2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 4-6
TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
June 25thJuly 4th 2010
Here come the Dutch! From South Africa to Vancouver, Holland is at the forefront of everyone's mindsand ears. The customary early afternoon set at Performance Works on Granville Island today featured perhaps the best known and arguably most celebrated Dutch jazzman ever (next to pianist and fellow ICP Orchestra co- founder Misha Mengelberg)Han Bennink. At 68, the veteran drummer/percussionist/wildman, was scheduled to be heard in various contexts of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival (VIJF) throughout the next few days, proving he indeed is somewhat a celebrity in these parts, too, certainly a Vancouver favorite as he's a frequent visitor to the city and VIJF's past. The Vancouverite-Dutch double date featured Bennink and bassist/countryman Wilbert de Joode, both flanked on either side by Vancouver musicians in clarinetist Francois Houle and guitarist/oudist Gordon Grdina.
It's always musically and otherwise entertaining when Bennink takes to the stage. The drummer broke out his anticipated bag of tricksrapid rolls on his muffled, toweled snare; drum stick in mouth as if it were a jew's harp; the occasional stick throw and catch without missing a beat; cross-handed syncopation and leg up on drum adding a spur of the moment tighter and higher tuning to his kit, again without losing an ounce of musicality. Around the midway point of the set's third of four group improvisations, there was even a moment when he got up from his kit and slid a randomly placed piano stool from a side of the stage towards his kit, adding a percussive though ear-jarring foundation to Houle's mouthpiece-less clarinet flute- simulating solo. When the Dutchman arrived back at his drum stool, he gazed into the audience and the backs of his fellow musicians with an innocent childish grin, held up a hammer as if to say, "What?! I didn't do anything," and received subsequent hysterical chuckles from the crowd. His bandmates, not quite sure what "hit" them and the reason for the laughs and applause, continued. Grdina in particular, played and interacted with an inspiring abandon throughout the set that went missing the night previous at Iron Works, his strength perhaps lying with the lack of musical road maps.
For the evening set, the Bill Frisell Trio headlined The Centre's well attended concert hall (with violinist Eivand Kang and drummer Rudy Royston) playing primarily typical and original Frisell-ian Americana works such as the suitably titled and dedicated "Winslow Homer," in addition to the mesmerizing Malian-influenced "Baba Drame" and several jazz standards including Lee Konitz' "Subconscious Lee," "Goin' Out of My Head" and a rhythmic showcase for Royston, Benny Goodman's "Benny's Bugle" (the latter two selections both encores). The guitarist was undoubtedly the primary voice of the threesome with some exceptional moments, the other two in consistent support throughout. Even though the set consisted of 10-15 minute performances of each tune, not so common was a violin or drum solo. One of the attractive facets of Frisell's music is its inherent aesthetic and subtlety even when he rocks out, so an unfortunate slight of the soundman's hand mid-set was hard not to notice with regards to the unexpected and sudden boost of volume. Other than this sudden spike to near rock concert levelsthe VIJF must be commended on the excellent sound mix of all their spaces for the most part, from the large venues to the smaller ones..
The late set brought the the American expatriate Michael Moore to Iron Works. The clarinetist/altoist has resided in Amsterdam for three decades now and his trips to North America are more often than not under the auspices of the ICP Orchestra, so this was an especially rare and welcomed treat to hear him performing his own works with a strong Vancouver-based group tonight (pianist Chris Gestrin, trumpeter Brad Turner, bassist André Lachance and drummer Dylan van der Schyff). Before the set got under way, he promisedfor better or worsethat "Whatever happens tonight will not be over-rehearsed!" being that he only met two of the three musicians for the first time earlier that day. Moore's original works seemed demanding for the musicians; however, that saidthey sight-read admirably and accomplished an immediate harmonic sense that offered a successful balancing act as they mixed in free wheeling original improvisations within the more rigid framework of the Moore's structured compositions. The reedman played a floating sweet-toned alto with rougher edges around his welcomed clarinet playing and pianist Gestrin had several stickout moments when he played right-hand lines, with his left hand adjusting tones on the inside of the piano and its strings. On the penultimate tune ("Whistle Blower") the pianist performed unaccompanied for the first several minutes before the group joined in, (re)creating a smaller Maria Schneider Orchestra group feel.
A drink at O'Douls (the Vancouver jazz hot spot which has featured jazz for the last 15 years, 7 days a week) once again served as a nice nightcap with many local musicians stepping up to perform until 2am.
Of the many VIJF highlights, perhaps the unique "Jazz Workshops" stuck out most. And there was perhaps none better suited as a player and host than drummer/personality Bennink. In the early afternoon, up a few flights of Tom Lee Music (much like NYC's Sam Ash Music), the Dutchman proved why he is such a legend of this music, speaking of his early career association with Eric Dolphy (the first American musician who Bennink performed with to want to play his own music versus standard material) and performing an off the cuff duo with a Quebecois prepared pianist by the name of Charity Chan (evidently she's made the move to New York, living in New Jersey) who had earlier asked if they could perform together. He told the small crowd, "I'm influenced by the world," in response to a question of what and who are his influences. He also spoke of the late Brit drummer John Stevens' usage of the small snare-centric kit as a personal model and in addition offered the advice, "If you can't play on snare drum, you can't play the whole kit." He would go on to not only demonstrate his extraordinary left hand technique and quickness but then spoke about his talent for being able to accomplish on his left what he couldn't with his rightdue to an accident when he broke his left arm ("I wouldn't recommend breaking your arm, but...!") It was a well- spent hour not soon to be forgotten. And when asked of his excitement for The Netherlands still being in World Cup contention, without over-committing himself and his country, he said half-seriously, half in jest, "I just don't want the Germans to win!"
To the Aquabus water taxi and the early afternoon concert at Performance Works where Vancouverite tenor/alto saxophonist Coat Cooke's Trio (bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Kenton Loewen) featured special guest Gordon Grdina. Cooke and Reed have been playing together since the '70s, as the saxophonist played weekly at the city's Cellar Jazz Club with special guests most nights. On one of those nights Grdina was invited to join and they have since formed a unique musical bond. The two tend to like working in the upper extremes of their instruments, a fact that allows the guitarist's mid-range playing seem that much warmer. Think of a Jerry Hahn, Larry Coryell-influenced jazz guitarist equally open to rock tendencies and you have a good feeling for Grdina's diversity and approach. The group's set was entirely comprised of three 10+ minute spontaneous collective improvisations, something I took great surprise to find out by set's end: there weren't any titles for the presumed compositions. I couldn't give this ensemble a better compliment. To have achieved such structures and focused improvisations without anything being predetermined or planned is no easy feat. Grdina showcased amazing versatility, interspersing solid bass figures on his instrument one moment, kneeling for some extended techniques and incorporating a foot pedal of effects the next while performing fluid, soothing lines or in the blink of an eye more rhythmically jagged progressions, always aware of his surroundings at every moment, his eyes for the most part were wide open to his bandmates' playing power of suggestion and expression.
The youthful October Trio (tenor saxophonist Evan Arntzen, bassist Josh Cole and drummer Dan Gaucher) played an early evening concert at Ironworks. With ever- present sheet music on stage, they performed many originals, including Cole's "1983," Gaucher's "Ride" and Arntzen's "Do Your Thing." Again, trumpeter Brad Turner sat in. Of the Dave Douglas school, by the sounds of it, he performed with the group on "You're Trying Too Hard" from the October Trio's CD release last year (Looks Like It's Going To Snow, Songlines). Towards the end of the first section of "The Progress Suite," drummer Gaucher finally broke loose from the in time beat patterns that predominated the group's performance to that point. Throwing in more randomly placed light cymbal splashes, and utilizing brushes at the beginning of the following movement of the suite, Gaucher's breaking out of the rhythmic rut added a much needed, even more mature, dynamic to this group's overall performance of, funnily enough, mostly teen love angst-associated titled compositions.
The nighttime headliner at The Roundhouse proved to be a Festival highlightthe Dutch quartet of trumpeter Eric Boeren with Michael Moore (clarinet/alto sax), Wilbert de Joode (bass) and Bennink (snare drum). Performing primarily the music of Ornette Coleman, with other pieces certainly inspired by the iconic altoist and composer (as heard on their recent Clean Feed release, Song for Tracy The Turtle which features in essence the exact same lineup with Paul Lovens playing drums rather than Bennink)the contrast missing in the previously attended show was ever-prevalent here. Both horn players subtly though playfully acknowledged the immediately recognizable Coleman themes, while Bennink, manned only with a snare drum, sticks and brushes, performed acrobatic swimming left-hand dominated brush strokes that not only kept up with up-tempo passages but led the way through them. From Ornette's "I Heard It Over The Radio" to "A Little Symphony" (both of which the composer recorded in 1960), Moore switched from clarinet to alto sax on the latter, and thus created an ear-opening facet to the music of Coleman. It was as if clarinetist John Carter were still alive, perhaps this would be within the realm of his musical possibilities (Carter, a fellow Ft. Worth native, as was Coleman, actually collaborated with the legendary altoist back in the late '40s). Admirably, and perhaps part in dedication to Carter's legacy as well as Coleman's, Moore blew new life, particularly on his licorice stick (which he even on occasion detached the mouthpiece of, blowing flute-like passages) into fairly obscure Coleman material as well as the Coleman-dedicated originals. The second the set ended, Bennink jumped from his kit and left the stage (I think he did all he could do on just a snare for the duration of an entire set, not hoping for an encore to have to come up with anything more!)
The last two sets of the night were by a leaderless trio featuring Chicago flute player Nicole Mitchell and the Vancouver-based piano/cello team of Lisa Cay Miller and Peggy Lee. Given the city's proven ardent support for this kind of improvisational-based music, and especially having witnessed much stronger attendance at Iron Works, the Tuesday night turnout (but certainly not the music) was a bit on the disappointing side for this meeting of one of Vancouver's finest improvisers (Lee) with THE most original flautist playing today. Miller's music (and name) was new to these ears, and this evening represented her first-time collaboration with Mitchell. It didn't take too long, however, for Miller to soon prove she was on equal footing with her bandmates; the three found an immediate musical rapport, collectively improvising layers of subtle sonic textures over one another, many times overlapping to the point that if you closed your eyes you might be hard pressed to determine one sound's origination (e.g. Miller lightly plucked her piano's strings as if it she were pulling on Lee's cello).
During the first set's second group improvisation, which lasted near 20-minutes, you could hear a pin drop in the club, the three amorphously moving as one, patiently growing in intensity with long legato lines interspersing breaths and rests as momentum markers. Their second set found more staccato-based friction and interaction versus the collective cooperation and fluidity that characterized the earlier set, Mitchell breaking off into separate duosfrom a lengthy one with Lee, then to a remarkable musical conversation with Miller and her prepared piano. The final set's last improvisation had Mitchell for the first time on piccolo flute, on which she eerily whistled at a distance from her instrument, as if creating a soft breeze pushing its way through a front porch door in a deserted town. This haunting and lasting effect found Miller placing a towel over the top of the piano's strings, adding further sound mystery, and Lee, eventually returning, bowing long notes and phrases, completing a performance cycle and leaving listeners by concert's end fondly recalling a listening experience that brought them full circle basically back to where it all started at the beginning of the first set. Another festival highlight, in this case unfortunately missed by many listeners.
After hustling from one venue to the next up to this point, the VIJF scheduling fortunately lightened up a tad on this, the day before "Canada Day" (the equivalent of America's 4th of July celebrations). It was an opportunity to catch our collective breath, refill our listening "tanks" if you will and sink our teeth into the last five days of the festival (for this reporter four, as I will miss out on the final day, July 4th, to catch the fireworks back home!).
The evening brought legendary Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his newly formed, international (or at least European) group, reinforcing the festival's mission of programming in musicians from around the globe. The youthful new ensemble of Danes Jakob Bro (guitar) and Anders Christensen (electric bass guitar) and Finns Alexi Tuomarila (piano) and Olavi Louhivuori (drums) offered an at least momentary sigh of relief for those who had grown tired of The Trio group (led by pianist Marcin Wasilewski) that had backed the trumpeter for the better part of the last decade. Even with his omnipresent Miles Davis influence, however, Stanko now seems to take off with far less frequency (regarding improvisational flights that is), staying primarily grounded and at ease, ultimately not much more inspired than when he had The Trio backing him up. Instead he barely hovered around the simmering level of intensity maintained by his new and obviously less acoustic surrounding of electric bass guitar and electric guitar. Christensen's monotonous bass playing and static presence proved to be an acquired taste, his strength focusing too frequently on but one, sometimes two, pulsating note(s) that the group commonly orbited around. Bro's guitar offered some much needed help, creating an off-balance quality to the otherwise atmospheric, straight-forward quality of the ensemble's arguably one-dimensional lack of dynamics, an intriguing juxtaposition particularly during his rare and explorative solo spots. Near half of the selections performed were from the group's most recent ECM CD release (Dark Eyes, 2009) including "Grand Central," "Dark Eyes of Martha Hirsch," "Terminal 7" and "So Nice"; Stanko's mournful, emotional and personal "April 10th" composition, dedicated to the victims of the tragic plane crash that day including the President of Poland and other officials, captured the balladeer at his finest.
A 15-20 minute drive was necessary to make the late set at The Cellar (in the far western reaches of Kitsalano), tonight featuring saxophonist and club proprietor Cory Weeds (who also runs the club's respected jazz label Cellar Live). Backed by Sharon Minemoto (piano), Russ Botten (bass) and Julian McDonough (drums) they dedicated the evening to the music of Rodgers and Hart, from "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" (arranged by Brad Mehldau, and interestingly done in five), and "It's Easy To Remember" to "My Romance" (with a superimposed effective bouncy bass line). On several occasions I felt right back at home, as if magically transported to NYC's Smoke Jazz Club on the Upper West Side, due both to the feeling of the club and the music, Weeds right in the vein of such great Blue Note- affiliated tenormen as Hank Mobley and Tina Brooks.
With not much time to lose, a drive was absolutely essential to travel from one venue locale extreme at the southwest end of Vancouver to the Iron Works' northeast location, and barely make the highly anticipated reunion of pianist Paul Plimley with drummer Han Bennink. With bassist Wilbert de Joode, the trio's second set started roughly on time (speaking ofanother compliment to pass along to the VIJF and its staff is their overall punctuality of performances, making it extremely realistic to plan an evening such as this, runningand/or drivingfrom one venue to another, squeezing in as many shows as possible into a given timeframe!) Evidently the previous set was similarly packed to the hilt, perhaps more so than any other Iron Works show, and for good reason. It turned into a personality and musical clash, as both represent the extreme of each, on and off stagetwo showmen but only one with a mic as it turned out, which fortunately was left to between performance banter and jesting, if not good-humored verbal jousting.
Plimley threw in random Monk quotes as well as an "It Ain't Necessarily So," and displayed not only an appreciation but mastery for Phineas Newborn-like two-fisted playing. His out of the blue reference to Jimi Hendrix' "Third Stone From The Sun" made several reappearances, extending through a good chunk of the set's second of three collective improvisations while the pianist tried his best to match and not to be overpowered by Bennink's forceful drumming. The drummer seemed to have his mind and sticks set to dominating mode, throwing caution to the wind regarding any potential subtler group dynamics; of the hundred or so times I've heard him live, I can't say I've ever heard him more unrelenting, not allowing a single space or rest squeak by. It was a mind-blowing listening experience to also visually witness such a non-stop performance of swinging ferociousness. The pianist between the second and final group improvisations even commented at his first-time appreciation of the drummer's expertise on brushes, not so subtly hinting perhaps that Bennink could tone it down (the Dutchman obliged for all of one minute of the final group improv, then returned to his former self). Each improvisation culminated with a telepathic coda and finale, ending on a dime, ever more surprising and rewarding given the seemingly competitive circumstances. With this solid level of intensity, the set flew by rather quickly (though perhaps not quick enough for de Joode, stuck in between the two, inaudible for the most part), clocking in at just over a half hour. After the musicians left the stage, Bennink quickly disappearing, Plimley remained in an aisle and played cheerleader for the masses to demand more music. Bennink, convinced, came back for an encorea less than two-minute free for all, which in essence condensed the previous half hour into 120 seconds! Still a(nother) festival highlight. A "you had to be there" show that would never come across quite the same on recording.
The final three days-worth of VIJF reviews for this correspondent soon on the way.... Stay tuned.
All photos by Chris Cameron except Michael Moore, Coat Cooke and Nicole Mitchell by Laurence Donohue-Greene