Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Review: The Andrew Stew Art Project, July 2, The Rex

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 2 Comments

Toronto – If there was one thing that was missing from the early part of my jazz festival experience this year, it was some time checking out some small clubs. This was certainly due to my own designs; there were so many great acts happening at the main stage at Nathan Phillips square that I had difficulty straying from the beaten path. But jazz is a music that works best in intimate venues. It was with this thought held firmly in mind that I embarked on the final weekend of the festival. The mission was clear: spend some quality time at the local clubs in the city.

Friday night found me at The Rex, one of the few institutions left in Toronto. This place is an integral part of the jazz community in the city. It balances great live music with a laid back vibe that welcomes music lovers of all stripes. The Andrew Stew Art Project consisted of the namesake of the band on bass, paired with some excellent Toronto musicians, and a bona fide steel pan player in Gareth Burgess. Tastefully done steel pan jazz is one of my very favourite things, so going to this show was a no-brainer for me. This show gets my top marks this year in my newly created Favourite Jazz Show At A Small Club category. The musicians were into it, the crowd was into it, and the vibes were positive. What more can you ask for?

At one point during the second set, a female vocalist was invited on stage for a few numbers. Unfortunately the result was a little lacklustre, as it was difficult for the crowd to maintain the momentum and sheer groove that accompanied the purely instrumental songs. It was a fun show at a great little club, and would easily earn 4.5 stars in my books if done again sans vocals.

TO Jazz Review: Angelique Kidjo, July 1, Toronto Star Stage

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

TorontoAngelique Kidjo played the Toronto Star Stage during Canada Day to an audience that started the evening neatly sitting in their seats and ended it dancing on the stage. The music that she brought blended a number of African styles with a powerful and soulful voice. It was evident from the get go that Angelique wanted people to have fun and dance. She told us so at the very beginning of the show: it was OK to sit right now, but she wanted people to dance, and soon! The crowd was happy to get into the groove. Angelique’s genuine disposition and positive energy was infectious.

Near the end of the set, Angelique invited crowd members to join her on the stage for a big ol’ dance party. There was a real collectivism that was evident as she invited people to not only listen, but actively participate in her music. Her voice is basically flawless, and her band hit all the right notes to provide the right kind of propulsion for the show. Oh, and she can dance something fierce. This was clear during the big drummer circle dance off near the end of the set.

In between songs, Angelique spent some time imparting some of her wisdom and politics. On the one hand, it was very cool to hear Angelique talk about the importance of positivity in the face of adversity and life’s outrageous fortunes. She talked about how precious life is, and how one person can make a difference. On the other hand, the talking bits did seem to happen quite frequently and extend for some time. By the time the music started up again, the crowd needed ramp up time to find their respective grooves. Although the Canada Day crowd was a little on the sparse side, what they didn’t have in numbers they certainly made up for in energy.

The crowd was more than willing to forgive the talky start stops. Angelique is a gift performer, has smart things to say, funny stories to tell, and provides a positivity that you can’t help but get drawn into.

TO Jazz Review: Terry Clarke Trio, July 2, Trane Studio

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

Toronto – I really liked the Terry Clarke Trio last Friday night at Trane Studio. I liked them so much I left during the break between their sets.

Wait, I can explain this.

Terry Clarke is a Canadian jazz veteran of some renown: he has the Order of Canada to his name, given to him in 2002, he won the 2009 Traditional Jazz Album Juno award for his first album as a band leader, and has been “Best Drummer” of the Canadian National Jazz Awards (yeah, I guess those exist) multiple times. It’s easy to see why. Clarke’s got the kind of chops behind a drum kit that transcends the rhythm-keeping duties that a lot of other drumstick-wielders are limited to, and somehow, even though you can’t hear the beat being kept over all the improvising from what’s usually the rhythm section, in Clarke’s trio it’s there just the same.

Clarke, along with saxaphonist Phil Dwyer and double bass player Don Thompson, laid down some impressive tracks from that Juno Award-winning album, which is called It’s About Time, and played a few versions of some classic jazz tunes, like Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane” and Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite.” I’m not the biggest Sonny Rollins fan, but it was a great tune for these three players. Thompson and Dwyer each took a spin on the piano for a couple of softer tunes, both of which were crowd-pleasers. And Clarke’s drumming was forceful throughout, demanding the spotlight several times a song.

Why, then, did I leave before the second set started? Well, to be honest, I got really bored. I had nowhere to sit in a packed to the gills Trane Studio, with all the seats (even the ones at the bar) reserved, and spent the band’s first set holding up the wall to the right of the stage with a handful of other people, trying not to trip the wait staff who were using that space between the wall and the tables as a lane from the kitchen. With nowhere to sit and no place to put a beer even if I’d been able to order one, as the break between sets passed 30 minutes in length, all I could think about was wanting to sit down, and how much sleep I was likely to get before the marathon next day at the Fringe I had scheduled.

So. Terry Clarke’s first set was pretty good. I hope the last half of the concert was good too.

TO Jazz Review: Xylopholks, July 3, HMV

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 2 Comments

Toronto – This was one of the more surreal concert experiences I’ve seen in my time … and the fact that the performers were wearing funny animal suits was one of the less bizarre parts of the afternoon.  First off, the venue itself was strange and they knew it – playing in the corner of a music retailer behind a big Clint Eastwood poster is a bit weird, but to their credit, Xylopholks just rolled with it and enjoyed it.  Laughing between songs, talking to the crowd as they passed in and out during their set (“Is that bubble tea?”  “Ice Cream?  That’s a much better idea than what we’re doing”) and wondering whether it was OK to sell their own EP while playing inside a place that sells music, these guys were having fun and it showed.  And they’re  pretty good musicians too.

Xylopholks play songs from the 1920s ragtime repertoire (as well as a brief snippet of the Inspector Gadget theme) … and yes, they do so while wearing animal costumes.  If you don’t know how to differentiate 1920s ragtime from other forms of music, perhaps Seymour from Ghost World can help you with that.

It was fun, often fast paced, and at times reminded me of the music from the old Looney Tunes cartoons.  I ran into Mark during their set and we both agreed it was pretty good.  But by talking while they played, were we committing concert douchebaggery? Or do those rules fly out the window when the band is playing in front of a display of Star Trek: The Next Generation boxed sets?

Based on their style of performance and various Youtube videos, it seems these guys operate primarily as buskers, which works well for them (other than the fact that they must have been sweating profusely inside those costumes).  Various people stopped by to check them out, some only for a minute or less, but all of them seemed to leave with a smile on their face.