Saying Goodbye with Radiohead and Jazz

With my time at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival drawing to a close, I knew I wanted to go out with a bang. I decided to make my way to the Rex for the Toronto Jazz Orchestra's Radiohead Jazz Project. If there’s one thing I love, it’s when jazz fuses with other genres – the fact that it was Radiohead was simply the icing on the cake. After much begging and pleading, I managed to secure my spot at the show.

Was I ever glad I did.

The Rex was filled with the power of a massive ensemble, featuring four(!!) rows of players. Conducted by TD Toronto Jazz Festival Artistic Director Josh Grossman, the Toronto Jazz Orchestra played a night of Radiohead music. It was a sound unlike any other I have heard. The sheer fact that they were able to pack so many musicians onto the Rex’s compact stage was a feat in itself.

Instrumentation ranged from horns to saxophones to a vibraphone, and everything in between. There was even a flugelhorn! The group managed to capture the essence of Thom Yorke’s eclectic vocals. A young gentleman next to me pulled up the lyrics on his phone and sang his heart out along with the band.

The tunes were arranged by several different members of the band, and a distinctive style could be heard within each one. And though the original melodies were of chief concern, as the band alternated through solo sections the essence of each tune was never lost. It takes an impressive group of players to keep a steady vibe throughout the various solos, and impressive they were.

When they launched into “Everything in its Right Place,” the bar fell to a hush. All attention was directed towards the band. If Robert Glasper could do wonders on that tune with a trio, it is easy to imagine what nearly twenty players could make of it. Although all the players were very gifted, and vocalist Alex Samaras captured Thom Yorke’s essence beautifully, I especially enjoyed vibraphonist Michael Davidson who played with four mallets.

I am admittedly still a fairly new fan of Radiohead and couldn’t identify a number of the tunes on my own. Luckily, I was sandwiched between a couple diehard fans who, in between grooving and singing their hearts out, were able to spot me the song titles. Lauren was visiting from the Waterloo area for Pride, but the moment she spotted a sign for this Radiohead Jazz tribute she cancelled her plans and headed to the Rex. She spent the show recording the songs for her brother, also a massive fan, who is currently working in China.

"Motion Picture Soundtrack" was a crowd favourite and evoked many emotions in the people around me, whether tears of sorrow or grins of joy. For their grand finale, they covered "Karma Police" – one song that I know fairly well. Vocalist Alex Samaras got the whole bar involved, asking for our help in singing the repeated line near the end. I couldn’t help but belt the lyrics at the top of my lungs. Those words echoed around in my head on the entire subway ride home and through the next day.

My only qualm about this group is the frequency with which they perform their Radiohead tribute show. I spoke with Josh at the end of the night and they likely won’t do another Radiohead show for as long as a year. It’s a shame because I know so many people who would have loved to be there, but couldn’t attend. At the very least, I have my memories of tonight’s performance to cherish forever, and to tie me over until next time.

I couldn’t have asked for a greater way to end the TD Toronto Jazz Festival if I tried. It was such an electrifying performance that filled the room with passion and excitement on a level I have rarely seen. Walking out of the Rex that night was very bittersweet. My mind was filled with the sounds of ten days of unforgettable performances. Although I would not have changed my experience for anything, I know that given the opportunity I would have repeated the jazz festival for months on end. As I rode the subway train, rocking gently home, I felt at peace with the world – and the world was alright with me.

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