The Jazz.com Blog
January 13, 2008 · 1 comment
The last day of IAJE in Toronto was a time for unexpected pleasures, and for the talents of the event’s Canadian hosts to shine.
NEA Jazz Master Jon Hendricks, 86 years young, put on one of the event’s best shows in an impromptu set with some of the city’s finest jazz musicians, including saxophonist Jane Bunnett, Don Thompson on vibes, and bassist Neal Swainson. Thompson, Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke are the house band for The Art of Jazz, a Toronto nonprofit that offers educational events and concerts. Hendricks knows these musicians well from his visits to the city, including one in June of last year, when he received a lifetime achievement award from the organization.
“You sounded like a twenty-year-old up there!” quipped Dave Mibourne, publisher of the Toronto Jazz newsletter, after the show. “Can you put that in print?” Hendricks shot back, not missing a beat.
For many years, international stars recruited local bands in Toronto, which created a seasoned cadre of musicians, like Thompson and Swainson, who have played with the best of the best in the jazz world. They also teach at Humber College, home to a world-class school of jazz that develops much of the city’s young talent.
The evening’s main concert showcased Canada’s young and irreverent musicians, starting with clarinetist Francois Houle’s octet, a forward-sounding ensemble that sounds like what would happen if Gil Evans hired a brass band for a Balkan wedding. Houle’s virtuosic pallete includes slap-tonguing and other effects rarely heard on the clarinet, and his compositions, such as “Albatross,” an homage to the everpresent cell phone, and the Spanish-tinged “Guarnera,” alternate passages of free improvisation with tightly orchestrated heads.
Montreal’s Les Projectionnistes were up next, offering an entertaining, high-energy mix of Raymond Scott cartoon clowning and rock riffs. The seven musicians, led by trombonist Claude St. Jean, performed cuts from their 2005 CD Vue, with some outstanding work on the Hammond B3 and Fender Rhodes by Francois Lafontaine. Don’t be fooled by the comedy, folks, these are serious musicians – but it’s refreshing to learn that Canada’s avant-garde has a refined sense of humor.
Drummer Barry Romberg then led his Random Access Large Ensemble, a fifteen-piece ensemble created by adding to his working septet. Many of Romberg’s compositions share an affinity with Dave Douglas, and cuts such as “Accidental Beef” and “Make Up Your Mind” highlight the musicianship of Toronto instrumentalists in their mastery of multiphonics and advanced harmonics in their solo work.
Whether it’s because of the free health care or the fact that young Canadian musicians, unlike their Stateside peers, don’t start careers saddled with tuition debt, it’s delightful to see so many impeccably trained young people having fun as they experiment with large groups and forms that would be economically unviable in a city like New York.
“Bring down the lights!” said Guido Basso, the Montreal-born flugelhorn player whose quintet closed the show. Past midnight, most listeners succumbed to IAJE fatigue, leaving only a hundred or so diehards, mainly Torontonians, who knew Basso was worth the wait. The lights came down, and Basso rewarded weary fans with the intimacy of a straightahead jazz set that demonstrated that Toronto jazz can be as good as anything you can hear in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris or Milan.
Basso is well known to Canadians from his forty years as a fixture on television and in and was joined by fellow veterans Thompson, Clarke, Rick Wilkins on tenor sax and Dave Young on bass for a shimmering set of standards that included “You’ve Changed,” “Body and Soul,” and “The Nearness of You.”
“Thanks for inviting us to your jazz party,” Basso said, smiling, as he bid farewell to this year’s IAJE. “What a wonderful party it was.” Indeed.
This blog entry posted by Tim Wilkins