TD Toronto Jazz Festival, Days 4-10: June 27-July 3, 2011
Apart from the initial introductions, the Flecktones moved from one piece to the next as if it was a continuous suite, with short breaks in between. They were at the beginning of a north American tour, promoting Rocket Science (E1, 2011), but threw in old signature pieces such as "Sex In A Pan." Even though Rocket Science is relatively new, the style and feel sounded similar to the band's previous collaborations, the flow of "Gravity Lane" sounding like a comfortable countryside train ride, with all the turns and scenic changes making it particularly enjoyable. Victor Wooten threw in a reference to "Jean-Pierre," when the tempo slowed down for his solo. For a couple of tunes, Fleck brought American bluegrass fiddler Casey Driessen onstage for added country textures. One of the collaborative highlights was a series of solo duos on "New Country," first between Levy and Wooten and then between Fleck and Driessen. Levy later contributed beautiful, classical-inspired melodic lines to "Sweet Pomegranates," demonstrating his full musical talents.
The Flecktones came back onstage for the encore that fans were blurting out: "The Sinister Minister!" Wooten souped up a frantic bass solo, Futureman's drumitar keeping time in the background with deep grooves. Reaching climatic levels, he literally threw the bass around his body, with the strap preventing the instrument from flying off.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Canada Day was a delay of relaxation (relatively speaking) with a shorter list of performances on tap since it was a national holiday. Most of the key jazz performers had already appeared at the festival.
At lunchtime under a cloudless sky, the young Toronto group, Heavyweights Brass Band, entertained a gathering at the Outdoor Stage. With Chris Butcher on trombone, Jon Challoner on trumpet, Paul Metcalfe on saxophones, Rob Teehan on sousaphone and Lowell Whitty on drums, these guys had a sound that could easily blend in a New Orleans jazz gig.
The quiet day changed in the evening when a large audience came to witness the legendary The Roots, and "make some noise!" The hip hop/neo soul band was formed back in '87 by Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, in Philadelphia. They later became the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, gaining a huge following over the years.
Gil Scott-Heron was an American soul and jazz poet and musician who was in his prime during the '70s and '80s, influencing the hip hop and neo soul movement. He passed away less than two months ago and The Roots paid tribute to him with the classic "The Bottle," a danceable tune with a somber message on alcoholism. The fans were buzzing in the standing room only tent as well as the surroundings. During a call and response moment the questions with the expected answers were "What do you want?" "Roots! Roots!" "When do you want it?" " Right now!" The 90 minutes went by in a flash.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
On this final weekend, jazz festival attendees were in for another lineup of contrasting musical styles that was able to attract crossover listeners.
The Alexander Brown Quintet played early in the day, while Jayme Stone took to the same outdoor stage on Metro Square for the late afternoon show. Stone and his band played pieces from the Juno-nominated Room of Wonders (CDBY, 2010), which brings in polyrhythmic sounds based on folks dances from around the world, and worked out very well for a relaxing Saturday afternoon.
At the same time, over at Quotes across the street, Canadian pianist, composer, and educator Gord Sheard concluded his third day this week for the festival. Each gig featured a specific artist such as singer Luanda Jones and guitarist Reg Schwager. On this particular day, jazz and Latin flutist Bill McBirnie was the guest before a packed house. Sheard demonstrated his great knowledge of the Brazilian people and the rich musical variety that defines its wonderful culture. Sheard's group included George Koller on bass, Maninho Costa on percussion, and Mark Kelso on drums. They played a variety of sambas and bossa novas, with Jobim's "Chega De Saudade" a good example of the bossa's relaxed appeal. McBirnie provided the perfect accompaniment to bring out the tune's textures. Sheard also used the opportunity to talk about some other styles in Brazillian music. He introduced frevo, one of the rhythms coming from the north eastern part of Brazil and associated with carnival music. As a dedication to Hermeto Pascoal, a composer and instrumentalist, Sheard showcased an original composition performed live for the first time. He described "The Hermetic Arts" as a "syncopated march and samba."