Toronto Jazz Festival - 2012
Day 1: Friday, June 22, 2012
Brian Barlow brought his big band to open the 26th edition of the festival with a late Friday afternoon of Ellington swing under ideal Summer weather on the grounds of Nathan Phillips Square.
Over at Church of the Holy Trinity, Kurt Rosenwinkel delivered a solo guitar performance dominated by soft melodic compositions juxtaposed with his voice. A common element in his playing was the frequent use of extended bars for a real spiritual feel that was very fitting in the hallowed halls of the church. The audience listened with discreet attention. A few familiar surprises, played in the same mood, were added for variety including a light bossa nova as well as Jimmy Van Heusen's Darn That Dream.
For a true opening night atmosphere, Janelle Monáe hit the Toronto Start Stage with a dazzling and energetic performance that kept the crowd on their feet throughout the well crafted show filled with R&B, soul, jazz and urban influences. The evening included Monáe's own compositions as well as classics such as the Jackson 5's I Want You Back and even Goldfinger for good measure. She had the crowd in her hand as they even helped support her when she leaned into them. At one point she drew an abstract painting on a sitting canvas which she offered as a gift to a very enthusiastic audience member for her birthday. This was truly a fun and positive kickoff night with lots of great music still waiting to be heard all around.
Day 2: Saturday, June 23, 2012
Tenor saxophonist extraordinaire Houston Person was one of the key performers to check out on Saturday afternoon. Starting off with a lunchtime conversation with Jim Galloway, Person later joined the Canadian Jazz Quartet at Quotes Bar & Grill. Person led the strong group with a straight-ahead blues with Ellington's Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me. Right off the bat he showed his complete command of the tenor sax with lovely accentuation and perfect tonality and timing. The appreciative audience heard exactly what they came to expect from a true natural. It must have been wonderful playing with the boss tenor over 3 sets. Other tunes included Ray Noble's I Hadn't Anyone Till You, Harold Arlen's Let's Fall In Love, as well as a funky rendition of Sunny for variety.
The Big Sound, a large Toronto formation opened the Mainstage lineup with a captivating collection of Motown glory. They made a great impression in preparation of true Motown royalty, singer Bettye LaVette. Since coming onto the scene in the 60s and 70s, LaVette had plenty of history to draw on when exuding genuine emotion, even pain, in her blues laments. This was an evening of storytelling with a strong and consistent voice that had the audience hanging on to her every word.
Day 3: Sunday, June 24, 2012
Hiromi. Photo: Tom Rose.
The second set saw The Bad Plus joined by Joshua Redman. The group went right into their brand of avant-garde that always seems to bring in originality and a listening ear's curiosity. Redman performed as if he had always been part of the group as opposed to a special guest just sitting in. He played with gusto in order to maintain the forward kinetic intensity while later on People Like You he made his tenor sound almost like a sweet soprano sax for a quiet reprieve. There were ventures into some deep Coltrane styled free jazz on tunes such as 2 PM. What was impressive to know was that these guys had not played together since last August. They played with impeccable tightness without charts with Redman using his timely musical instincts.
Fans at other locations had a variety of choices from the sweet voice of Karrin Allyson to the intense guitar playing of Mike Stern and his band.
Day 4: Monday, June 25, 2012
Monday was a particularly busy day with artists coming and going as well as performing of course. Some of the flights coming from the US were either delayed or canceled. One of the consequences was that Nathalie Cole's concert had to be canceled at the last minute due to these transportation issues beyond organizers' control. Nevertheless other shows dominated the schedule.
At the Enwave Theatre, Robert Glasper showcased his much talked about attempt at pushing jazz forward in the modern era. He was joined by singer Bilal who would later join Glasper's trio formation for a second show at the Wrongbar due to popular demand after the ealier performance had been sold out. A larger venue would have been more appropriate for Glasper since he had attracted a lot of attention in recent months and a lot has and continues to be written about him.
For the first part of the Mainstage performance, Roberta Gambarini was joined by a power rhythm section with Dave Restivo on piano, Neil Swainson on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. A bit of Jobim bossa nova was followed by On The Sunny Side Of The Street as a dedication to her longtime friend and supporter, the late James Moody. There were several song choices that moved away from traditional standards such as a heartbreaking Astor Piazzolla composition Oblivion (sung in French), and the relatively unknown Cy Coleman song With Every Breath I Take, all offered with the appropriate level of emotion. The repertoire for this evening lacked the originality that would be present with a new project yet it still satisfied devoted fans of the genre.
The second part of the evening was reserved for one of the festival's favourite musicians, Roy Hargrove. He had appeared previously as leader of his big band, a member of the Dizzy Gillespie all-star band or in this case, the RH Factor. With this group shifting from jazz to hip hop, the RH Factor reached the climactic edge of their show when they played Funkadelic's One Nation Under The Groove, with Hargrove contributing to vocal sections and Lenny Stallworth drawing positive attention with a mean slap bass intro. Renee Neufville provided the female vocals on selected pieces as well as handled one of the keyboards in the band. The groove was in full force tonight to the audience's delight while still not having the same buzz as was the case during the previous RH Factor performance in this festival. Even the crowd was distinctly smaller.
Day 5: Tuesday, June 26, 2012
For Tuesday, fans had choices ranging from Soul Rebels to the Canadian Jazz Quartet with Ian McDougall, to Peter Appleyard & The Sophisticated Ladies.
At the sold-out Enwave Theatre, celebrated guitarist Bill Frisell and his group focused on the music of John Lennon. Frisell admits the importance of The Beatles in his art. Most of the chosen deconstructed tunes for this show would start quietly, in an almost contemplative mood, rise to the climactic moment before returning to the original form. Come Together was the only song that really pushed the volume. Frisell reinterpretation of Lennon's tunes are a testament to the richness of the music as well as his foundational role that led to the legendary group's popularity.
George Benson. Photo: Tom Rose.
Over at the Mainstage concert, the packed tent was really anticipating the guitar man himself: George Benson. The NEA Jazz Master definitely provided a great show that included the old time favourites such as Love X Love and Turn Your Love Around as well cuts from his recent cd Guitar Man. Such a combination allowed for a fresh experience of the performer. One particular highlight came right after Moody's Mood that ended with a cool fast blues swing. At The Mambo Inn, arranged from Tito Puente's song included a content-rich solo by keyboardist and musical director, David Garfield. The last piece of the main set had to be Gimme The Night which still sounded fresh, cool, and engaging. For the encore, Benson changed into a smoking white jacket for the other all-time favourite: On Broadway. This was classic Benson who is a showman and musician. The tune selection was well balanced so that time just flew by. He had positive things to say about Toronto and hoped to return soon. Let's hope so.
The festival was now moving into the second half with plenty of music and shows waiting to be enjoyed and discovered.
Day 6: Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Late Wednesday afternoon, the outside audience was treated to Don Thompson's George Shearing Tribute in his quintet formation with Bernie Senensky on piano, Reg Schwager on guitar, Neil Swainson on bass, and Terry Clarke on drums. It was absolutely fitting due to Thompson's years of performing and recording with the great piano player. The selection included an exotic rendition of Kurt Weil's classic Speak Low. Of course the key song closely associated with Shearing will always be Lullaby of Birdland, played with the utmost care and finesse.
Over at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Juneau award-winner Phil Dwyer led a sextet featuring pianist Laila Biali. Other members of the stellar group were Davide Direnzo (drums), Vince Mai (trumpet), Rob Piltch (guitar) and Jodi Proznick (bass). They all showcased Dwyer's Canadian songbook which includes a rich musical compendium with a canadian flavour. Some of the songs selected included Gordon Lightfoot's Beautiful, which Dwyer indicated was inspired from Miles Davis' In A Silent Way. Leonard Cohen's bluesy and catchy tune, Tower of Song, Joni Mitchell's Free Man In Paris sung by Laila Biali, and the Québecois group Karkwa's Moi-Léger.
The Mainstage was particularly boisterous in a good and fun way. Saidah Baba Talibah warmed up the audience with her energetic style together with an equally fervent band.
Trombone Shorty. Photo: Kris King.
Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews) brought the house down after the intermission with a heavy dose of New Orleans funk with a dash of rock, jazz, hip-hop and soul. Hurricane Season is a perfect example of how Shorty gets to fire up the audience by drawing them into a sort of call and response during the chorus. It was nice to see Trombone Shorty and his energetic band include such as classic as On the Sunny Side of the Street as it also included Shorty showing his versatility by playing the trumpet and playing a long note beyond what any normal breath could handle. We had some Ray Charles with the signature I Got A Woman. For the supportive audience members and in remaining with the New Orleans theme, the band selected Do Watcha Wanna made famous by the Rebirth Brass Band (past festival performers). What made it relaxed and different was to have the musicians switch from the instruments that they normally play. In that respect, Trombone Shorty led the way by playing drums. It was a fun night indeed.
Day 7: Thursday, June 28, 2012
The great Benny Green appeared late Thursday afternoon in a relatively warm Church of the Holy Trinity. The last time that he appeared in Toronto was as part of the "Aspects of Oscar" series held at Koerner Hall. In 1993, Benny Green was named by Oscar Peterson himself as the inaugural recipient of the Glenn Gould International Protégé Prize in Music. On this particular occasion, Green presented a solo performance that included his own compositions as well as standards. One of those compositions was Golden Flamingo, a tune that he dedicated to beautiful women after a trip to Thailand. It was a slow, thoughtful, and lyrical pieces that could help you unwind late at night after a busy day. So deep it was in its pensive tone that at the end, there was a slight pause as if both the audience and pianist wanted to let the feeling of the moment sink in. A good example of Green's technical prowess, paralleled with full mastery of timing, melody, and harmonics was Coltrane's Moment's Notice made popular through the classic album Blue Train. Benny Green selected Frank Foster's Shiny Stockings for a well deserved encore in front of a full room of supportive fans.
Over at the packed Mainstage concert, two wonderful young female artists were a perfect pair for the double bill. Gretchen Parlato, with her unique whispery voice, opened the evening accompanied by her trio featuring Taylor Eigsti on piano, Kendrick Scott on drums, and Burniss Earl Travis II on acoustic and electric bass. One of the favorites has to be Butterfly made popular by Herbie Hancock and that took a life of its own thanks to Parlato's lyrics within the unusual tempo.
Esperanza Spalding. Photo: Kris King.
Following the intermission, Esperanza Spalding, who has received may accolades recently, made her big Toronto debut as a band leader. Besides herself, she had 11 other musicians on the stage. She frequently switched from acoustic to electric bass throughout the evening. For her current tour, Spalding took the audience on dialog over fundamental everyday issues around relationships, friends, and love. For example, if you are alone you can still focus on what Spalding calls, your Cinnamon Tree. The whole show was essentially a discussion where one piece naturally flowed into the next and kept people's attention beyond 11pm. Saxophonist Tia Fuller thrilled the audience with her solo in dialog with Spalding's scat singing over Stevie Wonder's I Can't Help It. As an audience member put it, she owns it. Two other pieces that the whole band delivered to great enthusiasm were Black Gold and Smile Like That. Near the end, Spalding even had a clear warning to us in that we should avoid becoming an Endangered Species ourselves. For a unique encore, Esperanza Spalding and Gretchen Parlato both combined their beautiful voices to sing in Portuguese and to also demonstrate the overall theme of the evening related to lasting friendships.
Day 8: Friday, June 29, 2012
The Toronto Jazz Festival entered the final stretch with the start of the long weekend. Patio lovers could enjoy the sunshine and the music in the Distillery District. Over at Nathan Phillips Square, the late afternoon outdoor show was led by Retrocity, a very talented Canadian a capella group that showcased 80s tunes with each voice replicating the lyrics, the music, and the rhythm to perfection.
The headliners on the Mainstage was the Tedeschi Trucks Band that always commands a strong following in the blues combined with a mix of southern soul, American roots music, and rock 'n' roll.
John Pizzarelli and his quartet brought the Radio Deluxe show on the stage of the pristine Koerner Hall for some relaxing music and conversation before a sold out show. Pizzarelli explained to the audience that they were about to see "a jazz concert disguised as a radio show." The main members of the quartet were Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Tony Tedesco on drums, and Larry Fuller on piano. The genuine comfortable, fun loving, and humorous personalities of both John Pizzarelli and his wife Jessica Molaskey was on full display this evening. It was a real family gathering as even their young daughter Madeleine made a brief appearance on stage. The upbeat opening tune with husband and wife was Donald Fagen's Walk Between The Raindrops and Thad Jones' Tiptoe. A few songs performed were juxtapositions of different ones yet arranged in such a way that they flow and interact quiet nicely. John Pizzarelli had picked some of his favourite tunes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s and pair them with jazz music from the 50s. Another perfect example of this technique was to bring the James Taylor lyrics to Traffic Jam and bring in the music of Joe Henderson's The Kicker. Singer Emilie Claire-Barlow, who met Pizzarelli at the Café Carlisle while visiting New York, made a guest appearance for a few songs such as Don't Think Twice, It's Alright by Bob Dylan and Sammy Cahn's Things We Did Last Summer which included brief references to Autumn in New York and April In Paris. Hopefully listeners will have a chance to relive this show through the Radio Deluxe program on either JazzFM or online.
Day 9: Saturday, June 30, 2012
On the eve of Canada Day, festival attendees were able to enjoy the lovely weather all afternoon at the Distillery District where several performers were lined up on both the Trinity Stage as well as the Pure Spirits Patio.
Gord Sheard brought his Brazilian Jazz Experience to Nathan Phillips Square's Outdoor stage for the late afternoon audience after being interviewed earlier around lunchtime for The Inside Track presented by the Ken Page Memorial Trust and hosted by Josh Grossman, the festival's Artistic Director. These interview sessions had been a daily event yet the challenge was to create an intimate setting with a good crowd though the location was a large outdoor stage. The festival used to have performances everyday at lunchtime to cater to downtown workers as well as visitors and tourists.
The main evening shows had a predominantly blues theme. The small and intimate audience was very relaxed and clearly attentive to both performers of the double bill. It was as if the singers were either in their living room or around a fireplace surrounded by family and friends.
Joan Osborne, joined by pianist Keith Cotton, opened things up with a few of her songs reinterpreted from other well known singers such as Van Morrison. She relishes picking what works from Rock, Folk, Country rock, and Blues. For the second part of her show, she selected a few from her recent album Bring It On Home such as I'm Qualified and Champagne And Wine by Otis Redding. The most well known selection was One Of Us which had been a hit on her second album in '95: Relish. To describe the ambiance, all you had to do was witness Osborne's audience poll of what song to play next. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted first made popular by Jimmy Ruffin won out but Osborne also offered the other choice: God Bless The Child. It was our singer's first song that she used when first arriving in New York City.
Following a brief pause, it was Canadian blues guitarist Matt Andersen's turn to lead the audience in a solo performance. A first impression quickly demonstrates his great musicianship on the guitar by making the musical instrument provide all kinds of sounds and textures within the same piece. Andersen is from Perth-Andover, New Brunswick yet his lyrics reveal a deep understanding and appreciation for the whole of the Canadian east coast. He made several references for instance to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. For example, Coal Mining Blues describes the very difficult life of the local miners. His voice at times seemed to echo Bruce Springsteen from the early 80s on such records as Nebraska ('84). Other tunes performed included Devil's Bride and One Size Fits All. If Perth-Andover is a family-oriented community, this audience felt the same way and willingly and naturally participated in singing simple refrains at the guitarist's suggestion. Despite touring around the world, Matt Andersen remains a genuine and down-to-earth maritimer interested in exploring themes that have no national boundaries.
The much anticipated show for the final night of the festival was Tower Of Power. It was important to finish on a strong note and these horns delivered in their 44th year of existence. Stephen "Doc" Kupka maintained the steady anchor on baritone sax while Sal Cracchiolo didn't disappoint with his impressive and fiery solos that drew in the crowd. It was the first time that this group appeared on this festival stage and that helped bring in a large and enthusiastic crowd.
What was missing in this edition was a stronger Latin American representation. Luckily local fans could look forward to the first Pan American Latin Jazz Festival on July 14th. Lunchtime concerts and the celebrated late-nite jam session were also missing but perhaps that is directly related to funding constraints. Nevertheless this festival enjoyed high moments with 9 sold-out performances and a high participation rate by clubs offering jazz programming during the festival.