The Jazz.com Blog
January 10, 2008 · 0 comments
Jazz.com editor Tim Wilkins sends the following report from the IAJE convention in Toronto. Check back later in the week, for more updates from IAJE.
Savvy marketers at Air Canada thought their shuttle flights should be called Jazz – a choice I doubt had much, if anything, to do with music. But for once, the name fit – at least based on the number of instruments in overhead compartments and under seats, which turned our Wednesday morning flight to Toronto into a kind of 21st century version of the Basie bus.
On board were jazz pilgrims making their way this year, as every year, to the International Association of Jazz Educators convention. Seated nearby were vocalists Lauren Kinhan and Peter Eldridge from New York Voices, and bassist Ruben Rogers, all scheduled to perform on the first evening.
Mark Patterson, trombonist with Maria Schneider and Convergence, was amazed when the stewardess let the bell end of his case stick out into the aisle throughout the flight. “How often does that happen?” he said. I guess jazz was in the air.
On the ground, we shared a bus downtown with the Clifford Brown/Stan Getz All Stars, a group of exceptional U.S. high school musicians. They pressed against the glass, wondering at “how Canadian” the surroundings looked – that is, often familiar, but with subtle and surprising differences. “What is a P.E.I. potato, anyway?”
Fortunately, predictions of gloomy weather didn’t hold – the sun was bright, temperature in the thirties, not at all what you’d expect from Canada in midwinter. Blue Note guitarist Lionel Loueke, originally from Benin in West Africa, was one of the many relieved by this: “This weather is made for shirt sleeves!” he said, with a big smile.
A number of travelers did face weather delays along the way – including drummer Eric Harland, who endured three canceled flights, two airports and even more runway time on his way from New York. But by seven in the evening, he was primed and ready to make music, and the gathered jazz pilgrims were even more ready to hear him play
Attendance is down from past years in New York, where 7,000 or more attendees and hangers-on cram into hotel ballrooms to hear jazz’s finest musicians play at the top of their game. But so far, this has made IAJE Toronto a listener’s dream. This may change tonight, when tickets to the evening shows go on sale to the public, but at the moment, concerts are comfortably full but not overflowing.
Acoustics in the two theaters of the main music venue, the downtown Convention Centre, are a vast improvement over the New York Hilton, where the convention is most frequently held. Even the atrium of the adjoining Intercontinental Hotel, where smaller shows and jam sessions will be held, sounds great.
Rogers and Parland joined pianist Aaron Goldberg on stage for the evening’s first show, playing cuts from their 2006 Sunnyside CD, Worlds, as well as from Mingus Mouse, jazz recordings Goldberg has made to spark children’s interest in jazz. If Harland was weary from his travel marathon, it didn’t show. He had plenty of tender fire on hand and won over the audience quickly. Harland and Rogers mesh into a tightly symbiotic groove, which at first didn’t seem to connect with Goldberg’s more abstract, Jarrett-inspired patterns. But the trio quickly came together, and Goldberg surfed comfortably over the undulating sounds laid for him by the drummer and bassist.
Of course, IAJE is always a time for hard choices – whether to leave one panel or performance in the hopes of catching an exceptional moment at another venue – and despite their enthusiasm for Goldberg’s trio, half of the audience was out of their seats by his last number and headed upstairs to get a seat for the evening’s gala concert.
The Getz/Brown All-Stars opened the gala show, demonstrating the remarkable level of proficiency many young players can attain already in their teens. They may not yet have the tone, or the unique voice that they ultimately hope to attain, but they’ve got chops to spare. Veteran drummer Carl Allen, who joined the band on numbers that included Dave Liebman’s “Day or Night” and Nicholas Payton’s arrangement of “After You’ve Gone,” clearly relished the opportunity to help these kids swing harder, faster, and better.
New York Voices followed, joined by Paquito D’Rivera on clarinet, who received an IAJE Presidents Award earlier in the evening, along with Canadian Senator (and bandleader) Tommy Banks. Other honorees included record producer George Avakian, who received the IAJE’s Humanitarian Award, and Donald Cantwell, IAJE’s jazz educator of the year.
A nice thing about IAJE is the opportunity to connect with old and new friends, and to track artists at different stages in their career. D’Rivera, now an established virtuoso, is an elder statesman of IAJE, having come a long way from the time when as a relative unknown in North America he shared an IAJE workshop stage with another unknown, a twelve-year-old saxophone prodigy named Chris Potter.
The Voices have matured in their collaboration with D’Rivera, which began with the 2001 album Brazilian Dreams. At that time, they had a winning concept but were not entirely at ease with the foreign repertoire. After seven years together, they have made this repertoire their own, to the delight of the crowd and Avakian, who rightly praised them onstage.
The evening’s final show was well worth the wait: guitarist Loueke performed tracks from his forthcoming debut on Blue Note, as well as reworkings of songs from earlier albums, including “Nonvignon” and “Benny’s Tune,” written for his wife, Benedicte.
Loueke performed with Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc (Frank) Nemeth, his collaborators for more than seven years. The trio, which recorded two albums for Obliqsound as Gilfema, has moved into a new space on the Blue Note recording in which Loueke takes the spotlight, without sacrificing any of the trio’s collaborative spirit.
This is especially true of the lightning intereactions between Nemeth and Loueke, who trade percussive riffs with an intuitive grace that can only come from many years of close collaboration. “These guys are family to me,” Loueke said, and you could hear intimacy in every note they play. The crowd was on its feet long before the trio’s last number.
The IAJE’s theme this year is “New Visions for New Times,” which was certainly on display on its opening night. Are these innovative collaborations and cross-cultural pollinations the future of jazz? Who knows. But wherever we're going, it will certainly be an exciting ride!
This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins