Review: 3 Days At The Montreux Jazz Festival 2017

July 28, 2017

By Cameron Arndt, all photos by CA, all shows reviewed took place 9th-12th July 2017

Sari Schorr And The Engine Room

It’s been a stormy day in Montreux. We step off the train into a torrential rainstorm and struggle through the short walk to our hotel near the lakeside. The usual spectacular view is completely obscured by clouds and mist, with only the start of the lake visible and no hint of the stunning vista of mountains that lies on the far side.

Fortunately the rain has halted by the time Sari Schorr takes to the outdoor park stage at the festival at 8pm. One of the (many) great features of the Montreux Jazz Festival is the amount of free shows that one can see. With no admission charge to the festival itself, the enterprising music fan can wander in along the extensive promenade of bars, food outlets and venues and discover a host of eclectic musical delights on the park stage and other free venues – in addition to the bigger paid shows in the Jazz Club and Stravinski Auditorium, which towers above the rest of the festival.

Where else could you see an artist of Schorr’s calibre absolutely free and in a stunning (albeit still somewhat cloud obscured) setting? Schorr and her band, The Engine Room, quickly dispel any lingering unease at the temperamental weather and – despite an unfortunate recurrence of the rain midway through their set – turn in a typically sensational performance.

Opening with Ain’t Got No Money they treat the hardy audience members to a large chunk of music from Schorr’s excellent debut album, Force Of Nature, and the rocking, bluesy and soulful tunes are a perfect antidote to our weather woes. Schorr is clearly delighted to be here and delivers every number with typical passion and intensity, morphing her sterling voice to suit each song. At times her vocals are smooth, bewitching, and at other moments they are raw and full of grit.

She’s accompanied by her four piece band – and they’re very much a band, no mere conflagration of backing musicians. Hardened by months on the road this year they play with an almost telepathic synthesis. Witness, for example, the rhythm section of Kevins O’Rourke and Jefferies laying down a spot on blues groove on Demolition Man, while keysman Anders Olinder tops it with lashings of organ. Meanwhile, what can be said about guitarist Innis Sibun that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? The former Robert Plant guitarist is a sensational player, and fires out scorching solos and subtle licks throughout, while stalking the stage, kneeling down to play to rain soaked fans at the front and providing the perfect foil to Schorr’s commanding performance.

The guitarist’s history is nodded to on a visceral cover of Led Zeppelin’s Rock & Roll – where O’Rourke also gets to show off his chops on the dynamic fills. Indeed Schorr herself seems so entranced watching the band she almost forgets to sing, prompting a dash to the mic for the opening line. She makes it, and completely owns a challenging, iconic vocal.

Elsewhere the band turn in a mesmerising new take on Led Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night? With Schorr digging deep down to emulate the great man’s low tones then soaring to great peaks that are all her own. She makes sure to note that without Led Belly there would be no rock and roll, then invites us to journey to her part of the world on the silky, grooving Oklahoma.

Sibun’s skills are brilliantly showcased on Freddie King’s superlative guitar instrumental Hideaway, while the band tempt fate during a powerful, knowing Stormy Monday before Olinder backs Schorr with sweet piano playing on the gorgeous Ordinary Life.

The rain eases a little for the rocking Damn The Reason and excellent Aunt Hazel before Schorr and The Engine Room bring the curtain down on a superb hour and a half with their reinvention of Black Betty, which breathes new life into the oft-covered standard.

Catch them while – and whenever – you can!