TD Canada Trust 2009 Vancouver International Jazz Festival
June 26th-July 5th
Probably one of the few places on the planet not deep in mourning for recently deceased pop star Michael Jackson was Vancouver, on the western coast of Canada, or at least the parts of the city given over to the 24th annual TD Canada Trust Vancouver International Jazz Festival (VIJF), held from June 26th-July 5th.
The Great White North (Canada for non-hosers) is home to a number of excellent festivals that put to shame their US brethren. Benefiting greatly from the largesse of cultural funding organizations in addition to the more typical corporate sponsors, these festivals feature interesting international acts and often emphasize collaborations with indigenous musicians. The VIJF's latest edition offered many such performances and while there were some larger festival touring acts and groups outside the jazz periphery, the festival's tagline of "1800 musicians, 400 concerts, 40 venues" included some of the more compelling jazz and improvising musicians performing today.
What distinguishes a festival as being more than just a loose assortment of concerts during a specified period is thematic continuity. There was "Classic Sounds," wherein most of the American acts such as David Sanborn, The Monterey Quartet, Al Di Meola, Kenny Werner and Kurt Elling appeared. "Urban Groove" housed most of the festival's world music and funk/groove/soul acts. There was the two-day "Gastown Jazz," outdoor stages in the city's old quarter featuring a number of eclectic groups, the Granville Island mini-festival on Canada Day and the closing two-day four-stage bookings at Roundhouse Performance Centre and David Lam Park Stage.
Shuffle Demons, photo by Chris Cameron
But for this reviewer, the most interesting concerts necessitated traveling between three different parts of town almost daily: The "Galaxie Series" at Granville Island's Performance Works (3 pm show), "Innovation" at Roundhouse (8 and 9:30 pm) and finishing with "Eclectic at The Ironworks" (11 pm). It was during these series that the VIJF brought together both established groups and new improvising aggregates with great aplomb.
And apart from being defined by its series, VIJF takes full advantage of some of the musicians appearing at the festival by having them perform in numerous configurations. This year, such artists included French bassist Joelle Leandre (five concerts), Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson (also five appearances) and Vancouver clarinetist Francois Houle (seven gigs). Houle is also Director of the Vancouver Creative Music Institute and Leandre and Gustafsson were among several clinicians during a week-long workshop with young local musicians, an educational component that is an important part of the VIJF.
Across 10 days and with 42 concerts and workshops attended by this reviewer, there were highlights and lowlights, projects that worked and ones that didn't as well as a few surprises, the main reason to attend a festival. A complete day-by-day report follows. One comment should be made first. This reviewer heard many complaints from musicians and listeners about the condensed program. In years past there was a large guide, with full personnel and genre information. For the latest edition, the only literature was a small folded pamphlet. It is a difficult choice: saving money and the environment and expecting concertgoers to rely on the festival's website or having an exhaustive and commemorative program. Having not seen what was there before, I can offer no opinion but mention the issue for completeness.
This day, being taken up primarily with travel from New York to Toronto to Vancouver only allowed for one concert, lest jet lag and fatigue color one's senses. It was, however, a good introduction. The early set at Roundhouse featured the trio of Houle, Leandre and Swedish drummer Raymond Strid (see their 2007 Red Toucan album 9 Moments). The best way to visualize the efforts of these three musicians is in terms of physics: particles became atoms turning into molecules and then living breathing forms. The group played four improvisations, ranging from 8 to 17 minutes, with moments of chamber-like spaciousness alternating with others of constant motion, effected through arco, circular breathing and drum punctuation. If roles were to be assigned, Houle would be the classicist, Leandre the emotive improviser (either scraping her strings or vocalizing) and Strid providing an industrial counterpoint to his companions.