Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Review: Maylee Todd, June 27, Lee’s Palace

Posted on by Ricky in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment

Toronto – It was Sunday night, and I had planned a nice casual night in – the past few weeks have been very taxing and with all the G20 shenanigans, I felt that an easy night in was a good solution, but as Harry Potter would know, sometimes you have to choose between what is easy, and what is right. The right thing to do was to go check out some live music and like a good bacteria, get cultured. It just so happened that Esthero was playing down the street at Lee’s Palace. It also just happened that I had a ticket/media pass for the Jazz Festival. It also just so happened that Brian was at the show. With all these factors in place, I decided to check out Esthero at Lee’s.

Brian had told me to get there by 9 (and any sooner would be appreciated). This had me thinking it was going to be an early show and I can be home at 10:30. However, I arrived at Lee’s and there was a massive lineup outside. The doors had just opened and slowly the line of people were making their way in. My dreams of going home early were shattered like a Starbucks window in a G20 protest. Dejected, Deflated and semi depressed, I turn to the console of my iphone, to check out who the opener is. I had briefly contemplated doing a full 180 and go home. I didn’t really know Esthero and judging by her show, I think I may have mistaken her for some other mid 90s singer I had like that one song of. Luckily, I found out that the opener was non other then Maylee Todd, a Toronto singer and a fellow Asian. I had previously enjoyed her show at a No Shame show and I think I also saw her perform in a garage at some point last year. No joke. Knowing this, I abandoned all thoughts of..abandoning the show, and begrudgingly joined the lineup entering Lee’s. I had to support the local scene I thought..otherwise, what would they think? what would they think!

Maylee Todd, as I’ve said, is a Toronto based singer. She has an album coming out June 22nd called Choose Your Own Adventure. I would classify her music as easy listening featuring hints of everything from soul to motown to disco to jazz. Her band, the Pegwee Power consists of Andrew Scott (horns /synth), Eric Woolston(double bass), and Chris Kettlewell (drums/vibraphone), She herself plays the harp, guitar, cowbell and all sorts of random instruments. There were a lot of instruments.

Taking the stage a bit after 9 to a sold out and anxious crowd, Maylee quickly launched into a quiet song (perhaps Protection Plan) that could of been out of 1960s French Restaurant featuring a harp and an accordion. The crowd quickly became quiet, like a monk. One of the things I appreciate about the Toronto Jazz Festival crowd is that they are rather appreciative of the artist, and are fairly quiet during the set. The same situation would not happen with hipsters at the Garrison. Playing to what I imagine would be one of the largest Toronto crowds she’s played in – Maylee, like a cowboy on a cattle drive, reigned it in and produced the tightest set I’ve seen her play so far.

Some of the songs I recognized from her set include the french disco tune Aerobics in Space, the jazzy Summer Sounds and the motown-esque tune called Hooked, which I liked, save for some in song banter. The crowd was definitely into getting into it, and even saw some people dancing during Aerobics in Space. She ended off the set with a upbeat rendition of Patrice Rushen’s Haven’t You Heard.

It was a good show. I really like her motown and loungey numbers. I think it’s a shame the show Ally McBeal isn’t around anymore, because Maylee’s type of the music would totally fit the soundtrack and that cocktail bar they seemed to always hang out in afterwards. Maylee’s got a good stage presence and gives off a nice relax vibe that puts the crowd at ease. It also helps that she has a very sharp singing voice that she puts into good use. The crowd gave her a rousing applaud at the end, indicating that they too were pleased.

Hooked – Maylee Todd & Circle Research by circle research

For Brian’s review of Esthero, click here.

TO Jazz Review: Herbie Hancock, June 26, Toronto Star Stage

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 3 Comments

Toronto – The great things about the world of jazz is that it’s pretty darn close to being a meritocracy. The cats with the talent and the x-factor are the ones that everyone else in the community looks up to. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, the colour of your skin, or how old you are. If you can dig in and keep up, you’re in. Big names in jazz will not hesitate to cross generational boundaries in search for the right person to complete their sound. Last year Branford Marsalis played the jazz festival and brought in a young, but very talented Justin Falkner. Miles Davis’ second great quintet consisted of a young Herbie Hancock; a jazz legend in his own right now.

Herbie played the Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square last Saturday. Keeping with this jazz tradition, he introduced us to Tal Wilkenfeld, a 24-year old bassist who has been chosen to accompany Herbie touring his latest album The Imagine Project. Although she may look a little green, her playing is anything but. Anyone who gets asked by Herbie to come play with them is going to have both serious chops and be covered in a sprinkling of magical fairy dust. Tal has both. I wonder if Tal was having a serious “pinch me is this for real” moment. Her excitement and energy playing on stage and grooving with such a legend seemed palpable.

Herbie Hancock is probably the only musician I can think of that can effortlessly switch from the elegance of a grand piano, to the modern sounds of a synthesizer, and finally to the awesome sounds of a tacky keytar and still not lose an ounce of legitimacy. When the keytar comes out, it’s as if the crowd just nods their collective heads, shrugs, and says “Yep. Ok. Do what you gotta do.” Herbie is the only person in the world that can make playing the keytar cool. If you need proof, then here is some internet proof to prove it.

I mentioned in the jazz festival preview that “grandmasters can turn it on like a switch”. Herbie is one of those cats. As he approaches his 70th birthday, we’re glad he could make it down to share some of his funky and inspired music with us.

TO Jazz Review: Esthero, June 27, Lee’s Palace

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 1 Comment

Toronto – Thanks to yesterday’s thunderstorms and me being dumb enough to leave the house without an umbrella, I spent most of Sunday night standing on the floor at Lee’s Palace soaked to the skin, feeling sorry for unsuspecting bystanders who accidentally bumped into me only to find their own clothes or arms suddenly damp. I got soaked on my way from picking up my media pass from Nathan Phillips Square yesterday, then again on the way from Bathurst station to George’s Deli to Lee’s.

After uncomfortably dripping away through most of opener Maylee Todd’s set, though, Esthero took all discomfort away upon taking the stage. It hasn’t been a long time since Esthero played a show in Toronto, but the crowd reacted like they hadn’t seen her in a decade. Esthero playing here just feels so right. Despite moving to California several years ago, there’s a comfort level between the Stratford native and a Toronto crowd that’s unlike virtually any concert I’ve seen. Not only were her parents on hand, but she brought her father on stage late in the show (“she’s my jelly bean!” he exclaimed) to tell the crowd of how he’s fought through prostate cancer and strokes, to tell him he’s her hero and to sing “It’s a Small World.” Her brother, J. Englishman, joined her for a cover of Concrete Blonde’s “Joey,” the song she says got her noticed back when she used to sing it at Free Times Cafe. She said she hadn’t played with her massive 8-piece backing band – plus backup singers Kim Davis and Toya Alexis – in a year, and that this was her first show with the guitarist, but you’d never have guessed it from the sound. That’s the comfort level of an Esthero show in Toronto: she’s smoking on stage and is fairly drunk for the encore, the guitarist is brand new, the band and singer have been apart for a year, her dad’s wandering on stage, half the crowd is soaked, and half the show is off-the-cuff, but everything just feels right.

Much to the chagrin of a few fans in the audience, though, Esthero chose this show to premiere a lot of rarely- or never-before heard tunes from an album to be released later in the year. After starting off with the crowd favourite “O.G. Bitch”, Esthero delved deep into yet-to-be released material like “Black Mermaid”, “If I Didn’t Have Faith”, “You Don’t Get a Song” and more. By her own admission, her newer material is a lot less beat-driven than her 1998 trip-hop classic Breathe From Another or 2005’s rhythmic Wikked Lil’ Grrrls and has more in common with, say, the music of a singer-songwriter like Ron Sexsmith. Speaking of Ron Sexsmith, he appeared on stage at one point to sing a duet. Sexsmith is ok in my books, but it’s weird that he looks like he could burst into tears at any given moment. I guess that’s just his usual facial expression.

Anyway, Esthero’s new material is likable enough; her voice is certainly very strong and interesting enough to pull off a singer-songwriter album. The material’s a bit raw, however, and loading up the setlist with so many new tunes that could still use some polish might not have been the best choice with a crowd of fans who would’ve loved to sing along. Esthero did try to make up for it by getting the crowd to sing to a friend in California through her cell phone at the start of the encore, then by soliciting requests. After the shouting died down, this resulted in a rendition of “We R in Need of a Musical Revolution” and an impromptu version of “Gone” done a capella because the new guitarist didn’t know it. Meanwhile, old favourites “Bad Boy Clyde” and “Country Livin’ (The World I Know)” brought the house down. Considering how well those two songs went, you can’t blame the people behind me who were yelling for her to do “That Girl” all night if they went home a little disappointed.

Still, it was a solid night of music, and nice to see the Jazz Festival branch out a little into something a little less jazz and very local. Esthero’s on-stage charm and disarming openness made everything feel right, even being totally soaked with rain. Hopefully she comes back soon.

TO Jazz Review: Brandi Disterheft, June 26, Toronto Star Stage

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment

Toronto – I’m going to start this review not with a review, but with a story. Gather ‘round friends. Don’t worry, there is a point to all of this. The year was two thousand and spluh, and I was studying for exams. There I was, at my favourite coffee shop where I had befriended one of the employees and was downing free caramel macchiatos for my troubles. Just beside the shop was a bar and a I could see a jazz trio setting up. I looked at my textbooks and thought “Screw this! If have to study for exams, I might as well do it to the sound of live jazz.” So I packed up my stuff and hopped over.

Being one of the few attentive listeners in the audience, the performers came up to talk to me after their set. There was a piano player, a drummer, and a bassist. All nice people, and all happy to talk jazz. I offered them a hand with their take down because it seemed like a nice thing to do. Also, I am an expert procrastinator and this is exam time folks. This is when things got interesting.

I had no idea how dicey it can be to transport a double bass around the city. This young bassist had her system and it was the most ridiculous thing I could imagine. She got me to help hide her bass in the building entrance, well away from the street, and would flag down a cab. Then, when the cabbie stopped, she’d quickly grab her hidden bass and try to manoeuvre it into the taxi before the driver could object. Inevitably, as soon as the cabbie was wise to the trick, he would drive off; most wanting nothing to do with transporting such a big and expensive instrument. At first this was pretty entertaining, but it took about 5 times before a driver looking at the bass half sticking out of his cab let out a sigh and gave in.

So what’s my point? The point is that it’s tough to be a young double bassist in the city without a car. The good news is that with the right mix of talent and drive, it can get easier. That bassist was a young Brandi Disterheft. The pianist was Laila Biali, both of whom have blossomed into fine jazz musicians in their own right. It was rewarding to see Brandi open for Herbie Hancock last weekend. Her music walks the line between the traditional jazz of yesterday and the more progressive sounds of today, all the time remaining accessible. She has successfully surrounded herself with musicians that compliment that style.

Thankfully Brandi doesn’t have to trick cabbies into helping move her bass around anymore. She can focus on thumping that bass and we can focus on appreciating it.