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Live Reviews

2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 7-10

By Published: July 16, 2010
Two tenor frontline jazz groups certainly have a well-documented history in jazz. Amongst seemingly countless battling tenor combos—Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis/Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons/Sonny Stitt, Al Cohn/Zoot Sims immediately come to mind. But less common are such groups with a two-tenor frontline sans piano as such was the case here. The young, but strong saxophonists Arntzen and Elkuf didn't do much battling per se, but they did come up with some exquisite team effort harmonies, heard no better than during their rendition of Lennie Tristano's "Lennie's Pennies." The two soloed simultaneously around the upbeat theme, intertwining lines and melodically shadowing one another, playing as one. Any piano would have probably watered down the off-the-water proceedings, and so consequently Cronin and Poole successfully maintained a solid underpinning of time the saxophonists, either together or individually, utilized as a foundation through each piece, as was heard on the extended near 15-minute medley which referenced Monk's "Reflections" (his "Evidence" was performed later in the set), Sonny Rollins' "The Freedom Suite" and the Dorothy Fields/Jimmy McHugh standard "On The Sunny Side of the Street" (even though the latter was given a pretty harsh, anything but seamless transition as if a bit too pre-planned).

It was a perfect day, with ideal timing, to take a casual walk from one waterfront to the next, grabbing the Aquabus water taxi near Science World, which took me to Granville Island for Lisa Cay Miller's Q group mid-afternoon performance at Performance Works. The double-dating group (Miller and bassist are an item; as is cellist Lee and drummer van der Schyff) played an even mix of previously recorded and soon to be recorded material. The sound mix was a bit askew with cello and piano far too high in the mix, and a few notches to high in volume, too—ironically this became most prevalent during the quartet's performance of a piece titled "Balance." The set was comprised of intricate compositions, sometimes overly intricate with complex multi-movement sections, Miller with frequent noticeable hand waives to signal a change in tempo or changeover to a new piece within a piece. Arguably a bit over-conceptualized, with musicians understandably glued to their sheet music, the music itself wasn't really given appropriate room to breathe and came off instead a bit on the stiff side. That said, this represented a polar opposite experience to hearing the dynamic of Plimley and Bennink with their incessant rhythmic energy current. Miller, conversely, encouraged space to expand within her music and perhaps with better familiarity of all four musicians with the material, her musical message will be made that much clearer.

With just enough time to hustle over to Studio 700 to catch the Cat Toren Band's first set, I suddenly realized en route from one venue to the next the welcomed preponderance of female acts and musicians programmed into this year's VIJF, whether intentionally or not: from this day's pianists Miller and Toren to flautist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Peggy Lee, violinist Maya Homburger, bassist Jody Proznick and bass clarinetist Lori Freedman (who this correspondent will be hearing later this very evening), amongst many others. Additionally all these who are listed are instrumentalists (vs. vocalists) and leaders in their own right for the most part—so, take note jazz festivals around the world!

Lori Freedman

Toren embellishes otherwise straight-forward lines with youthful exuberance and curiosity while maintaining a strong melodic content in each her originals, most in the 5-10 minute range. With Russell Sholberg (bass) and Daniel Gaucher (drums), the three revealed a strong Brad Mehldau Trio influence while conceptually they seemed to borrow ideas from Maria Schneider's sometimes lush arrangements in this obviously smaller piano trio context. "The Happy Song" was purely a melodic feature with not much to sink your teeth into rhythmically, but as with Miller's show previous it offered a nice alternative to the primarily rhythm-centric featured pianists up to this point. The one non-original was a rendition of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," which instrumentally stayed pretty true to the original as basically a jazzed up version with all choruses intact and not much improvisation until almost five minutes in. For a minute the pianist explored the possibilities of improvising around the loosened theme, as she allowed it to momentarily get ahead of her before she would then play in front of it like a game of cat and mouse. Unfortunately it was short lived, though that minute of huge potential revealed to these ears that Toren might be onto something.

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