Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Preview: Interview with Eric Krasno of Soulive

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Toronto – Today marks the start of the Toronto Jazz Festival. For the next ten days, the city will be teeming with fantastic musicians playing venues large and small. You can check out some of the highlights of the line-up here.

In anticipation of the festival, I had a chance to chat with the guitarist of soul/jazz/funk outfit Soulive, Eric Krasno. We talked about their latest album, Rubber Soulive, and also dove into how new technologies like do-it-yourself studios, grassroots record labels, and the internets are changing the the face of music.

Mark: Soulive has been doing jazz, soul and funk for over a decade. This latest album, Rubber Soulive, is a funkified Beatles tribute.

Eric: It’s kind of a take on the Rubber Soul album that they did. In London [white guys playing soul music was called rubber soul]. We ended up calling it Rubber Soulive based on the Beatles album, but ended up taking other Beatles tunes as well.

MJ: What was the motivation behind this album?

EK: We had talked about doing a covers album. At first we were talking about doing a British Invasion thing, where it was different British groups, this was right around when they did the re-master of the Beatles stuff. Originally it was going to be an EP. The first session we just sat and listened to a bunch of tunes and talked about which ones would translate best into our instrumentation and our style, and then we just recorded them live in the studio pretty quickly and organically.

MJ: Over the last decade, you’ve worked with a number of different record labels. You were involved in Velour, a couple of years with Blue Note, and a brief stint with Stax. Now you’ve gone your own route with Royal Family. I’m curious about how the record label has influenced your sound and how you make music over the years.

EK: We’ve been pretty fortunate that labels didn’t really tell us what to do. The difference really is when you have a big budget. As we decided to do it on our own, we had to be a little bit more aware of what we’re spending. We have our own studios now, so we’re able to record a lot easier, but we’ve been fortunate in that we could pretty much record and hand in what we wanted to put out and they’d put it out. It’s a lot different if you’re a pop singer on a major label where you don’t have a lot of influence over what you do.

MJ: So what was the prime motivation then to break out with the Royal Family?

EK: We had [wanted to enter into a subsidiary deal with labels, but it didn’t pan out so we started our own]. Now we’re doing all of our other projects as well. We can put out live recordings every night. We actually offer our recording of our shows live at the show that night, so you can leave with a copy of the show that was just played.

Things like that we weren’t allowed to do on major labels: being able to put out as much music as we want, and put stuff out for free on the internet. For the number of albums we were selling, it made more sense to do it ourselves.

MJ: Things are moving very quickly in the music industry with technology and the movement online. It sounds like with the Royal Family you’ve got a little more freedom to embrace the change.

EK: Absolutely, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

MJ: How has the Soulive sound changed over the last decade?

EK: It has evolved in that we’ve got better as a group, as far as communicating and improvising, and [we’ve also] allowed other influences to seep in. It started out just organ, guitar, and drums, and now … our palette has expanded.

MJ: From a guitar point of view, what are some of your influences? I don’t want to load this question, but there are certainly some people that pop in my mind when I listen to you.

EK: I was a huge Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page fan; a big rock & roll fan as a kid. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a good one, and then later on I found Grant Green and Wes Montgomery. It’s a combination of all those things really.

MJ: I’m glad you said Grant Green, because that’s definitely what I had in my mind when I was listening to Rubber.

You seem to be doing a lot of studio work and live touring. Do you like the mix?

EK: I kind of need the mix. I’ve also produced a lot of records over the last ten years; everything from hip-hop, to pop, to African music. It’s nice because I can try all sorts of different things when I’m in the studio. But then after a while, I like to get out and play, and then when I’m out on the road, I get sick of the road too, so I definitely dig the balance.

MJ: So if you were heading to a deserted island and you had to pick one Beatles album, which one would you have to take?

EK: For me it’s Abbey Road, I have to say.

MJ: Nice.

Soulive plays this Monday (June 27th) at the Horseshoe Tavern at 9:30 and 11:30.

Soulive – Drive My Car – Rubber Soulive by royalfamily

TO Jazz Preview: 2011 Line-up Announced

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

Toronto – The Toronto Jazz Festival rolled out its line-up last week. We’ll be providing more in-depth previews of all the great shows happening as it gets closer to the festival. For now, I’d like to provide some colour on the roster.

Aretha Franklin – I had a chance to catch Aretha for her last show in Toronto. While she may not have the pipes she used to, she still seems to be pushing herself. That she is the Queen of Soul is uncontested. While this won’t be like seeing her when she was in her prime, it’s still a good opportunity to mark this off  your concert checklist.

Paco de Lucia – This is the show I am 2nd most excited about. Spanish flamenco music derives a lot of it’s technique from classical guitar music, which has a reputation for being rigid in its implementation. You have to sit just so, you have to hold the guitar just so, you have to use a footstool like so. It’s about as far away from the rebellious guitar rocker that you can be, while still being in the same instrument family.

“[Paco de Lucia] crossed his legs like a badass, which actually incensed traditionalists of the day”

Paco de Lucia threw those conventions out the window. He crossed his legs like a badass (see picture above), which actually incensed traditionalists of the day. He developed his own style of playing and is now considered one of the world’s virtuoso flamenco guitarists.

Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo – Both of these guys have been on my top roster of favourite contemporary jazz musicians. They’ve been playing together in the Branford Marsalis Quartet for years now, and as a result, they can read each other’s minds. In the world of jazz, the duo format can be stunning. There are no safety nets; no one gets to “comp” (play straight-ahead chords or accompaniment). This allows for a focused interplay between the two musicians. You take two artists at the top of their game and it can be magic. This is my most anticipated show of the festival.

The RootsThis show will sell out quickly. Every single person who went to the show last year will want to go again and bring all of their friends. All of the people on the outside of the tent looking at the ridiculous party inside is now going to want in, sticker price be damned. It will be a crazy fun blend of rock, funk, and hip-hop. This was my favourite show of 2010, and remains my only five star review. ‘Nuff said.

The Toronto Jazz Festival runs this summer from June 24 – July 3. You can find the entire line-up here. Paco de Lucia image  above is distributed under the Creative Commons license.

TO Jazz Review: Andy Milne & Dapp Theory, July 3, Trane Studio

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Toronto – The theme for my last weekend of the jazz festival was intimate clubs. I chose to spend Saturday evening at Trane Studio to check out Andy Milne & Dapp Theory. I had read their bio and was interested in what was described as a jazz hip-hop fusion. Indeed after the ridiculously amazing show The Roots put on, I was looking for just such an excuse to listen to more hip-hop. With this in mind, I was curious to see what Dapp Theory was all about. They’ve recently garnered some praise in Jazz Times with some lofty words about pioneering a “musical unified field theory”.

Do not have a wedding reception at a club where there is a live show about to happen, unless you are related to one of the musicians.

When I arrived at Trane Studio, I was a little surprised to find a woman in a bridal gown. At first I was under the impression that maybe Andy Milne’s cousin just got married and decided to have the reception at the show. That would have been wicked cool. I was disappointed to find out that the wedding reception and the show were completely unrelated. With the reception butting right up against the live show, it certainly made for an awkward standoff as concert goers waited for the wedding party to vacate the club. Let this be a lesson to our attentive readers: do not have a wedding reception at a club where there is a live show about to happen, unless you are related to one of the musicians.

I was definitely expecting hip-hop to be a prominent aspect of this show. In reality, the needle was pegged at “jazz” on my trusty jazz-to-hip-hop fusion-o-meter. This normally wouldn’t be much of a problem for me, because I like jazz. I just couldn’t identify with the jazz that Dapp Theory was playing. The hip-hop aspects were really more spoken word. On my other trusty instrument, my beatnik-to-hip hop fusion-o-meter, the needle was pretty forcefully pegged at beatnik. Not in a good way. The songs were long and the crowd seemed both stoic and alienated.

I’ll admit that it was entertaining to see some elderly ladies sitting completely still trying to absorb the crazy beatnik jazz going on. Five minutes of repetitive vocal vamp had them really reeling. They looked wide-eyed and perhaps a little scared. Unfortunately the novelty of crowd watching faded pretty quickly, and so I decided to copy Brian’s move from the night before at the very same club and abscond while the absconding was good.

TO Jazz Review: The Andrew Stew Art Project, July 2, The Rex

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

Toronto – If there was one thing that was missing from the early part of my jazz festival experience this year, it was some time checking out some small clubs. This was certainly due to my own designs; there were so many great acts happening at the main stage at Nathan Phillips square that I had difficulty straying from the beaten path. But jazz is a music that works best in intimate venues. It was with this thought held firmly in mind that I embarked on the final weekend of the festival. The mission was clear: spend some quality time at the local clubs in the city.

Friday night found me at The Rex, one of the few institutions left in Toronto. This place is an integral part of the jazz community in the city. It balances great live music with a laid back vibe that welcomes music lovers of all stripes. The Andrew Stew Art Project consisted of the namesake of the band on bass, paired with some excellent Toronto musicians, and a bona fide steel pan player in Gareth Burgess. Tastefully done steel pan jazz is one of my very favourite things, so going to this show was a no-brainer for me. This show gets my top marks this year in my newly created Favourite Jazz Show At A Small Club category. The musicians were into it, the crowd was into it, and the vibes were positive. What more can you ask for?

At one point during the second set, a female vocalist was invited on stage for a few numbers. Unfortunately the result was a little lacklustre, as it was difficult for the crowd to maintain the momentum and sheer groove that accompanied the purely instrumental songs. It was a fun show at a great little club, and would easily earn 4.5 stars in my books if done again sans vocals.