Toronto Jazz Festival 2006
While the Neville Brothers brought some New Orleans funk to the Harbourfront Centre Concert State, festivalgoers had some James Brown type funk at the mainstage concert. When Maceo Parker comes to town, his band brings the spirit, the professionalism, and the music to get people movin'. Without a doubt this concert surpassed the one from the previous festival appearance and can only be described as funk overdrive. The band was so hot that even the downpour did not manage to cool anything off and somehow the electricity did not rip off the roof. After presenting the band for the beginning of a real "Fiesta, Maceo Parker moved into "Off The Hook from the cd Made by Maceo (What Are Records, 2003). "To Be or Not To Be, is just one of the tracks from his latest release "School's In (BHM, 2005) and included a light moment when his manager came on stage in Shakespearean garb and proceeded to recite the famous writer's lines to the expected consternation of the audience. Maceo gently moved her aside to give his funky interpretation of what the lines should really be. Rodney 'Skeet' Curtis was on bass, Bruno Speight on guitar, and Jamal Thomas on drums. The front horns accompanying Maceo were the fabulous Ron Tooley on trumpet and Greg Boyer on trombone. Will Boulware added a rich musical touch to the keyboards that is not usually the case with other bands. A careful ear (even under the high volume) could detect, for example, colorful musical elements such as latin backbeats on the last tune. Corey Parker, Maceo's son, and Martha High provided the central vocal component to the show.
Music selection came from older recordings as well such as the classic "Uptown Up from "Funk Overload and "Shake Everything You've Got from "Life on Planet Groove. Earlier in the show, Maceo stood alone on stage and paid homage to Ray Charles with his rendition of "You Don't Know Me.
The "French Connection series showcased a number of hidden gems both established (yet not universally known) and legendary. French people and those who have traveled to Europe and more specifically France would have truly appreciated the virtuosity of Richard Galliano. This great French accordionist plays with such emotion that nostalgic listeners will want to cross the Atlantic instantly. For years Galliano fought against the typical musette style from yesteryear and worked hard to expand his musicianship while still being true to the wonderful instrument. He was accompanied by the very talented George Mraz on bass and Al Foster on drums. You could tell that this trio had great chemistry and sure enough they have been playing for years. His "New Musette style emerged in the early 90s and he has played with a number of key musicians such as Chet Baker, Eddie Louiss, Daniel Goyone, Michel Portal, Ron Carter, Michel Petrucciani, Jan Garbarek, Toots Thielemans, Pierre Michelot, and Joe Zawinul. Tunes such as "Laurita exemplify that traditional 50s-60s jazz combo style that is especially enjoyable and will always have that innocent freshness. Galliano is a great admirer of Astor Piazzolla and also performed wonderful tangos before an appreciative audience.
The contemplative award of the evening has to go to Yusef Lateef and the Belmondo brothers. The fascination of the French for American jazz is legendary. In this case, the Belmondo brothers had their curiosity peaked by one of Yusef Lateef's first recordings, Jazz Moods (Savoy, 1957). This album succeeded in stimulating their imagination with its unique thematic structures. Fast forward a few years and here we have the Belmondo brothers performing and recording with their source of inspiration. Their music was very calm, deep and spiritual. In fact, the opening segment was a slow lament that worked in the first three notes of "Summertime, before hinting at other Porgy and Bess sounds. During the performance, both Lateef and Lionel Belmondo alternated between flute and saxophones. Perhaps Stéphane Belmondo, the trumpeter, used Wilbur Harden as inspiration since he was Lateef's legendary sideman in the 50s. It's almost as if this music is an antidote and a reaction against the stresses of modern life that forces you to turn off your cellphone and just calm down to music that will open up your imagination without falling into the trappings of minimalism. Audience members sitting quietly at the Harbourfront Centre Theater heard something special indeed.