TO Jazz Review: Waleed Kush & The African Jazz Ensemble, July 4, Trane Studio

waleed-kush

Toronto – I really need to start bringing a notebook or something to shows I’m reviewing (I should get a better camera too, the photo above was the only one even close to usable and it’s not especially good, but I digress). I say that because I really liked Waleed Kush and the African Jazz Ensemble, but other than Kush, seen above playing the marimba, percussionist Derek Thorne, seen far right, and violinist Laurence Stevenson, who’s off-camera in this shot, I don’t remember and can’t find the names online of more than half the players in Kush’s ensemble: the saxaphonist, drummer, keyboardist, and bassist on songs when Kush was playing marimba.

This is a shame because, along with Kush and Thorne, the star of this show was the guy on saxaphone and clarinet, and I’d like to give him his due regard, but I don’t remember his name. I overheard him saying to someone at the bar he plays sax at Ryerson, but that’s all I know.

It’s interesting to see an ensemble group after spending the week seeing so many jazz quartets who’ve been together for a long time and read each other effortlessly. Here, it was very obvious just who the band leader was. Not only was Kush giving orders, telling guys when to jump in and even giving them a rhythm or melody to play, he looked to have a real mentor/student relationship with the younger guys on stage. It’s fascinating to watch, even if sometimes an ensemble doesn’t have quite as tight a sound as a veteran quartet, with this one no exception.

In addition to leading the band, Kush tends to draw the eye with his energetic playing. A multi-instrumentalist who can, according to his MySpace page, play a ridiculously long list of instruments, Kush limited himself this night merely to vocals, bass guitar, flute, marimba and hand drums. Kush moved to Toronto from Sudan in the early 90’s, and his African roots are very evident in his playing, singing and songwriting. His saxaphonist, whatever his name is, is definitely a talent, even if he could use a bit of seasoning and experience. Thorne’s hands were a blur during a couple of extended bongo/conga solos. Stevenson and the unnamed keyboardist, drummer, and second bassist were all good players, even if they didn’t shine quite as brightly as Kush, Thorne or the saxaphonist. All in all, a solid set, great music for a soundtrack if you’re, say, riding a caravan to Marrakesh or something, but thoroughly enjoyable in other situations as well. Unfortunately, my companion and I had to leave a bit early in order to make an appearance at “Panic at the Boat 2: Electric Boogaloo”, or whatever it was called, but at least we stayed long enough to see Kush play his marimba, which was a great deal of fun; Kush would beat out tunes with his mallets as he practically danced up and down the length of the instrument.

Kush is a Toronto local, so keep an eye out for his shows around town if you’re looking for a fun night of upbeat African-tinged tunes.

Also, this was the first time I’d ever been to Trane Studio, and it’s a great venue, just a little ways up Bathurst from Bloor. We didn’t partake in the food, but it looked good, and the room has a terrific sound and the staff were really nice; the jazz fest was nice enough to call ahead and put me on the guest list, and the Trane Studio people put me up front real close to the stage at the makeshift “media table.” They’ve got shows almost every night this month too. Next time I’ll try the food.

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Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival

One Response to TO Jazz Review: Waleed Kush & The African Jazz Ensemble, July 4, Trane Studio

  1. Laurence Stevenson

    Waleed Abdulhamid: bass, vocals, etc.
    Ben McDonald: Sax, clarinet
    Laurence Stevenson:violin
    John Ebata: keys
    Rich Greenspoon:drums
    Naz (Tana) Gebreselassie: Guitar
    Derek Thorne: Percussion

    is the regular line-up. Can’t remember the name of the guy on bass that night but he’s student from Waleed’s class at Humber. And he’s very good.

    Thanks for coming along.

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