Toronto Jazz Festival – Ahmad Jamal, June 23 2008

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[Note: this review was written by Brian, an avid Ahmad Jamal enthusiast well acquainted with Ahmad’s discography.]

Toronto – Even if you haven’t heard of legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, you’ve definitely heard the unmistakable sound he popularized.

In late fifties, Jamal’s understated, eloquent style influenced scores of other artists, famously inspiring Miles Davis’ during his First Great Quintet period. In more recent years, Jamal has been rediscovered by a new generation of artists: he’s been sampled on countless hip-hop records (Nas’ “The World is Yours”, Common’s “Resurrection”).

At his packed Festival Mainstage show earlier this week, the legendary Jamal put on a mesmerizing performance that found the 78-year old pianist still pushing his delicate, thoughtful sound into new directions.

He was accompanied by a stellar rhythm section consisting of his longtime bassist James Cammack, drummer James Johnson, and the odd-haired percussionist Manolo Badrena. The interplay between the latter two stole the show for me; it was exhilarating to watch them gradually evolve their patterns together into complex, crowd-rocking grooves.

I’ve been waiting for years to see Jamal perform, and his sparse, dynamic piano play was captivating to hear in person. The audience agreed with me, bringing the band back out for three standing-ovation encores. It was a treat to see Jamal continue to push his artistic boundaries well after his status as a jazz legend has been cemented.


Toronto Jazz Festival – Renaud Garcia-Fons, Enwave Theatre, June 22 2008

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

Renaud Garcia-Fons (Picture by Mark)

TorontoRenaud Garcia-Fons hails from a small Parisian suburb and is a double-bassist par excellence who fuses the very best elements of jazz, flamenco, and classical music. He played last Sunday at the Enwave Theatre (Harbourfront). It was a perfect combination of venue and performer; the end-result was nothing short of enchanting.

The Enwave Theatre has a maximum capacity of 420 people and has now become one of my favourite concert halls for live music. The acoustics are absolutely fantastic. In short, a great place for a vivid music listening experience. I’ve heard good things about this hall before, but after hearing some top brass musicians stretch their legs there, I now understand what the buzz is about. I can only struggle to describe how good they sounded in this hall.

Renaud Garcia-Fons was accompanied by flamenco guitarist Antonio Ruiz and percussionist Pascal Rollando. Together, they produced a well-rounded sound that was meticulously assembled. Renaud is a virtuoso and I mean this in the best meaning of the term. Sometimes “virtuoso” is synonym for “technical mastery”. That is to say the ability to play really technically challenging things effortlessly, but robotically. Renaud has the chops, but he’s a consummate musician capable of playing with feeling. He’s got full command of his instrument, and uses it to effortlessly fuse musical styles.

This was a perfect combination of beautiful music in a venue where listeners could really appreciate how damn good this trio sounds. A highlight of the jazz festival for me this year.

Renaud Garcia-Fons: 4.8/5.0

Note: The attached song (from his latest CD Arcoluz) is an instrumental that fuses jazz and flamenco.

Toronto Jazz Festival – Maceo Parker, Sound Academy, June 20

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

Maceo Parker funking it up - picture by Mark

Mark’s Review

Toronto – What more can be said of Mr. Maceo Parker, the funktastic sax who played with James Brown for so many years? To say that this show was dripping with sweet funk would be an understatement. This show was pure dance party funk from start to finish, and the crowd couldn’t get enough of it.

As one friend stated, “there was a lot of confidence on that stage”. This was certainly the case. Maceo has assembled himself a super tight funk orchestra that knows how to rock like nobody’s business. It’s a very well put together sound, and you know that they know that they know it. They wore suits, and they came, and they threw down, and there was merriment.

It’s too bad that such a great show had to happen at the Docks (sorry, the Sound Academy). The sound was a little muddy at the beginning. Fortunately adjustments were made and the band came into balance after a few songs. Then it was just pure funk energy for two solid hours. I was hoping for a couple more Ray Charles tunes, but I was really glad to hear a bit of “Georgia on My Mind” on flute, and “You Don’t Know Me” during the encore.

The Sound Academy still sucks though. The acoustics are still bad. There are TV’s showing live feeds of the show all around the room. I suppose you can make an argument that then people who are farther from the stage can see what’s going on, but in my opinion it takes away from the actual musicians on stage. Who is going to face away from the band and watch the TV’s at the back of the room?

Sound issues aside, I don’t think the Docks/Sound Academy can ever really truly succeed as a great venue because of its location. It’s just too much of a hassle to get way out there, and then getting back is always difficult as cab’s take advantage of the location to extort the concert goers.

So all in all, this show unfolded as I expected. A fantastic band, and a fantastic show, just too bad it had to be at the Docks.

Maceo Parker: 4.8/5 Sound Academy: 3/5

Ricky’s Review
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The Bad Plus – June 13, 2008 – Glenn Gould Studio

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Toronto – The Bad Plus is a contemporary jazz trio comprised of classically trained pianist Ethan Iverson, straight-up jazz bassist Reid Anderson, and rock drummer David King. They hail from the Midwest of America and formed in late 2000.

Although The Bad Plus plays a lot of great fresh, material, what have really put them on the jazz-map have been their covers. Taking popular music of the time and re-interpreting them as jazz songs has been standard technique in the jazz lexicon. But what makes The Bad Plus stand out is their ability to re-interpret a song, as opposed to just shoehorning it into a jazz vocabulary.

For their part, The Bad Plus certainly met my expectations of seeing a jazz band of the highest caliber playing together and having fun. This was my first time at the Glenn Gould studio, and I was very impressed with the acoustics. One of my favourite moments was when they played a rendition of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold and all stopped playing their instruments and sang in unison using very quiet indoor voices. The best part was that even at the back of the room, I could hear it perfectly.