Around the world in jazz

Looking back at the last 24 hours I realize it's been a sort of "around the world" musical adventure, with a variety of cultures and countries represented.

Hilario Duran kicked off the escapades with his quintet, featuring special guest percussionist Ignacio Berroa, on the Outdoor Stage at 6:30 pm. They call the project "Afro Cuban Jazz and Beyond", and the music was a mix of jazz and Cuban traditions. Saxophonist Chris Mitchell provided a direct line to musicians like John Coltrane with some impressive bebop soloing; the ensemble's rhythm section incorporated various Cuban grooves; and the band's original compositions straddled both worlds - lots of complicated jazz harmony mixed with Afro-Cuban sounds. The performance was high-energy, a large and appreciative crowd had obviously come to the Square specifically for this show, and those waiting in line for Al Di Meola got a special treat.

My next stop was Jane Mallett Theatre, where I quickly ducked backstage to say hello to the evening's musicians: Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland. I was particularly excited about this show - these are four master musicians; having them all on the same stage at the same time created substantial musical potential (to say the least). They wasted little time, after a brief introduction from Chris Potter launching into a fiery composition which gave solo space to each musician. The playing was, as expected, incredible; the audience seemed to be getting exactly what they had hoped for. The music I saw and heard was perhaps more vamp-y than I would have preferred, but that didn't take anything away from the quality of the playing or the excitement generated by the improvisation. In this show, the cross-cultural influence came from Lionel Loueke, whose West African musical influences are always clear in his playing. (And - so good to see all the musicians at the show!)

I had hoped to stay longer than only forty minutes, but duty called - I had a last-minute interview request on the Square. As a result, I was on the Square earlier than expected, and took the opportunity to enjoy some of Al Di Meola's show. With a French keyboard player, a Puerto Rican/Cuban percussionist and Cameroonian guitarist, cultural influences abound in Di Meola's music. The mini-set I heard included African and Cuban influenced sounds, rock and blues influenced sounds, clean guitar sound, distorted guitar sound…the variety was impressive, as was the mastery on display from each of the musicians. The tent was packed - a sold-out house - and the audience was lively. Even an unscheduled break to remedy technical difficulties with an amplifier couldn't dampen the crowd's spirits. This was a big show: musically, at the box office, and with the audience.

A short walk later I was at the Jazz Bistro to catch some of Duchess. This trio of singers (Melissa Stylianou, Hilary Gardner and Amy Cervini along with piano, bass and drums) is inspired by the music of the Boswell Sisters, and it was their tight, three-part harmony that I enjoyed best. Their stage presence is relaxed, joking with band and audience members alike, and while for me some of the show verged on being a bit too "cute", the crowd was entertained. There is no questioning the talent featured last night on stage - each singer is brilliant on her own, and as an ensemble they are excellent.

From the Jazz Bistro I made my way over to The Horseshoe to see some of Garland Jeffreys' show, where he seemed to keep a small but enthusiastic audience engaged with his mix of pop, rock and reggae. I'm not sure I can aptly describe his music - it seems to vary widely - but perhaps his long-term friendship with Lou Reed sheds some light on Garland's musical approach. He was still going strong when I left, 90 minutes after the show began.

For my last stop of the night I returned to the Jazz Bistro (where I had earlier in the evening inadvertently skipped out on my beverage bill…luckily they know where to find me…) for the late night jam. I was a bit worried at first - things were pretty quiet when Chris Gale and company counted in their first tune. But over the course of the next couple of hours musicians did come out to jam: a few musicians from Christine Jensen's band; Kendrick Scott from Charles Lloyd's band; and several local musicians. We're still looking for these sessions to get bigger, but last night the music was good and the hang enjoyable. (The jam continues tonight and tomorrow; details here.)

This morning I had to be up at Shops at Don Mills for an 11:30 am interview. Ever do that thing where you know you need to get up earlier than usual but then you wake up even earlier than is necessary? That was me this morning. I certainly could have used those few more minutes of sleep, but in exchange I got to have some free time with my family and make myself a nice Americano at home. I'll take it - even if it means a few less zzzs.

The interview at Shops (with Global) went well; thanks to local pianist Mike Janzen for coming along and being a good sport (that will be him tickling the ivories of the "play me" piano when the footage airs on the 5:30 news). The Shops at Don Mills is a lovely spot to catch a concert - their Town Square is inviting, with comfortable seating and a plethora of food and beverage options right on the square. I encourage you to check it out - there is still programming at Shops today and tomorrow.

By the time I got back downtown it was around 1 pm, meaning I caught only the latter half of the Lunchtime concert by the Bobby Rice Latin Jazz Big Band. Whatever I missed in quantity was made up for in energy - the 30 minutes of music I saw was fantastic: great arrangements, top-notch playing, contagious Afro-Cuban grooves. I was familiar with some of the band's music but had never seen them live - this is a very good band, and the near capacity-crowd seemed to agree, rewarding the performance with enthusiastic applause.

So - musical traditions of Cuba, France, Cameroon, Benin and Puerto Rico mixed with jazz, pop, rock and reggae…this was quite a musical adventure indeed!

Tonight is a slightly quieter night, but only by a slim margin. Later this afternoon I'll be dropping by the Gardiner Museum to say hello to George Garzone's Berklee Quartet (their set at the Museum starts at 7:30 pm), then back to the Square for Malika Tirolien at 6:30 pm, to the Jane Mallet for some Charles Lloyd (8 pm), Snarky Puppy on the main stage (8:30 pm start time), some Blackburn at the Horseshoe Tavern (10 pm, replacing the cancelled Sonny Knight and the Lakers), then to the Jazz Bistro for the late night jam, tonight hosted by George Garzone's Berklee Quartet. Of course there's more, too - complete listings are here.

Most of our programming wraps up tomorrow, but we're not going quietly. The main stage will feature outstanding young musicians from across Canada, from Berklee College and even from Sapporo Japan (the Youth Jazz Showcase, starting at 12:30 pm) and the rest of the day is chock-a-block with all kinds of music. Check out the full schedule here. And - no matter what deity/higher being/pasta you revere (or even if you revere none), please send out vibes requesting a break on tomorrow's somewhat bleak whether forecast. We're doing everything possible on our end to prevent any rain, but I think we'll need some help…

See you on the Square!


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