Getting into the music

How can it be the second-last day of the festival already?! Day 8 featured some great conversation and some great music.

At 12:30 pm, I sat down with David Braid for the day's KPMT Inside Track session. David and I went to school together (he was a year ahead of me) so we've known each other for a while, but this was likely our first in-depth conversation about music. I found the chat fascinating - his perspectives on improvising (getting back to the fundamentals of creating a melody), composing (being sure to keep in mind the particular strengths of each musician/ensemble), and playing "free" (it's not a matter of ignoring the rules; it's just a matter of not knowing in advance which ones will be used). The conversation flowed; before I knew it 45 minutes had passed. He wrapped up the session with a beautiful solo performance of an original composition. A stimulating way to start the day!

The afternoon was another quiet one, allowing me to catch up on an errand or two. At 5 pm Retrocity, a local a capella group whose repertoire is made up primarily of 80's pop tunes, took to the Outdoor Stage. They performed a full set - 80 minutes - of music, and kept the audience entertained the whole time. We heard Sting, Michael Jackson, Toto...even a great rendition of Bob Mintzer's "Beyond the Limit" (which, they said, fit the mandate since it was written in the 80s). The audience danced, clapped and sang along, and rewarded the group with two standing ovations.

After the Retrocity show I made my way over the The Rex Hotel for a bite to eat and to catch the end of the Hogtown Syncapators' set; there I was happy to bump into a drummer friend. We ended up chatting the whole time about various music and non-music related items - we hadn't seen each other for a while, and it was fun to catch up - and I was reminded once again that getting to see and chat with people is one of my favourite part of the festival.

From The Rex I headed over to The Music Gallery for the first bit of Karl Jannuska's set. Karl's a Canadian drummer and composer (now living in France) and the show was a celebration of the release of his new album, The Halfway Tree, featuring vocalist Sienna Dahlen. Karl's been on my radar for a couple of years - his submission in 2010 stuck out for me - and so I was glad to finally get him booked this year. In the 40 minutes or so that I saw, Karl's fine composing and the ensemble's fine playing were on display. The music was a bit on the mellow side (the last tune I heard started to kick it up a notch) but lovely. The blend across the ensemble worked well in the space, and Sienna's vocals - at times with words, at times without - soared beautifully overtop. Dave Restivo especially shone on piano; it was a treat to hear Karl's interesting melodies performed live.

My next stop was Koerner Hall, where I caught the last 30 minutes of John Pizzarelli's show. He had with him his quartet, plus his wife (and great vocalist) Jessica Molaskey; Emilie-Claire Barlow was the special guest as they did a live version of their weekly radio show Radio Deluxe. I heard some of what I expected - fun, swinging music with a strong dose of humour - but there were some bonuses: Emilie-Claire sounded fantastic (she's long been one of my favourite Canadian vocalists), and the duo of John and Jessica performing Paul Simon's "Hearts and Bones" I found particularly moving - Jessica imbued the lyrics with passion and pain. The show was also one of two last night with a husband-and-wife team (the other was Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi on the mainstage) in action, and one of two featuring the musicians' kids - Madeline Pizzarelli made an appearance at Koerner Hall; Derek and Susan's kids on the mainstage.

From Koerner Hall I zipped down the The Rivoli to greet and introduce the New York-based, five-piece jazz/rock fusion group Kneebody. The room, though not full, was abuzz - this was Kneebody's first Canadian performance (they've been together 12 years), and many in the audience were musicians keen to hear the group in action. They wasted no time launching into their "take-no-prisoners" set. The action was fast, furious, and loud, with interesting melodies enhanced by fiery solos. Their music is written in such a way that at times it's not clear what is a solo and what is melody, but everyone in the room seemed happy to go along for the ride - each tune was greeted with raucous applause. I could probably have done with less volume from the sound system - their music is fairly textured, with various electronic effects added to the trumpet, sax and keys, and the changes in sound were at times lost. Despite the occasional sound challenge, the Rivoli was the perfect sized venue for Kneebody's welcome Canadian debut.

The night wrapped up back at Nathan Phillips Square - a nice chance to hang with my colleagues. The mainstage show (The Tedeschi Trucks band) had wrapped up twenty minutes before and all was surprisingly quiet on the square, but everyone was still raving about the show. I saw the band live back in the fall and was blown away; if their show last night was similar, the capacity crowd would have had a great time.

So we're down to the last two days of the festival. I've had a great time so far. The only drag is I hab a bit of a code, but that shouldn't stop me from enjoying today's activity:

  • At 12:30 pm, I chat with Gord Sheard as part of the KPMT Inside Track on the Outdoor Stage
  • At 5:00 pm, Gord brings his Brazilian Jazz Experience to the Outdoor Stage
  • The Joan Osborne Duo (8 pm) and Matt Andersen (solo, 9:30 pm) play the Toronto Star Stage
  • Also at 8:00 pm, Hobson's Choice celebrates the release of their first full-length album, Of the Waves at The Music Gallery to wrap up The Incubator
  • At The Horseshoe, Nellie McKay performs solo, with the Becca Stevens trio opening up (doors 9:30 pm, show 10 pm)

There are also multiple shows on the Pure Spirits Patio and Mainstage in the Distillery and at Shops at Don Mills and, as usual, a full slate of shows in clubs around the city. See the full list of today's activity and, as I always say...

See you on the square!


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