2004 Vancouver International Jazz Festival
“ Top imports this fest included New York City hotshots The Bad Plus, who drilled two powerful live performances into eagerly accepting packed houses... ”
It could be (and has been) said that it's not a true festival in Vancouver if either revered trumpeter Dave Douglas or predictably unpredictable percussionist Han Bennink is not in attendance, but we've survived the last couple of years without them just fine. Which is, of course, not to say that they're not welcomed back with wide-open arms when they do come around, thankfully events which happen with satisfying frequency.
This year we got Douglas, and in several settings no less. He performed his latest creation Mountain Passages, by all accounts a beautiful show (and unfortunately one I missed due to scheduling). He co-lead a session with renowned Vancouver drummer Dylan van der Schyff called the Iron Giant Project that featured some of the city's finest improvisers and featured several magical moments, including a heart-stopping trio with Douglas, pianist Chris Gestrin and trumpeter J.P. Carter. Douglas also hosted a well-attended workshop and was the subject of that fun jazz game called The Blindfold Test.
Other highlights of the 19th Annual Vancouver Int'l included foreign guests with their own groups and a Festival specialty: in partnership with other musicians they don't regularly play with, and in fact often have never played with. Top imports this fest included New York City hotshots The Bad Plus, who drilled two powerful live performances into eagerly accepting packed houses; those loose and genre-blending Swedes, the Torbjörn Zetterberg Hot Five; and my personal Fest best, New York-based/Vancouver-raised Michael Blake's 'Blake Tartare' which delivered two intense and heavy (in that old-school mindblowing sense of the word) shows, one of them in the remarkable setting of an afternoon free concert! This is one of those groups that falls easily into that historical jazz category of motherfuckers based on the musicians' absolute dedication to taking it higher and farther and never ever letting up or go. Major points for passion.
Successful collaborations made a number of appearances, too. Among the finest were an improv session with German-born/Vancouver-based bassist Torsten Müller, Vancouverites Paul Plimley on piano and Dylan van der Schyff on drums matched up with Norwegian saxophonist Hakon Kornstad in two sets filled with so much energy, chemistry and like minds that it was as if they were a single soul split into four, then reunited on that stage that night for one performance only. Down a different path, but finding similar kindred spirits was the pairing of Hammond B3 great Dr. Lonnie Smith with Vancouver's über-funky Crash for several simply delightful gigs this Fest. Smith's obviously fruitful connection with the group has been ongoing for nearly a year, and has resulted in a live recording as well as tour dates in the U.S. and Canada. Smith's funky guru of soul persona is the perfect foil for the edgy funk of Crash and results in some electric sounds and images.
Vancouverites making waves with terrific performances were the Mike Allen Quartet, lead by tenor/soprano saxophonist Allen, who delivered a highly swinging set of original tunes with more drive than I've heard around these parts for some time; young force-of-nature 'future soul' (their words) artists Sekoya who never fail to rouse an audience to earth-rumbling pleasure with their ever-growing musical prowess, stage presence and wildly youthful vigor; new project Shhz lead an outing into an intriguing mix of new music, jazz laced with humor and even bits of opera so fresh and unexpected that it couldn't be anything but transporting; and last (but not least... you know the drill), the late-night Jam Sessions at the official Fest hotel O'Doul's (which hosts jazz seven nights a week year' round, naturally making it a favorite neighborhood hangout conveniently located a mere two blocks from my place) were a smashing success in several ways. And not in others. Lots of musicians - both local and visiting - showed up, but not all of them played. Joe Lovano, Pat Martino, Zetterberg's group, and more showed but avoided the stage. Many were there for 'the hang', disappointing in some cases because eager ears would love to have been filled with their sounds in a rare jam setting. Still there were some excellent moments, including Al Green's energetic band (sans Mr. Green, of course) kicking it until well after closing in a mini-set that featured the astonishing natural power of rising Vancouver singer Alita Dupray (watch for this one, folks - I ain't kidding here).