TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival 2009
Chris Potter's Underground finished off the second night at the Pilot Tavern to another sellout and enthusiastic crowd. A large number of music students were on hand to experience the talent up close of Chris Potter. The great saxophonist was surrounded by Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, Adam Rogers on guitar, and Nate Smith on drums. Potter kicked things off with an easy and short melody borrowing similar notes to the start of Coltrane's A Love Supreme with a funky African beat supplied by the rhythm section. Rogers continued into an extended solo with heavy drum work by Smith before Potter would take charge with his improvisational ideas. This tune was called "Facing East" from the saxophonist's new CD Ultrahang (Artistshare, 2009) coming out the very next day.
During an interview earlier in the day conducted at the Ken Page Memorial Trust workshop, Potter talked about the rich polyphony that his Underground group provides. With fewer people you have more freedom and responsibility at the same time and it feels like jumping off a cliff. He clearly landed on this particular night as he showcased his talent and versatility by conducting improvisational investigations to his written pieces, using a variety of idioms and textures. To the listener, all of these musical ideas seem to flow seamlessly from one to the other under various rhythmic styles. The Underground band chose older selections as well such as "Viva Las Vilnius." On "Lotus Blossom," by Billy Strayhorn, we heard the lighter side of Potter as he brought out the beautiful-sounding bass clarinet with the Fender Rhodes adding to the mood of the quiet tune. The vibe that night was such that most attendees chose to stay for the second set and were rewarded with an encore. Dave Holland will be bringing Chris Potter back again for his quintet on Friday night together with Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson, and Nate Smith.
July 1: Chucho Valdés and Dave Brubeck
On Canada Day, music revelers were treated to different styles throughout the day. Rob McConnell led for the last time his famed Boss Brass at lunchtime on the square. Later in the afternoon, a large number of saxophonists filled the spaces in an attempt to break the world record of having the largest number of players performing a tune. Though the effort came up short, it was a rare but invigorating experience for all attendees.
Cuba's greatest jazz pianist, Chucho Valdés, played two shows at Harbourfront in the evening. He was joined by Yaroldi Abreu on percussion, Lazaro Alarcon on bass, and Juan Rojas on drums. The opening Ellington medley including such pieces as "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Caravan," indicated the theme of the evening: Valdés and his musicians would approach a piece by eventually blending in a Latin touch. It is a beauty to watch the pianist play a fluttering of notes with his right hand while using his left for melodic ideas. One of the highlights during the first show was the group's rendition of Zawinul's "Birdland" with Afro-Cuban elements providing a rich appeal. Valdés played the melody with a deliberate sound, the other band members amplifying the intensity of the piece. At one point, an energetic exchange took place between Abreu and Rojas as the percussionist would be hitting the sides of his congas while the drummer went into his fast solo.
Mayra Caridad Valdés, whom fans will remember from her appearances in her brother's band Irakere, emerged for a couple of spirited songs. Her onstage presence and soulful voice offered a sincere dose of positive energy as audience members joined in to clap when prompted. In fact, the audience was very knowledgeable judging by their ability to quickly jump into the right rhythmic clapping pattern of the Clave. For the anticipated encore, they even yelled out requests such as "Besame Mucho."
In the marquis tent at Nathan Phillips Square, the audience welcomed back the famed Dave Brubeck Quartet. The living legend kicked things off with a medley starting off with "C-Jam Blues" and including other Ellington-Strayhorn pieces such as "Take the A-train." This was a night of pure musical enjoyment on a national holiday and an opportunity to watch true professionals at work. Bobby Militello demonstrated his full panoply of abilities on alto sax and flute as did journeyman Michael Moore on bass. Brubeck's son, Matthew Brubeck, came as a special guest on cello, first playing "Sermon on the Mountain" and staying on until the end of the concert. The final part of the evening was devoted to commemorating a "little" recording called "Time Out" that emerged 50 years ago this year. From the waltz, "Three To Get Ready," the night closed with the immortal "Take Five" that to this day still sounds fresh and fun to play and hear.
July 2: Al Di Meola World Sinfonia