Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Review: Delerium, June 27, Church of the Redeemer

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 5 Comments

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Toronto – A seasoned and talented jazz quartet with a couple of critically acclaimed albums under their belt. An intimate venue with great acoustics mere steps from the subway line. A reasonable ticket price as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival. So why were there only about 10 people in the crowd for Delerium’s wonderful show at Church of the Redeemer on Saturday night?

It certainly wasn’t the band’s fault. I love jazz shows because it’s a treat to see a talented jazz musician on stage, the way they can play at a level that seems otherworldly to those, such as myself, who are distinctly lacking in musical talent. It’s an even greater treat to see a jazz group of great musicians who’ve been playing together for a long time; the way they’re able to read and play off each other, to send cues to one another with the merest nod or wave. And Delerium are exactly that: a quartet of great musicians. Every band member had the chance to shine with multiple solos throughout the night, and never missed a beat when they played in concert, especially Mikko Innanen on sax and Kasper Tranberg on cornet, who often went from extended solos straight into perfect harmony.

During their 70-minute set Tranberg charmed the crowd with his playing, switching between multiple bells and mutes, going from soft, mourning sounds to loud wails in an instant, and with his between-song banter. Tranberg had some interesting things to say about every composition, particularly one who’s lengthy title I can’t remember enough of to do justice that he said was written by the composer as he walked down the street and inspired by, among other things, “the Dorsey brothers, as in Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra; of course, by mosquitoes; and by ZZ Top.” And damned if every one of those influences weren’t easily recognizable, especially the mosquitoes. Tranberg (seen on the far right of the picture above) certainly charmed me, but I may be a sucker for a slightly nerdy looking cornet player with a Danish accent. I smiled, looked on in wonder, and tapped my feet through the band’s entire set. My lovely companion, meanwhile, who would certainly describe herself as less of a jazz fan than I, thoroughly enjoyed the show, and was also struck by bassist Jonas Westergaard’s massive hands. When Tranberg introduced a composition by Westergaard as being “inspired by the territory of North America,” she was inspired to reply from our spot in the front row “that’s an awfully big territory,” which seemed to give the band a good laugh. “Maybe after listening you can help us narrow it down,” suggested Tranberg.

Their sound is remarkably varied. Sometimes they invoke the slightly abstract solos of an Ornette Coleman or perhaps Sun Ra, but at others invoke the more melodic stylings of someone like Charlie Parker. With the mention of the Dorsey brothers as an influence on one song and Tranberg telling us another was a tribute to both Thelonious Monk and Tomasz Stanko, Delerium is a band with a clear understanding of their jazz history, while still managing to create music all their own.

Fortunate as I feel to be one of the few who saw them, I felt a little bad for the band for playing to such a small crowd. Can I explain the low turnout for Delerium’s show at the beautiful Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican church right at the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road? I wish I could. Maybe people didn’t know where the venue was. Maybe more and more people expect more mainstream acts in their jazz festivals. My companion remarked, though, sometimes it’s nice to see a jazz band at a jazz festival, especially one as talented and polished as Delerium.

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This is Delerium’s first tour of North America. They’re on the jazz festival circuit, with their stop in Toronto coming after festival dates in Rochester and Ottawa. Some bands might be discouraged by such a small turnout early in their tour, but bassist Jonas Westergaard wasn’t.

“It would be [discouraging] if it was our only show over here,” he said after the show. “It would be a long way to come for almost nothing.”

I just hope the low turnout doesn’t sour them on coming back to Toronto. See their shows during the rest of their tour, many of which are free as part of other jazz fests, so that they come back to North America some day.

North American Tour Dates:

June 28: Coastal Jazz, Vancouver BC
June 29: Coastal Jazz, Vancouver BC
July 1: Jazzfest International, Victoria BC
July 2: Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, Saskatoon

TO Jazz Review: Sonny Rollins, Four Seasons Centre, June 26

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

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Toronto – The Downtown Toronto Jazz festival kicked off yesterday and will be running throughout the city from now until July 5th. It’s a fantastic opportunity to check out some great live music. The shows that occur during the day at Nathan Phillips Square are free. You can get the details here.

Now, before I go describing last night’s show, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk jazz. To the layperson, there’s a huge swathe of music that we describe as “jazz”, but it can be helpful to understand the progression of the different styles. Jazz has had a profound and co-mingling impact on all sorts of music; from soul, afrobeat, calypso, latin music to electronica, hip-hop and beyond.

When you think hard bop, think cats, literally cats. If a bunch of cartoon cats were to get together and play some jazz music in a Bugs Bunny cartoon or that Disney movie the Aristocats, that’s hard bop.

Bebop – a.ka. “Bop” (Late 40’s – early 50’s)
This is where it all begins. Before this time jazz was popular dance music and musicians were seen as entertainers. Then cats like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie started to explore the idea that jazz musicians were artists first and entertainers second. Bebop is often seen as the roots of jazz. The music is angular and fast, the melodies are intricate, and it relies heavily on the musicians “chops” (virtuosity) and their ability to say a lot of things very quickly. While not as easy to digest as the later styles, bebop lays the foundations for the House That Jazz Built.

Bebop musicians: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk

Hard bop (50’s – 60’s)
Hard bop is a bit of misnomer. Despite the name, it’s bebop infused with elements of R&B and gospel, paving the way for funk and soul music. When you think hard bop, think cats, literally cats. If a bunch of cartoon cats were to get together and play some jazz music in a Bugs Bunny cartoon or that Disney movie the Aristocats, that’s hard bop.

Hard bop is the jazz music that you can tap your foot to. It’s a lot more accessible and rhythmical than bebop, and has been incredibly influential on improvisational music of all sorts.

Hard bop musicians: Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus

OK so let’s say you’re aiming to steal the Hope Diamond, so you put your sneakers on, you know, for sneaking. [What do you listen to?] cool jazz.

Cool jazz – a.k.a. West Coast Jazz (50’s – 60’s)
OK so let’s say you’re aiming to steal the Hope Diamond, so you put your sneakers on, you know, for sneaking. Like all successful diamond thieves, you need to get into the right frame of mind before you pull off your caper, so what music do you put on? For the high-minded antiquity thief, there’s really only option: cool jazz. Think drums that are being played with metal brushes. In cool jazz, musicians drift just behind the beat to give the music a laidback, cool feeling.

Cool jazz musicians: Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck

So now that we’ve covered some basic terminology, it’s important to establish that these styles mingle with each other. Musicians don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about classifications. They think about music and ideas and how to incorporate the two. We just invent these terms to help us talk about their music. So Miles Davis and his seminal album Kind of Blue is the perennial example of cool jazz, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find earlier works of his that are bebop, or later works that are closer to hard bop or rock fusion.

Sonny is a grandmaster that has earned the respect of top jazz musicians and critics 50 years ago … he continues to practice his craft in the most dilligent and humble of ways; this man is a class act.

OK, so now we’ve got all the tools we need to talk about Sonny Rollins. Born in 1930 in Harlem, NYC, Sonny started on alto sax, but moved to the tenor at 16 . By the time he hit his late teens, he was playing with the pre-eminent artists of the bebop movement: Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and a young Miles Davis. Simply put, Sonny is a grandmaster that has earned the respect of top jazz musicians and critics 50 years ago. At 78, he continues to practice his craft in the most dilligent and humble of ways; this man is a class act.

Sonny’s set practically started with a standing ovation just after 8 pm at the Four Seasons Centre. The first half of his set could best be described as a traditional bebop. It was driving and his 20-minute opening song was inspired. Sonny has a lot to say musically and is still firmly in command of his horn. After the first song though, Sonny and his band kept progressing in the bebop direction. The crowd was happy to be seeing Sonny Rollins live, but most seemed to be yearning for more foot-tapping music.

As is often the case in the jazz world, the second half of the set is where things really picked up. Sonny started moving towards hard bop fare, and it is here where he shines and the crowd starts to groove. Sonny’s sense of phrasing and his ability to play with your rythmic expections is without par. This is especially evident when he re-interprets old calypso tunes.

One highlight for me was his song Cutie, which is a fantastic example of the softer and more introspective version of Sonny.

Preview – Toronto Jazz Festival 2009

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

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Toronto – Good weather is kind of sort of almost upon us and it’s time for a summer filled with fantastic live music! The Toronto Jazz Festival (sponsored by TD Canada Trust) runs from Friday June 26th till Sunday July 5th. That’s 10 straight days of amazing music at over 40 different venues for your sonic enjoyment! Can you tell that I’m excited?

I’ve been attending the downtown jazz fest for a number years now, and I have to stay that it remains one of my favourite jazz festivals (I have to go to Newport, perhaps I’ll take this cause up with our Editor?)  In any case, there are many amazing acts coming to the city. But I’ll highlight a few of the choiciest shows:

June 26 – Sonny Rollins – Four Seasons

Sonny Rollins has been a grandmaster since the late-50’s with his seminal work Saxophone Collossus.  He is a collossus, and his sense of rythm and phrasing is simply unmatched even today. Toronto has been happy to have him play Massey Hall on on quasi-annual residency. As this grandmaster approaches octagenarian status, I wonder how much longer we will be gifted with his unique talent?

June 26 – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Nathan Phillips

Sharon Jones is a modern day Soul Queen.  Here’s a review of her playing in Toronto last October.

June 27 – Medeski, Martin & Wood – Nathan Philips

MMW sits on the edge of jazz and electronic music. They produce an atmospheric electronic sound. For you electronic lovers looking at jazz from the outside, MMW is a fantastic gateway drug.

June 29-30 – Chris Potter – The Pilot

Chris Potter is one of the brightest of the avant-guarde saxophonists around. I’ve seen him live twice before and both times I walked away with brain aneurysms. Warning: Chris Potter can get crazy (read: crazy jazzy). It’s worth the effort though. Chris Potter will kick your ass. The first time I saw him live in 2004 ranks in my books as “2nd best live jazz show I have seen”.

June 30 – Madeleine Peyroux – Danforth Music Hall

Now I’m not a big jazz vocal kind of guy. Don’t get me wrong, I really do appreciate some of the late great jazz-singers: Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan. But there’s just something about the modern day jazz vocal aesthetic that just isn’t my cup of tea. Sometimes it strikes me as the type of bubblegum that gets thrown on a compilation called “Jazz by Candlelight on the Beach by The Fire” and purchased at a Starbucks near you.

But Madeleine Peyroux is no bublegum jazz. Hers is a serious and legitimate voice that is as commanding as it is genuine.

July 3 – Branford Marsalis – Nathan Phillips

Branford Marsalis has been playing with his quarter for almost 10 years now. That is an eternity in the jazz scene. He’s assembled a top-notch cast: Joey Calderazzo on keys, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums and the bassist Eric Reeves. They’ve spent the last decade learning to read each others minds and I kid you not that seeing them live still commands the exalted position of “Best Live Jazz Show I Have Seen”.

Now there are many other artist playing at the festival. The big hitters that I have’t yet mentioned are: Dave Brubeck, Gary Burton & Pat Metheny, Jamie Cullum, Kenny Garret, and Tony Bennett.  While the big boys will certainly be fantastic, it may be worth your while to get off the beaten path and check out:

Chucho Valdés – Cuban pianist playing at the Enwave Theatre (one of the best sounding accoustic venues in the city) on July 1st.

José González – Also playing at the Enwave Theatre. Jose has been gaining critical acclaim for his latest album, In our Nature. Jose is certainly more accoustic folk rock than jazz. Think upbeat Great Lake Swimmers. So for the non-jazz fans out there, this will be an amazing show.  His accoustic sensibilities will sound ridiculously good at the Enwave Theatre.

Check out the full lineup TO jazz central.

Toronto Jazz Festival – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, June 24th, 2008

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

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

TorontoBig Bad Voodoo Daddy was formed in 1989 by singer/guitarist Scotty Morris. It started as a three-piece, but quickly grew into its current big band lineup. They were at the forefront of the swing-craze of the mid-90’s, and were popularized by their appearance in the movie Swingers with songs like “You and me and the bottle makes 3 tonight (baby)” and “Go daddy-o”. You’d recognized them if you heard ‘em.

They appeared at the Nathan Phillips Square main stage, and the result was a high-energy show. People who were in their late-teens and early twenties during the 90’s swing-craze were dusting off those swing dance-moves that they paid good money for and thought they’d never get to use. The band was tight, and provided all the ingredients for a good time. They all wore cool cat jazz suits, and the brass played in front of 30’s style jazz stands. Classy.

The music was good. It wasn’t inspiring, but it was solid, tight, and full of energy. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is still at it, cranking out the big band and doing what they do best: saluting and re-creating the old-school dance jazz that was so popular in the 30’s and 40’s. There were two highlights for me. The first was Scotty giving the crowd a history lesson about the Cotton Club, a famous prohibition-era NYC jazz club, with a salute to the late great Cab Calloway. The second was the bassist Dirk Schumaker. He looked like he was having so much fun spinning that stand-up bass of his and playing music that he loves. I was thoroughly envious of the man’s joie de vivre.

If I could have bottled some of it, I’d be set for life. 4/5.


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