In a Mellow Tone

Happy Canada Day! It's amazing to think that ten days ago we were launching the 2012 TD Toronto Jazz Festival...and here we are on the last day. I'm experiencing mixed feelings - I've truly had a great festival and am sad that it's ending, but I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my family and a return to a more regular sleep schedule.

Day 9 of the festival featured some music of a more mellow - but no less interesting - tone.

The day started with my conversation with Gord Sheard as part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Inside Track. Gord's a great local pianist, composer, producer and teacher, and it was especially interesting to have him chat about Brazilian music, and his experience immersing himself in Brazilian music in particular. We chatted about the various facets of his career, and he gave a demonstration of some Brazilians sound on the piano. It was a lively conversation, and a good introduction to the music he would be playing later that afternoon.

I took advantage of a free afternoon to make my way up to the Shops at Don Mills, where Lester McLean and his band were keeping the audience entertained with their mix of r&b, soul, funk and jazz. Shops has been a partner for three years now, and it was good to finally get to see the stage in action. We've had only positive feedback from the artists who have performed on the stage (great crew, great sound), and this year in particular the crowds have been strong. Despite the sweltering heat (it really was a bit much yesterday), a good crowd was on hand (some on the grass, some seeking shelter in the surrounding area), and Lester and his bandmates provided an energetic start to the day's Shops programming (two more bands would follow later in the day).

And back to Nathan Phillips Square, where Gord Sheard's Brazilian Jazz Experience was setting up on the Outdoor Stage. They launched into their high-energy set shortly after 5 pm, and kept the growing audience dancing for 90 minutes straight. Some of the repertoire was closer to the fusion sounds of the great Toronto group Manteca; some sounded much more traditional. The audience was happy to hear it all, and rewarded the set with a standing ovation.

After dinner with a friend, I made my way over the Music Gallery where I was emceeing the final concert in The Incubator series, featuring local jazz/folk ensemble Hobson's Choice. Theirs is a quiet music, with the unique instrumentation of guitar, trumpet, vibraphone and voice, but the compositions are interesting and the textures they produce are unique. Last night's show was the celebration of the release of their new CD, and they played tracks from the new CD and previous releases. The Gallery was a great setting for this music - the acoustic worked well - and the near-capacity audience showed their appreciation for each tune. Vocalist Fecility Williams has always impressed me with her tone, range and flexibility, and all were on display last night; it was also nice to hear Michael Davidson's vibraphone work, whether adding texture or taking a solo.

From the Music Gallery I headed back to the Toronto Star Stage, where I caught the last tune plus the encore of the Joan Osborne acoustic duo. The audience had clearly enjoyed the show; both tunes earned standing ovations. After a short intermission, Matt Andersen, in solo guitar mode, took the stage. I had heard Matt live only once before - in a short, 20-minute showcase concert back in January - but it didn't take me long then to recognize his talent. Last night, in a more extended format, he was able to play a wider variety of repertoire, engage with the audience more (demonstrating a pretty fun sense of humour), and show off some fairly impressive blues chops. I think Matt's great, and enjoyed hearing him last night; the audience seemed to agree. I could have listened all night...

...But I was next off to The Horseshoe Tavern to check out the Becca Stevens Band and Nellie McKay. At this point of the night, I was tired and drained, a combination of the day's stifling heat and my fighting a cold. Even so, I was looking forward to the music. Becca I also heard for the first time back in January in New York; Nellie I had never seen live. Becca's trio primarily performs her original music - a blend of jazz and folk - with the occasional cover thrown in. I think she's got a great voice, and the arrangements of the tunes kept things interesting - they often times went in unexpected directions, allowing Chris Tordini (bass) and Jordan Perlson (drums) to enhance the tunes with their musical contributions. Jordan was especially impressive on cajon. Their whole set was enjoyable, and the audience - who was almost certainly there for the better-known Nellie McKay - responded enthusiastically. This was Becca's second visit to Toronto (but first in many years), and hopefully we'll see her again soon.

Nellie McKay took the stage around 11:45 and quickly launched into a set featuring her quirky vocal stylings. She performed solo - with only an electric keyboard and her ukulele sharing the stage - but kept the audience engaged with her outstanding voice and clever lyrics. One must always pay attention when Nellie performs; there is frequently much more going on in her songs than her pleasant demeanour indicates. It was a treat to hear live some of the tunes I had heard on recording; she has great control of her voice and used it effectively last night. My favourite introduction to a tune was, "In honour of Canada Day, here's a song about the tar sands." I unfortunately found my focus waning by that point of the night, so was not able to concentrate on the lyrics as is required for a Nellie McKay show. My leaving after 40 minutes or so was a comment only on my need for sleep; I was enjoying the performance and, based on the frequent laughter and enthusiastic applause, I would say the audience was too.

And so, here we are - the last day of the festival. The amount of activity has tapered off, but we're going to end things with a bang. Here's what's up today:

  • The KPMT Inside Track wraps up at 12:30 on the Outdoor Stage with my conversation with Norman Marshall Villeneuve
  • DJ Agile will get us moving starting at 4 pm on the Outdoor Stage, complimenting the Groove & Graffiti demonstration happening at the same time
  • Diana Salvatore performs on the Outdoor Stage at 4:45 (with another DJ Agile set following)
  • Tonight on the Toronto Star Stage, Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars (8 pm) sets us up with their mix of afro, funk, soul and jazz, then Tower of Power (9:30 pm) knocks us down with some of the best funk and soul around

There are also multiple shows on the Pure Spirits Patio and Mainstage in the Distillery, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra at Shops at Don Mills (3 pm) and, as usual, a full slate of shows in clubs around the city (I'll be busy with my own show this evening at The Rex Hotel). See the full list of today's activity and, for one last time this year I say...

See you on the square!

Josh

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