SCENA Jazz

Monday, July 18, 2011

From Goliath to David: A Tale of Two Festivals

by Marc Chénard

Chapter one
Copenhagen Sounds and Sights


Festivals come in all shapes and sizes. On a scale running from the pocket-sized all the way up to the gargantuan, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival clearly tips the balance towards that outer extreme. Held over the first ten days of July, this mega-event was spread out over 109 stages (indoor and outdoor) for a grand total of 1072 shows (as counted in the 150-page program book, though the festival's press officer Christian Dalgas offered "1154 at latest count" as a revised tally). For any festival attendee then, the main issue is not what is seen, but what is missed. But for all off its size, audiences are never overwhelmed by it. (That said, it is recommended to take the time to study their good book first and whittle down choices according to personal interests and accessibility of venues, a fair number of which are in walking distance from each other.) Because of its decentralized nature, music lovers will not suffer as much from sensory overload as in other events staged in a single perimeter, for instance in Montreal, The Hague or Perugia.

Like any festival, and probably more with the bigger ones, each new edition seems to distinguish itself by some exceptional occurrence that goes marks its history in one way or another. For the city's residents at least, this year's festivities were overshadowed by a deluge of rain on its second day, in the form of a violent storm that dumped 150 ml of water in two hours, its fury compounded by gale force winds and lightening strikes. Several cancellations ensued both for that evening and the following day—Abdullah Ibrahim's slated performance of his newest version of Ekaya being the most noteworthy casualty here. (The festival actually made the best out of this misfortune by stating in its post-festival press release that "The music won out over the weather.") This visitor was also lucky enough to arrive three days after that fact and was thus spared from the brunt of it, the only noticeable after-effect being the shutting down of the city's hot water supply until later that day.

Because of the incredibly wide selection of shows to choose from (both paying and free), it is always tempting to hop, skip and jump to catch as much as possible, but from this observer's own experience, it's best to catch complete shows and, well, just bite one's lip for the painful choices to be made. Given its magnitude, the CJF is truly breathtaking in scope, as you can find just about everything from ragtime (or close to it, as in mock New-Orleans street parades) to no-time with a number of cutting-edge performers of both local and international standing.

With a distinguished history as one of the major jazz capitals of the Old Continent, Copenhagen established its reputation as a welcoming city to American jazzmen, many of whom elected to settle there, sometimes for years (Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Sahib Shihab), if not for the rest of their lives (Kenny Drew, Duke Jordan, Doug Rainey). While the American presence clearly set the tone of the country's jazz scene for decades, with factions of jazz traditionalists and modern mainstream beboppers thriving amongst the homegrown players, things have has evolved considerably over the last decade. Having attended the festival back in 1996, this writer was clearly struck by the growth of its scene in the ensuing years, both in new talents (fostered by the city's Rhythmic Conservatory) and musical pursuits ranging from World Beat to more cutting-edge free improvised musics.

Also of note in this festival are the number of collaborations between Danish and foreign musicians, both from the Continent and the United States. Hailing both from the big Apple were drummers Andrew Cyrille and Tom Rainey, who each appeared in various settings over the week (likewise for trumpeter Herb Robertson and reedman Andrew Di Angelo, whose gigs always conflicted with my show selections). A mere two days after a performance at Vancouver's jazz festival as part of Danish pianist Søren Kjærgaard's trio (with New Yorker Ben Street on bass), Cyrille (the one-time Cecil Taylor drummer) provided a more gentle groove than usual in this ensemble. A rising talent in his country, the Danish keyboardist's music bears the imprint of that so-called Nordic Sound, more restrained in dynamics and definitely mood-oriented. Presented in the spacious hall at the back of the State Art Museum, this free-of-charge concert was part of a double bill that opened with the decidedly more expansive duo of British bassist extraordinaire Barry Guy and Norwegian saxophonist Torben Snekkestad (tenor, soprano and trumpet fitted with a sax mouthpiece). This pair, incidentally, was heard on the day following a recording session in one of the city's churches, for an as-yet-to-be-determined label.

Equally busy for his part, Tom Rainey was caught three days later in the same location stoking the fires behind pianist Jacob Anderskov's solid septet Accident. The leader's suite-like compositions were finely crafted and allowed for generous improvisations, those by alto saxophonist Laura Toxværd stood out especially for their daringness and freedom.

From neighbouring Germany, two musicians of very different generations added their spices to a couple of shows with local players. Pianist Michael Wollny for one is a highly praised thirty-something talent in his country: best known for a series of trio recordings on the high-profiled Act label (including a duo collaboration with an almost legendary compatriot, tenorman Heinz Sauer), Wollny guested with the quartet of reedman Niels Løkkergaard, a fascinating unit also comprised of drums, guitar, fluegelhorn (but no bass). Playing extended compositions comprised of slow moving melodies unfolding over jittery rhythms (sustained by one of the most active albeit subtle drummers heard during the event), the music was a perfect example of quiet intensity at its best, with a couple of doses of humour thrown in, when all except the drummer went clicking away at portable manual typewriters, even if they got a bit carriaged (sic) away by this ploy. As this writer was heading out from the city-run Huset theater, one of the two colleagues in my company noticed that guitarist Pierre Dørge was to play next in a quartet with his wife (Irene Becker), saxophonist Anders Banke and a guest poet (doubling on soprano sax). Regretting the fact that the guitarist's large group, the New Jungle Orchestra, had played on the second day, wrapping up their set just before the deluge hit, it was a fine chance to meet again one of Denmark's better known and most affable musicians years after my first encounter with him.



John Tchicai (photo: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen)

Also a famous son of the Danish jazz scene is saxophonist John Tchicai, best known for having played on the legendary Coltrane side Ascension as well as co-leading the New York Contemporary five of that now vintage era. Last seen in Montreal two years ago (in a trio with guitarist Garrison Fewell and reedist Charlie Kohlhaas), this 75-year old veteran is still very much in fine form, and also benefitted from some fine company, with a younger compatriot, multi-reedist Jesper Løvdal and the great German drummer Günter 'Baby' Sommer. Together, these musicians let some of the most delightful and earthy musical sounds ring in the Beboerhus (another fine cultural center in the heart of the neighbouring district of Christianhavn). Over two sets, enthusiastic listeners were treated with everything from Coleman Hawkins to Albert Ayler—Løvdal's solo tenor variations on "Body & Soul" would have had Hawk smiling from above, while Tchicai's broad toned tenor conjured the spirit of A.A.'s sing-songy melody lines. On that night, the drummer and Tchicai also marked their first reunion in 30 years, "in that strange country called the DDR" quipped the drummer before adding "but that had nice people, too." Both on that night and the one before, where the drummer meshed with his younger colleague and multi-instrumentalist Kresten Osgood at the jazz club Christiana (right in the heart of that city's famous, or infamous, hippy commune), the excitement was clearly palpable, everyone swinging like mad and lifting the bandstand in the proceedings.



Charles Lloyd (photo: Jonas Pryner)

Clearly the days of Americans calling the tune in jazz are no more. In fact, Europeans can call their own just as well as Americans, albeit in very different ways. And no better examples could there be of this duality than the two shows seen at one of the city's better known venues, the Copenhagen Jazzhouse. While the festival bookended its schedule with two superstars, Sonny Rollins at the beginning and Keith Jarrett at the end, one musician eagerly awaited was tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd. On the strengths of his two most recent ECM recordings (and a third one now in the offing), Lloyd has come full circle in his current quartet. Rekindling the magic of his vintage late sixties band with Jarrett, DeJohnette and Ron McLure, Lloyd can still wail at his lyrical best over a rhythm section with as deep a pocket anyone could ever hear in the business today. Jason Moran, Eric Harland and Reuben Rogers breathe as one and their free-flowing beat pulses so naturally as to inspire the leader to his flights of fancy (on tenor mostly, but also on alto flute and the exotic taragot). Before an SRO crowd in the large basement size room of the club, the quartet performed two sets of under an hour, with a ten minute plus encore to send the crowds home in high spirits after a rewarding night of music-making (opening on a silent prayer and closing on a reading from the sacred Hindu scriptures). While Lloyd is not charting any new territories here, few do it as well and as convincingly in this genre as he. Who knows? Maybe Coltrane may well have been smiling from above…

If Lloyd presented something utterly familiar, and did it very well, saxophonist Lotte Anker however dared to lead her audience down a radically different path just two nights later, even though the results of the adventure were mitigated at best. Best known for playing in small-group free improvising situations (as heard at the funky Ilk Sessions venue two night previously), she has collaborated with a veritable string of American notables such as Marilyn Crispell, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver. For her main show, Anker lead an almost all-European cast of nine musicians (The What River Ensemble) through a highly structured extended work of her own making. Included in the cast were guitarist Fred Frith, vocalist Phil Minton, drummer/percussionist Chris Cutler and electronics specialist Ikue Mori, all known for their bold musical forays. Rounding off the group were musicians from the contemporary classical world, most notably one-time Arditti String Quartet violist Garth Knox, bassist Jesper Eglund and clarinetist Anna Klett. Premiered last year in England at the Huddersfield Music Festival (a reputable event in modern classical music), the suite-like piece was more somewhat out of character for a jazz den. By and large, it gave the impression of a series of intricate mood-like pieces whose dynamics were very contained and allowed for little personal initiative. Unlike the bulk of contemporary music where every note is precisely laid out, there were clearly open sections but the very tight overall structure did not allow anyone to step outside of the frame. To see/hear the likes of Frith, Cutler and Minton being so contained and restrained was unusual to say the least; by and large the hour-plus performance appeared more like a stringing of discrete episodes that somehow did not add up to an equal, let alone a greater sum than its individual parts. As such it came across as an attempt to emulate all the earnestness of a contemporary chamber music ensemble from very seasoned improvisers known to cut loose. Opening that evening, Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endressen (known to any ECM aficionado) gave an almost hour-long a capella performance, a bold stroke to say the least. While this writer has to admit his lack of enthusiasm towards any kind of vocal music, her soft, delicate chants had their undeniable charms, even if was a rather long haul, especially when having to contend with the effects of jetlag. (Incidentally, this double bill occurred before the Sommer performance at the Christiana Jazz Club alluded to above, the contrast between the performances contributing to the high appreciation of the latter for its unfettered playing.)

Also appreciated were two Euro-American collaborations, the first at the now reactivated Montmartre Jazz Club, the second at the Prøvehallen (i.e. rehearsal hall) tucked away in the outlying suburb of Valby. In May 2010, Copenhagen's one-time jazz Mecca, the Montmartre, was re-opened to much fanfare in its original first location (Store Regnegade 19), its decor an almost carbon-copy replica to the original local haunted by many an American expat, from Dexter G. to Kenny D. and unarguably the country's most famous native son, the late bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. Caught on the first night of a three-night run was the native French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc in a trio setting with American drummer Billy Hart and one of the city's veteran bassists, Mads Vinding. A virtuosic pianist full of quick and often unexpected musical twists, Pilc is one of those rare birds capable of re-treading even the most worn-out evergreens, as demonstrated during that evening's first set, that also comprised two of his own originals, a lithe ballad dedicated to his son and a vamp-based tune that effectively built tension to sudden flurries of playing. Full marks go to his sidemen as well who were given lots of room to strut their own stuff.

Farther from the city core, but reachable via a ten-minute train ride on the S-Tog (regional commuter train), the Prøvehallen is an intimate black box shape room that tends to get a bit stuffy for lack of air circulation (or conditioning). Throughout the festival, it serves as basis of operations for a series hosted by the Cowbell Music label, the concerts featuring for the most part its leading artist, altoist Benjamin Koppel, who shares programming/artistic duties with pianist Kenny Werner. Over the festival's run, the hall greeted such high-profiled players as Ben Monder, Scott Colley and Alex Sipiagin from the States, as well as Europeans John Taylor, Anders Jormin and Copenhagen's own leading percussionist Marilyn Mazur.

On the one night there, Werner and Koppel greeted star trumpeter Dave Douglas as its special guest, rounding off their quintet with German bassist Johannes Weidenmuller and drummer Jonathan Blake. The proposition of seeing Douglas and Werner together was an incentive in itself: after all, who could have thought a few years back that the one-time avant trumpeter would team up one day with a stalwart mainstreamer like Werner? It goes without saying that Douglas has found a comfortable niche somewhere in the center of the jazz spectrum, and those who dug his Tiny Bell Trio or tenure with Zorn's Masada might bemoan this, but he still remains a helluva horn player, also capable of writing zesty pieces, many of which were played during the hour-plus set. Bass and drums anchored the proceedings effectively overall (the latter a times a little too busy or loud), Werner always the equal to himself, and Koppel (both on alto and straight alto, or was it manzello?) holding his own in rather concise solo statements (that got better as the night wore on). One quibble though: amplification was a little overdone for a room that size, albeit the balance allowed everyone to be heard on a equal footing.

Given the numerous outdoor stages in the inner city, time must be allotted to at least catch snippets of one or another of the performances. This writer made a point to see a complete set by a group called Phronesis, a trio of up-and-comers missed in Montreal the week before. Is it possible nowadays for yet one more of those classic piano-bass-drums combos to achieve a sound of its own? When listening to their set, it may well be that they lack a little in originality or distinctiveness (it is essentially quite conventional in concept), but their music comes across with conviction and energy, thanks mainly to the kick-ass drumming of Anton Eger who always knew how to get his mates digging in a little deeper.

For sure the jazz tradition is very much in good hands these days due to a thriving younger generation, but there are plenty of veterans around as well, such as tenor man Jesper Thilo (who meshed with Scott Hamilton) and long-time American expat Bob Rockwell who played some relaxed tenor of his own at the Jazz Cup, the city's last remaining jazz record store and home of the label Stunt Records and its affiliated distributor Sundance music.

Unlike other cities that have one big jazz splurge a year, Copenhagen's harbors and suburbs are redolent with music in all seasons, as are many other areas of that small land with the oldest monarchy of the world (where another jazz fest takes place in the city of Århus in the following week). Audiences are also both very knowledgeable and have a pretty good grasp on all strands of jazz. What's more, local talent is promoted beyond its borders thanks to cultural funding programs and agencies devoted to exporting talent abroad. Also of note are a variety of homegrown labels, Storyville and Steeplechase enjoying international recognition for their productions involving international names, while companies such as Stunt, Ilk Records and Cowbell Music devote themselves more to producing albums by a wide variety of native performers, at times sharing the spotlight with Americans.

As an interesting fact, it's worth noting that Denmark is the one country that consistently comes out on top of surveys measuring the degree of contentedness or satisfaction in life of its citizens. If one also believes that jazz towns are happy towns, then Copenhagen has plenty to smile about, and no one need to be surprised by that either when statistics have also shown that the Danes are also happen to be the greatest per capita buyers of jazz recordings in the world.


See program and post-festival info at:
http://jazz.dk/en/copenhagen-jazz-festival

For label information and catalogues, google label names mentioned above.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Générations de saxophonistes au FIJM

par Marc Chénard

Comme la tradition le veut, le Festival international de jazz de Montréal (FIJM) annonça tout de suite après la clôture de sa 32e édition un autre succès du point de l'assistance, mentionnant un chiffre total de deux millions de visiteurs et un taux d'occupation des salles de 85 % (inférieur à celui de l'an passé qui se situait aux alentours de 93 %). Mais comme le festival se déroula sous des ciels plutôt variables ainsi que d'avoir été épargné de la canicule habituelle des premiers jours de l'été, les foules semblaient un peu moins denses que par le passé. Certes, le public était au rendez-vous des quelques grands événements populaires extérieurs, mais les claustrophobes (ou ochlophobes) n'ont pas trop souffert. Était-ce dû au temps ? Ou s'agissait-il d'une nouvelle disposition des scènes dans son périmètre qui empêchait les bouchons de se former ? Peut-être le chantier de construction bloquant la rue Sainte-Catherine devant la Place des Arts et le déplacement des activités à l'arrière ont permis de disperser davantage les foules…

Quoi qu'il en soit de ces spéculations, elles sont de moindre importance pour l'amateur de jazz. Pour ceux-ci, il va sans dire que le gros du jazz se fait entendre en salle (la compétition du festival étant possiblement la série extérieure la plus conséquente en contenu jazzistique – saluons ici le gagnant de cette année, le saxophoniste Alexandre Côté et son quintette). Compte tenu de sa grosseur, on ne peut que livrer des impressions fragmentaires sur un nombre réduit de spectacles, le choix de ceux-ci dicté par la thématique des générations du jazz, lequel a été abordé dans la livraison spéciale de La Scena Musicale du mois de mai. Plus spécifiquement, nous concentrerons notre attention sur quelques prestations mettant en vedette des saxophonistes d'âges et de styles contrastants.

Parmi eux, notons d'abord deux aînés, soit Phil Woods et Bunky Green (deux altistes frisant maintenant les 80 ans). Alors que le premier joua en invité de la jeune Grace Kelly (noblesse oblige !), le second joua en tandem avec un autre altiste qui s'impose, soit Rudresh Mahanthappa. Comme le concert de cette bebopeuse-chanteuse en herbe de 19 ans affichait complet, ce chroniqueur s'en est remis à cette autre prestation, tenue trois jours plus tôt. D'emblée, les rencontres intergénérationnelles sont des occasions potentiellement intéressantes en ce qu'elles permettent de mesurer la compatibilité des acteurs, les uns bénis par l'expérience, les seconds par un degré accru de vigueur et d'enthousiasme. Et lorsqu'il s'agit de deux musiciens jouant d'un même instrument, la question de l'émulation vient tout de suite à l'esprit.

Pour ce qui est de Rudresh Mahanthappa (dans la jeune quarantaine), la question ne se pose pas quand on l'entend, car il se démarque nettement de Green par une sonorité ample et tranchante, son approche instrumentale ne laissant aucun doute sur ses capacités. Ouvrant le concert seul, il imita merveilleusement bien toutes les inflexions d'un shenai (hautbois indien) ou d'un nagaswaram, démontrant sa connaissance intime des éléments de style de la culture traditionnelle de ses ancêtres de l'Inde. Ailleurs, il fit preuve d'une précision au couteau dans l'élaboration de ses solos, lesquels donnaient l'allure de blocs préfabriqués débités à toute vitesse. Quant à Green, ce saxo alto plutôt méconnu du grand public fit longtemps ses armes dans l'enseignement (il présida la défunte association NJA, National Jazz Educators). Comme son jeune comparse, il se montra tout aussi agile et preste, à la différence que ses solos semblaient vraiment construits sur le vif et non comme des assemblages de choses bien apprises. Musicalement, les canevas harmoniques étaient essentiellement modaux, sous-tendus par des ostinatos de la section rythmique. Signalons ici le travail impeccable du contrebassiste Phil de Rosa, autant dans ses accompagnements que ses solos virtuoses, comparables à ceux d'un David Holland. Toutefois, le batteur Damion Reed était plutôt suractif, allant jusqu'à enterrer le bassiste, même le pianiste. Solide dans l'ensemble, malgré ces quelques réserves, ce groupe désigné du nom d'Apex, a réalisé un disque l'an disque, lequel vaudrait certainement une écoute à la lumière de sa prestation.

Autre altiste bien connu des Montréalais, Dave Binney hante nos scènes depuis 1990, comme il l'annonça durant le concert. Californien d'origine, mais New Yorkais dans les tripes, Binney, dans la bonne quarantaine, s'exprime avec ce sens d'urgence si typique du jazz émanant de son premier foyer d'activités. On le reconnaît aisément pour sa sonorité âcre et son usage complet du registre de son sax alto, laissant éclater quelques bombes dans le grave (tendance rare chez ses confrères qui tendent à éviter ce registre), ou en escaladant vers des hauteurs quasi-stratosphériques sans jamais y perdre pied. Bien que ce styliste ait peaufiné un langage bien à lui, il se complaît parfois un peu trop dans certains artifices, comme des répétitions un tant soit peu abusives de certaines phrases comme moyen de susciter la tension et l'excitation. Pour sa prestation, il y alla de cinq de ses propres compositions (pas vraiment mémorables) avec des longs solos de lui et de ses partenaires, l'intéressant pianiste Jacob Sachs, le batteur un tant soit peu hyperactif Dan Weiss (encore un autre) et le très bizarre bassiste Thomas Morgan, certainement le joueur le plus « avirtuose » (ou anti-virtuose) que ce chroniqueur ait eu à entendre ces derniers temps. Bien que ce quartette régulier de Binney, qui tient un engagement bimensuel au 55 Bar dans le Greenwich Village, ait de l'énergie à revendre, ce concert de soirée d'ouverture souffrit néanmoins de certaines longueurs, voire de longueurs certaines.

Si les musiciens de ces spectacles étaient enclins à mettre toute la gomme, ceux des deux prochains traités dans cette chronique semblaient en mettre beaucoup moins, au point où l'on aurait souhaité davantage de leur part. Ainsi en était-il du saxophoniste ténor Mark Turner qui se produisit aux côtés de Larry Grenadier, basse, et de Jeff Ballard à la batterie, soit la rythmique habituelle de Brad Mehldau (entendu ailleurs au festival en solo et en duo avec Joshua Redman). Avec deux disques ECM à son crédit, – le festival le présenta sous la bannière du second intitulé Fly – Turner est de ces jeunes doués d'une esthétique plus cool, moins extravertie que la norme souvent associée aux saxos Afro-américains, son esthétique reposant sur celle du musicien qui semble l'influencer le plus, soit le génial ténor blanc Warne Marsh. Il y a certainement un parallèle à établir entre les deux, vu la sonorité plus légère, aérienne et sèche de Turner, mais où Marsh était doué d'une invention mélodique assurée à tous les tempos, de la ballade au swing ultra-rapide, Turner se tient davantage dans une zone de confort, le métronome ne dépassant jamais la vitesse moyenne. Il ne fait aucun doute qu'il approche la musique d'une manière très réfléchie, posant chaque geste avec soin, comme s'il voulait toujours guider la musique plutôt que d'être guidé par elle. La prestation de ce trio était donc bien sage dans l'ensemble et ce n'est qu'au dernier morceau (un joli arrangement du standard Just One of Those Things de Cole Porter) et le rappel que le saxo et ses accompagnateurs commençaient à vraiment se laisser aller. C'était un peu comme trop peu trop tard, ou pas assez pour un temps limité. Mais faut-il vraiment s'en surprendre quand ce trio fait partie de l'écurie ECM ?…

Autre concert, autres musiciens, mais comme par coincidence, trois autres têtes d'affiche du même label munichois. Présenté pour une seconde fois dans le cadre de la série invitation du FIJM, le bassiste Dave Holland eut droit à trois représentations, la première en duo avec Kenny Barron (tenue dans une salle à moitié pleine, ou vide, selon le point de vue), la seconde avec son propre quintette, le tout se terminant par un trio aux côtés de John Surman et d'Anouar Brahem, ce dernier assurant la relève de cette série pour deux autres soirées. Débutant avec une heure de retard (Surman ayant manqué sa connexion, le monsieur restant en Norvège), le concert se déroula des plus sereinement. Trois musiciens de grand calibre se retrouvaient donc dans l'unique dessein de se faire plaisir (comme leur public aussi, enthousiaste par ses applaudissements nourris), mais ils se sont contentés de jouer en dessous de leur plein potentiel. Pendant plus de 50 minutes, le trio semblait tout aussi bien assis sur sa musique que le public dans les sièges du grand amphithéâtre, si bien qu'on espérait qu'une étincelle surgirait, voire un réel moment d'inspiration. Puis, tout à coup, Surman nous gratifia de ce moment si attendu au sax soprano (il avait sa clarinette basse, mais non son baryton, hélas! car il est fort possiblement le plus grand maître de cet instrument). L'attente était longue, mais les minutes qu'il nous offrit en remplissant la salle de sa complainte étaient tout simplement somptueuses.

Pour boucler ce survol, soulignons enfin le travail d'un de nos as souffleurs de chez nous, André Leroux. Entendu à deux reprises, d'abord dans le quartette de son comparse pianiste François Bourassa – lequel lui rendit la pareille deux soirs plus tard avec le même bassiste de son groupe (Guy Boisvert) mais d'un autre batteur, Ari Hoenig – Leroux est, rien de moins, un grand saxophoniste. Certes, c'est un ténor dans la pure lignée coltranienne, mais qu'il le fait bien ! Peu importe l'occasion et le contexte, il joue avec passion, conviction et surtout un feu sacré qui manque à bien des musiciens de nos jours, jeunes et moins jeunes. Dans le quartette de Bourassa, Leroux se prête merveilleusement bien aux compositions du chef, lesquelles réussissent le pari d'être aventureuses sans jamais devenir trop ardues pour un peu public moins ferré en jazz contemporain. Si le quartette de Bourassa a servi un solide concert, à la mesure de son disque récent (Idiosyncrasie, sur label Effendi, qu'on recommande du reste), Leroux et ses complices ont été encore plus forts dans leur concert au Bar Upstairs. Profitant du passage de Hoenig (en ville le soir précédant avec le trio de Jean-Michel Pilc), ce batteur a jeté davantage d'huile sur le feu crépitant de Leroux, atteignant même un moment d'intensité frisant celle des duels épiques entre Coltrane et Elvin Jones, mais limitant leur match à cinq minutes au lieu des dix, quinze ou davantage auxquelles s'adonnaient leurs illustres prédécesseurs. Fascinant par ailleurs le long solo de Hoenig où il se met à produire des variations de timbres sur les peaux de ses tambours en les pressant de ses coudes ou avant bras. Jadis Monk disait qu'il fallait lever l'estrade (« Lift the Bandstand »), ces quatre musiciens y sont arrivés ce soir-là haut la main.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

TD Toronto Jazz Festival 2011

by Alain Londes

For the 25th anniversary edition of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, key changes to previous years were evident. Most importantly, the big white tent hosting all the evening Mainstage shows shifted from Nathan Philips Square to Metro Square (aka: David Pecaut Square) behind Metro Hall and next to Roy Thomson Hall. The adjacent outdoor stage provided a lawn area which made the area more hospitable to audience members to sit on the ground or on their lawn chairs.

Most of the headliners were at key indoor locations such as Koerner Hall, Sony Centre, Enwave Theatre, and the Glenn Gould Studio. Judging by the attendance, some of those sold-out shows could have easily taken place on the Mainstage with additional ticket sales.

The opening night was a real street party with a free concert by Aretha Franklin backed up by a large band with her own American and a few local Canadian musicians. Those who had a good view were very pleased with the show as Franklin still had the pipes and made a strong impression. 18,000 attendees was clearly a festival record.

The following represent just a cornucopia of key performances during the rest of the 10 day festival.

Randy Weston

The Glenn Gould Studio hosted the Grandmasters Series with major solo piano performances. Each one resembled a classical recital with each evening bringing someone with a different musical journey. The most iconic performer was pianist Randy Weston who, at 85, continues to perform and educate about the origins of music and the history of jazz. The Glenn Gould Studio was a fitting venue for this intimate solo performance, with Weston discussing the experiences that he had with the late Ray Bryant (1931-2011).

Emphasizing his African heritage with the theme of movement to other lands, Weston selected Duke Ellington's "Caravan," a jazz standard composed by Puerto Rican-born trombonist Juan Tizol establishing, as Weston explained, a link to the Caribbean and, ultimately, to Africa. His Ellington theme continued with "Chromatic Love Affair" and "Perdido," and included his personal interpretive statement around the melody.

Moving through the historical journey, Weston also showcased Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk. Offering interesting tidbits of information, Weston talked about how African music is as old as Africa, how its definition of harmony emphasized the connection of souls with the universe, and how music stems from the Creator. He also referred to Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins (1849-1908), a visually impaired pianist who could play anything that he heard.

Weston also played some of his own compositions, including "Berkshire Blues" and a beautiful rendition of the lyrical "Little Niles." The performance ended on a distinctive contemplative tone, as attendees left inspired and relaxed after this unique opportunity to witness a jazz legend.

Kurt Elling

Kurt Elling took to the stage before an equally enthusiastic audience. The sold-out crowd gave a standing ovation when Elling walked on the stage. Laurence Hobgood, who has collaborated with the singer for 17 years, was on the piano together with Eric Privert on bass and Pete Van Nostrand on drums.

Kurt Elling selected pieces from his latest album The Gate (Concord Records, 2011) where he revisited some well-known tunes that might have been placed temporarily on the shelf. Naturally they would have a jazz spin to them with the meaning of the lyrics leading the way. Getting everyone in the mood, the swinging and groovy version of Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" also included a very brief scat singing moment.

The suave Elling, sporting a business casual suit, was genuinely comfortable on stage. He naturally moved the mic away or closer to his mouth to temper the volume just the way he wanted. Whether singing or speaking, the conversation was always with respect to the audience. His tasteful sense of humour was another bonus of a live show.

Elling then sang the title track of his Grammy-award winning album, Dedicated To You (Concord Records, 2009). Hobgood added a solo including a quick nod to the song "Cabaret." Proving that great singers understand all the rudiments of music including timing, Elling, on Marck Johnson's "Samurai Cowboy," doubled-up on vocal drum sounds in tandem with Van Nostrand for added entertaining effect.

Guitarist John McLean came on stage later to bring a rock element and a hard driving solo to the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." Elling quipped that songs can have the effect of "making the pain musical" when talking about life. Such was the case with a slow version of Earth Wind and Fire's "After The Love Is Gone." The only standard of the evening was Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark." The audience without being prompted snapped their fingers for "Golden Lady" by Stevie Wonder. Elling concluded rightly so: "Hey, that's a nice night. What do you think?" For effect, the background spotlight on Elling slowly faded out signalling the end of the show with "Save Your Love For Me." Fortunately, the audience was treated to a second encore with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Luisa" after Elling translated the Portuguese lyrics.

Return To Forever IV

Return to Forever (photo: Kris King, kriskingphoto.com)


For something totally different, a large crowd converged on the Sony Centre. Return To Forever (RTF) IV was all the buzz leading up to the Tuesday night stop in Toronto and the jazz-fusion group did not disappoint. In fact the show was exhilarating. On some pieces you could feel your face vibrating.

Chick Corea recently turned 70 and has no reason to slow down. He seemed considerably slimmer since his last appearance in Toronto but his spark and enjoyment was in full force.

Frank Gambale is not at all a newbie for this band formation since he has worked with Corea on the Elektric Band. In his solo, Gambale's demonstrated a style that he has mastered over the years: The sweep picking technique. He sweeps the strings resulting in a precise sequence of desired notes.

Jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty has also collaborated with Corea a while back. With RTF, he provides a key ingredient that gives this edition of the band a distinct characteristic. He seemed to complement Corea while Gambale's guitar works with Stanley Clarke's bass.

The versatile and intense Lenny White was as strong as ever on the drums. Corea said during the show that White changed jazz drumming in the 70s. He too was a veteran to Miles Davis' electric period which was definitely present. During the show, he walked up to the mic and explained how the RTF was a "man's band" in comparison to other bands that lack the true musical abilities and depth that this group always had. Band members were really enjoying themselves from start to finish and at one point were high-fiving each other like guys in a sports team.

Corea and others toyed with the audience by saying that they were not going to introduce any of the selections yet long time fans were able to pick out the well-known classics from the band's history such as "After The Cosmic Rain, and "Hymn Of The 7th Galaxy."

A tune such as "Señor Mouse" represented the best at what these musicians as a group can do considering the high level of intensity, technical wizardry, and perfect timing under the jazz-rock umbrella. Corea, Gambale, Ponty and Clarke all through in their distinctive solo touch. A careful listener might have identified a very subtle touch of french folk melodies in Ponty's part.

Stanley Clarke led the way with a strong dose of funk on "Sorceress." With the intense bass playing, he was waving his hands at the end just like a student who had just written a 3-hour exam nonstop. Of course Clarke was no student and never ceased to impress at his mastery of the bass. He switched to upright bass for the rest of the show when Jean-Luc Ponty introduced his composition, "Renaissance." At one point in his solo, he turned to Ponty inviting him to join him while pushing him musically in the process.

Ponty opened Rodrigo's "Concierto De Aranjuez" before being joined by Corea and eventually the band settled on "Spain." The audience was right with him as they chanted any bar that he played on the keyboard.

Fans were yelling out requests for the encore and the RTF closed this great show with another favourite, "School Days."

This was definitely a highlight performance for the festival yet one had to have been in the auditorium to realize that.

The Count Basie Orchestra and Molly Johnson


The Count Basie Orchestra (photo: Bill King, ejazznews.com)

A large crowd later gathered at the Mainstage concert for an evening of singing and and big band swinging. Canadian singer and and songwriter, Molly Johnson led the way with Robi Botos (piano), Colleen Allen (saxes and flute), Mike Downes (bass), and Ben Riley (drums). From fan-favourite "My Oh My" recorded on her self-titled debut album, Johnson brought some of her compositions as well as other jazz and blues classics such as "Killer Joe," and "Lush Life" and even a bit of Charlie Pride in the mix. Wearing a bright red dress with a flower adorning her hair, she looked cheerful and relaxed with her musicians for whom she has great affection. Johnson also pretended that she was intimidated by the presence of the big band that was to follow. Her connection to this city was obvious when she talked about how lucky we are to live here. Performing across the street from the Royal Alexander Theatre was extra-special for her as it brought back lots of memories of her youth growing up to be the performer that she was today. She was, after all, the first Canadian female performer to sell-out a concert a few years ago for the festival.

When it comes to big bands today continuing the style and tradition of its founder, the Count Basie Orchestra will naturally be included in the list. The legendary band has been in existence for over 75 years and great musicians have assumed all of the key roles to this day. Dennis Mackrel, the orchestra's conductor, spoke highly of Toronto and of the calibre of the local musicians that he has met on previous visits. In fact, the Canadian connection was such that Derrick Gardner, on fourth trumpet, recently accepted a position at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba.

Starting off with Ernie Wilkin's arrangement of "Sixteen Men Swinging," the band played a series of pieces representing that Kansas City sound that will always be associated with the "Chairman of the Board." Both baritone saxophonist John Williams and bassist James Leary were hired by Basie himself. Williams played beautiful low notes for a piece simply called "Carney" in tribute to Harry Carney who was part of Ellington's band. Moving towards higher notes, first trumpet Michael P. Williams and first alto saxophonist Marshall McDonald led the way on "Things ain't what they used to be." Molly Johnson came back to join the band for "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You" popularized by Nat King Cole. Of course no Basie show would be complete without the all-time favourites such as "Lil' Darlin'," "Shiny Stockings," "One O'Clock Jump," and the finale, "April In Paris."

It was nice to see a packed tent to see this band that played to tight perfection. Mackrel demonstrated total control such as tempering or increasing the band's volume.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones

A large and predominantly young crowd gathered in and around the Mainstage to see 5 After 4 and later Béla Fleck and the Flecktones as Toronto shifted gears towards the end of the work week before a long weekend.

Béla Fleck gathered the original Flecktones for the first time in 18 years in the hope of reconnecting with what worked in the past and creating new ground. A few years ago, the group played a memorable concert to a capacity crowd when the exceptional saxophonist Jeff Coffin was touring with them. In anticipation of a sizable audience, the chairs inside the tent were removed to accommodate more people comfortably.

In this band, each musician brings his unique style and sound to his instrument that helps define whole. They are all equals even if Béla Fleck happens to be the leader. Over the years, Fleck, the master of the 5-string banjo, has drawn on a rich variety of influences and styles including bluegrass, jazz, folk, African, Indian etc. He is also extremely busy when observing his list of activities that include creating new music for various band formations, writing commissioned pieces for a symphony orchestra and collaborating with other musicians. A harmonica can be a harmonica. Yet when Howard Levy plays it in conjunction with the other instruments on a tune such as "Gravity Lane," the result is the melodic sound that defines them. Roy Wooten, brother of bassist Victor Wooten and also known on stage as "Future Man," brings his drumitar, a unique drum instrument that he invented and looks like a guitar. He is also the only one who adds limited vocals on just some of the Flecktones' compositions.

Apart from the initial introductions, the Flecktones moved from one piece to the next as if it was a continuous suite with short breaks in between. They were at the beginning of a north American tour promoting the cd entitled Rocket Science (eOne Music, 2011) and threw in old signature pieces such as "Sex In A Pan." Even though the recording was relatively new for this particular concert date, the style and feel sounded similar to the band's previous collaborations. The flow of "Gravity Lane" sounded like a comfortable countryside train ride with all the turns and scenic changes making it particularly enjoyable. Victor Wooten threw in a reference to "Jean-Pierre" when the tempo slowed down for his solo. For a couple of tunes, Fleck brought in Casey Driessen, an American bluegrass fiddler for added country textures. One of the collaborative highlights was a series of solo duos on a hoedown tune, first between Levy and Wooten and then between Fleck and Driessen. Levy later contributed beautiful classically inspired melodic lines to "Sweet Pomegranates" thereby demonstrating his full musical talents on his chosen instruments.

The Flecktones came back on stage for the encore that fans were blurting out: "The Sinister Minister!" Wooten souped up a frantic play on bass right up front with the drumitar keeping time in the background with deep grooves. Reaching climatic levels, he literally threw the bass around his body with the strap preventing the instrument from flying in any direction.

If you asked fans, they clearly enjoyed the performance. However, there was an extra spark with Jeff Coffin participating in the Little Worlds (Sony, 2003) tour at the same festival a few years ago.

Other highlights included Branford Marsalis teaming up with Joey Calderazzo for the premiere of their cd Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (Marsalis Music, 2011), Dee Dee Bridgewater paying homage to Lady Day, opera diva Jessye Norman, and the legenday Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Robi Botos and Nikki Yanofsky each took to the stage on the final night to close this year's festival.

A jazz fan would understandably enjoy back to back music in the afternoon to bridge the gap between the lunchtime offerings and the late-afternoon shows. Nevertheless, the festival accomplished its goal of providing a rich musical experience catering to all jazz genres and more.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Festival de jazz de Montréal

Par Annie Landreville

De retour au festival de jazz après quelques années d'absence, j'ai découvert la Place des festivals. Bel aménagement qui permet de ne pas se piler sur les pieds, mais je ne comprends pas qu'il y ait quand même des moments où il ne se passe peu près rien... Entre 16h00 et 19h00, il me semble qu'un festival de cette envergure devrait proposer plus d'un choix à l'extérieur.

Le Darcy James Argue Secret Society

Gros coup de cœur sur disque, gros coup de cœur sur scène : Le Darcy James Argue Secret Society. Quelle équipe ! Bel ensemble, solides solistes (Ah ! Le solo d'Ingrid Jensen en fin de course... il résonne encore dans mes oreilles !) et compositeur inspiré et inspirant. Darcy James Argue est un jeune homme brillant et curieux. C'est avec beaucoup d'intelligence et sans aucune pédanterie qu'il raconte ce qui l'a inspiré pour écrire les pièces qu'il nous présente. Qu'il nous cause de l'histoire de la France et des Jacobins, du travail en cours avec un artiste en arts visuels à Brooklyn ou du café pris la veille avec Maher Arar (pour qui il a écrit Habeas corpus), il le fait avec pertinence et sensibilité, apportant un éclairage qui donne encore plus de profondeur aux œuvres jouées. C'était sa première visite à Montréal avec cette formation, ce big band moderne et énergique. Voilà un musicien dont on a envie de suivre la prometteuse carrière.

Marianne Trudel septet

Le septet de Marianne Trudel était en feu. Après quelques spectacles donnés ailleurs au pays, les musiciens étaient en forme, la complicité palpable. Rare de trouver ça à ce point dans un groupe aussi grand. Marianne Trudel est une musicienne épatante. Très solide techniquement, elle est d'abord au service de la musique. D'où une générosité sans pareille avec ses musiciens, qui l'inspirent, nous dit-elle avec sincérité. Ses compositions, indéniablement modernes, arrivent à garder un équilibre entre l'avant-garde et la tradition. C'est audacieux et accessible. Anne Schaeffer est superbe à entendre. Au trombone, Jean-Olivier Bégin a impressionné le public présent à l'Astral. (Sympathique salle d'ailleurs que je visitais pour la première fois. Mais le Spectrum n'a pas trouvé de réel remplaçant...). On en aurait vraiment pris un peu plus.

Dan Tepfer

Le pianiste Dan Tepfer se produisait dans un Upstairs bondé. J'étais littéralement assise dans... le garde-robe de l'entrée ! J'avais une vue de dos sur le pianiste... je me suis reprise avec son batteur, superbe de subtilités. Le pianiste américain, né en France, s'est d'ailleurs adressé au public en français, pour présenter ses compositions, mêlées à des standards, comme cette relecture très personnelle de Giant Steps ou cette chanson de Jacques Brel, Le plat pays, reçue chaleureusement par la foule, au grand plaisir du pianiste qui a plutôt l'habitude de la présenter à un public qui ne la connait pas ! Magnifique pianiste qui nous a offert une soirée riche d'une aventure sonore exquise. Son phrasé est lyrique, il y a beaucoup de puissance dans son jeu, sans qu'il perde de subtilité, lui qui affectionne arpèges et contrepoints. Rappelons qu'il a aussi joué les Variations Goldberg dans une récente tournée, ce qui n'est pas rien. Une belle cohésion règne au sein de son trio qu'on a hâte d'entendre à nouveau. Et de voir !

Misses Satchmo

Finalement j'ai craqué pour Misses Satchmo. Hommage à Louis Armstrong et à son époque, les «misses», soit la trompettiste Lysandre Champagne (Marco Calliari, Calexico) et la pianiste Maude Alain-Gendreau (ainsi que les deux gars de la formation !) offrent une musique pétillante. C'est charmant, bien fait, les chansons sont bien choisies, le spectacle bien rodé. Le public adore ! La bonne humeur distillée par la formation est contagieuse. Un vrai bonheur d'été.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Yaron Herman Trio, une classe à part

par Julie Berardino.

Définitivement d'un monde à part, Yaron Herman a hier soir intrigué et l'auditoire comblé et fort expressif de l'Astral. Sa présence sur scène étonne, tranche : l'infinie sensibilité et expressivité de sa musique transparait fortement dans son langage corporel. Constamment en mouvement, Herman se lève lors de certains passages énergiques, fait danser ses bras au gré des dynamiques et des couleurs qu'il insuffle à sa musique. Il prépare doucement son piano et en frappe directement les cordes avec un naturel, une célérité et un contrôle fou. Il fascine, s'attache ses spectateurs.

Rarement perçoit-on autant l'amour d'un artiste pour son instrument : le son qu'il en tire est hautement organique, d'une délicatesse recherchée dans les passages méditatifs et d'une grande maîtrise dans les passages virtuoses. L'artiste n'en a que pour son instrument, ne le quitte point des yeux, tout en maintenant une cohésion fantastique avec le reste de son trio, le batteur Gerald Cleaver et le bassiste Matt Brewer. On note la prédilection de Herman pour les motifs mélodiques répétés, sur lesquels des notes bleues apparaissent comme une brise ainsi que son intérêt marqué pour les aigus du piano qu'il accompagne allègrement lui-même de passages au Glockenspiel.

Expert en métissage, son trio nous a fait des découvrir les splendeurs de la musique israélienne, l'inventivité de ses compositions et même la richesse du matériel mélodique de pièces pop, dont même du Nirvana, véritables chefs-d'œuvre sous ses doigts. On surveille de près son prochain passage dans la métropole !

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Monday, July 4, 2011

OTTAWA INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL

BY RON SWEETMAN

INTRODUCTION

The Ottawa International Jazz Festival 2011 ran for ten days, from Thursday June 23 to Sunday July 3. There were approximately sixty concerts that you paid to hear, and approximately thirty-three concerts which were free.

I chose to review five concerts because I thought that you [and I] would find them particularly interesting. It was a physical impossibility for anyone to attend every concert, but I would like to mention other concerts that I heard and thoroughly enjoyed – Jonas Kullhammar Quartet, the Joshua Redman/Brad Mehldau Duo, Chet Doxas Quartet, Christian McBride and Inside Straight, Vijay Iyer, Kenny Wheeler, Myra Melford, Jon Irabagon & Diana Torto, Nancy Walker Quartet and Way Out West.

This is a major jazz festival which brings in top-flight artists from around the world.

THE THING – June 24

The Thing is an improvising trio made up of Mats Gustafsson [Tenor and baritone sax - from Sweden], Ingebrigt Håker Flaten [String bass – from Norway] and Paal Nilssen-Love [Drums - from Norway]. They jumped right in to their first piece, with blaring tenor sax, strong supportive bass and vigourous inspiring drumming. Gustafsson stayed mostly in the middle range of his instrument , but with some excursions above and below the normal range. He plays the instrument with his whole body, his body executing an empathetic dance to the notes he played. After a pause for a bass solo, the sax came back, softly at first but soon blaring again, urged on by the propulsive drummer. Watching and hearing Paal Nilssen-Love makes one realise how extraordinary he is. Gustafsson is wild but logical in the development of his playing.

The second piece started with a soft tenor saxophone/bass duet, then joined by the drummer, just using brushes. Here the sax tone resembles Sonny Rollins more than the extreme tones used by other free players. Nilssen-Love takes a subtle but propulsive solo while Gustafsson changes over to his baritone sax and he and the bass re-join the drummer, the baritone sax initially harsh and blasting, but softening into short strong single notes. Drums and bass pick up theme as sax moves into more complete phrases, becoming so rhythmic in his phrasing that he almost becomes part of the rhythm section, until a witty sax phrase brings the piece to an end.

Bass and drums introduced the third piece, joined by the tenor sax with deep sustained notes, which became shorter and more staccato, his phrases mirrored by the drummer. The sax develops short motifs as heat increases and energy mounts, punctuated by a bass solo. The sax comes back, the tempo speeds up and the sax improvises wildly until an abrupt ending.

The fourth piece has a driving drum introduction by Paal Nilssen-Love until he is joined by the tenor sax for a theme statement, while the bass rumbles below them. Drums are a powerhouse of rhythmic impulses and drive. Sax moves into higher register as band stops to let him solo, then bass comes in behind him, followed by the drums. Sax calms down and uses short repeated phrases, slowly fading out, leaving bass and drums to duet. Sax changes to baritone and comes in slowly and deeply, moving to short explosive grunts as the piece ends.

The final piece opened with the baritone sax slap-tonguing between high and low notes, interspersed with some ballad-like phrases. Drums and bass come in, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten bowing his bass. The sax responds with strong rhythmic phrases, getting very athletic as his body mirrors the phrases. The bass comes forward with a bowed solo which slowly fades to end the piece.

This was a brilliant set. Musicians playing at this level of intensity and inspiration have to add remaining physically strong to their high technical competence, a challenge not faced by less adventurous groups.

ATOMIC – June 25

This group is made up of two members of The Thing; Paal Nilssen-Love [Drums – from Norway], and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten [Bass – from Norway], plus Magnus Broo [Trumpet - from Sweden], Fredrik Ljungkvist [Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax & Clarinet – from Sweden], and Håvard Wiik [Piano – from Norway].

They refer to the pieces they play as "tunes" or "compositions", and each performance refers to the general outline of the "tune" but varies in the individual improvisations of each musician.

Their first piece opened fast but there was a sudden drop in tempo while the trumpet played a delicate solo, with some support from the tenor sax, followed by a piano solo. Håvard Wiik uses all the resources of the piano. This was followed by a brief trumpet solo, with Paal Nilssen-Love really stoking the fire during the trumpet solo, then bringing the tempo down before bass and drums reawake the fire behind a tenor sax solo. Fredrik starts with honks but develops more harmonically and content-wise as he proceeds, with piano, bass and drums providing great support. The sax solo ends with a lengthy wail, followed by a brief trumpet/sax unison passage and an abrupt, but planned, ending.

The second piece started with the very melodic but rather static theme being played by the entire band, followed by a complex piano solo. This leads to a tenor sax solo which starts quietly and gains in strength without leaving the normal range of the instrument. The trumpet joins the sax for a gentle restatement of the theme, and then takes over with a big tone and declamatory style evoking memories of Louis Armstrong as will as more modern trumpeters. Another theme statement is followed by a sudden ending.

The third piece, a recent composition entitled "Here Comes Everybody" opens with a cautious sax solo with support from piano and bass. Trumpet joins in for a lengthy sax/trumpet duet as tempo accelerates with addition of drums, and the duet becomes combative, with the rhythm section urging them on. Fredrik swaps his sax for a clarinet and the duet feeling is back until the trumpet goes quiet, leaving the clarinet and the drummer, by playing a bow down the side of a cymbal, to produce shrill thrills. The piece ends with a loud and strong re-statement of the theme.

For the fourth piece, Fredrik picks up his baritone sax for a unison theme statement, followed by a reflective trumpet solo with just piano accompaniment. The trumpet becomes quite raucous for a while, but then softens his attack to an almost tender approach. The baritone sax slides in behind him with a warm-toned and reflective solo until the piece is brought to a sudden end by some problem with the sound system.

Fredrik is back on tenor sax for the unison theme statement of the fifth piece, which is followed by a fast and percussive piano solo. Then the sax starts his solo, holding long notes and wailing aggressively, developing into shorter phrases, all within the normal tenor sax range. Trumpet joins him with repeated short motifs, and the temperature rises as the trumpet really wails, but unexpectedly they return to earth and a slower tempo, which is how the piece ends.

For the sixth piece, Fredrik uses his clarinet, and the opening by clarinet, trumpet and bowed bass sounds quite classical. The pianist plays an introspective solo and then clarinet, trumpet and bowed bass come back, still sounding quite classical. The sound changes as Fredrik picks up his baritone sax. The central feature is a fine trumpet solo, where now I can hear echoes of Roy Eldridge and Fats Navarro, although the effect is quite contemporary. The sax takes his solo, also expansive and also using the full range of the instrument, especially the lower register. Sax and trumpet play a friendly duel and the sax moves out of the normal range into higher territory before a brief unison passage takes the piece out.

The final piece had a somewhat-tongue-in-cheek dedication to a Swedish section of Chicago. The prepared piano played question and answer with the clarinet and trumpet, contrasting the avant-garde piano with the more conventional approach of the clarinet and trumpet. The tempo slowed down, the bass bowed, trumpet and clarinet played in unison and then took solos. For his solo, Fredrik played rising notes right to the extreme top of his range, while Magnus stayed closer to home, using a broad tone and blues phraseology. When the baritone came in behind him, there was almost a Dixieland feel. Sax and trumpet played another duet, sax riffing madly, which concluded the tune and the concert.

This group has the enormous strength of drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten to ground and to inspire the other three members, who are very good but not at the level of Paal and Ingebrigt. Magnus Broo is their outstanding soloist. They operate well as a group.

TANIA GILL QUARTET – June 26

The Tania Gill Quartet normally includes Tania Gill [Piano, Melodica, Voice], Lina Allemano [Trumpet, Flugelhorn], Clinton Ryder [bass] and Jean Martin [Drums], but for this concert Lina Allemano was replaced by Jim Lewis [Trumpet, Flugelhorn].

Such a change can readily unbalance the internal structure of a quartet, and I'm sure that a concert by the regular personnel would have been more satisfying for all concerned.

Another unusual aspect of the concert was the charming informality of the introductions, which made the audience feel closer to the musicians.

The first tune "Bicycle" started with a thoughtful piano introduction joined first by the drummer [using brushes] and then trumpet and bass, playing the theme with the piano remaining at the forefront. The trumpet then took a solo which varied from restrained to adventurous, ending on a long sustained note. Piano soloed briefly and then the trumpet was back in a more adventurous style, bringing the piece to its end.

The second piece "Ah Ti Ta" started with a trumpet intro over a bowed bass, followed by a rich piano solo which Tania appeared to be reading from music in front of her, an unusual sight in an improvising group. Trumpet joined piano in the up-and-down theme, developing into a trumpet/piano duet in a question & answer mode. A further piano solo sounded more improvised. A further rather restrained trumpet/piano duet ended this piece.

Next up was "Bolger Station", the title track of Tania's debut CD on the Barnyard label, which began with a meditative piano introduction followed by a sober flugelhorn theme statement and improvisation. The piano quickens the tempo in an apparently improvised solo. This piece was aborted as an unidentified voice came over the sound system.

Tania brought out her melodica for the introduction to "Paso", which seemed to be in waltz time. A trumpet solo followed and then the piano built up an elaborate solo before the trumpet joined her to finish the piece.

Waltz time was less obvious in "Maple Leaf Waltz", starting with piano, melodica, bowed bass and muted trumpet slowly launching the tune, with piano and trumpet trading phrases. Tina sang in a small voice, then took a piano solo with muted trumpet interventions. Bowed bass ended this number.

Tania now played an unaccompanied piano solo based on a four-bar sketch written by a Toronto friend, which left her plenty of room for improvisation.

A Monkish-sounding tune called "Magpie" started with a unison theme statement, followed by an adventurous trumpet solo. A brief drum solo introduced a piano solo rich with Monkish harmonies. Trumpet and piano reprise the theme and see us out.

"Lakeshore" started with a piano introduction into a trumpet theme statement. Bass and piano take solos before the flugelhorn comes in with subdued notes which announce the end of this piece.

Melancholic piano chords are joined by Tania's voice as we recognize "It Never Entered My Mind". The vocal is followed by a piano solo, nicely improvised upon the song's chords, and a bass solo which wraps this tune up.

The penultimate piece began with flugelhorn and piano first stating the theme quite briskly, and then improvising on it. Piano and bass solos follow. Restatement of the theme takes us out.

Finally, a brief pensive piano introduction as trumpet states the theme and improvises upon it with piano support. A bowed bass solo ends this piece and the concert.

DARCY JAMES ARGUE'S SECRET SOCIETY – June 28

This orchestra is a mixture of Canadian and American musicians who play the compositions and arrangements of Canadian Darcy James Argue, who conducts each piece. This is a large band – five reeds, five trumpets, four trombones, piano, guitar, bass and drums. Because their entire repertoire is written, arranged and conducted, it has an original sound, which is very welcome in the big band world.

"Transit" started with a strong theme statement, followed by a brilliant trumpet solo by Ingrid Jensen, floating over the orchestra which gradually gets louder, forcing the trumpet higher into the stratosphere before an abrupt ending.

"Flux In A Box" demonstrated the overall strength of this orchestra. There was a jumping alto sax solo over rich ensemble backing, a piano solo which started in a meditative mode but increased in speed and intensity with prodding from the orchestra. Apart from soloists, band members are reading from charts, but with great conviction and swing.

"The Neighbourhood" opens with tinkling piano echoed by the orchestra. Tension and volume increases. A tenor sax solo carries things forward. Two flutes and a clarinet play with echoing brass behind them. Drums get hot and heavy, and the whole band joins in. This is followed by an idyllic passage by flutes and clarinet which ends the piece.

"The Jacobin Club" starts with subdued brass over quavering clarinets and flutes. The tempo quickens and volume increases.

An alto & trombone duet over increasing volume from muted trumpets in a loping rhythm. Volume reaches a climax, leaving just the bass to end things off.

"Habeas Corpus (for Maher Arar)" starts with ominous chords from bass and guitar. The orchestra comes in quietly and sensitively but gaining in strength; the guitar chords are mirrored by throbbing brass. Trombone solo over somber clashing chords. Appropriately dark ending.

"Aeromagnetic" had a slow introduction gradually increasing in power. Tempo changes and sounds become threatening. A trumpet solo, backed by the orchestra, ends with crashing drums and roaring brass, relieved by the guitar emerging playing chords which are picked up by the orchestra as the piece ends.

"Phobos" starts with percussion solo largely using hands, creating an echoing sound. The guitar makes harsh scraping noises, but when the orchestra comes in, it sounds quite serene. There's a gradual increase in volume as the tenor sax solos over the full orchestra. At the end of this solo, the tempo drops and the orchestra plays in unison until the drummer crashes his cymbals, raising the tempo and the volume, only to die away to bring the piece to an end.

This was a thoroughly satisfying concert, and James Darcy Argue is a composer/arranger/bandleader to watch.

GORD GRDINA TRIO with MATS GUSTAFSSON– June 30

The Gord Grdina Trio is made up of Gord Grdina, guitar and oud, Tommy Babin, double bass and Kenton Loewen, drums. They were joined by Mats Gustafsson on tenor and baritone saxes. This international pairing of Canada's Gord Grdina Trio and Sweden's Mats Gustafsson might have appeared strange in print, but it certainly worked out well in practice.

"Burning Bright" started with a blaze of sound, all four musicians putting everything they had into the hard-swinging ensemble jam, Mats [on tenor sax] sounding thoroughly at home. After a while he sat out and let Gord take the leading role which developed into a dynamic guitar solo full of rich chords. Bass and drums came back in and the tempo increased so Mats decided it was time to get back into the game. The ensemble moves into an Ayleresque mode which of course calls for a solo from Mats. It is always notable that Mats has the body and poise of an athlete, with his whole body moving in empathy with the notes he's playing. Gord comes back and he and Mats start a duet which at times sounds as if it might become a duel, but remains a duet, briefly interrupted by a sonorous bass solo, and sax and guitar are still duetting as the tune ends.

Gord moved to oud for "Cluster", which started with strangled sounds from the bowed bass. Gord soon demonstrated his mastery of the oud as an Eastern atmosphere developed. Mats joined in with his tenor saxophone sound muffled by his knee to remain consistent with the mood of the music, which was emphasised by more bowed bass. Mats then uncovered his sax to take a fine solo, honking at times but not breaking the Eastern spell. A slow drum pulse becomes a delicate drum solo, which is joined by the bass for a duet which briefly becomes a trio as the oud chimes in, but bass and drums clear the air for an oud solo. Mats silently sways in sympathy with the music before joining in on baritone sax, building up the strength of his solo and reaching above the normal upper register of his instrument. The tempo relaxes as everyone joins in to take this piece to its end.

For the third and final piece, Mats starts on baritone sax, using multiphonics to fill the room. Tempo and tension build. Mats breathes into his sax less often, leaving us with the clatter of the keys and the occasional burst of sound. The band comes in loud and fast, swinging like mad, with the guitar in the lead and then soloing, chewing and spitting out short phrases. A fast bass solo follows, demonstrating a full sound, impressive technique and great swing. Baritone comes back for a fast ensemble riff. Sax and guitar walk towards each other, bobbing like boxers, then backing off, while playing intensely. The band works to a sustained climax, based on the underlying riff, and then, suddenly, all is quiet.

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