Less is more

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Thu Jun 26 10:22am

Okay. So. Are we done with the rain? 'Cause yesterday's deluge wasn't so fun. The music was good, though…Here's my report.

The Laila Biali Trio started off the day's programming at noon on the mainstage. To say it was better than expected might make it sound as though I had low expectations. Quite the opposite - I had high expectations, and they blew past them. Each of the musicians was in excellent form (Laila on piano and voice, George Koller on bass, Larnell Lewis on drums and special guest violinist Hugh Marsh), the mix of repertoire was intriguing, the soloing was fiery. I especially enjoyed Hugh's playing - he created a broad range of sounds and textures from his electric violin and a collection of pedals. Plus - my family came down to visit! Adelaide bopped along to the music and even Oscar seemed calmed by the sweet sounds from the stage.

My next stop was Snell Hall at St. James Cathedral for the Jim Clayton Trio. The visit was dual purpose - I had never seen Jim perform, and I had heard good things about the space. The performance was straight ahead and easygoing, with the trio performing tracks from the recently released Songs my Daughter Knows - I could relate to the premise of choosing music which a young daughter seemed to like! I was glad to see the space too - St. James has done a stunning renovation job on the Dean's building, and it's good to discover a new potential performance venue.

JAZZ.FM91 had a busy schedule of interviews lined up yesterday afternoon and so upon my return to the Square I had a chance to catch up with Laila, and say hello to Joey DeFrancesco and Ian Shaw. I then caught a few bluesy, New Orleans-y tunes by Denis Keldie's Trio on a thankfully dry acoustic stage. (We know own a big squeegee. Hooray!) I've been enjoying the acoustic stage performances - the music has been top notch, it's drawn crowds, and I feel it's been a nice way to generate some activity on the square before each evening's mainstage concert.

My next stop was KAMA for the Canadian Jazz Quartet with guest cornetist Warren Vache. As a trumpeter, it was a treat for me to hear Warren play. His style is straightforward and swinging; beautiful solo lines; great sound in all registers of the horn; and an engaging performer. I appreciated the reminder that although chromatic approaches and harmonic substitutions can be exciting, at the core a player has to create melodies when soloing - and Warren did that all night long.

From KAMA I crossed the street to Roy Thomson Hall for Keith Jarrett's solo performance. I didn't know what to expect. Musically, it was sure to be an adventure; we were told in advance that the show would be fully improvised. Then of course there's the more, um, particular aspect of a Keith Jarrett live performance. So when he took the stage and chatted casually with the audience, I let out a small sigh of relief. (Still - when the rare North American Chronic Noisy Sneezer paid us a visit early into the first half, I found myself getting tense…) The music was fabulous. Every piece was different - he started with a more contemporary sounding, chordal-based tune; then it was a ballad; then something more blues and gospel-based…I lost track, but I think we got six tunes in the first half. Audience reaction varied from piece to piece (though always positive), but at the end of certain tunes I'm sure I heard an audible "wow" from many. Even his jokes were on: at one point, he moved the piano bench to one side by a centimeter or two, then turned to the audience and said "Oh THAT's why I was playing in F# Major…" I left at intermission, but reports from reliable sources (i.e. my parents) suggest that the rest of the show was just as good, and he played four encores.

My next stop was Koerner Hall to catch the end of Buika's show. She had her audience mesmerized with her strong voice and her interaction with the three accompanying musicians onstage. I feel she was acting sort of like a preacher, and the audience was her congregation - or maybe she was playing the role of the storyteller. The songs I heard had a strong call-and-response characteristic - she would sing out a phrase, and seem to invite us to reflect upon it, before singing the next phrase. Though I can't really gauge the full performance based only on the excerpt I saw, the audience response was enthusiastic - they demanded an encore - and the people I spoke with after the performance raved about the show.

For the next portion of the evening I played the role of "drowned rat." It was raining. A lot. And when it's raining (a lot), cab chits are useless. Because there are no cabs available. And so, if one wants to get somewhere expediently, one must dash through the rain. And get soaked.

Grumble.

Luckily, my next stop was the Jazz Bistro, where I caught the end of Ian Shaw's solo performance. I admit to not being familiar with Ian's music prior to my research on him for this year's festival, but I can now confidently say I'm an Ian Shaw convert. He is true performer: he engages with the audience, telling stories and jokes to keep the atmosphere light and welcoming, but when it comes time to sing (and play), he doesn't mess around. His voice is impressive - lots of control whether at the top or bottom of his range, great phrasing, excellent melodic interpretation. Plus - interesting repertoire. I got to hear "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" and Joni Mitchell's "Shine". I haven't heard many singers - or instrumentalists, for that matter - tackle those tunes, and he sang them beautifully. I look forward to hearing him again.

The evening wrapped up at The Horseshoe with Joey DeFrancesco's trio. This show was everything I hoped it would be: jazzy, funky grooves; exciting soloing; and a crowd that whooped and hollered along. Joey especially seemed to be having a blast, bouncing along to the music, and the joy coming off the stage certainly helped me to engage with the show. (As a fellow musician in the audience said to me, "This music just makes me in a better mood!") Joey sounded great on his Nord keyboard (with full pedal set and two leslie speakers), and was also impressive on trumpet. The crowd demanded an encore, and got an extended tune in return, which romped through funk, blues and gospel before finally wrapping up.

Yesterday, small groups ruled - the largest ensemble I saw was four pieces. A good reminder that sometimes, you don't need a lot of musicians to create a lot of music...

Today's another full day. Here's how it looks:

The full list of activity is here.

See you on the square!

Josh