I had the pleasure of being in the audience for the first set of John MacLeod's Rex Hotel Orchestra gig this past Monday night at - where else - The Rex Hotel. The night had a festive air to it - beyond being a regular, last-Monday-of-the-month gig, it was a celebration of their recent JUNO Award win. The hang was fun and I got my picture taken with a JUNO award (which, I have to say, was kind of cool)...but best of all, perhaps? The music was outstanding.
As Artistic Director for Toronto Downtown Jazz, it's my job to be always on the lookout (listenout? Is that a word?) for the next great thing. I'm looking at various sites online, trying to pay attention to word-of-mouth buzz, checking CD and concert reviews, listening to submissions, and getting out as much as possible to hear live music. I enjoy this aspect of the job; it's always exciting to discover a new (or new to me) artist that is tearing it up on the jazz scene, and I enjoy the followup challenge of getting that artist to play in Toronto. What Monday night's show reminded me, though - along with the part of rinsethealgorithm's set at Lula Lounge that I caught on Tuesday night - is that there is some fantastic music being made all the time in this city.
Take John MacLeod's band, for example. I would argue that his Rex Hotel Orchestra features 20 of the top jazz musicians (I'm counting french horns here - they can swing too!) in Canada. But it takes more than good musicians to make a great band. John's compositions have a great deal to do with their unique sound; but beyond being excellent musicians playing interesting music, they play well together. They understand what it means to perform as an ensemble. If John hadn't mentioned which of the tunes they were sight-reading (i.e. performing without previous rehearsal), we might not have been able to tell - each piece was performed with maximum musicality, lots of dynamics, and a ton of energy...their JUNO Award is well-deserved. If you haven't seen this band perform, I'd encourage you to do so - they're next at The Rex on Tuesday June 28th.
Rich Brown's rinsethealgorithm (RTA), which I saw at Lula Lounge on Tuesday night, is equally deserving of praise. While The Rex Hotel Orchestra is made up primarily of jazz veterans, RTA features musicians who have established an identity on the national jazz scene more recently: joining Rich on bass were Luis Deniz on alto sax, Adrean Farrugia on piano and Larnell Lewis on drums. I find their brand of jazz/funk/rock fusion always interesting, creative and groovy. It was good to get my RTA fix after not having seen them for a while, and frequently the 150+ audience members were worked into a frenzy by the playing. RTA was a finalist in the Montreal Jazz Festival's TD Grand Jazz Award competition in 2010, and each musician has earned various other awards and nominations. Their semi-regular shows at The Rex Hotel are becoming the stuff of legend, so I'd encourage you to check them out on Friday, July 1st.
I'm pleased to see so many great local musicians participating in this year's TD Toronto Jazz Festival on our mainstages, as opening acts, on free stages, and in the clubs. I also recognize that more can be done to support and promote the great music being made in Toronto year-round. Figuring out how best to sell Toronto musicians to Toronto audiences is a challenge, but we'll keep working on it; in the meantime, I encourage you to get out and hear some live, local jazz. Go tonight. Because, as the title of today's blog post suggests, sometimes when we're looking too hard for great music, we don't see that it's right in front of us...
P.S. - Speaking of local musicians, I was remiss in last week's post - about Harbourfront Centre's SoundClash Music Award - when I mentioned Saidah Baba Talibah's Festival gig, but did not mention that you can also catch the Worst Pop Band Ever during the Festival: they'll be at The Rex at 5 pm on June 29th. My apologies to Tim Shia and the WPBE crew for the omission (and best wishes to Tim on a speedy arm-fracture recovery).