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TD Toronto Jazz Festival, Days 4-10: June 27-July 3, 2011

Alain Londes By

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TD Toronto Jazz Festival 2011
Toronto, Canada
June 24-July 3, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

On Monday evening, fans had a few hard choices to make among the headliners. At Koerner Hall, award-winning Dee Dee Bridgewater paid tribute to Lady Day, Billie Holiday.

Meanwhile at the Enwave Theatre, Kurt Elling took to the stage before an equally enthusiastic audience. The sold-out crowd gave a standing ovation when Elling walked on the stage. Laurence Hobgood, who has collaborated with the singer for 17 years, was on the piano together with Eric Privert on bass and Pete Van Nostrand on drums.

Elling selected pieces from The Gate (Concord Records, 2011) where he revisits some well-known tunes that might otherwise have been placed temporarily on the shelf. Naturally they would have a jazz spin to them with the meaning of the lyrics leading the way. Getting everyone in the mood, Elling's swinging and groovy version of Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out" also included a very brief scat solo.

The suave Elling, sporting a business casual suit, was genuinely comfortable on stage. He naturally moved the mic away or closer to his mouth to temper the volume just the way he wanted. Whether singing or speaking, the conversation was always with respect to the audience. His tasteful sense of humor was another bonus of a live show.

Elling sang the title track of his Grammy Award-winning Dedicated To You (Concord Records, 2009). Hobgood added a solo including a quick nod to the song "Cabaret." Proving that great singers understand all the rudiments of music including time, Elling, on "Samurai Cowboy"—where he added lyrics to bassist Marc Johnson's "Samurai Hee Haw"—doubled-up on vocal percussion sounds in tandem with Van Nostrand.

Guitarist John McLean came onstage later, to bring a rock element and a hard driving solo to The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood,." Elling quipped that songs can have the effect of "making the pain musical," when talking about life. Such was the case with a slow version of Earth, Wind & Fire's "After The Love Is Gone." The only standard of the evening was Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark." Without being prompted, the audience snapped its fingers for Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady," with Elling rightly concluding, "Hey, that's a nice night. What do you think?" For effect, the background spotlight on Elling slowly faded out, signaling the end of the show with "Save Your Love For Me." Fortunately, the audience was treated to a second encore with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Luisa," after Elling translated the Portuguese lyrics.

Over at the Mainstage Concert, a night of blues was dominated by the Robert Cray. Playing selections from Cookin' In Mobile (Vanguard, 2010) such as "Sitting On Top Of The World," Jim Pugh drew particular attention after Cray introduced him numerous times over the evening.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

For the evening portion of the programming, Vijay Iyer walked onstage at the Glenn Gould Studio for a solo piano performance as part of the Grandmasters Series. The young, highly acclaimed pianist was the center of attention with interpretations of well-known tunes and his own compositions. He immediately put the audience into a quiet contemplative mood with the meditative "Heart Piece," that continued into "Epistrophy" in honor of one of Iyer's icons, Thelonious Monk. One moment he made use of Monk's slow percussive style, the next moment he got right into a hurried style, demonstrating his fast and technically adept hands. "Autoscopy," was one of the deepest and somewhat somber pieces of the evening, representing the definition of its title: an out of body experience where you leave your body and watch it from above. Iyer switched gears with his take on another modern idol, Michael Jackson, with "Human Nature. On Duke Ellington's classic "Black and Tan Fantasy," Iyer maintained the marching beat of this funeral procession while adding a measured degree of freedom. Vijay Iyer also brought in pieces by Andrew Hill, John Coltrane, and Sun Ra.

For something totally different, a large crowd converged on the Sony Centre for Return to Forever (RTF) IV, which was creating all the buzz leading up to its Tuesday night stop in Toronto. The jazz-fusion group did not disappoint; the show was exhilarating, with the whole auditorium vibrating, at times.

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