Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Review: The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman, June 24, Nathan Phillips

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The Bad Plus played Nathan Phillips last Sunday as the second half of a double bill with Hiromi. The trio has been playing together for over a decade. They grew popular for their creative re-invention of rocks tunes; from Nirvana to David Bowie. Throughout it all they remain a high calibre jazz act. This time around, the band has shaken things up with the addition of fiery saxophonist Joshua Redman. It made for an intense pairing. Think jazz, with a bebop saxophone, fuelled by driving beats that were at times on the threshold of hard rock.

The last time I saw the Bad Plus, I was scared of drummer David King. He can go from demure to all out thrash metal in the blink of an eye. At first I thought he looked like the type of guy that would have beaten me up in High School. Then I realized he smiles too much and has so much fun playing. The assessment didn’t feel right. After the show, I got a chance to exchange a few words with pianist Ethan Iverson and realized he is a total mega-nerd. That’s when I realized that the Dave is more like the guy who would beat up the bullies who beat up the nerds in High School. Good for you Dave.

Tenor-man Joshus Redman is well schooled in the traditions of bop. He can play with intensity without losing his stride. Bassist Reid Anderson admitted that after playing so long as a trio, Redman’s addition was challenging them in new ways. In the latter half of the set, they decided to calm things down with a slower ballad. Bop saxophonists can be pretty intense, and that’s a lot of fun. The interesting thing is that they can play a ballad with an artisan’s touch if you ask them nicely. As intense as John Coltrane could be, he would also play beautiful ballads with great artistic integrity. Joshua Redman is no different.

TO Jazz Review: Hiromi, June 24, Nathan Phillips

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 1 Comment

It’s difficult to describe Hiromi’s performance last Sunday at Nathan Phillips Square. It was my most anticipated of the festival, so the expectations were running wild. For a show to move from good to great requires a lot of moving pieces working in tandem. Both the musicians and the crowd need to be plugged in, the venue needs to work and the sound levels need to be right. For a show to move from great to truly memorable requires a little something more.

Hiromi is one of the most talented of modern day pianists. She’s all restrained fire with virtuosity. She plays with emotion that shines through. Joy, excitement, humility, it’s all painted on her face. These qualities have earned her the privilege of playing with the top brass in the jazz world. Lately she has chosen bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Philips to round out the trio. Their 2011 effort is Voice. I wasn’t yet familiar with this album, but from the very first song, I knew it was on my wavelength.

There are musicians that play songs. Then there are musicians that take you on journeys.

One of the most rewarding experiences live music can offer is getting lost in what’s going on. For many adults, years of practice erecting shields makes that harder than it sounds. Most of us aren’t willing to go there; it requires too much exposure and emotional investment. When it does happen, it’s mostly with artists we are already comfortable with. It can be really special when the musicians that you inherently trust play songs you don’t quite know. It’s the perfect mix of the familiar and the foreign.

So there you have the perfect storm: the right musician playing the right music in the right venue. Just add a bit of pixie dust and you have the show. I was thoroughly disarmed. There are musicians that play songs. Then there are musicians that take you on journeys.

Click here for a great video of Hiromi playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 from Voice.

TO Jazz Review: Ig Henneman Sextet, June 24, The Music Gallery

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The Ig Henneman Sextet is, as the name suggests, a six piece band led by Dutch viola player and composer Ig Henneman. The band’s performance at The Music Gallery this past Sunday night offered up some interesting, unique music. Henneman’s compositions from their latest, Cut A Caper, were inspired by (or “inspired on,” as Henneman said at one point, noting that one of her bandmates had corrected her on that ) various sources, including Gillian Welch, a haiku, “dutch golden hits,” and other things. I appreciate the fact that she takes inspiration from non musical sources to inspire her pieces. I also appreciate the fact that the piece inspired by Welch (of whom Henneman admitted to being a great admirer) at first sounded nothing like her but as it went on, it somehow brought her to mind while still sounding wholly original.

The sextet (which features a couple of Canadians) makes music that is often improvisational in nature and would definitely fall under the umbrella of experimental or avant-garde jazz. The band, a unique configuration involving horns, viola, bass, and piano, are all impressive players. For one tune, the trumpet player was making some wonderfully weird breath noises through his horn. There were several nice moments like that throughout the set. At one point, the high pitched horn noises had some audience members holding their ears. I could be a smartass and mock them for it but truth is I’ve done the same at Mogwai shows.

I tend to listen to a lot of music that could be classified as avant-garde or experimental, but usually still falling within the context of the rock genre. This was, not surprisingly, a kindred spirit to that. It definitely had the same sort of vibe as some of the more improvisational/noisy bands I’ve seen (Acid Mothers Temple, Einsturzende Neubauten) but coming at it from a different angle. But unlike Neubauten, there weren’t any power tools incorporated into the performance. It could be something to consider though …

TO Jazz Review: The Bacchus Collective, Que Isso?, June 23

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

As much as I love the high-energy and big ticket acts at Nathan Phillips, it’s also important for me to get off the beaten track and explore the nooks and crannies of the jazz festival. Saturday night was my designated night of wandering. It led to the Distillery District to see The Bacchus Collective, a Toronto-based funk soul jazz outfit. They played the Trinity Stage, which is on Trinity street, in the heart of the Distillery. The quaint cobble-stoned streets were filled with people of all ages; from kids to adults.

I was enticed here by the words “funk soul”. Lead singer Justin Bacchus was accompanied by a strong rhythm section. While the music didn’t captivate me, the scenario certainly did. It’s weird to think that a place once used to distill whiskey and other adult spirits is now such a family-friendly destination. There were kids everywhere! They were dancing as kids do: the standard up-and-down bob with optional arm wave mixed in with the occasional jump. Many were unsuccessfully attempting to drag their shy parents to join in on the dance party. The band took it in stride and catered to the kids, encouraging them to shake up a storm. This got even funnier when they quickly tired of this funk soul business and tried to storm the stage (see picture above).

Next up was some beers in a park with some friends (a necessary ritual in hot Toronto summers). Bonus points because the park was extra sketchy. I was interested in some chill instrumental sounds, so I set my compass to the Dominon on Queen for some Brazilian jazz in Que Isso? That’s not a question, I really did go here. The question mark is part of the band name. I think it’s Spanish for “Brazillian Isso”. From the street you could hear some really tight jazz with that infectious laid back rhythm. Peering inside from the street, you could see a packed house; so packed that the Dominion was at capacity. People wanted in, and when they got a taste of this band, they were setting up camp for the night. I don’t blame them. In truth I had a better line of sight than the picture above. It was intentionally taken through bushes and grates because I’m a story teller. Shhh, don’t break the spell.

 Que Isso? … The question mark is part of the band name. I think it’s Spanish for “Brazillian Isso”.

Fortunately at some point, the doors were nudged open just barely and the street view became standing room on the patio, which morphed into a table on the patio, and eventually led back inside near the end of the set. The drummer Kyle McGyle looked like he was having entirely too much fun hammering out rhythms. It was fun and legitimate jazz at a great club. I would love to see Que Isso? again in a less packed setting where I could spend a little more time absorbing the music. Either way, it was a rewarding treat for my night of festival wandering.