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Live Reviews

2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 1-3

By Published: July 5, 2010
The typical GUO wall of sound opened the musical proceedings with Parker gracing the audience with the first solo, backed by rhythm trio (as GUO lacks a bassist—that would mean piano and two drums!). As the brassmen leaned forwards and backwards like on a ship at sea, moving to and fro with the ocean of music, soaking up Parker's momentum for their eventual re-entry, the reedmen seemed more reserved in their energies, remaining motionless: an interesting, perhaps only perceived and nothing more, dichotomy. After Parker, the solo checklist began with each member getting his say, one at a time. Mahall hardly even stepped forward, the only one not to play in, let alone near, the centerstage mic—and without the need to, either, given his astonishing projection on the instrument. The two trumpet/two trombone brass section soon joined in like a flock of hungry gulls fighting for a morsel of sardine. A singular group movement section slowly introduced the first brass soloist—Bauer—who performed with piano and drummers. His series of more diminuendo than upward movement gave off an uneasy feeling, a sense of slowly falling down into a bottomless pit. Joined momentarily by altoist Walsdorff for a few bars, Bauer himself then receded back into the mass. Thewes solo encouraged the equivalent of a wild herd of elephants that eventually stampeded over him. As a matter of fact, GUO soloists might be seen as small but quite vocal krill given the chance to sing or scream (whichever the case may be) their hearts out before the big blue GUO whale swallows each back up only to let another say their piece before the vicious cycle continues! The next krill in line before the set's culmination: Dudek, Cappozzo, Dorner.

The very same evening Chick Corea performed a rare solo concert at the BC Honda Dealers Classic Sounds at The Centre Series. Missing opener Terry Clarke (the legendary Canadian drummer whose work with John Handy and Jim Hall amongst others is well documented) and his Trio was the necessary sacrifice that had to be made to witness the supernatural above GUO event just a few blocks away. Even though the listening extremes were severe, the timing (and challenge) to make Corea's set couldn't have worked out better, with enough time to sit down, the lights dim and see Chick walk onto the stage to announce something to the effect, half-jokingly/half- seriously, "I do a solo piano gig every now and then; it gives me a chance to get in some practice time." The sold- out crowd of 1,800 chuckled before he went into a series of bedazzling jazz standard interpretations including "Waltz for Debby" by one of Corea's favorite players (and bandleaders) Bill Evans, as well as an 8- minute rendition of Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," in which Corea added several personal flares including stride which worked especially well given the composer's fondness of the style. Elsewhere, the pianist incorporated fingered piano strings, which he plucked, struck, dampened, knocked, slapped and strummed.

However, once he broke out the sheet music, the concert took a quick corner as if a second set occurred with a blink of an eye break in between. With reading glasses, he presented a Scriabin piece (he called it "No. 2"), during which he could be seen occasionally doing his best Victor Borge of not so subtly seeming to finger hair off the keys by rubbing his fingers together, thus avoiding the levity and seriousness of a jazz musician playing a serious classical composition. Nonetheless, joking aside, he performed the piece more than admirably. He then went into half a dozen of his "Children's Songs" (sheet music still present), most but a minute or two, rather trite actually and a momentum killer frankly. These, in essence, miniatures, served as nothing more than snapshot themes never given much time for development, though each represented a precious composition to base more in depth improvisation off of. An encore by a Portuguese composer, whose name he preferred not share since he couldn't pronounce his name, left the set's promising beginning a not-so distant memory. His practicing comment at the show's beginning sadly, though, came full circle with the prevalence of sheet music for the entirety of the latter half of the show.

The late night set at Ironworks featured Vancouverite guitarist/oudist Gordon Grdina and his trio featuring Swedish saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist. The group's prominent song forms and structures served to be more than my ears had been accustomed to through the Festival to this point, and with house mix and group dynamic problems: the drums too loud; the bass barely audible; Ljungkvist's tenor playing sounding stronger than on clarinet; plus a partially failed effort at audience clapping participation (always a bad sign)—this correspondent decided to call it a day, or rather a night, with a full week of events to look forward to.

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