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Highly Opinionated

Toronto Jazz Festival 2008

By Published: July 29, 2008
But then things started to fall apart. The Top O' The Senator has shut down. The Montreal Bistro, venue of so many memorable live performances—happily, several captured on record by Sackville Records. There is one—just one—radio station, Jazz FM91 that broadcasts jazz 24 hours—mostly background music, unless you are tuned into Larry Green's 'Drive Anywhere' show in the afternoons. And in one of the biggest blows in recent times to jazz fans in the city the historic Sam the Record Man closed its doors forever after being an institution like no other for 70 years. With the closing of the best-loved jazz clubs and a retail outlet that provided so vital a service to so many the city of Toronto has never been quite the same for the jazz-lover. And it has been reported recently that 'CoolTV,' the only jazz television channel has closed down, effective July 21, 2008.

So, jump-cut to today... It would have been a 2008 to forget had it not been for this summer of jazz that recently picked up momentum shortly after the Art of Jazz Celebration of 2008.

The TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival (June 20 to 29, 2008) was by far the biggest music event in the city and one of the three largest jazz festivals in the country. The 2008 Festival was bigger and better than previous years' events. More marquee names from the jazz world, more Canadian jazz musicians and more music from the fringes of jazz—though nowhere near where it could have been. The Festival was also better organized than ever before and even though the venues were spread across a greater part of the downtown core, further away from the tent that came to be the main concert stage, the production of most events—by all accounts—was near perfect. Part of the reason was that the event management just got better at doing what they do best—a bigger media room, more publicists putting out releases and news faster than usual, and better crisis management. Finding a way to overcome the loss of e.s.t. for instance, with the tragic and untimely passing of Esbjorn Svensson, and the sudden pull-out of Michel Legrand due to health issues took some doing. But the management now works like a well-oiled machine and it appears that nothing can faze the young team that puts it all together.

And then there is the way the event was produced, with seven series of concerts. The Grandmasters Series, which presented venerable artists such as Ahmad Jamal and Oliver Jones in magnificent trio settings. Spectacular as ever was Ahmed Jamal, who let his music do the talking. It was not hard to see why Miles Davis famously cited him as a major inspiration in his whole approach to phrasing and intonation. Oliver Jones, of course continues to astound listeners. His style continues to remind one of his mentor—the late Oscar Peterson—but his voice is more introverted and his harmonic attack more slanted. Although Michel Legrand was sorely missed here, Quartetto Guido Basso and Dave Brubeck in a quartet and with the Toronto Jazz Festival Orchestra was a revelation of sorts in both contexts. That an artist—of any stature—can be around so long play with the same voice and yet modernize the metaphor of jazz over the years is a wonderful thing. Only the late Jimmy Giuffre has been a more successful changeling.

The rest of the 2008 Festival brought an embarrassment of riches. There was more music in more venues than ever before in the 22-year history of the festival—forty-nine venues (fifty, when you counted the Main Stage) in all doing something or other that was festival-related. In addition to the main events at the Main Stage, the organizers presented several series of events: The "Guitar Series," at one of The Pilot. Such acts, as the Andrew Scott Quintet, Gene Bertoncini and the Don Thompson/Reg Schwager Quartet were the top performers here. Then there was the "Jazz by the Lake" series that was headlined by the magnificent Renaud Garcia-Fons, who brought his 'oriental bass concepts' and performed highlights from his albums Entremundo (Enja, 2004) and Arcoluz (Enja, 2005). It is regrettable that the Charles Lloyd Quartet appeared to pass like a ship in the night. Lloyd, a revelation in his many incarnations was once a cult figure in the 1960s and 70s, when his band featured the young Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette, has won broad appeal with his extraordinary, smoky tone that can be melancholic and bright. Lloyd brought with him the young piano phenomenon, Jason Moran, with Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums. This is probably the most inspired band since the one that included Jarrett, DeJohnette and Ron McClure on bass. Ernestine Anderson and Houston Person were always going to be a memorable concert. And there was a lot more here too.

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