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Live Reviews

2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 7-10

By Published: July 16, 2010
Canadians Lori Freedman (Quebecois bass clarinet expert) and Stefan Smulovitz (Vancouverite violinist and laptop specialist) performed a spontaneous duo at Ironworks in the evening, one that was originally scheduled to be a "trio" with vocalist Viviane Houle (also from Vancouver) who fell ill at the last minute and couldn't make the gig. After a water drop opening reminiscent of Pink Floyd's "Echoes" pre-guitar introduction (from the group's Meddle), the duo's electro-acoustic relationship made its best efforts to find common ground as Smulovitz incorporated and basically processed live Freedman's performance to the point that it seemed she was playing with echoes of her former self, a variation of her musical shadow if you will. On clarinet for the second 10+ minute improvisation, Freedman played over an incessant broken car horn sound, before Smulovitz faded out the not so welcoming New York city effect and offered the reed player harmonic parallels to connect and interact with, as if musical bait were being tossed her way rather than the two worlds functioning independently, to this point, of one another. The collaboration seemed to work best when the laptop provided more a bed of sounds and foundation of effects over which Freedman could work rather than compete with. Some effects were a bit over the top, and simply didn't work, particularly in the third improvisation that included everything from a random woman's voice and baby sounds to flatulent and burping noises. However, this improvisational composition's conclusion marked a grand leap in their collaborative effort with alternating space then bass clarinet hysterics with a final pause followed by Smulovitz on laptop completing a momentous cycle. Here he indeed gave good reason for a laptop to be considered an instrument for any doubters. The first set's final (and shortest) piece was arguably the most interesting, Smulovitz playing undiluted acoustic violin (he had picked up the instrument earlier while still sitting at his laptop, doing double duty and "playing" both at that juncture). It's not a duo one hears too often—bass clarinet and violin—but the two proved there are certainly endless possibilities without plugging anything in.

For a total change of pace, the mid-50 year old modern Swing-based tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton appeared as a special guest and co-leader during The Cellar's VIJF concert series with veteran guitarist Oliver Gannon's quartet (with pianist Miles Black, bassist Jodi Proznick and drummer Blaine Wikjord). Splitting his time between homes in Italy and Florida, this was certainly a rare trip up to the Northwest Coast and two nights of sold out crowds (two sets a night) served as a grand welcoming for the veteran Ben Webster-influenced saxophonist who began making his mark in the mid '70s after moving to New York from his home in Providence, Rhode Island. He admitted he'd been in planes basically for the last 38 hours, which excused a bit of the lackadaisicalness but fine and relaxed humor emanating from the stage as between tune banter. Standards and keys were of course discussed literally moments before Hamilton would jump right in on a tune's head, from "Three Little Words" to "When Your Lover Has Gone" (which Hamilton comically re-titled "When Your Liver Has Gone" as Hamilton was known for his enjoyment of spirits, to put it lightly). The latter featured a tasteful solo by Gannon, a veteran of the Vancouver jazz scene since the early '70s. He, for the most part, comfortably took a back seat to Hamilton but contributed beautiful backing lines, offering appreciative counterpoint to Hamilton's soloing in particular.

The saxophonist shouted instructions without qualms at such a volume to members of the group, unknowingly amusing the audience at times—such as when he cut off Black mid-solo by screaming "Go to the bridge!" The last several tunes of the first night's late set featured saxophonist (and Cellar proprietor) Cory Weeds who this correspondent had heard and reported on earlier in the Festival when he led his own group at the club. Hamilton generously asked Weeds to choose what key he'd like to play "I Thought About You." Weeds nervously replied "Whatever key it's in." (Weeds at set's end when introducing Hamilton admitted to the crowd, "I can't tell you how difficult it is going to the school of Scott Hamilton... I just went!") Weeds, a little less gruff and brighter in tone, admirably held his own, though. They performed "Fine and Dandy" and a blues number, Hamilton seemingly pleased with their respective solos and exchanges, which were well in the tradition of battling tenors. It was a jam session like atmosphere with high caliber talent on stage, Weeds graduating with honors.


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