Nice weather if you're a windmill

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Tue Jun 23 3:47pm

Let's skip right over the weak attempt at humour contained in the title of this post and get to today's festival activity recap…

I'll pick up where I left off yesterday with the Outdoor Stage performance by Soul Understated. From New York, this is a group I had heard via a festival submission, then saw live in January. Their live show in a crowded Bitter End in Greenwich Village was incredible, so I was looking forward to hearing their Toronto debut. They did not disappoint - lots of slow, funky grooves gave room for Mavis "Swan" Poole to strut her vocal stuff. I have a feeling a crowded club is a better venue for this group - a place where people are up dancing - as the sitting crowd seemed most interested in the up-tempo numbers. But the audience was committed, even sitting through some rain and responding to the audience participation cues. I look forward to seeing the group again soon, and hope that they build an audience in this city.

It was nice to hang a bit backstage with Soul Understated's drummer, Jeremy "Bean" Clemons, a friend-of-a-friend and, in addition to being a fantastic drummer, a gracious and kind person. I had hoped to catch the beginning of Al Jarreau's main stage show, but got waylaid somewhat by some administration (helping to find a hotel room for a musician on a very busy night in Toronto). What I did catch of the show, though, was impressive. His five-piece band was incredibly funky and provided tight backing vocals. At 75, Al's voice is not what it used to be, but he knows well how to use his current instrument. I found his singing and stage presence engaging and enjoyable, still very much showing off why he is considered a vocal master.

My next stop was the Jazz Bistro, for Drew Jurecka's Gypsy Swing Quartet. I've seen Drew perform a number of times, and have always been impressed with his playing. Violin is not the easiest instrument to play in a swinging jazz context; Drew's feel and improvised lines rival any jazz instrumentalist, and I especially enjoy the way he uses the instrument's entire range - his high end was beautifully in tune. Gypsy Swing (think Django Reinhardt) is not really flashy music, and the band cooked along with a steady pulse; but the solos from each musician heated up each tune - what I saw I enjoyed. (And congratulations to Drew and violinist-wife Rebekah - their second child arrived less than 24 hours before the gig!)

My last official stop of the night was the Horseshoe Tavern where Mike Stern was on stage with Janek Gwizdala (bass) and Kimberly Thompson (drums). I'm positive I've seen Mike live in the past, but know that I missed him last time he was through for the Festival (I was too engrossed that night by The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman). I caught the latter half of the set last night and it was pretty fantastic. He had two huge guitar amps on stage and he certainly tore things up at times; but I equally enjoyed the quieter tunes - his touch at a lower volume is gentle, coaxing a sweet sound out of the guitar. And - I didn't actually realize he does all his own singing. His wordless accompaniment added a beautiful colour to the more introspective tunes. This was a fun show - watching Kimberly beat the crap out of the drums was a blast, and Janek's flying fingers whipped the crowd into a frenzy. And Mike seemed happy to keep playing - he didn't exactly play "hard to get" after their last tune, suggesting that they do one more tune (and then another) before the crowd even had a chance to ask. Nobody complained, and we were treated to a full-on 12-bar blues tune, complete with Mike on vocals. Awesome.

In addition to some outstanding music, I had fun yesterday catching up with friends and colleagues in various places. At each stop along the way I got to chat with someone I hadn't seen for a while - an added bonus to official Festival activity.

Hey - did anyone notice it rained a bit last night? We almost weren't sure we were going to make it off the Square…

Today's been relatively quiet so far. The wind and rain wreaked a bit of havoc on the Square and at Shops at Don Mills, but everything (I think) is relatively under control. The elements certainly had no effect on today's Lunchtime concert, for which Patricia Cano brought three outstanding musicians (Kevin Barrett on guitar, Paco Luviano on bass and Luis Orbegoso on percussion). Patricia was lined up for a show last year but had to cancel last minute due to an emergency tonsillectomy, so I was glad to have her on the stage this year. Her music features a mix of Brazilian, Peruvian, French and jazz influences; she sings in Portuguese, French, Spanish and English. The concert featured slow burners, bossas, and a couple of higher energy tunes. Hers is a robust, slightly husky instrument; I especially enjoyed hearing her let loose, signing higher in her range and at a fuller volume. She kept the audience engaged and was personable from the stage; Luis Orbegoso was (not surprisingly) impressive on the cajon, cymbal and hand claps. A lovely way to start a warm, sunny day.

Next up is a celebration of the Toronto Arts Foundation's Emerging Jazz Artist Award - the 2015 winner will be announced immediately prior to the 6:30 pm performance of Chelsea McBride's Socialist Night School on the Outdoor Stage. Then we've got Robert Glasper's Trio at the Jane Mallet, Kurt Elling at Koerner Hall, Christian McBride's big band in the tent, Phil Dwyer's Trio at the Jazz Bistro, a late night jam and more - tonight's complete listing is here. And, if you're a fan of large ensemble jazz (and of great Canadian jazz in particular), make sure you join us tomorrow at 12:30 in the tent for Ian MacDougall's 12-tet, the start of another busy Festival day (complete listings here).

See you on the Square!

Josh