Toronto Jazz Festival

Toronto Jazz Festival – Ahmad Jamal, June 23 2008

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

[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.

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.

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