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TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival 2009

Alain Londes By

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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.

The main part of the highly anticipated evening was devoted to the recreation of Gary Burton's Quartet, a band he formed in the 60s. Pat Metheny joined that group in the 70s, when, as Burton pointed out, Antonio Sanchez was born. The first part of the program featured selections written by other composers. Chick Corea's "Sea Journey" was the perfect lyrical and flowing tune that showed the whole band as a unit. Burton led the way with his famous four mallets playing the vibes with deliberate precision and purpose. Steve Swallow provided the solid ground throughout the show while standing and facing mainly Metheny and Sanchez. The drummer, who is also a member of the Pat Metheny Group, showed some of his dexterity during a solo without the need to go over the top. Following Carla Bley's "Olhos de Gato," Swallow kicked off quickly into soloing at the beginning of his own composition, a jazz standard originally conceived as a tribute to Bill Evans, "Falling Grace," before being joined by Burton and the rest of the band in the groove. The performance took on a second level of energy as soon as the group dove into Metheny's "Question and Answer" with the growing intensity amplified by the latter's electric guitar. Such a rush naturally led to a rousing standing ovation by some fired up audience members.

Metheny used his custom-made 42-string Pikasso guitar (created by Torontonian Linda Manzer) on "The Sound of Water," starting unaccompanied as the mystical notes enveloped the hall with Burton eventually completing the duo. We would also be treated to "Summertime" and the Brazilian tune "O Grande Amor" before the band would come out for two encores. The overall sound of the evening was fresh and contemporary. Toronto was the final stop of the "Quartet Live" tour with many selections of she show available on the recent CD by that name (Concord Jazz, 2009). The Pat Metheny Group will hopefully be recording during the second part of next year.

June 30: Chris Potter Underground

Chris Potter's Underground finished off the second night at the Pilot Tavern to another sellout and enthusiastic crowd. A large number of music students were on hand to experience the talent up close of Chris Potter. The great saxophonist was surrounded by Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes, Adam Rogers on guitar, and Nate Smith on drums. Potter kicked things off with an easy and short melody borrowing similar notes to the start of Coltrane's A Love Supreme with a funky African beat supplied by the rhythm section. Rogers continued into an extended solo with heavy drum work by Smith before Potter would take charge with his improvisational ideas. This tune was called "Facing East" from the saxophonist's new CD Ultrahang (Artistshare, 2009) coming out the very next day.

During an interview earlier in the day conducted at the Ken Page Memorial Trust workshop, Potter talked about the rich polyphony that his Underground group provides. With fewer people you have more freedom and responsibility at the same time and it feels like jumping off a cliff. He clearly landed on this particular night as he showcased his talent and versatility by conducting improvisational investigations to his written pieces, using a variety of idioms and textures. To the listener, all of these musical ideas seem to flow seamlessly from one to the other under various rhythmic styles. The Underground band chose older selections as well such as "Viva Las Vilnius." On "Lotus Blossom," by Billy Strayhorn, we heard the lighter side of Potter as he brought out the beautiful-sounding bass clarinet with the Fender Rhodes adding to the mood of the quiet tune. The vibe that night was such that most attendees chose to stay for the second set and were rewarded with an encore. Dave Holland will be bringing Chris Potter back again for his quintet on Friday night together with Robin Eubanks, Steve Nelson, and Nate Smith.

July 1: Chucho Valdés and Dave Brubeck

On Canada Day, music revelers were treated to different styles throughout the day. Rob McConnell led for the last time his famed Boss Brass at lunchtime on the square. Later in the afternoon, a large number of saxophonists filled the spaces in an attempt to break the world record of having the largest number of players performing a tune. Though the effort came up short, it was a rare but invigorating experience for all attendees.

Cuba's greatest jazz pianist, Chucho Valdes, played two shows at Harbourfront in the evening. He was joined by Yaroldi Abreu on percussion, Lazaro Alarcon on bass, and Juan Rojas on drums. The opening Ellington medley including such pieces as "In a Sentimental Mood" and "Caravan," indicated the theme of the evening: Valdés and his musicians would approach a piece by eventually blending in a Latin touch. It is a beauty to watch the pianist play a fluttering of notes with his right hand while using his left for melodic ideas. One of the highlights during the first show was the group's rendition of Zawinul's "Birdland" with Afro-Cuban elements providing a rich appeal. Valdés played the melody with a deliberate sound, the other band members amplifying the intensity of the piece. At one point, an energetic exchange took place between Abreu and Rojas as the percussionist would be hitting the sides of his congas while the drummer went into his fast solo.

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