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Leave them wanting more
On Day 7 of the festival, I found myself frequently pulled away from events before I had experienced a good fill. The blessing and curse of a busy festival...Here are the details.
My day started at The Rex Hotel with the Youth Jazz Showcase, a great opportunity each year for emerging musicians to show off what they can do. This year featured musicians from four bands - Youth Jazz in the City Honour Combos A and B, the Sho Yamamoto Trio from Sapporo (Japan), and the Mario Castro Quintet from Berklee College of Music in Boston. The performances were especially strong - our guests from Berklee, who were the most experienced of the bunch, were truly impressed by the performances of the younger musicians. The showcase was the culmination of two days of activity at Humber College, where the various ensembles rehearsed and jammed together - an excellent musical and mentoring experience. I was called away after about an hour...
...so that I could meet Gretchen Parlato and make final preparations for our 12:30 interview as part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Inside Track on the Outdoor Stage. I was feeling a bit nervous about sitting in the interviewer's chair, but once we got going, the conversation flowed nicely. I enjoyed hearing about her approach to various aspects of music: how she chooses repertoire (including criteria such as nostalgia from her youth and meaningful lyrics), the role of the vocalist in a combo setting (become an instrument as opposed to being separate), her experience working with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and more.
The afternoon was a quiet one - an opportunity to find some brain space, eat an actual sit-down lunch, and catch up on some work online. I ended up at The Rex Hotel, where three bands from the United Kingdom were showcasing their wares. It was a pleasure to meet an administrative counterpart from Scotland, and hear some interesting music - the first group was a wind (sax, flute, bagpipes) and guitar duo, a combination I don't think I had heard until yesterday. It was a relaxing couple of hours.
Shortly before 5:00 I made my way back to the Outdoor Stage to catch Jeff King's Catalyst. Not surprisingly, given the players on stage (Jeff King and Luis Deniz on sax, David Braid on piano, Rich Brown on bass, Joel Haynes on drums), the group presented a high energy set of jazz/rock/funk fusion. Each of the five musicians contributed their own groove and feel to the music, and together they frequently reached near-fever pitches. It was especially a treat to hear their take on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up", and their efforts were rewarded with a warm ovation at the end of the show.
Shortly after 6:30 I headed over to the Church of the Holy Trinity to catch some of Benny Green's solo piano show. Benny's a powerhouse pianist who can play basically in whatever style he wishes; what I saw seemed to draw primarily from the swing/bop bag. He started with a tune from Porgy and Bess then performed a few originals; the one ballad I heard showed off his wonderful touch in the piano, and provided a lovely contrast to the other, fast-fingered tunes. I wanted to hear more...
...But was also looking forward to Angelika Niescier's Quartet at The Music Gallery as part of The Incubator. Angelika's an interesting saxophonist from Germany who has rightfully made a name for herself for her explosive playing and interesting composing. Both were on display from the outset - in the 20 minutes or so that I saw the music ranged from composed to improvised, from full volume to controlled softer sections, with each musician in the quartet showing off his or her ability as a soloist and an ensemble player. I was enjoying the show...
...But it was important to me that I caught some of Gretchen Parlato's opening set on the Toronto Star Stage. As it turns out, I caught only her last tune; happily though she was brought back on stage for an encore. It's obviously difficult to assess an entire set based on two tunes, but I can tell you that the control with which she sings - and with which the quartet as a unit plays - is spine-tingling. Her signature sound is backed up by a quiet intensity; her bandmates follow her every nuance and create a compelling groove. The audience was clearly impressed!
My next stop was The Rivoli for the Chris Tarry group. Canadian-born but now living in New York, Chris is an exciting, contemporary jazz bassist; his bandmates - Kelly Jefferson on sax, Pete McCann on guitar, Henry Hey on keys and Dan Weiss on drums - are some of the best in the business. Together they perform an awesome jazz/rock fusion. I've always enjoyed hearing their shows, and last night was no exception. I especially like how they are so seamless as a group - each seems to be able to anticipate and compliment the other's every move; the way they play with time is so much fun. The only problem with last night was the turnout - small (but enthusiastic). We'll need to take a look at why there weren't more people in the audience (venue? ticket price? show time?) - this is a group which deserves a great crowd. I could have listened all night...
...But it was time to get back to the mainstage to catch some Esperanza Spalding. The tent was packed, and when I arrived she was well into her set of groovy tunes and soulful ballads. The audience seemed to enjoy every tune, often giving Esperanza and her backing band (a little big band of seven plus a rhythm section) rousing applause. For the show, Esperanza created a storyline - between tunes she narrated, furthering the story of the main protagonists. I feel that the pace of the show could have been tightened up a bit (it wrapped up after 11), but the talent on stage was impressive. Esperanza's is a beautiful, soaring, crystal clear voice. Her composing is groovy but not simple; she writes interesting melodies with lyrics firmly placed in the now, reflecting current events and contemporary themes; her bass playing (I especially enjoyed hearing her on electric bass) exciting. Each member of the larger ensemble was provided ample solo space, and as a unit they provided the sound and feel required for each tune.
Despite the longer running time, the audience was happy to call for an encore, and I'm glad they did - Gretchen Parlato joined Esperanza on stage for a beautiful, mellow vocal duo (Esperanza also played acoustic bass) which aptly displayed each musician's outstanding ability. A special end to an exciting mainstage show.
My last stop of the evening was The Rex Hotel to hear Assaf Kehati's trio - the guitarist was joined by Or Berekt on bass and legendary drummer Victor Lewis. I missed Victor's last visit to Toronto, so wanted to be sure to catch him this time around. I'm glad I did - the list of jazz legends with which he's played is impressive, and to see him in action was a treat. Some drummers have a feel which is likened to a freight train - swinging, irrepressible, constantly pushing forward - and I was reminded of that comparison when listening to Victor last night. He brought an intensity to every tune, whether playing full out bop or brushes on a ballad. Assaf and Or, who also sounded great, were clearly having a good time, often breaking into wide smiles in response to a Victor Lewis fill or solo. At the end of a busy day, it was nice to be able to sit and listen to a full set of music.
As we head into the final weekend of the festival (already?!) the activity slows a bit, but not much. Here's what's up today:
- At 12:30 pm I interview David Braid on the Outdoor Stage for today's installment of the KPMT Inside Track
- At 5 pm a-capella ensemble Retrocity performs on the Outdoor Stage
- At 8 pm the Tedeschi Trucks Band takes to the Toronto Star stage, with the Stone Sparrows opening
- Also at 8 pm, Karl Jannuska celebrates the release of his new album at The Music Gallery as part of The Incubator
- And at Koerner Hall, also at 8 pm, John Pizzarelli brings his Radio Deluxe to the stage, with his wife Jessica Molaskey and guest Emilie-Claire Barlow
- At 10 pm Brooklyn-based rock-jazz-fusion group Kneebody plays The Rivoli (doors at 9:30)
Around the city, Gord Sheard and Mary McKay play the Distillery at 6 pm, The Vipers play Shops at Don Mills at 8 pm, and there's a full Friday night of activity in the clubs. Check out the full listing of today's shows.
See you on the square!