The TD Canada Trust Vancouver International Jazz Festival 2006
After lunch the sax quartet Rova performed at The Western Front, a 120-seat rectangular room inside a steamy, artist-run production and performance center in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. One piece, "Radar, found Larry Ochs on soprano with the group responding to a system of hand-cues. In between blocks of sound, Steve Adams recited text excerpts from the "Findings column in Harpers magazine; one excerpt about global warming, another about a chicken that underwent a spontaneous sex change, and a third about a man who shot himself in the head twelve times with a nail gun. These observations were appropriately accompanied by saxophone squawks and swirling clouds of sound. The most overt jazz piece was "Cuernavacus Starlight, with baritone solo from Jon Raskin. Most conceptual was the encore; a "self-composed piece titled "Mushroom, which utilized a graphic score with pictures of various fungi.
That night back at the Cultch, drummer Dylan van der Schyff began by stirring brushes on a snare. Bassist Mark Helias entered with a singing arco solo and started walking underneath Marilyn Crispell's rhapsodic variations. This is a trio capable of playing the thorniest improvisations, yet many of their melodies and harmonies were consonant, flowing and achingly beautiful. A highlight was the joyful South African song "Round We Are Going.
As tempting as it was to stay and hear Helias's sextet, the lure of Bobby Hutcherson at the Center was too strong. Playing both vibes and marimba, Hutcherson fronted a tightly knit quartet with drummer Eddie Marshall, bassist Dwayne Burno and home-girl Renee Rosnes on piano. The last few tunes of their set included a modal bossa, an up tempo waltz, and a gorgeous 4-mallet solo arrangement of "I'll Be Seeing You, accompanied only by the creaking pedal of his vibes. His encore of "Embraceable You was tender, all-too-brief, perfect.
The CBC radio studio was packed the next afternoon for a set by guitarist Bill Coon and his quartet. All good players, they were done in by the p.a. in the room, which made the rhythm section sound unduly heavy. Curious about the free workshops over at the Tom Lee Music Hall, I walked over and sat in on what turned out to be an enlightening session with clarinetist Phil Nimmons and pianist David Braid, who both teach at University of Toronto. They've been playing totally free concerts together for several years now and they spoke about the mystery of spontaneity and why they do what they do. It was fascinating to hear them discuss what freedom means in musical terms and how they teach young musicians to get over self-intimidation. They played intriguing duets to illustrate certain challenges. At 83, Nimmons has forged a distinguished career as a composer, bandleader and player, and since he was born around Vancouver, he reminisced about his early days knocking around town. It was interesting also to see how both Nimmons and Braid engaged many of the younger musicians in the audience. Braid is thoughtful in his replies. Nimmons too, but he has a sly, impish sense of humor that puts people at ease. It's a quality that also comes through in his music. Hopefully this workshop was recorded; it was fun, insightful and inspiring.
There was just enough time afterwards to jump on the bus to Granville Island and catch saxophonist Coat Cooke with his trio at Performance Works. Cooke was impressive leading the NOW Orchestra, but even more so in this totally improvised setting. While he might dress like a banker in suit and tie, Cooke isn't remotely conservative in his playing, either on tenor saxophone or flute. It's clear that he and bassist Clyde Reed have worked together for a long time. Their musical conversation was adventurous and highly intuitive, and it didn't hurt to have their drummer Kenton Loewen bring out the colors in his trap set, utilizing dynamic contrasts as well as an agogo bell covered with towel.
After a quick sushi fix I high-tailed it to The Center to catch the opening act of guitarist Gordon Grdina with bassist Gary Peacock and Dylan van der Schyff. It was a bit of a yawn, though there were nice moments, such as the second piece, which was played with rubato, open tempo and unresolved tension until the final note. When Grdina picked up the oud I kept hoping van der Schyff would whip out a dumbek. Instead it sounded like ersatz world music.