And suddenly, it's kind of the last day of the festival. Most of our official programming wraps up today. We'll be celebrating our volunteers at a party tomorrow evening, we've got Jamie Culllum on Monday night, and there's still a plethora of music in the clubs, but for the hub of the festival (Nathan Phillips Square) today marks the end of activity. It's been an incredible week - excellent music, great turnout overall, and a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone who has made this year's festival a success so far: my colleagues, the volunteers, our sponsors, the many musicians and all the fans who have come out.
Just don't get me started on today's weather.
I left off yesterday's post just prior to my dropping in to the Gardiner Museum to say hi to the visiting George Garzone and his quartet - George on saxophone and three of his Berklee College students on piano, bass and drums. Every once in a while, a logistical blip happens and, of course, usually at the worst time. Missing bass, amp and drum set aside (it got there by showtime), by all reports the concert went well yesterday evening, for which I am grateful - the performance was part of a new collaboration between the Festival and the Gardiner, a relationship I hope we can build on moving forward.
Unfortunately dealing with the logistical snafu meant I missed out on the opportunity to greet Malika Tirolien before her Outdoor Stage show - but I was glad at least to catch about 30 minutes of her set. Originally from Guadaloupe and now based in Montreal, she sings an interesting variety of music in French, English and Creole; it sounds at times Afro-Cuban, at times West African and is often imbued with heavy R&B and soul. The ensemble was tight and groovy, with Malika's vocals soaring overtop. The variety of music in her repertoire meant the occasional unexpected twist - just I was about to leave the Square I was pulled back by a deep-pocketed hip hop groove and then Malika rapping! The crowd loved it; I look forward to hearing more from her.
From the Square I walked down to Jane Mallet Theatre, passing all of the non-brand-name coffee shops WHICH CLOSED AT 7 PM. Ridiculous I tell you. (Okay okay - enough about my search for good espresso.) I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from Charles Lloyd's concert last night - the 77-year-old was playing with three musicians at least 40 years his junior - but I can honestly say the 50 or so minutes I experienced were a highlight of the festival. Charles' playing is fluid and creative; he still easily gets around the horn, and transitions seamlessly from a more structured setting to much freer jazz. The group started out the evening with a requiem he wrote for Billie Holiday, but which he dedicated last night to Jim Galloway - a touching tribute. After that piece began a much longer set of music which fluctuated from mellow to incredibly intense, with each of the musicians perfectly complimenting the other's playing. Definitely reminiscent for me of John Coltrane's quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones: a similar freedom and intensity in the playing.
I didn't really want to leave, but if given the choice between Snarky Puppy or no Snarky Puppy, I will choose Snarky Puppy. So back to the main stage I went, where the capacity crowd was in full party mode. I arrived about halfway through the set and the energy did not let up for a minute. I feel as though Snarky Puppy has found the perfect balance in their music: from a music geek's standpoint it's interesting harmonically, rhythmically and melodically; but it's also so fun to listen to - even if you don't know (or don't care) about the underlying complexities. Last night there were a couple of moments where the audience was singing along. That happens often enough at concerts - but not usually when the music is purely instrumental! Each tune was met with an ovation, but the loudest applause was always in response to local drum hero Larnell Lewis - he's been playing with the band for a while now, and is the drummer for this tour. The show wrapped up after about 90 minutes, but the buzz on the Square lasted much longer. The one other thing I'll say about Snarky's music is this: while each tune may not start out with blistering funk, be patient - they are masters of musical tension/release push/pull, and the payoff is always satisfying.
My next stop was the Horseshoe Tavern where local blues outfit Blackburn had the unenviable task of filling in last-minute for the cancelled Sonny Knight and the Lakers. The audience was, unfortunately, small, but Blackburn still put on a great show. Tight horn shots and rhythm grooves, excellent vocals, and prominent use of the organ (a personal favourite). Kudos to the band for stepping into a difficult spot and giving it their all.
My final stop of the night was the Jazz Bistro, where I was expecting to hear the late night jazz jam. What I wasn't expecting was to catch the last part of Freddy Cole's second set of the night (apparently he had played for 90 minutes by the time the set was done). Talk about a bonus! I first heard Freddy Cole live at the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2010. While he's aged since then, his masterful delivery of jazz standards and standard-y originals has not changed. Hearing him sing - and get around the piano - takes me back to a different time, when musicians like Cole, Sinatra and Hartman were regulars on the jazz circuit. His young band supported Cole perfectly, with swinging playing and tasteful solos. I look forward to taking in a full set this evening.
Last night's jam (this morning's jam? I've lost track of time…) played to a larger audience, though fewer musicians than I would have expected given the host was George Garzone. The music got off to a good start when Kendrick Scott and then Joe Sanders (both in town with Charles Lloyd) sat in for a couple of burning tunes; and of course Garzone sounded fantastic. The three Berklee students in town with George more than held their own - each was impressive. I ran out of gas around 1:30 am, but the music was still going strong; a nice collection of musicians was rotating through the various spots on stage.
Today's weather has been, in a word, a downer. I unfortunately am not optimistic about the seven shows scheduled to be outside today in various venues. But that hasn't stopped a crowd coming out to Nathan Phillips Square (for which I am grateful) to hear some outstanding younger musicians take to the stage this afternoon. Starting at 12:30 we've had 30-minute sets from Canada's National Youth Jazz Combo, the George Garzone Berklee Quartet (from Boston), North Pandemic Groove Quartet (from Sapporo, Japan), the York University Jazz Orchestra with special guest Kevin Turcotte, the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band and now the Victor Vrankulj Quintet. Each group has been inspiring - great playing from musicians as young as 13 who are well-positioned to make up the next generation of important jazz players.
The rest of the day will be relatively quiet in terms of scope of activity, but the few shows running will all be at capacity: we're expecting a sold-out house for Gary Clarke Jr. at 8:30 in the tent; Freddy Cole's two shows at the Jazz Bistro have only a few seats left. A complete listing of today's events is available here.
I'll carve out some time tomorrow to recap this evening's activity, with a final wrap-up coming later in the week. It's been fun writing again this year - thanks for reading!
Here I'd usually say "see you on the Square" but, given the current deluge, instead I'll say stay warm and dry - and join us tonight for some more great music.