Toronto Jazz Festival 2007

Alain Londes By

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For this project the focus was on going to the next level by stressing a groovier and edgier direction. "Hanuman exemplified just those qualities in the opening number to set the stage for the evening. For the whole evening, Scofield was standing slightly to the left of the other musicians to show non-verbally that they were two separate entities, but music was very much in unison and the fun chemistry was there for all to see. The mainly younger audience responded very enthusiastically throughout the show and couldn't resist the head boppin' effect of a hard-grooving number like "Little Walter Rides Again. Such a tune has a clear reference to the Miles Davis bands from the Amandla and Tutu projects of the jazz great's fusion years.

The mood shifted with "Tequila and Chocolate with it's easy samba-bossa feel preceded by Chris Wood's flamenco-like bass lines. Medeski used the keyboards to effectively play accordion-sounding melodies over the piece. He and Scofield complemented each other very well in the melodic progressions. For the most part the group as a whole transitioned from one tune to the next by slowing down progressively to Scofield's notes before picking things up again. For the soft-sounding ballad "Julia, Chris Wood switched to a standing bass. After 90 minutes, the audience showed it would enjoy more music by the group, as there was no opening act. They had certainly heard a rich variety of sounds from funk, blues, jazz rock, and a hint of Brazilian.

United Trombone Summit

An audience spanning many generations were treated to an impressive collection of trombone players, the United Trombone Summit, led by Slide Hampton. The four top-of-the line musicians, kicked things off with Kurt Weil's beautiful "Speak Low. The group took it up a notch with the busy 'The Groove Blues and proceeded to play what they call a "Romance Medley, with each featured artist playing one chorus of a song. Fred Wesley started it off with Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance, followed by Steve Turre with Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood," Slide Hampton with Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine, and ending with Wycliffe Gordon. As a one-time bandleader for James Brown and part of the JB Horns, Wesley was the object of the band's attention on Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon, an acknowledgement of the erstwhile trombonist-leader's R&B/funk roots. The horns were backed by a solid rhythm section, with Corcoran Holt on bass, Luke O'Reilly on piano and Howard Franklin Jr. on drums. Closing the 80-minute set was the fast- tempo favorite by Ray Noble, "Cherokee, always ideal for horn instruments.

L:R Steve Turre, Wycliffe Gordon, Slide Hampton, and Fred Wesley

Roy Hargrove Quintet

If that was not enough to get pulses speeding, the Roy Hargrove Quintet hit the stage for the second part of the show. In order to produce his identifiable loud and crisp sound, Hargrove used his distinctive Monette trumpet and flugelhorn. A good representative piece of this group's style and energy was the original "Camaraderie from the latest album "Nothing Serious that gave all musicians a good workout thanks to the fast tempo. Montez Coleman, a real machine on drums, was joined by Gerald Payton on piano and Danton Boller on bass to complete the rhythm section. These guys are all relatively young, yet so talented. Joining Hargrove up front was Justin Robinson on alto sax. Especially with a frontline of trumpet and alto, this smokin' band truly represented the spirit of bebop's giants, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

A stylish addition to our premier jazz festival has to be the Grandmasters Series. The Four Seasons Centre For The Performing Arts was only too happy to reach out to the community for other cultural events. Jazz is a perfect art form that offers wonderful possibilities to our city's new stage. Dave Brubeck and his regular quartet had first honours in the more acoustically sensitive hall following the much younger singer-pianist Laila Biali with bassist George Koller and drummer Larnell Lewis. Herbie Hancock followed suit with Chris Potter on tenor sax, Vinnie Coliauta on drums, and Nathan East on electric bass.

Keith Jarrett Trio

The major highlight of this year's festival within the Grandmasters Series was the Keith Jarrett Trio. The location was ideal for a group of this caliber free from distractions of an open-air context. Before striking the first note, Jarrett ensured that his seat was 18 ½ inches from the Steinway piano in a humorous moment. It was all business after that, and what a show it was with two sets of pure music. In a recent interview clip heard on amazon.com, Jarrett admitted that a jazz musician should perform as if it might be the last time. You should not play as if you have all the time in the world. You should be faster than your insecurity when facing audience expectations as an "audience may have the wrong impression of what you are about to play. This philosophy was very evident from the evening's performance, and demonstrated the joys of a musical relationship that is fresher as ever.

The trio trio plays with the acute sensitivity to dynamics and ensemble tightness that you would expect from a group that's been playing together for 24 years. Gary Peacock showcased varied bass riffs, with Jack DeJohnette appropriately using just the right touch to orchestrate his partners melodic ideas on drums and cymbals. Both provided the ideal counterpoint to Jarrett's harmonic permutations and phrasings. The sound was well balanced whether the trio was playing an easy-tempoed "Yesterdays by Jerome Kern or a light swinging blues.

The pianist selected two melodic songs from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story—"Tonight and "Somewhere"—at times hunching over the piano keys or standing but always taking great care at playing and savoring every note to perfection. The meticulous notes during quieter moments felt like delicate leaves or light raindrops reaching the ground with the audience quietly savoring each. Jarrett nodded after each tune in appreciation to the receptive audience and in acknowledgement that the trio was in top form. The smiles among the musicians showed how much they enjoyed their improvisational journey over melodies that they know very well. A well-deserved standing ovation followed, as the enthusiastic crowd, not to be denied an encore, was rewarded with two—the last one a Jarrett favorite, Victor Young's "When I Fall in Love."

Montréal-born 13-year-old Nikki Yanofsky mesmerized audiences at both a large afternoon show as well as club preview day appearance with her remarkable voice, a wake-up call for many noticing her for the first time. Hopefully her parents will nurture her promising career wisely.

The Pilot Tavern proved to be another key hot-spot for the festival as legendary artists and major Canadian artists took to the stage of the quaint second-floor that was transformed into a jazz club for a week. On one night, David "Fathead Newman played three wonderful sets, joined by Mark Eisenman on piano, Archie Alleyne on drums, and Steve Wallace on bass. The group played a number of jazz standards from "Oleo and "Naima to a very moving rendition of "Georgia," several of them recorded on Newman's latest CD called Life. He can switch from a fast bebop to an elegant and melodic song such as Neal Hefti's "Girl Talk. In the third set, the group played a modal tune in D minor called "Cousin Esau with Newman going to his flute. The evening ended with Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia and Benny Golson's "Killer Joe to add the finishing touches in front of a standing ovation. So popular was his visit that some fans were not able to get in.

On two other nights, veteran trumpeter, Marcus Belgrave, was joined by Robi Botos on piano, Neil Swainson on bass, and Terry Clarke on drums. The group selected short enjoyable standards such as Gillespie's "Dizzy Atmosphere, Ellington-Tizol's "Caravan, Horace Silver's "Strollin', and Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore.

Freddy Cole

Gone are the days when Toronto had a choice between "Top O' The Senator and "Montreal Bistro. Live @ Courthouse, trying to fill that void, was one of the new club additions to the festival with a busy lineup of performers as well as a few late-night jam sessions. For the first two nights, Freddy Cole graced the stage for songs that reminded us of his brother Nat yet their own distinct qualities. Live @ Courthouse offered the intimate setting to hear ballads such as Mercer's "I Remember You, Arlen's "Paper Moon, and "Because Of You. Popular in Brazil, Cole has often added brazilian songs into his repertoire that fit his vocal smoothness, an example being a composition from the works of Marcos Vidal.

Mike Stern packed the club for two sets and featured Alain Caron and Lionel Cordew. After the opening tune Kern's "Yesterday, the trio played a selection borrowed mainly from Stern's latest CD Who Let The Cats Out? that varied from rockish sounds to quiet sequences such as one imitating the cry of humpback whales. Whatever the style or idiom, the musicians played with solid intensity. They were all very comfortable with each other and clearly enjoyed the experience, Stern during one brief moment singing the notes while gazing towards the far reaches of the Courthouse. Rhythmic and melodic complexities were the next order of the evening when Vijay Iyer played with his talented quartet.

Don Byron

A year and a half ago, clarinetist Don Byron launched a new group dedicated to the music of soul legend, saxophonist and singer Junior Walker, and it was that theme that characterized his playing on this occasion. The leader exchanged his clarinet for tenor saxophone, Dean Bowman was on vocals, David Gilmore on guitar, George Colligan on the Hammond B-3 organ, Brad Jones on bass, and Rodney Holmes on drums. The opening number was a variation on Walker's instrumental song "Cleo's Mood. Byron then played selections from the Walker project, Do the Boomerang. After waking up the lead singer who was discreetly attempting to catch some ZZZs in the green room, Byron came back to perform Walker's "Shotgun as his encore, which finally got the audience out of their seats and dancing.

Late-night jazz revelers could check out the Rex or the Courthouse for more music in the wee hours of the night. Robi Botos led three sessions at the Courthouse and offered stage time to nice surprises such as Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini, and Ernest Dawkins, who was in town with his Ethnic Heritage Band. Steve Turre and Marcus Belgrave also made it to the house on the night that they were in town.

The busy 10-day festivities came and went in a flash with a few sleepless nights and many cherished memories along the way. Fans will have gigs and shows to choose from before the next festival. A major highlight in just a few months will be Toronto hosting the 2008 edition of the IAJE.

Photo Credit

Marek Lazarski

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