Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Review: Esthero, June 27, Lee’s Palace

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

Toronto – Thanks to yesterday’s thunderstorms and me being dumb enough to leave the house without an umbrella, I spent most of Sunday night standing on the floor at Lee’s Palace soaked to the skin, feeling sorry for unsuspecting bystanders who accidentally bumped into me only to find their own clothes or arms suddenly damp. I got soaked on my way from picking up my media pass from Nathan Phillips Square yesterday, then again on the way from Bathurst station to George’s Deli to Lee’s.

After uncomfortably dripping away through most of opener Maylee Todd’s set, though, Esthero took all discomfort away upon taking the stage. It hasn’t been a long time since Esthero played a show in Toronto, but the crowd reacted like they hadn’t seen her in a decade. Esthero playing here just feels so right. Despite moving to California several years ago, there’s a comfort level between the Stratford native and a Toronto crowd that’s unlike virtually any concert I’ve seen. Not only were her parents on hand, but she brought her father on stage late in the show (“she’s my jelly bean!” he exclaimed) to tell the crowd of how he’s fought through prostate cancer and strokes, to tell him he’s her hero and to sing “It’s a Small World.” Her brother, J. Englishman, joined her for a cover of Concrete Blonde’s “Joey,” the song she says got her noticed back when she used to sing it at Free Times Cafe. She said she hadn’t played with her massive 8-piece backing band – plus backup singers Kim Davis and Toya Alexis – in a year, and that this was her first show with the guitarist, but you’d never have guessed it from the sound. That’s the comfort level of an Esthero show in Toronto: she’s smoking on stage and is fairly drunk for the encore, the guitarist is brand new, the band and singer have been apart for a year, her dad’s wandering on stage, half the crowd is soaked, and half the show is off-the-cuff, but everything just feels right.

Much to the chagrin of a few fans in the audience, though, Esthero chose this show to premiere a lot of rarely- or never-before heard tunes from an album to be released later in the year. After starting off with the crowd favourite “O.G. Bitch”, Esthero delved deep into yet-to-be released material like “Black Mermaid”, “If I Didn’t Have Faith”, “You Don’t Get a Song” and more. By her own admission, her newer material is a lot less beat-driven than her 1998 trip-hop classic Breathe From Another or 2005’s rhythmic Wikked Lil’ Grrrls and has more in common with, say, the music of a singer-songwriter like Ron Sexsmith. Speaking of Ron Sexsmith, he appeared on stage at one point to sing a duet. Sexsmith is ok in my books, but it’s weird that he looks like he could burst into tears at any given moment. I guess that’s just his usual facial expression.

Anyway, Esthero’s new material is likable enough; her voice is certainly very strong and interesting enough to pull off a singer-songwriter album. The material’s a bit raw, however, and loading up the setlist with so many new tunes that could still use some polish might not have been the best choice with a crowd of fans who would’ve loved to sing along. Esthero did try to make up for it by getting the crowd to sing to a friend in California through her cell phone at the start of the encore, then by soliciting requests. After the shouting died down, this resulted in a rendition of “We R in Need of a Musical Revolution” and an impromptu version of “Gone” done a capella because the new guitarist didn’t know it. Meanwhile, old favourites “Bad Boy Clyde” and “Country Livin’ (The World I Know)” brought the house down. Considering how well those two songs went, you can’t blame the people behind me who were yelling for her to do “That Girl” all night if they went home a little disappointed.

Still, it was a solid night of music, and nice to see the Jazz Festival branch out a little into something a little less jazz and very local. Esthero’s on-stage charm and disarming openness made everything feel right, even being totally soaked with rain. Hopefully she comes back soon.

TO Jazz Review: Brandi Disterheft, June 26, Toronto Star Stage

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

Toronto – I’m going to start this review not with a review, but with a story. Gather ‘round friends. Don’t worry, there is a point to all of this. The year was two thousand and spluh, and I was studying for exams. There I was, at my favourite coffee shop where I had befriended one of the employees and was downing free caramel macchiatos for my troubles. Just beside the shop was a bar and a I could see a jazz trio setting up. I looked at my textbooks and thought “Screw this! If have to study for exams, I might as well do it to the sound of live jazz.” So I packed up my stuff and hopped over.

Being one of the few attentive listeners in the audience, the performers came up to talk to me after their set. There was a piano player, a drummer, and a bassist. All nice people, and all happy to talk jazz. I offered them a hand with their take down because it seemed like a nice thing to do. Also, I am an expert procrastinator and this is exam time folks. This is when things got interesting.

I had no idea how dicey it can be to transport a double bass around the city. This young bassist had her system and it was the most ridiculous thing I could imagine. She got me to help hide her bass in the building entrance, well away from the street, and would flag down a cab. Then, when the cabbie stopped, she’d quickly grab her hidden bass and try to manoeuvre it into the taxi before the driver could object. Inevitably, as soon as the cabbie was wise to the trick, he would drive off; most wanting nothing to do with transporting such a big and expensive instrument. At first this was pretty entertaining, but it took about 5 times before a driver looking at the bass half sticking out of his cab let out a sigh and gave in.

So what’s my point? The point is that it’s tough to be a young double bassist in the city without a car. The good news is that with the right mix of talent and drive, it can get easier. That bassist was a young Brandi Disterheft. The pianist was Laila Biali, both of whom have blossomed into fine jazz musicians in their own right. It was rewarding to see Brandi open for Herbie Hancock last weekend. Her music walks the line between the traditional jazz of yesterday and the more progressive sounds of today, all the time remaining accessible. She has successfully surrounded herself with musicians that compliment that style.

Thankfully Brandi doesn’t have to trick cabbies into helping move her bass around anymore. She can focus on thumping that bass and we can focus on appreciating it.

TO Jazz Review: Maceo Parker, June 25, Toronto Star Stage

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

Toronto – With the early start and finish of Martha Wainwright’s performance at The Great Hall, I had some time to jet back to Nathan Phillips to catch the lion’s share of Maceo Parker’s set. Some of our regular readers might think that the Panic Manual is pretty enamoured with Maceo Parker, but they’d be wrong. It’s mostly just me.

With the G20 in full-swing, most of downtown Toronto was pretty barren. To no surprise, the crowd was a little on the sparse side of what I`m used to for the main stage headliner at Nathan Phillips Square. Despite all this, I felt a strong kinship with the crowd. These are the folks who said “G20 Schmee Twenty. I want to go dance and listen to funk music!” In short, these are my types of folks.

And dance they did. Maceo Parker and his band did what they do best: played fun dance-friendly funk. The brave souls that ventured out were treated to a night of great music from a legend who cut his teeth with the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown.

TO Jazz Review: Martha Wainwright, June 25, The Great Hall

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

Toronto – The Toronto Jazz Festival kicked off last night with a stellar performance by Martha Wainwright at The Great Hall. It was an amazingly intimate affair powered by some truly stunning vocals. Martha blew the roof of the hall as she sparrowed her way through songs by French singer Edith Piaf. I was completely unprepared for how consummate a musician she is. It’s too bad that much of the audience missed the first half of the set.

I was really looking forward to checking out The Great Hall; it was my first time at this venue. I arrived as per the website billing at 9 pm sharp, hoping that I’d have time to grab a drink before the show. To my dismay, the show was in full swing and had been for nearly 40 minutes. Apparently the actual show time was 8 pm. The lady at the door explained that they tried to delay as much as possible. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Factual error on the internet? Yeah right. Give me a break!” I know! I didn’t think it was possible either.

Martha, with a voice like that, I could never stay mad at you. Let`s never fight again.

Nevertheless, the management at The Great Hall isn’t so Great after all.  The fact of the matter is that The Great Hall doesn’t post event timing on their website, so the only resource we can go by is the main TO jazz site. If that website says 9 and the plan was to play at 8, then change the plan. Beg and plead with the artist and audience to start later. If someone asked Martha to come out and explain the situation and ask the audience if it was OK to start at 9 to accommodate the mixup, who would object? All I’m saying is $30 + ticketmaster surcharges is a lot to pay to miss half a set.

It’s a good thing that Martha’s performance was so captivating. Her stage banter was endearing and her voice has both nuance and power. Near the end of the set she was bobbing from side to side. Her antics painted a childish grin on my face. Martha, with a voice like that, I could never stay mad at you. Let`s never fight again. Many audience members sat down on the floor in the wings of The Great Hall to soak in the experience. If I had heard the entire set, this could very well have been my first 5 star review. C’etait vraiment incroyable.