Art of Jazz Celebration in Toronto
Another superstar from Wheeler's era, the prolific composer/arranger Carla Bleyalong with her partner, bassist Steve Swallowconducted a spirited AOJ Big Band at the outdoor Pure Spirits Stagewhich featured tuba virtuoso and baritone saxophonist Howard Johnson along with Bunnett on flute supplemented by a percussionist and Gary Valiente's muscular trombonethrough a mostly Latin set which featured some favorites from her book, from the peppery "Los Concineros to the mariachi-mooded "Tijuana Chapter, capped by a slow-funked encore of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.
Bley's Latin tunes were the perfect appetizer for the Havana-born drummer Francisco Mela's incredible set at the same stage. With Nuyorican bassist John Benitez, Toronto-based pianist David Virelles and tenor sax colossus George Garzone, Mela's folkloric chants along with his channeling of Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, and Tony Williams, not to mention his incorporation of the African-American drum set into the inventions and dimensions of Afro-Cuban rhythms, was simply astonishing. Laced with his former Berklee teacher Garzone's Coltranish tones, Mela and company played some of the most intricate and invigorating Antillean jazz of this young centuryfrom the beautiful brush strokes on Horace Silver's "Peace and the anthemic "Sorpresa and "Arere, to a Cubanized reading of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps. Simply put, the performance might have been titled: Mela's syncopated sounds of surprise dance, as well as trance.
For the closing concert back at the Cellar, the surprise was not vocalese master Jon Hendricks' re-formation of his celebrated Lamberts, Hendricks and Ross trio, with his daughter Aria, and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, nor the nearly perfect, scat-happy renditions of their hits, including "Cloudburst, "Moanin, or "Come on Home. It was the unannounced addition of the trumpet-king Clark Terry, whose ebullient spirit allowed him to burst from the confines of his wheelchair, as assistants helped him to the stage to a standing ovation before he played one note. With his muted horn, and his funny, scatological-if-they-were-intelligible, utterings, he and the Hendrickses did their own "rapping, riffing on Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning and, of course, the blues, before Barry Harris (the unofficial patron saint of the festival), Jimmy Slyde, and Kevin Mahogany sat in.
Throughout all of the gigs, jams, master classes, clinics and concerts, Jane Bunnett, Larry Cramer, and the rest of the intrepid AOJ team presented a vivid and varied sonic microcosmos of jazz, determined by the downbeat, not the dollar.