2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 1-3

2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 1-3
AAJ Staff By

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Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-10
TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
June 25th—July 4th 2010

Remnants of this year's Winter Olympics from February have seemingly been cleared right out of the city of Vancouver. For the first week of this year's 25th anniversary of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival (VIJF), you'd never know trekking to and from any one of the 40 stages and venues- -stretching from Kitsalano through Granville Island and up into the Gastown area—that this beautiful northwest coastal city was recently bustling as the focal point of the entire world.

In the place of the since closeted Olympic banners, festival signage (admittedly of a conservative, corporate forest green: TD being one of Canada's big banks) were strategically strewn throughout the city. And from June 25th, the first day of the VIJF (which culminates on July 4th), that focus was firmly re-planted back on to the Canadian city with an emphasis, for starters, on the inclusion of the word "International" in the festival name itself. Unique global bookings range from Germany's Globe Unity Orchestra to Holland's Eric Boeren with Han Bennink, Finland's Mikko Innanen, Norway's Nils Petter Molvaer, England's Evan Parker, Switzerland's Lucas Niggli and Fredy Studer, Denmark's Ibrahim Electric, Poland's Tomasz Stanko and Americans ranging from Chick Corea to Nicole Mitchell. In addition, Vancouver also knows how to flaunt their own talent, and a surplus their schedule of events reveals (unfortunately many who rarely make it to NYC, hence a trip to VIJF being in order) including clarinetist Francois Houle, saxophonist Coat Cooke, cellist Peggy Lee, guitarist Tony Wilson, pianists Paul Plimley and Chris Gestrin and drummers Terry Clarke and Dylan van der Schyff. A big hats off to Artistic Director Ken Pickering and his staff for continuing to present such a unique and daring festival year in and year out.

Day 1

The blatant theme for the first days of the festival was the showcasing of various offshoots of the 11-member Globe Unity Orchestra (GUO) in various contexts, featuring fellow GUO bandmates with Vancouverite musicians in many cases, leading up to the grand event itself on Sunday night (GUO at The Roundhouse).

Such a microcosm at an early afternoon Granville Island Performance Works concert featured GUO trombonists Johannes Bauer and Christof Thewes, saxophonist Henrik Walsdorff, trumpeter Jean-Luc Cappozzo and drummer Paul Lytton. The ensemble camaraderie was obviously accentuated in this smaller context, and often they resembled a New Orleans- style small group at their core with collective improvising rampant. On many occasions of course this subgroup further subdivided into even smaller configurations that displayed the empathy and dynamic possibilities amongst the individuals such as when Bauer and Cappozzo tiptoed a duo with short paced steps before Thewes and Lytton joined in, creating a delightful drunken, even briefly violent, stupor. Bauer of course is a master of sound effects on his instrument (as can be heard on any number of his solo trombone records), extended techniques that go well beyond mere note playing. His extensive bouncing lip solo brought forth blurred motor-like sounds that vividly captured one of the seaplanes coming in for a landing in Northern Vancouver's Coal Harbour just under Stanley Park—kind of Vancouver's equivalent to Central Park. Cappozzo frequently waved his finger as if swimming through time signatures like a kid gliding his arm outside the car window like a dolphin leaping in and out of water. The quintet's final piece was a 2-minute miniature featuring both trombonists to the fore, one of several memorable moments capturing the two, revealing well-spent time together on the bandstand with the GUO and foreshadowing what was to come with them in the band's brass section.

Another highly anticipated GUO-affiliated group came with the rare opportunity to hear an inventive first- time quartet led by one of GUO's longtime saxophonists (and co-founder) Gerd Dudek, at Studio 700 with some of Vancouver's finest: Chris Gestrin (piano), Tommy Babin (bass) and Dylan van der Schyff (drums). Dudek, a German free jazz legend, quickly revealed that he is not only a European free jazz pioneer but that he is also an expert balladeer who can cover his instrument's full range of emotions (in addition, he's an expert soprano player, though left his second axe home). Opening the proceedings with the respectful accompaniment of gently plucked bass, lightly pressed keys and van der Schyff's colorful layering cymbal splashes and drum rolls that at times unfortunately swallowed up Gestrin's contributions throughout the set, the first time grouping quickly transformed into more a horn-led piano-less trio than quartet. (This said, the drawback was more due to the poor house mix—a too soft sounding piano volume— than as a result of the musicians' sensitivity and capability) It was not until van der Schyff laid out altogether that Gestrin could step up and be properly heard; and perhaps there was something to be said for him exercising the patience until those times when such situations presented themselves (e.g. Miles didn't play when Monk did, given for very different reasons). Regardless of the circumstances, Babin consistently demonstrated a workshop on the art of plucking, from note placement and accents to dynamics, as many listeners noticeably sat forward to take in his impassioned playing, whether he was soloing or not.

One of the most ambitious projects of the festival was an evening concert collaboration entitled "Fixed, Fragmented & Fluid" featuring English bassist Barry Guy (who has for some time resided in Switzerland) and Quebecois animator Michel Gagné at The Roundhouse performance space. Basically improvised animation with music in real time with an all-star ensemble on hand: Evan Parker (tenor sax), Peter Evans (trumpet), Maya Homburger (violin), Peggy Lee (cello), Paul Plimley (piano) and Lucas Niggli (drums). The animated portion followed a first set mix and match of instrumentation, from two 15-minute performances, the first a string trio piece (Lee, Homburger, Guy), the second a riveting multi-movement spontaneously improvised piano trio performance (Plimley, Guy, Niggli). The horns of Parker and Evans joined Guy for the third and final first set group improvisation, highlighting in particular Guy's very physical approach to his instrument.

The near hour-long second set (almost to the second!) brought Gagne and his laptops and electronics to center stage, set just below the big screen behind him. The opening of escalating images of exploding rocks was awkwardly counterbalanced by Homburger's unaccompanied legato violin with not much if anything in common between visual and audio (perhaps something a bit more on the violent, staccato side may have seemed more appropriate if not obvious). However, once the violin introductory portion came to a conclusion and piano and bass entered, everything suddenly was in sync with both senses realigned: this time exploding circles and zig zag lines matched staccato punctuations. By the time Parker entered on soprano, many images were by then making a reentrance, creating some momentum-killing formulaic visuals on more than several occasions. This element presented an awkward dichotomy with the music pushing forward while the visual component at times became stagnant, one sense falling behind the other.

When everything was in sync, which was a frequent enough occurrence, this unique project proved extraordinary. Swimming dolphin-like lines at one point traveled from left to right complementing string legato exchanges. The images were secondary to the music, however, with most musicians not paying much to any notice of the instantly created video, while this listener (and viewer) focused his energies more on sound than sight. Incidentally, there was at least one subtly placed pre-recorded section by the musicians, which revealed the true potential of this collaborative effort, as black and white figures shaped themselves to each and every sound as well as tone. Here's hoping Gagné's given more time to catch up to the fantastic, detailed layers of such master musicians in this project's follow-up— and not necessarily in real time during the performance.

For a night-cap, and certainly a change of pace from the more esoteric music heard this first day of the VIJF, my ears were grateful to hear a late set by Portland, Oregon-based vocalist Nancy King accompanied by pianist Steve Christofferson at one of Vancouver's finest jazz clubs, The Cellar. Their version of "All Too Soon" incorporated the harmonica-sounding melodica in addition to piano accompaniment (Christofferson ambidextrously playing both simultaneously). King proved why she is one of today's greatest (and arguably most unheralded) female vocalists. The recent septuagenarian makes every syllable not just every word count, as heard on her rendition of the not oft heard Slim Gaillard tune "Flat Foot Floogie" (with Tom Wakeling guesting on bass). Masterful subtlety and instrumental-like prowess in all her vocal performances marks this veteran vocalist as not only one our lifetime's greatest but in the history of this music as well. The paintings of Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday that decorated the club's walls only added to the magical and timeless atmosphere that King created within a set's worth of selections, including "Easy Street," Dave Frishberg's "Zanzibar" (which she recorded with Christofferson and the Metropole Orchestra in the mid '90s), "Heartbreak Hotel" (in which she creatively incorporated Monk's "Misterioso") and "It's You Or No One" (an ideal scatting vehicle).

The nightly jam session at O'Doul's (literally adjacent to this correspondent's hotel conveniently enough), which features jazz seven nights a week throughout the year, serves as a good final stopping point and watering hole for their special late night jam sessions throughout the VIJF until 2am.

Day 2

Other than being able to hear GUO musicians in various contexts, the other first-week highlight proved, as expected, to hear bassist Barry Guy on numerous occasions and in different projects. The early afternoon performance of Guy in duo with Maya Homburger (violin) at Performance Works contained a mix of solos and duos. "Vini Creator Spiritus" (an 8th Century hymn which Homburger began playing in the crowd before working her way to the stage) was connected with an interlude by Guy to "Carrying of the Cross, Sonata no.9" (from H.I. Biber's Mystery Sonatas; Biber's "The Agony in the Garden, Sonata no.6" was performed later in the set, too). The bassist's composition "Lysandra" was a feature for solo violin, while "Annalisa" was the bassist's turn for playing unaccompanied. While having heavily improvised parts, there also seemed to be definite form and structure. The duo created an interesting crossroads for the worlds of classical and improvisation, not necessarily to collide but certainly to interact and coexist naturally.

A 10- minute segment of the set was dedicated to Guy's "Fizzles," an excellent introduction for the uninitiated to hear the bassist's arsenal of (extended) techniques. Five minutes through a young child was heard sighing, "Wow. Ahhhhh!" and Guy immediately reacted, dedicating the following few minutes worth of his arsenal (foot pedal effects included) to magically developing themes around the child's expression. Then, the same kid whispered "Yay!" Now, whether Guy heard this or not, it marked another defined movement in his improvisation, perhaps coincidentally, as he attacked his strings with a ferocity that soon led him to the conclusion of the awe- inspiring improvisation.


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