Spontaneity and Polish From Two Great Singers, Bobby McFerrin and Holly Cole, in Montreal

Jul 10, 2018

Maison Symphonique is like Dr Who's TARDIS. Bigger on the inside.

I remember when the upper right corner of Place Des Arts was a mostly empty and small plateau. There were stairs up from the street. There were amusements for kids. And then they built a large concert hall in that corner.

Blond wood everywhere, wooden seats, wooden slats in the walls, an enormous array of silver-grey organ pipes above the stage. And with acoustics perfect for singers.

Holly Cole always sounds great at the jazzfest. She's headlined the most concerts of a singer at FIJM. "I played my first concert at this festival 30 years ago," she exulted when she came on stage at the Symphonique. She realized it's been 30 years when she counted when we talked before the soundcheck. You can hear the interview and hear songs from Holly's newest album on next Sunday's Singers Unlimited.

Wearing her signature long-sleeved gloves, red in the first half, black in the second half, her voice resounded in the Symphonique — almost as if her voice gets extra oomph from the organ pipes. She was sultry when she was deep in a ballad, like the Tom Waits song "The Heart of Saturday Night." She was feisty when she was swinging with the band a song like "That Old Black Magic." "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" (from her new album) was a highlight. One of her signature songs, "Que Sera Sera," was an emotional high. And so was her spiritualizing "I Can See Clearly Now."

Bobby McFerrin performing 'circlesongs' with David Worm, Joey Blake and the Jireh Gospel Choir
Credit Benoit Rousseau

"We just met today," Bobby McFerrin sang about the voices of Montreal's Jireh Gospel Choir. "We're improvising," he sang in a call-and-response with the choir. He'd been singing by then with them and with the audience for a couple of hours in the Symphonique. Though the concert was promoted as being Bobby's 20th anniversary re-creation of the album circlesongs, the concert was mostly Bobby scatting melodies or a groove while he conducted the choir in spontaneous harmonies.

Rarely was an actual word sung by Bobby or the choir or (joining in) the audience. "I'll get that," Bobby sang when someone's cellphone chimed. "My battery is dead," Bobby sang to call out an engineer to fix his mic. He sang sweet gibberish, or upbeat cooing, and the choir sang along, sometimes echoing Bobby, sometimes counterpointing Bobby. "We need you in this time," sang Bobby as a finale, as an in-the-moment prayer. "We need you to be patient. To be understanding. To be kind." And even without being prompted, the audience sang along.