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Live Reviews

The Art of Jazz Celebration 2008: The Refined Brilliance of Heart and Mind

By Published: June 23, 2008
Toronto had never experienced music of this epic proportion—not since Glenn Gould read Bach and Beethoven—with Gismonti returning with his legendary 10-stringed guitar for another set of five compositions, including music from his historic Infancia and Musica de Sobrevivencia records. Finally, as a treat for jazz fans Jane Bunnett performed in a duo setting with Gismonti, playing a charged version of "Bodas de Prata" on soprano saxophone and the sublime, up-tempo piece, "Loro"—on which Bunnett submitted a magnificent flute solo. The song has been made famous because it has been performed in many settings. including one featuring John McLaughlin and Katia Labeque!

It was a challenging and emotional time for the musicians, who were not only honored to hear Gismonti but more so to play his challenging music. And everything indicated that Egberto Gismonti was pleased by the correctness of the reading and the emotional expressiveness with which his music was interpreted.

The concert was not without its twists. For while Egberto was relaxing his arms, the audience was surprised by a drone complemented by the soft voice of an Indian master percussionist: Trichy Sankaran, a musician in the Carnatic tradition of sub-Continental music. Sankaran, accompanied by his daughter Subba Sankaran, famous for her work with the group "Auto Rickshaw." The relatively short, 20-minute set featured a masterful display of Indian rhythmic traditional invention. Instructing the audience in the wondrous rhythmic base of all Indian music—the 8-beat, "adhi tala" or half-note rhythm—Sankaran told the audience that he would "sing the rhythmic changes" and proceeded to dazzle with rhythmic improvisation that few would have expected. But Indian music is the subject of a book, much less an article of this nature that attempts to provide no more than a detailed snapshot of traditional Indian music.

If the evening belonged to the universal elements of jazz music as performed by Egberto Gismonti and Friends, the day—from noon until it became time to hear the Mestre—belonged to the musicians that the world is in the process of discovering. Young talents such as bassist Brandi Disterheft, who brought in a sextet to play her extraordinarily mature compositions... and Tara Davidson, a Toronto-based saxophonist, who is also gaining ground as a fine voice in her own right!

There were also command performances by Maracatu Nunca Antes, a Brazilian percussion ensemble led by the beautiful, energetic Aline Morales. Maracatu gave a magnificent account of themselves, navigating some challenging rhythms as they undertook a rhythmic journey of the great country of Brazil. On the same stage, earlier in the day, was a one-of-a-kind performance by Desandann, the Cuban vocal group. Discovered by the world only after Jane Bunnett and Larry Cramer brought them out of relative obscurity when they recorded Cuban Odyssey with Bunnett, Desandann showed why they are unique: they incorporate Gospel music elements in their unusual blend of African and Spanish and Cuban folkloric tradition.

And then there was also the spectacular, if sonically challenging, performance by the Cindy Blackman Quartet. (Sonically challenging since, despite the best efforts of the audio engineers and the band itself, it seemed impossible to balance the sound of the various instruments). But Blackman's performance itself was an awesome display of strength, invention and a study in modern drumming—one that recalled the great Rashied Ali and Andrew Cyrille, Ed Blackwell and Ginger Baker. Blackman, who acquitted herself with aplomb, gained a global reputation when she started touring with Lennie Kravitz... but there she was virtually buried. Although she derived big press when she backed Kravitz, it was her work in jazz, holding her own with the likes of Bill Laswell, Pharoah Sanders and many more, that earned her the respect and admiration of her peers.

Carlton Holmes—joined Cindy Blackman—on piano and Rhodes, along with J.D. Allen, a superbly evocative horn-player whose dry almost vibrato-less tone gives him an outrageously BIG sound! The final member of the band was George Mitchell, who was a perfect foil for Blackman's non-reliance on conventional meter! Mitchell brought a deep growl to Blackman's wonderful music, tempering the tenderness with muscular pedal point and rapid ostinato passages through songs such as "Call to the Ancestors" and "The Three Van Goghs!"

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