Concerts – Toronto Jazz Festival June 19 – 29

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

The downtown Toronto Jazz Festival is my favourite jazz festival in downtown Toronto. Now, I suppose some of you maybe thinking that sentence is a little self-evident. Why would I say such a thing? Was it to waste your time? Yes. Yes it was. But the reality is that there are a number of jazz festivals in Toronto every summer, and the Toronto Jazz Festival is still my favourite.

The Art of Jazz is a brand-new festival that started in the Distillery District. I caught a Brazilian pianist/guitarist by the name of Egberto Gismonti this year and it was pretty sweet. But as far as festivals go, this one is but a pup, starting life in 2005 as not-for-profit jazz organization. I think more word of mouth is needed so people can be aware of the great work they’re doing. But kudos to the Art of Jazz festival.

Next is the Beaches jazz fest. Sigh. Every year I say I’m not going to go. But every year I get lured by that magical combination of freeness and live music. I’m like a moth to a flame; a jazz-loving cheap moth that can’t say no to some free live music. As great as free is though, the Beaches jazz fest isn’t so much a jazz fest, as a street festival. I give the Beaches 5 out of 5 on the freeness scale, but maybe 3 out of 5 on the music scale.

Apparently beggars can be choosers. Because here I go: I sometimes wonder if the organizers had a conversation like this:

Festival Organizer #1: “Hey, remember how our first Beaches street festival was such a success with that one band we brought in to play on the street?”

Festival Organizer #2: “Sure was!”

F.O. #1: “And, then, then the year after that, we brought in 2 bands and they each had their ends of the street and the festival was like twice as good!?”

F.O. #2: “Absolutely!”

F.O. #1: “Well I have a great idea this year. Are you ready for it?”

F.O. #2: “What?!”

F.O. #1: “This year let’s have 400 bands. By my calculations, we will be 200 times better than our 2nd year, and a full 400 times better than our 1st year!!!”

F.O. #2: “How will we fit that many bands on Queen East?”

F.O. #1: “Simple, we’ll stack the bands directly on top of each other using stackable bandstands. I know a guy who could rent us a lift that would allow us to transport the least popular musicians to the very top stage. They’ll be the hardest for the general public to hear because they’ll be floating approximately 120 meters in the air. I’m a genius!”

F.O. #2: “Hmmm, why don’t we just space out the bands at ground level instead, but only about 15 meters apart. There will be ridiculous noise bleed between bands, but we should be able to fit them all in.”

F.O. #1: My idea is better.

But I digress. The beauty of the downtown Toronto Jazz Festival is that it’s a great festival for music-lovers. Top musicians are brought in from all over the world to shower us with their talent. Let’s look at some highlights:

Al Green – June 19 – Sony Centre
Ah, good ol Reverend Al Green. I just saw a really amazing video of him in 1978 where he sings “Love & Happiness” on Soundstage. It’s fantastic. I really wished I had stopped there, because then I watched a modern video of him prancing about in an all-white suit, looking too full of Love & Happiness. It was a little cheesy. But don’t let me stop you, Al Green is a veritable soul legend.

Maceo Parker – June 20 – Sound Academy
James Brown’s former saxophone player, this man is funk royalty, or funkalty. I’m super excited about this show! Catchphrase: “2% jazz, 98% funky stuff!”

Ahmad Jamal & Oliver Jones Trio – June 23 – Nathan Philips Square
Ahmad Jamal is a fantastic piano player. He’s got roots, but he knows how to contemporarize. ‘Nuff said.

Marcus Miller – June 26 – Opera House
Marcus Miller is one hell of a bassist. He’s played with Miles Davis and other jazz luminaries.

Dave Brubeck – July 2 – Four Seasons
This is a special event happening outside of the standard jazz fest. Dave Brubeck is a jazz legend. It’s certainly nice to see the old jazz guard kicking it old jazz-school.

For a full schedule and tickets, click here.

NXNE: Great Lake Swimmers, Reverb, June 13

Posted on by Ricky in Concerts, North By Northeast | Leave a comment

Toronto – I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t really know much about Great Lake Swimmers. In fact, I pretty much knew nothing about any of the bands I saw this weekend. Maybe that’s a good thing, it’s a fresh view on these bands that many bloggers swoon about. What I did know was this: The Great Lake Swimmers are an extremely popular Toronto band that focuses on the mellower-folky side of rock. They are led by Tony Dekker, who a friend of mine wants to stalk, and they are championed by CBC Radio 3, the source of cool for many people. So it was with this knowledge that I brought to the Reverb on Friday night for their NXNE showcase.

The Reverb is a funny place. The only other time I was there was to see Feist as part of NXNE a few years ago, and that show was so packed I felt like a Chinese immigrant on a cargo ship. This time around, the place was not as packed and from what I gather, the Reverb is a nice quiet intimate place. The stage dominates the middle of the area, and there are three bar areas and I think you can get a good view from everywhere. Not too bad for a venue located at Hobo corner.

The threesome took the stage quietly at around 10:00 after the CBC dude introduced them. At this point the place was filling up, only the people who got here around 10 were all soaked from the monsoon that was outside. Nothing like a packed house full of rain drenched people to make the place smell all nice and rosy. In a very business like manner, the band started playing a song. probably off their most recent album – Onigiara. There was an acoustic guitar, a banjo and a drum. I think this was the instruments du jour.

What can I say? the dude has a soothing voice and he knows how to use an acoustic guitar. The next fourty minutes demonstrated the bands excellent skillz at ze acoustic folk rock. It was mostly a mellow affair, although towards the end, the drums were a little faster, the guitar a little stronger and the sound a bit more rockier, leading some librarians to saying ‘now this… is a rock show’. Whatever. I think the show was pretty good and if you like stuff like Iron and Wine, and Sir Sufjan, then Great Lake Swimmers is right down your alley.

You can stream the Great Lake Swimmers album here. Stream…Lake…get it? haha.

NXNE Friday, June 13th: Rich Aucoin

Posted on by Wade in Concerts, Everything, North By Northeast | Leave a comment

A girl eating blackberries out of an Amsterdam glass with chopsticks, a tambourine player reading the lyrics off a piece of paper and throwing sparkles on audience members, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Superman being projected on stage and finally, a trumpet and kick ass drums that you can clap along to. To say that Rich Aucoins’ music gives me goose bumps is an understatement. For the thin crowd at Clintons for the evenings opening 9:00 slot, Rich definitely pleased those of us who came out.

Rich is a multi-instrumentalist pop artist from Halifax. Last summer he biked across Canada, playing shows along the way. On his current tour, he is running half marathons in each city to raise money for the Heart & Stroke Foundation. For those who don’t know, a half marathon is 22km.

Me: Hey Rich, use Panic Manual in a sentence.
Rich: Ummm…When things get tough, consult your panic manual?

Yah, I know. It was a stupid question. I’m no rock journalist.

He is currently making his way out west. You can catch Rich in Vancouver at the Railway Club on June 19th and at the Peanut Gallery on June 20th. Ohhhh…and at the Marquee in Halifax with DEERHOOF, July 19th. Nice.

I stuck around for some of The Superfantastic set. The two of them rushed in 10 minutes before their set and got right down to business. Their set wasn’t nearly as cute and personal as their set at CMW, but they kicked out Tonight Tonight which made me smile.


Concert Review: Gravity Wave, Steam Whistle Unsigned, May 30th

Posted on by Wade in Concerts, Everything | Leave a comment

Gravity Wave

(Toronto) For those who don’t know, every few months the Steam Whistle Brewery hosts a concert series called Unsigned, where, you guessed it, bands who are not signed entertain the Pilsner happy beer crowds that gather. Although the location of the show (The Steam Whistle Brewery, right beside the CN Tower and SkyDome) is a bit out of my typical Annex walking show radius, I decided to make the hike downtown to check it out. A couple of things I learned about this Unsigned series:

1. It is only $5, and that one payment at the door goes to charity, gets you a drink ticket and if you are fast enough, a free slice of pizza. Plus, additional drinks are only $4. Those are east coast booze prices.

2. The charity is the Artists’ Health Centre Foundation(AHCF). This foundation helps artists who have been injured and who might not be covered by OHIP. Since most artists are self employed, they don’t have health plans. For example if you make your money as a dancer and some jack ass runs into the back of your foot with their cart at Loblaws and injures you so that you can’t dance, the AHCF will help you out. By dancer, I don’t mean stripper, but I suppose even they could get help from the AHCF.

First up on the bill was Hexes & Ohs from Montreal. A pretty impressive looping, drum playing, girl bass busting two piece outfit from Montreal. They cranked out Whadaya Know?, which I was really looking forward to. I was familiar with this track since it has gotten some recent CBC3 airplay over the past couple of years. It rocked and left me with warm fuzzies. The rest of their set was tight with Edmund switching between instruments and Heidi sticking with the solid bass lines.

Next up was Bocce. I missed most of them. I was busy getting beer and more ice.

Headlining the show was Gravity Wave (The). I first heard of Gravity Wave about a year ago when he played at Sneaky Dee’s. A friend of a friend had told me that Gravity Wave (Ken Farrell) teaches little kids how to play hockey and that he makes music with his Nintendo. Cool. Ken started his set off this night with an interactive video rap-off which didn’t really hit with the crowd. It required people to shut the fuck up and actually pay attention for more than 5 seconds. Which they didn’t.

The Gravity Wave stage show and sound has definitely changed over the last year. The most obvious difference would be that Mr. Wave has added a full band to back him. Even a trombone. This has given him a bigger sound. Although bigger, I feel like the subtleties of his sort of electronic music were lost in the shuffle. Songs like Princess where you are waiting for the Jump, Fireball sequence lost their catchy, cutesy, admiration. Even Footprints seemed to blend into the other songs, where on his Maytr’s Brrigade CD (available for download on his site) is a stand out track. Ken has a great unique voice and a stand out rock star confidence about him when he performs, rubber boots and all.

The night was caped off by a couple of Steam Whistle yahoos who introduced the bands and hosted the evening. At one point I think they threw T-Shirts into the crowd as if it was the seventh inning stretch at a J’s game. Whatever. Still a good night and worth the trip downtown.