Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Review: Get The Blessing, June 23, Nathan Phillips

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Get The Blessing is a Bristol-based jazz funk rock band. They consist of the rhythm section of legendary trip-hoppers Portishead: Jim Barr on bass and Clive Deamer on drums. They’ve teamed up with Jake McMurchie on sax and Pete Judge on trumpet to make a sound that is, well, heavy. Strong and slightly haunting rhythms pair with some artful brass that were at times rocking and at times a little scary, but in a good way.

I only caught about half of their set, but was compelled to stay at Nathan Phillips for as long as I could once I dialed into the right frequency. Get the Blessing would be a great band to see in an intimate club if you want some music that can propel you forward and still feel substantial. If I was a goth with a father who loved jazz music and I appreciated that fact, I would listen to this music when I was getting ready to go out on one of my crazy goth Saturday nights. For the record, I’m not a goth, but I’ll still listen to Get The Blessing.

TO Jazz Review: Kurt Rosenwinkel, June 22, Church of the Holy Trinity

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The Church of the Holy Trinity is a pretty amazing church. It’s a progressive place of worship nestled within the grounds of a major shopping centre; a small piece of serenity right next to 5-story posters hawking the latest fragrance by Chanel. It’s an inclusive place too, famous for opening its doors to the community for music shows and Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s all night art thing. Unlike the Berkeley Church which was transformed into an event venue, the Trinity is still a practicing place of worship, making it feel that much more legitimate. Seeing a show here was on my bucket list. Ah-check.

Kurt Rosenwinkel is a masterful guitarist that broke out on the modern jazz scene in the 90’s. He was plucked up by vibes legend Gary Burton, the dean of Berklee’s music school, to tour while still a student. His ability to fuse all sorts of inspirations into musical stories that are both simple and complex has earned him a place among the top contemporary jazz musicians of today. Playing a solo show at the Holy Trinity was one of the best marriages of artist and venue that I’ve seen in my ongoing list of “best marriage between artist and venue”. Cue the Wedding March.

Playing a rhythmic bass line to keep the heads in the crowd bopping in time while also telling a story with the higher plinky notes is one thing Kurt excels at.

The interesting thing about this show was that Kurt sang and played, which is new to me. I’ve only known him as an instrumentalist par excellence. By sing, I don’t actually mean sing, more like make sounds that accompany what was going on with his guitar. There’s an interesting phenomenon where some jazz artists get so emotionally plugged into what they are doing that they end up tunelessly humming along. It’s almost as if they are reacting to what their other half is doing. Jazz legends Keith Jarrett and Oscar Peterson are both known for this. Kurt’s singing was a little different, it was more targeted and part of the tapestry of the song. Together, it made for a pretty ephemeral soundtrack that was a little otherworldly. The sounds he made comfortably resonated up the big churchy emptiness overhead and just kind of hung out for a bit.

About halfway through, Kurt started dotting his set with more traditional sounding jazz guitar. Let’s call it a modern take on traditional jazz guitar. Playing a rhythmic bass line to keep the heads in the crowd bopping in time while also telling a story with the higher plinky notes is one thing Kurt excels at. Although the singy songs fit well in the hall, it was these more traditional tunes updated with Rosenwinkel flair that the jazz lovers both young and old could all agree on.

Toronto Jazz Festival-inspired Mixtape by DJ Agile

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The Toronto Jazz Festival starts this Friday June 22 and runs till July 1st with music all over the city. There will be something for everyone: rockin’ funk and soul shows, vocal jazz, fusions of all kinds, vibraphones, and intellectual instrumentalists.

What better way to get a snapshot of the music than by listening to a mix tape that features some of the artists in the festival? None. There is no better way. Toronto-based DJ Agile has put together just such a mix. It’s a great sampler for some of the more exciting shows coming up.

Check out the mix tape here.

TO Jazz 2012 Preview: June 22 to July 1

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Another summer is in full swing and that means festival season! The Toronto Jazz Festival is almost upon us, and this year marks the return of the main stage to Nathan Phillips Square’ renovated digs. I haven’t had a chance to check out the renovation, but my understanding is that it’s pretty awesome. More greenery, multiple viewing balconies, the flame in the Peace Garden will now burn 20 feet high, and free hoverboards are available to cross that pesky fountain! A welcome upgrade to the grey slabs of concrete, no doubt.

It’s time to reflect on the line-up. I would be remiss to mention that a great guide to the music featured is Artistic Director’s Josh Grossman’s own blog. He’s got all sorts of great articles like, “What’s so great about X” with a deep musical dive into the merits of the respective artists. It’s a great read for novice and pro alike to get a better understanding of the music coming to the city, and also get some reflections on jazz in today’s musical landscape.

That being said, this is my post, so now I’m going to give you my two cents on some of the notable acts, in order of appearance:

Janelle Monae – For those of you have grown accustomed to the absolutely ridiculous shows put on by the Roots in the last two years, might I suggest Janelle Monae? She’s an exciting young funk diva-to-be that has elements of pop and elements of fun (June 22).

Kurt Rosenwinkel – A lot of people think of jazz as music that was prominent in the 60’s and maybe just kind of stayed there. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, and you have only look to the new guard who have taken up the torch to see some truly amazing stuff happening. Names like Brad Mehldau, Roy Hargrove, and Kurt Rosenwinkel come to mind. Kurt is a guitarist par-exellence, and if you want to get a taste of what modern jazz guitar can do, go see this guy (June 22).

Hiromi – To establish her credentials, it’s enough to know that Hiromi has played with the likes of jazz legends Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. Hiromi is one of the most exciting of the contemporary jazz pianists. Supremely talented with fire in reserve. She’s quick and thoughtful. Unfortunately I couldn’t catch her last jazz festival experience. This will not happen again. This time around, she’s playing with rock-jazz trio The Bad Plus and saxophonist Joshua Redman. I believe everyone on stage will be in flames from the start to the finish of this show (June 24).

Natalie Cole – Most people know her as the daughter of the late, great, Nat Cole. Her 1991 posthumous duet Unforgettable with her father put her on the musical map. From there, she’s continued to cement her place as a fantastic songstress in her own right. Her voice is captivating. Natalie is the real deal (June 25).

George Benson – A number of years ago, I discovered my old man’s collection of George Benson LP’s. I had always reached for the likes of Wes Montgomery when I wanted some jazz guitar; you like what you know. When I finally decided to reach for George, I was rewarded with some amazing soul jazz guitar that could swing like nobody’s business. This will be a fantastic and easy-to-enjoy show for old and new fans alike (June 26).

Esperanza Spalding – This young bassist has been garnering some serious attention since winning a Grammy for Best New Artist. That she clinched this award proves that she’s been able to make a mark on the music scene at large. This will be a fantastic opportunity to see this bright new star.

And there you have it, but there’s so much more. There are plenty of free shows, and venues throughout the city. I highly recommend exploring some of the smaller venues; it’s great way to discover new music in a more intimate experience. Check out the entire line-up here.

The Toronto Jazz Festival runs from June 22 – July 1.

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