly tired but satisfied Yano telling the crowd: "We're not allowed to play anymore," suggesting he would have gladly stayed on stage the whole night through.

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