TO Jazz Review: Return to Forever, June 28, Sony Centre

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

Toronto – Last Tuesday jazz super-group Return to Forever played two intense sets at the Sony Centre. In the 1970’s jazz started to fuse with the rock & roll. Bands like Weather Report and some of Miles Davis’ projects from that era started to blend ideas of improvisation with gut-punching rock beats. Return to Forever is the last band standing from those days, and they continue to play at the top of their game.

Return to Forever is badass. Watching them live is like getting kicked in the nuts. It hurts, but it’s a good kind of hurt.

Now not everyone could get behind this jazz rock fusion. To be sure, there were people on both sides of the camp that felt downright alienated with the idea that jazz and rock should slowly run towards each other with arms outspread. At the same time, it was clear that this fusion was attracting the top musicians of the day. Pioneers like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, and Stanley Clarke flocked to the cause. You had only to stop and listen to the musicianship that these artists brought to the table to understand that theirs was a music that was coming from a different musical plane altogether. These guys could rock, and they could do it from a place of such absolute musical mastery that ordinary rockers could not touch.

Untouchable: that’s basically how this band sounds. Simply put, Return to Forever is badass. Watching them live is like getting kicked in the nuts. It hurts, but it’s a good kind of hurt. This latest tour includes the addition of Jean-Luc Pointy, who Chick Corea described as “the best jazz violinist on the planet.” Since there aren’t a lot of jazz violinists out there, this kind of sounds like giving someone the prize for being “the best jazz bagpiper on the planet”. This accolade doesn’t do Jean-Luc credit; he blended with the rest of the group seamlessly, is a musical tour-de-force in his own right, and added a refreshing variant to the RTF sound.

Concert Review: Lee Konitz with The Brian Dickinson Trio, Feb 11, Glenn Gould Studio

Posted on by Paul in Concerts | Leave a comment

Toronto – I’m generally not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but this year, inspired after reading Alex Ross’ Listen to This, I decided that I would take it upon myself to expand my musical horizons somewhat, digging a bit deeper into genres such as classical and jazz.  So when the opportunity arose to check out Lee Konitz in a concert presented by The Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC), I gladly took it.  Konitz is a jazz legend.  He’s been playing since the ’40s and has collaborated with many of the greats of the genre, most famously on Miles Davis’ Birth Of The Cool

Konitz was backed up on this occasion by the talented Brian Dickinson Trio.  the interplay between the musicians was pretty impressive.  Drummer Barry Romberg was especially entertaining to watch, but each player had their moments.  In fact, on the second song, Konitz left the stage and the trio did a number on their own. 

Konitz is an interesting performer to watch.  Casually dressed and wearing sunglasses, he didn’t say too much, but addressed the crowd on a few occasions.  He told stories about his songs, such as “Thingin,” a tune based on “All The things You Are,” which he described as “thievery in good spirit.”  “I put a little melody on top of it.  I didn’t tell Jerome Kern I was going to do that.”  He further demonstrated his sense of humour by referring to the trio as “my colleagues … they know their names,” before holding his hand up to his mouth as if to let the audience in on the secret that he forgot their names.  If he did in fact forget their names, that’s probably forgivable, as they did form a bond as performers that night, improvising through various numbers.  Konitz even included the audience in on the act, inviting everyone to sing a note along with the band during one number.  I guess everyone at the Glenn Gould Studio that night can now add their names to the long list of Lee Konitz’s collaborators.

NXNE Review: Elise LeGrow, Erin Hunt, June 18, Harlem Restaurant

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, North By Northeast | 1 Comment

– There have been times at NXNE where I’ve run from one venue to the next in a desperate attempt to see and hear everything that could possibly be seen and heard. This year I decided that my new rule of thumb is no more than two venues per evening. The new plan is to minimize the hopping and get friendly with the locals and the locales. The night began at the Harlem restaurant with some sultry jazz in the form of sultry sultry Elise LeGrow.

Some people are surprised to hear that, although I am huge jazz fan, I’m not typically into the vocalists. While I do have a soft spot for the old greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, much of today’s fare strikes me as more adult contemporary. It’s perfectly innocuous music that features prominently on many a jazz radio station. Listening to a snippet of it can be like having a popsicle on a nice summer day. Too much and it’s more like cotton candy laced with bubblegum and sprinkles all melting together on an uncomfortable humid day with a smog warning in effect. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate contemporary jazz vocalists out there; as was evident by the first show of the evening.

Elise LeGrow is a Toronto-based songstress that has both the voice and charisma that evokes the great jazz women of yesterday. She sang a mix of both contemporary songs and classics for a small and appreciative audience at the Harlem. I have to admit her stage presence was so captivating that it was a trying affair to concentrate on the music. While making her way through the set, she bobbed up and down and playfully ran her hands through her hair at all the right times. It was so incredibly distracting that I spent the better part of the hour looking around my environment for some kind of materials that I could use to a fashion a makeshift engagement ring. Did I mention her sultriness?

If there was one thing that I was a little lacking in the performance, it had nothing to do with Miss LeGrow herself. While her band provided some solid backing, I could imagine that the addition of some musical reinforcements would really kick things up a notch. Hers is a stylish and elegant music that is perfectly suited to a classy little downtown restaurant like the Harlem. I wonder what she would sound like if we added the authentic woody thump of real double-bass, and swapped out the electronic keyboard with a baby grand? With that kind of setup, a snifter of brandy, and some arts & craft type ring making materials, I’d be as happy as a kid with cotton candy.

The next set at the Harlem was Toronto-based Erin Hunt and her groove-based funk and R&B band. She started things off with a rendition of Crosstown Traffic. I could tell during from the noodling by the guitarist during the band setup that we were in store for some really groovy stuff. Easily the highlight of this set was the work of guitarist Ricky Tillo who showcased both amazing chops and an excellent sense of rhythm. I wish he could have had more freedom to stretch his legs.

In the previous set, the backing band needed some shoring up to match the talent up front. In this set, it was the opposite dilemma. Erin didn’t have the vocals or stage presence that could captivate the audience. What she did have was a kick-ass band that I would not hesitate to go see in a purely instrumental incarnation. Unfortunately she made a few gaffs that weren’t terribly endearing. She forgot the name of her drummer when introducing the band. Then when encouraging people to stay for the next set, she admitted that she didn’t know what band was following her, but was “sure they were good”. Not the classiest move of the evening.

I’d definitely go see that guitarist again in any other setting though.

TO Jazz Review: Sharon Jones, Nathan Phillips, June 26

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


Toronto – After last Friday night’s Sonny Rollins show, I decided to high-tail it over to Toronto Jazz Festival headquarters at Nathan Phillips Square to check in on Sharon Jones. Thankfully I was able to catch the last half of the set. Even though Sharon is appearing on Day 1 of the festival, it was apparent from the packed tent of happy dancers that this show was going to be a festival highlight.

It’s clear from the crowd that Sharon and her Dap-Kings were able to strike a resonant chord with her impressive pipes, her effervescent stage presence, and a top-notch band that knows how to will a crowd to their feet.

Sharon Jones was in Toronto last October promoting her latest album 100 Days, 100 Nights. It was a fun show (coverage here), but the less then stellar venue that is the Kool Haus limited her audience to die-hard soul fans that were already familiar with her work. Thankfully, Sharon Jones really got the opportunity to stretch her legs in front of a larger and uninitiated audience at the jazz fest. This included a whole gaggle of people just outside of the main tent soaking up some of Sharon’s crazy energetic stage presence for the first time.

Sharon Jones

Sharon is backed by the Dap-Kings, a tight group of old-school soul & funk revivalists. The ringleader is the understated and cool Bosco Mann, the bassist behind the scenes that keeps things funky. This band produces a consistent and driving funk sound that will keep people happily dancing for hours. One highlight for many was Sharon’s tribute to Michael Jackson with a rendition of I Want You Back.

Since I didn’t cover the entire show, I’m not going to rate this one. However, it’s clear from the crowd that Sharon and her Dap-Kings were able to strike a resonant chord with her impressive pipes, her effervescent stage presence, and a top-notch band that knows how to will a crowd to their feet.