The TD Canada Trust Vancouver International Jazz Festival 2006
The fact that Vancouver, a city of only 546,000 people, can support and sustain an organization as vibrant and vital as the NOW Orchestra says something about the cultural priorities of the locals. Under the direction of saxophonist Coat Cooke, the 12-piece orchestra performed with special guest Marilyn Crispell, whose composition "Yin Yang was marked by quiet shimmering textures, muted drums, pointillist punctuation and a strong tenor statement from the leader. Guitarist Ron Samworth's "M.C. featured a long, slow crescendo, an exhilarating piano drum duet, and an exotic wordless vocal by vocalist Kate Hammet-Vaughan. Cooke's "West Side Stomp effectively incorporated excerpts from war news spoken by orchestra members backed by skittering piano. The set and the evening ended with Samworth's wild, skronky guitar work on "Pola.
Next day began with a long, head-clearing walk along the water and through nearby Stanley Park. I couldn't resist the temptation to visit the Vancouver Aquarium, where the fish-eating anemone and the dancing spotted garden eels reminded me of the shapes, colors and movements of the music heard the night before. Back to the Cultch for a solo clarinet and bass clarinet recital by Lori Freedman. It was an interesting exercise trying to guess where the compositions ended and the improvisations began, as she tended to work a phrase, invert, and then examine it from different angles. At one point she used split tones to sound like a guitar amp with a ground problem. At another, her expressive vibrato evoked echoes of Eastern Europe. Her most visually interesting piece required her to dissemble her instrument, put her mouthpiece on the clarinet's bottom part and play using her left hand as a mute while exploring the upper register. After a quick break, Orkestrova emerged to perform their electric homage to Coltrane's landmark recording Ascension. The band built to a mighty roar with several climaxes from Rova's four saxophones, and guitarist Nels Cline took it into the gone-osphere using effects, touch pad, samples and some zany processing gear, with transcendent contributions from cellist Peggy Lee, violinists Jesse Zubot and Ronit Kirchman, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and drummer Scott Amendola. Nice to see Zu's young drummer checking out Amendola.
A quick ride over to the Commodore Ballroom to catch part of the set by Senegalese singer and songwriter Baaba Maal. Upon entering it sounded like Maal had gone all coffee shop mellow, playing acoustic guitar and singing a lilting ballad. He still possesses the distinctive high, piercing tenor, but it wasn't until the rest of the band came out that things took off with talking drums, irresistible call and response refrains, and a hypnotically repeated harmonic progression that stirred the 1,000 or so people in the audience to start dancing. At one point while leaning against a pillar, it was possible to feel the whole building vibrating.
The night ended at an intimate, 130-seat, wedge-shaped club on the edge of Gastown called Ironworks, which hosted the Swedish-Norwegian trio The Thing. Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love came on stage in their matching Ruby's BBQ t-shirts and launched into a furious torrent of sound with Mats on a white plastic alto. Even at their most chaotic the trio listens carefully, enabling them to stop on a Canadian nickel, change course and throw down an avant, cubist groove. During the break, the audience checked out Klavier Nonette, an art installation by Trimpin consisting of coin operated toy pianos playing music composed by students at the Vancouver Creative Music Institute.
A walk through various neighborhoods, then over to the CBC Studios to catch Michael Bates and his group Outside Sources in a free lunchtime performance recorded for later broadcast. The quartet, with Quinsin Nashoff, saxophone; Russ Johnson, trumpet and Mark Timmermans, drums played original music rumbling in and out of tempos, often with intertwined horn solos. "Charcoal was playful, with four-note motifs and little classical ornaments, and "On Equilibrium used wide intervals, alternating skittish phrases with legato passages.