TD Canada Trust Toronto International Jazz Festival
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
June 26-July 5, 2009
The TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival enjoyed its 23rd edition this year with a structure similar to that of recent years. The Mainstage concerts in front of City Hall were a nightly focal point as well as key locations such as the Grandmasters series at the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts for Sonny Rollins and the Gary Burton Quartet, the Canon Theater for Tony Bennett, and two theater locations at Harbourfront. Toronto might not have the financial support from all levels of government that Montreal get, but it still attracts the major and up-and- coming international artists every year.
June 26: Sonny Rollins
On opening night, Mr. Tenor Madness himself, Sonny Rollins, kicked off the festival with a 15-minute-plus outpouring solo on "Sonny, Please." Sporting a white jacket and cool shades, he caused some members of the audience to stand up as soon as he appeared on stage. Approaching the age of 79, he still exhibits an inspiring vitality.
He was joined by Clifton Anderson (his nephew) on trombone, Bob Cranshaw on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums, Victor Y. See Yuen with his Trinidadian influence on percussion, and Bobby Broom on the far right side to provide a certain balance on guitar. He played with sustained creativity and aesthetic balance, still the working musician, practicing every day, looking for that new feeling and inspiration while demonstrating he's capable of playing for hours.
On Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful," Clifton Anderson and Bobby Broom were featured soloists followed by Rollins trading with the percussionist while Watkins and Cranshaw quietly sustained the foundation over the swinging rhythm. The audience enjoyed a quieter moment with Ellington's emotional "In A Sentimental Mood" with Anderson contributing the appropriate tone in his solo with references to melodies such as "That's All" by Brandt and Bob Haymes. The ninety-minute show closed with a very short rendition of the calypso tune, "Nice Lady," and "Global Warming."
June 27: Charlie Hunter
In addition to headliner concerts, one can easily identify certain gems at a number of venues. One such place is The Pilot Tavern, which hosted Charlie Hunter on Saturday night. He was joined by Brooklyn-based versatile drummer, Eric Kalb. Hunter had already appeared at the festival on the Mainstage, but the quieter and more intimate settings of The Pilot offered a closer taste of his talent in this duo setting. What made the evening fresh and relaxing was that the musicians did not have a set list of pre-selected tunes. Hunter started off by digging right into a blues that he felt like playing at that moment and even jocularly saying to Kalb: "I don't know if I remember this one; we'll find out soon enough!" Of course he did, and that was the pattern for the evening, which was never lost, especially with musicians like these two, who are are talented professionals who have known each other for years. Hunter would set the foundation and Kalb would join in. The evening was filled with rich bluesy grooves, sometimes heavy but never long and repetitive. Other pieces included some R&B as well as funky, head-boppin' fast play with Kalb discreetly throwing in his personal improvised part.
His 8-string guitar, which acts as a bass as well as a guitar, is a very expressive instrument, enabling him to play both parts so clearly you have to stop to see where they're hiding the actual bassist.
The duo closed the first set with a Michael Jackson tune, "I can't help it" as well as the humorously titled "Every morning you wake up, New York says no."
June 28: Maria Schneider Orchestra
While BeauSoleil and Buckwheat Zydeco brought a bit of Louisiana up to a brisk Summer evening, Maria Schneider and her 18-piece orchestra enveloped the lucky audience to true musical poetry on Sunday night at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront. In the Grammy award-winning opening number, "Concert in The Garden," you get the full flavor of the orchestra with a cinematic crescendo build followed by a relaxing guitar solo. The piece features a musical conversation between the piano and the accordion before the rest of the group slowly eases in. Some parts of the piece are reminiscent of Wayne Shorter's approach to some of his compositions and orchestrations. The versatile Scott Robinson moved to a beautiful soft solo on "Evanescence." Many if not most of Schneider's compositions are very personal. Prior to performing "The Pretty Road," she described the inspiration for the tune as driving to a spot overlooking Windom, Minnesota, where she was born and where, when she reaches this observation post, she's able to recreate memory glimpses. The images included church hymns, Chopin, and her parents' favorite song, "As Time Goes By." Canadian born Ingrid Jensen highlighted the dream sequences by combining the trumpet, fluegelhorn, and a few discreet electronic sound effects such as birds and echoes. Tenor saxophonist Richard Perry soared in "Rich's Piece," on which he played with plenty of space for an unconstrained yet balanced sound. Final selections included "Journey Home," "Coming About," and "Sky Blue," with Steve Wilson's soprano sax featured for the welcomed encore. The band is like a family off-stag, and that cohesion was in full display, adding to the sincerity behind the sound.
June 29: Gary Burton Quartet Revisited
The Botos brothers kicked off the opening of Monday night's Grandmasters evening before a packed and enthusiastic house. Louie Botos came all the way from Hungary to play bass with Frank Botos sitting on drums. Robi Botos was clearly thrilled to be part of the evening and called it "a special night, a special place, and a special audience" before selecting a few melodic pieces, including Gershwin's "Someone To Watch Over Me." Later Attila came on stage on electric guitar, and the audience had a chance to hear Botos singing "Reveries of Love," even though he apparently speaks little to no English.