Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Review: Angelique Kidjo, July 1, Toronto Star Stage

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

TorontoAngelique Kidjo played the Toronto Star Stage during Canada Day to an audience that started the evening neatly sitting in their seats and ended it dancing on the stage. The music that she brought blended a number of African styles with a powerful and soulful voice. It was evident from the get go that Angelique wanted people to have fun and dance. She told us so at the very beginning of the show: it was OK to sit right now, but she wanted people to dance, and soon! The crowd was happy to get into the groove. Angelique’s genuine disposition and positive energy was infectious.

Near the end of the set, Angelique invited crowd members to join her on the stage for a big ol’ dance party. There was a real collectivism that was evident as she invited people to not only listen, but actively participate in her music. Her voice is basically flawless, and her band hit all the right notes to provide the right kind of propulsion for the show. Oh, and she can dance something fierce. This was clear during the big drummer circle dance off near the end of the set.

In between songs, Angelique spent some time imparting some of her wisdom and politics. On the one hand, it was very cool to hear Angelique talk about the importance of positivity in the face of adversity and life’s outrageous fortunes. She talked about how precious life is, and how one person can make a difference. On the other hand, the talking bits did seem to happen quite frequently and extend for some time. By the time the music started up again, the crowd needed ramp up time to find their respective grooves. Although the Canada Day crowd was a little on the sparse side, what they didn’t have in numbers they certainly made up for in energy.

The crowd was more than willing to forgive the talky start stops. Angelique is a gift performer, has smart things to say, funny stories to tell, and provides a positivity that you can’t help but get drawn into.

TO Jazz Review: Terry Clarke Trio, July 2, Trane Studio

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Everything, Fringe, Toronto Jazz Festival | 1 Comment

Toronto – I really liked the Terry Clarke Trio last Friday night at Trane Studio. I liked them so much I left during the break between their sets.

Wait, I can explain this.

Terry Clarke is a Canadian jazz veteran of some renown: he has the Order of Canada to his name, given to him in 2002, he won the 2009 Traditional Jazz Album Juno award for his first album as a band leader, and has been “Best Drummer” of the Canadian National Jazz Awards (yeah, I guess those exist) multiple times. It’s easy to see why. Clarke’s got the kind of chops behind a drum kit that transcends the rhythm-keeping duties that a lot of other drumstick-wielders are limited to, and somehow, even though you can’t hear the beat being kept over all the improvising from what’s usually the rhythm section, in Clarke’s trio it’s there just the same.

Clarke, along with saxaphonist Phil Dwyer and double bass player Don Thompson, laid down some impressive tracks from that Juno Award-winning album, which is called It’s About Time, and played a few versions of some classic jazz tunes, like Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane” and Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite.” I’m not the biggest Sonny Rollins fan, but it was a great tune for these three players. Thompson and Dwyer each took a spin on the piano for a couple of softer tunes, both of which were crowd-pleasers. And Clarke’s drumming was forceful throughout, demanding the spotlight several times a song.

Why, then, did I leave before the second set started? Well, to be honest, I got really bored. I had nowhere to sit in a packed to the gills Trane Studio, with all the seats (even the ones at the bar) reserved, and spent the band’s first set holding up the wall to the right of the stage with a handful of other people, trying not to trip the wait staff who were using that space between the wall and the tables as a lane from the kitchen. With nowhere to sit and no place to put a beer even if I’d been able to order one, as the break between sets passed 30 minutes in length, all I could think about was wanting to sit down, and how much sleep I was likely to get before the marathon next day at the Fringe I had scheduled.

So. Terry Clarke’s first set was pretty good. I hope the last half of the concert was good too.

TO Jazz Review: Xylopholks, July 3, HMV

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

Toronto – This was one of the more surreal concert experiences I’ve seen in my time … and the fact that the performers were wearing funny animal suits was one of the less bizarre parts of the afternoon.  First off, the venue itself was strange and they knew it – playing in the corner of a music retailer behind a big Clint Eastwood poster is a bit weird, but to their credit, Xylopholks just rolled with it and enjoyed it.  Laughing between songs, talking to the crowd as they passed in and out during their set (“Is that bubble tea?”  “Ice Cream?  That’s a much better idea than what we’re doing”) and wondering whether it was OK to sell their own EP while playing inside a place that sells music, these guys were having fun and it showed.  And they’re  pretty good musicians too.

Xylopholks play songs from the 1920s ragtime repertoire (as well as a brief snippet of the Inspector Gadget theme) … and yes, they do so while wearing animal costumes.  If you don’t know how to differentiate 1920s ragtime from other forms of music, perhaps Seymour from Ghost World can help you with that.

It was fun, often fast paced, and at times reminded me of the music from the old Looney Tunes cartoons.  I ran into Mark during their set and we both agreed it was pretty good.  But by talking while they played, were we committing concert douchebaggery? Or do those rules fly out the window when the band is playing in front of a display of Star Trek: The Next Generation boxed sets?

Based on their style of performance and various Youtube videos, it seems these guys operate primarily as buskers, which works well for them (other than the fact that they must have been sweating profusely inside those costumes).  Various people stopped by to check them out, some only for a minute or less, but all of them seemed to leave with a smile on their face.

TO Jazz Review: Keith Jarrett, June 30, Four Seasons

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

Toronto – There are a few ways for a musician to be successful in this world. Some artists strive to keep music a personal journey. Most take this path with the understanding that they won’t be the next U2 or Lady Gaga. Their creativity remains intact, but often at the expense of commercial success. On the other end of the spectrum, there are musicians that have learned how to cater to the wants and needs of the masses. Good examples of this camp include U2 and Lady Gaga. They’ve developed the necessary skills to create music that people like, and to those individuals, the riches flow.

However, it is possible to walk the line between being a commercially successful artist, and one that still commands the respect of their peers. It’s a rare bird that can garner fame, fortune, and be a source of musical inspiration. Keith Jarrett is one of those birds. His solo performance in 1975 entitled The Köln Concert is the best selling piano recording in history; it also established him as juggernaut on the musical landscape. His mastery of both classical and jazz music has allowed him to travel to places mere mortals only dream about. He is universally and uniquely respected in the jazz community and is one of the most celebrated pianists in the world.

“I know the tickets were expensive. But tonight, money doesn’t matter” [overheard from concert goer]

Keith and his trio played the Four Seasons Centre last Wednesday as part of the jazz festival Grandmaster Series. Its a fitting title, because Keith truly is the grand daddy of living grandmasters. When he came out on stage and began to play, the entire crowd was pin drop silent. When Keith Jarrett sits down in front of grand piano, there’s no longer any doubt that you’re standing in the presence of someone truly brilliant. Fans know that with this particular brilliance comes some idiosyncrasy; Keith is well known for throwing the occasional tantrum. The Keith Jarrett moment at this concert involved stopping one piece because a single note sounded to him like it was yelling “help!” During intermission they swapped out the piano with a replacement.

I chatted with a gentleman who had seen Keith play years ago and felt that the music they now produce is more edited, a little more restrained, and a little more refined. In addition to technical mastery and an unparalleled understanding of the piano, Keith plays with a raw passion that is inspiring to see. He grunts, and groans as he carves out melodies in such a genuine display of emotion that it’s hard not to get lost in it all. The way to listen to Keith Jarrett live is to try not to analyse the technical mastery, but just feel the emotion. I honestly don’t know where I was for most of this concert.

If there was one thing that was a bit underwhelming, it was seeing the empty seats at the Four Seasons. Keith Jarrett commands a rather hefty price tag. The cheapest seats were $50, at the very top of the hall, and sold out ages ago. Move slightly closer and you pay $90 and even these seats were sold out some time ago. But the vast majority of the tickets in the hall rang in just shy of $140. This kept the crowd limited to the truly comitted. I just wish that the barrier of entry to seeing such a fantastic musician wasn’t so fantastically high.

Highlights of the evening included the three encores Keith played. The crowd was incredibly charged after the set. It was satisfying to see Keith, after coming out to bow a few times, rub his hands together, nod to let us know the he’ll play a little more, and walk back towards his piano. His first encore was particularly charged with some sophisticated blues and an amazing groove. The rest was tasteful and sweet.