Toronto

Preview: Hillside Music Festival 2009

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Hillside | 4 Comments

hillside

With thanks to Trina and Wade

This weekend, July 24 through 26, is the 2009 edition of the Hillside Music Festival, taking place at Guelph Lake Island. Tickets are very nearly sold out, with only Friday night tix still available. Hillside boasts an impressive lineup of mostly Canadian music acts, alongside a spoken word stage and a lengthy workshop schedule.

If you’re not going, Panic Manual has you covered, as Hillside was nice enough to give us a couple of media passes. I’ll have some writing and reviews from Guelph all three days, and I might even provide some Twitter updates from the grounds if anyone’s interested (I’m @brianjpike).

And if you are going, no, I’m not camping, and no, you can’t crash in my hotel room.

You may have¬† looked at the three-day schedule or the list of performers and thought “I sure wish somebody could give me some ideas about who to see. I don’t know who a few/some/many/any of these bands are.” I was once like you. Then I consulted with my partner and lovely companion Trina, who’ll be joining me at the Festival, emailed our resident indie Canadian music expert Wade, and listened to many samples from MySpace and CBC Radio 3. As a result, we have some “official” Panic Manual recommendations for all three days of Hillside. We also have a playlist on Radio 3’s website where you can hear all our recommendations, in chronological order of when they’re playing too (nice work, Trina), which you can find by going to radio3.cbc.ca and do a User Playlist search for “PanicAtHillside”, or just use this handy dandy permalink straight to the playlist.

Read more

TO Jazz Review: Waleed Kush & The African Jazz Ensemble, July 4, Trane Studio

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

waleed-kush

Toronto – I really need to start bringing a notebook or something to shows I’m reviewing (I should get a better camera too, the photo above was the only one even close to usable and it’s not especially good, but I digress). I say that because I really liked Waleed Kush and the African Jazz Ensemble, but other than Kush, seen above playing the marimba, percussionist Derek Thorne, seen far right, and violinist Laurence Stevenson, who’s off-camera in this shot, I don’t remember and can’t find the names online of more than half the players in Kush’s ensemble: the saxaphonist, drummer, keyboardist, and bassist on songs when Kush was playing marimba.

This is a shame because, along with Kush and Thorne, the star of this show was the guy on saxaphone and clarinet, and I’d like to give him his due regard, but I don’t remember his name. I overheard him saying to someone at the bar he plays sax at Ryerson, but that’s all I know.

It’s interesting to see an ensemble group after spending the week seeing so many jazz quartets who’ve been together for a long time and read each other effortlessly. Here, it was very obvious just who the band leader was. Not only was Kush giving orders, telling guys when to jump in and even giving them a rhythm or melody to play, he looked to have a real mentor/student relationship with the younger guys on stage. It’s fascinating to watch, even if sometimes an ensemble doesn’t have quite as tight a sound as a veteran quartet, with this one no exception.

In addition to leading the band, Kush tends to draw the eye with his energetic playing. A multi-instrumentalist who can, according to his MySpace page, play a ridiculously long list of instruments, Kush limited himself this night merely to vocals, bass guitar, flute, marimba and hand drums. Kush moved to Toronto from Sudan in the early 90’s, and his African roots are very evident in his playing, singing and songwriting. His saxaphonist, whatever his name is, is definitely a talent, even if he could use a bit of seasoning and experience. Thorne’s hands were a blur during a couple of extended bongo/conga solos. Stevenson and the unnamed keyboardist, drummer, and second bassist were all good players, even if they didn’t shine quite as brightly as Kush, Thorne or the saxaphonist. All in all, a solid set, great music for a soundtrack if you’re, say, riding a caravan to Marrakesh or something, but thoroughly enjoyable in other situations as well. Unfortunately, my companion and I had to leave a bit early in order to make an appearance at “Panic at the Boat 2: Electric Boogaloo”, or whatever it was called, but at least we stayed long enough to see Kush play his marimba, which was a great deal of fun; Kush would beat out tunes with his mallets as he practically danced up and down the length of the instrument.

Kush is a Toronto local, so keep an eye out for his shows around town if you’re looking for a fun night of upbeat African-tinged tunes.

Also, this was the first time I’d ever been to Trane Studio, and it’s a great venue, just a little ways up Bathurst from Bloor. We didn’t partake in the food, but it looked good, and the room has a terrific sound and the staff were really nice; the jazz fest was nice enough to call ahead and put me on the guest list, and the Trane Studio people put me up front real close to the stage at the makeshift “media table.” They’ve got shows almost every night this month too. Next time I’ll try the food.

TO Jazz Review: Dave Holland Quintet, July 3, Nathan Phillips Square

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

dave_holland

It’s pretty amazing how many jazz musicians who played with one Miles Davis-led group or another are still kicking around. Chick Corea’s still touring, Jimmy Cobb’s touring with his “So What” band right now (unfortunately not making a stop in Toronto, but hitting seemingly all the other jazz fests this summer), Herbie Hancock is going to be at Massey Hall in August, John McLaughlin is still around, Branford Marsalis and Sonny Rollins (both at this year’s Toronto Jazz Festival) both appeared with Davis a few times, it goes on and on.

Then there’s Dave Holland, who was the bassist in Davis’s band for several years during the late 60’s, when Davis was well into the jazz fusion stage of his career. Holland featured prominently on one of Davis’s most popular albums, Bitches Brew, and also one of my favourites, In a Silent Way.

I actually didn’t know any of this before Mark and I sat down to see Holland play ahead of Branford Marsalis’s set last Friday, but I thought it was kind of cool. Holland, who’s been a sideman in a lot of different bands since then, leads his own quintet now, featuring Chris Potter on sax, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibraphone, and Nate Smith on drums.

You can definitely hear the influence of Davis’s avant-garde/jazz fusion stuff on Holland’s music. It’s a bit abstract at times, with very lengthy solos from Potter and Eubanks that deliberately shy away from much in the way of melody or rhythm. It’s the kind of music where you can appreciate just how good all the players are, and all five musicians are very, very good players, but if you like your jazz a little more melodic, it can seem a bit convoluted and be a bit hard to get into.

That’s pretty much how it felt to me, anyway. Whether it was because we were there mostly to see Branford Marsalis (who Mark will be reviewing shortly) or if it’s just because I’ve always preferred Kind of Blue era Miles Davis to Bitches Brew, Holland’s set just didn’t quite resonate. I knew it was all technically quite well done, and Potter in particular is quite a soloist and improviser (Mark reviewed Potter’s quartet, which also featured Smith on drums, here). But I couldn’t get into most of it the way I did Dave Brubeck a couple night’s earlier, or Marsalis, whose set I very much enjoyed. I honestly caught myself looking at my watch more than once during one of Potter and Eubank’s extended solos; some of them just seemed way too long.

I did, however, get into Nate Smith’s drumming. That guy can really play. An extra point for the set because of him.

TO Jazz Review: Melody Gardot, June 29, Harbourfront Centre

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 11 Comments

melodygardot

Toronto – Melody Gardot’s set at the Enwave Theatre in the Harbourfront Centre for the Toronto Jazz Festival very nearly put me to sleep.

I guess that’s a review in itself.

Gardot is a singer and piano player from Philadelphia who was hit by a car when she was 19, according to Wikipedia. She was helped in her recovery by something called music therapy; she already knew how to play piano (during the set she remarked she started playing in a piano bar in Philadelphia at age 16), but during her therapy learned to play guitar. She damaged her pelvis in the accident, and as a result, she has to sort of put one foot up on a pedestal when sitting on a stool to play guitar (or piano, presumably, though I couldn’t see what she rested her foot on under her piano) to ease pressure on her hip area. She also reportedly has a sensitivity to light and sound, as evidenced by how dark it was in the Enwave Theatre throughout her set, with minimal lights on her and the band, the strict no photos at the show policy, and the hat and dark glasses she wore throughout the set.

Interesting stuff, right? If only Gardot’s music were nearly as engaging as her back story.

Now, I don’t think Gardot is a bad singer. I can understand why some people quite like her voice. It’s sort of sultry and husky easy to listen to, even if it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of range. Gardot is also rather pretty with very nice legs, which she was more than happy to show off in a short skirt, fishnets and high heels.

Do I think she’s a particularly good songwriter? Well…no, not really. Her songs all sound more or less the same after a while and all seem to devolve from lyrics into scat-vocals at almost exactly the same time. Her choices of covers, the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the pop standard “My Favourite Things,” were uninspiring. Apparently singing them slower and quieter in a bluesy manner makes them songs “you’ve heard before, but never quite like this” in Gardot’s mind (’cause no one’s ever thought of covering those songs from a different genre before). Really, if you’re going to do a version of “My Favourite Things” at a jazz festival, you should be a saxaphone quartet channeling John Coltrane.

The music she and her five-piece backing band played, at least on this night, never elevated above the level of decent hotel lounge music. Despite several horn and bass solos, her backing band rarely distinguished itself, except maybe for the xylophone player, who was quite good and entertaining to watch as he clutched four mallets in his hands to strike different tones. Gardot’s own piano and guitar playing was unremarkable.

Gardot started off in piano bars, in her own words “playing songs [she] didn’t want to play,” something she’s now grateful she doesn’t have to do. That piano bar/lounge singer vibe pervades her show. Some crooners are entertaining and talented enough, with a combination of a great voice and a charming persona to outgrow that cheesy lounge vibe (Like Tony Bennett, appearing later this week at the Jazz Festival). Gardot just isn’t there, at least not yet; she spoke briefly and quietly between songs, revealing little about herself, and although she tried to make a big deal about strutting over to her piano with her cane and high heels and taking a sip of brandy several times, she just doesn’t have much of a stage presence.

You can draw a pretty straight line between Diana Krall, Norah Jones and Gardot’s music, and I’m not sure Gardot offers anything new. It’s all ‘pop-jazz,’ if you will, jazz for people who mostly listen to top 40 and want to seem more well-rounded. Honestly, I’m trying to be less of a music snob these days, and wrapping my head around the idea of different people having different taste, but it bothers me that a show like this sold out the 350-seat Enwave Theatre and played to a standing ovation when a show like Delerium the other night at the Church of the Redeemer drew all of ten people. I ducked out before Gardot’s encore.