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Across the spectrum, around the world
The second day of the festival picked up where day one left off - music and musicians representing a wide range of jazz styles.
At 12:30, former TD Toronto Jazz Festival Artistic Director Jim Galloway kicked off the Ken Page Memorial Trust Inside Track with a conversation with legendary tenor saxophonist Houston Person. It was great fun watching these two in action - they are musical colleagues, having played together as recently as last month, but also long-time friends. One quote in particular stood out for me - when Jim asked Houston if there is any music Houston won't listen to, Houston replied (paraphrasing) "I respect all musicians. All I ask is that they remember their audience." Good advice from a master!
After a quick phone interview with AM740 I made my way to the Distillery District where we had music playing most of the day on two stages. I caught the tail end of the Mike Janzen Trio's set (so groovy, with Ben Riley on drums and George Koller on bass), then the tail end of Samba Squad's set (they are always so much fun) and wrapped up with a few tunes from the duo of pianist Adrean Farrugia and vocalist Sophia Perlman (these two sound fantastic together). The sky was clear, the crowds were enthusiastic - an ideal setting.
Next I was back to the Outdoor Stage to check out Get the Blessing, a jazz-rock quartet from the UK. Some minor technical challenges meant some last-minute scrambling (who sells power transformers at 4:45 pm on a Saturday? We know now...) but our ace technical crew got the show up and running with only a few minutes' delay. The group launched right into their brand of fusion, and though the music might have ventured a bit further out than some were expecting, the crowd only grew over the course of the show. The music was interesting and energetic, and a great international addition to the lineup.
From Nathan Phillips Square I walked down - after a quick live-to-air on CityTV - to Quotes to catch Houston Person in action with the Canadian Jazz Quartet. As with Byron Stripling's performance yesterday evening, the opportunity to see in action a veteran jazzer of a particular vintage was a treat. Houston's sound is huge, and I felt as though the band was really grooving. Both on stage and off, Houston's sense of humour was in evidence (apparently my name is now George Gershwin) - a good reminder that if we're not having fun while making music, it's not clear why we're making music at all. A highlight for me was hearing a tune I rarely hear on gigs - "What a Wonderful World"...and Houston played it beautifully.
Back to the Toronto Star Stage, where the 26-piece collective known as The Big Sound was congregating for their 8 pm opening set. Featuring musicians you've likely seen and heard recorded in a variety of jazz, pop and classical settings, The Big Sound plays meticulous recreations of Motown classics. Over their hour-long set, they did not disappoint - a steady stream of vocalists (eight in all) shared the lead and backup vocal duties, what at times seemed like a complicated ballet of musicians coming on and off stage was engineered smoothly, and by the end of their set the audience was on their feet. We heard Jackson 5, Diana Ross, The Temptations and so much more - they provided a high-energy start to the show.
I slipped out at the end of The Big Sound's set to catch some of trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis down at the Cherry Street Restaurant. I had heard a lot about her, especially about her compositions, so was keen to see her in action. The quartet (Australia-born, New York based Nadje with local musicians Adrean Farrugia, Mark Cashion and Ernesto Cervini) was playing outside and the setting was lovely, though as the sun set seeing the music became a bit of a challenge. The ensemble though played as if they had been rehearsing for weeks. Nadje's compositions are melodic and interesting, and I was struck by how her improvisation was the same - with each solo, she seemed to be telling a story, creating a new melody; each line built on the line before. I look forward to hearing her CD when it's ready.
From Cherry Street I made my way back to the Toronto Star Stage to catch about 30 minutes of Bettye LaVette's set...but I only needed about a minute to be reminded why she is enjoying a resurgence in her career (or, as she put it during the show her "stunning, overnight success which has only taken 50 years") - she has an incredible instrument. The tunes I heard spanned in style from blues-y to rock-y to gospel-y, and Bettye had complete control of every nuance in her voice the entire time. I was moved by the passion with which she sang every lyric; the audience was hanging on her every word and responded with frequent ovations. It's easy sometimes to say "oh yeah - that artist - she's great"...but to get an in-person reminder about what makes an artist great is always special, and I felt Bettye LaVette did that last night.
My final stop of the night was The Opera House, where I caught the last couple of tunes and the extended encore from Vancouver-based Destroyer. To try to categorize leader (and songwriter and vocalist) Dan Bejar and his crew would probably be doing them a disservice - but what I heard last night was sometimes Bob Dylan-esque vocal stylings, sometimes 80's-pop inspired sounds, sometimes pure rock out, and even a very cool soundscape/noise improvisation by trumpeter JP Carter. The venue was packed to capacity and the audience loved what they heard; an enormous ovation brought the band back to the stage for an two-song encore, and the place was buzzing when it all wrapped up. An interesting musical conclusion to a great day two.
Here's what's up for today:
- Jim Galloway chats with local trombonist William Carn in today's KPMT Inside Track, 12:30 on the Outdoor Stage
- Shannon Gunn and Alex Dean lead Jazz for the Teach, today focusing on small ensemble playing, 3-6 pm at The Music Gallery
- Local nonet the Carn Davidson 9 play the Outdoor Stage at 5 pm
- Karrin Allyson kicks off our Jazz by the Lake series at the Enwave Theatre at 7 pm
- The Incubator gets underway at The Music Gallery with the Dutch/Danish/Canadian sextet of Ig Henneman at 8 pm
- Hiromi's Trio Project then The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman hit the Toronto Star Stage starting at 8 pm
- Mike Stern tears up the Horseshoe Tavern with two sets starting at 9 pm (doors at 8 pm)
See you on the square!