Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-10 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada June 25thJuly 4th 2010
Celebrations of "Canada Day" (acknowledging the country's 1867 birthday, formerly known as Dominion Day previous to 1982) filled city streets, parks and water walkways on Thursday, July 1st, with the country's red and white national colors, small hand-held maple leaf flags on sticks, as well as loads of free outdoor events, concerts included.
Rumba Calzada, a Latin Jazz and salsa favorite for Vancouverites and one of a half-dozen scheduled bands performing on a stage set up near the re-lit Olympic flame just east of Vancouver's Harbour Green Park had folks dancing, while on Granville Island, VIJF scheduled free concerts by 15 bands on five separate stages from noon up until just 'round midnight! (It was a well-placed day off for World Cup competition, too, so the national holiday had everyone's undivided attention)
The late afternoon Studio 700 concert at the CBC/Radio-Canada complex brought more head-to-head combat between pianist Paul Plimley and drummer Han Bennink back to the stage, this time on a new "battle field." Caught in the crossfire, though, was German reedman Frank Gratkowski, who brought an arsenal of horns, most rendered useless under the given circumstances the reedman surely had not anticipated. Hopeful, starting on bass clarinet, Gratkowski soon reached for his alto sax in the first group improvisation, just so to be heard over the ever- competitive rhythmic pounding of his band mates. The third collective improvisation started with a minute or so of unaccompanied drumming by the polyrhythmic Dutchman before the ever-still confident Gratkowski joined, playing alto with loud deep breaths and resonating reed pops for a solid minute. However, while mid- idea, even mid-breath, the drummer left the reedman out on a short plank by abruptly dropping out altogether; he stretched out his right arm, stick in hand, announced the saxophonist's name and as a result cut short any further sonic exploration. The ever-comical Plimley, who was readying to join in before the drummer brought things to this immediate halt, jested by removing his hands from being positioned just inches above the keys he was intending to press, and cracked his knuckles instead, whispering "phewwww," as if that was one of the more demanding pieces they'd play. The final two three-way improvisations were 4- 5 minutes each, making for another Plimley-Bennink express set (24 minutes), serving as one of the most amazing, if at the very least intense, piano-drum duos, though a less successful piano/reeds/drums trio.
Of course, most folks hung out for the second set to get their money's-worth (well, actually all Studio 700 shows were free). With the next set clocking in at just under 34 minutes, the two taken together added up to a more solid and well-rounded set of music, as this latter half included two extended trio improvisations: one clocking in at near 10 minutes, while the closer was just a tad bit longer than the entirety of the first set. The latter also presented an easing of tensions, so to speak. With Bennink playing extensively on brushes, the musical possibilities allowed Plimley to play more pastorally with melodic lines that encouraged Gratkowski, now feeling a bit more comfortable (though perhaps skeptical too that this would last) to pick up his clarinet for the first time. He later would play his alto again, performing a bit more of an extended duo than what transpired during the first set with the drummer, and offering a bit of a reprieve from the piano-drums (ec)centricity. Bennink, moving from behind his kit, took a seat towards the front of the stage on which he played his sticks, then swiveled around and banged on his kick drum from where he sat before again taking his seat to lead his band mates to some more ecstatically free movements in their extended improv after Gratkowski's unaccompanied section on alto. Piano and drums simultaneously re-entered, Plimley's lightning-fast two- handed rhythmic blasts transitioning back to a melodic outburst culminating the final set in telepathic sync with Bennink, a frequent occurrence. The way these two conclude each improvised piece is worth the price of admission alone (ok, again it's free, but....), this time a sweet and subtle treble-note run offering memorable closure to another heavyweight battle.