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IAJE 2008: Cool Jazz in a Cool City - Take 2

Ken Dryden By

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One of the major challenges of any IAJE conference is trying to decide what to attend, how early to get there... how long to hang around to meet artists... plus the inevitable hallway meetings on the way somewhere with musicians, publicists and fellow writers.
I have been to every IAJE conference beginning in 2000 (New Orleans), but the 2008 Toronto event was a bit unusual in many ways. First of all, many of the folks I usually run into did not attend, possibly because the drop of the U.S. dollar vs. the Canadian Looney, the lack of the required passport, or not wanting to visit a climate considered to be colder than New York City in January. While I was concerned about the dollar's lack of buying power, I cut back my hotel stay from six nights to four, opted for a less expensive non- conference but close-by hotel (the Strathcona) and split a room with a good friend, vocalist E. J. Decker, whom I met during my last sojourn to Toronto for IAJE 2003. I also became a regular at the doughnut chain Tim Horton, located conveniently just across the street.
Toronto is a great city and even with the demise of the Montreal Jazz Bistro and Top O' the Senator, there was plenty of jazz going outside of the convention, though I never got around to checking any of it out. One of the major challenges of any IAJE conference is trying to decide what to attend, how early to get there (is a seat up front important), how long to hang around to meet artists or catch up on times since last chatting with them (there is nothing like the regular hang at the bar with pianist Bill Mays!), plus the inevitable hallway meetings on the way somewhere with musicians, publicists and fellow writers.
There were not as many scheduled performances that interested me as in typical IAJEs, while the main evening concerts were in the cavernous, airplane hangar-like Constitution Hall, a great venue only if you are seated in front. Aside from wanting to attend Martin Taylor's Fretology (which I missed due to a delayed dinner), I passed on all four nights in this poor venue. A late night hang at the Intercontinental bar with Bill Mays, Sherrie Maricle and my friend E.J. caused me to miss most of Wednesday evening's music. I did catch the last twenty or so minutes of Nordic Connect, highlighted by Ingrid Jensen's meandering "At Sea."
Denny Zeitlin's solo piano set was easily the conference highlight for me. Opening with a free improvisation that involved into a medley of "What is This Thing Called Love" and a thunderous rendition of John Coltrane's "Fifth House" (the latter unannounced, but anyone owning Zeitlin's Maybeck CD recognized it instantly), following by Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Out of My Dreams," a neglected but pretty ballad from Oklahoma! which relatively few jazz musicians have documented on record. The good doctor's strident interpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Deluge" (from the saxophonist's CD Juju), followed by high octane romp through Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce," also proved captivating. The remainder of his concert consisted of originals, including a free improvisation leading into his pastorale "Theme From Invasion of the Body Snatchers," though he only announced the title afterward, joking, "Otherwise people would have been laughing into the middle of the bridge." The final two works, "Precipice" and "Pulsar," are evidently new compositions not yet available on any of his releases. The latter was a bit more experimental in nature, with Zeitlin also manipulating the piano strings by hand and using a mallet on them, ending his set with a flourish. As a footnote, Zeitlin mentioned his excitement at the upcoming Mosaic Select boxed set of his Columbia recordings, which include an album's worth of unissued material, to be released in the fall.

I failed to get the names of the musicians playing with saxophonist Christine Jensen, aside from pianist Dave Restivo. I enjoyed her boppish "Dear Tom Harrell" and Brazilian-flavored arrangement of "Some Other Time" (with an obvious nod to the late pianist Bill Evans). Sister Ingrid was added on trumpet for the final number, "Upper Fargo."

Michelle Gregoire, an up-and-coming Canadian pianist/composer, put on a fine set with a quintet including saxophonist Kirk MacDonald. While I attended snatches of several other performances, including pianist Gary Motley's Intercontinental Bar jam session, I missed far too much live music.

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