Sunday, December 16, 2007

Best Live Shows of '07

Since my concert calendar is clear for the remainder of 2007, I suppose it’s safe to select my top half-dozen live performances of the year (that’s barring the possibility that Sly Stone accepts my invitation to pop in and do a few songs at our New Year’s party).

Trio M: Guelph Jazz Festival – Three of my favourite musicians – Myra Melford, Mark Dresser and Matt Wilson – in a new band with a brand new book of compositions. What could go wrong? Well, you never know with a concert scheduled for mid-afternoon on a Saturday, but this one was stunning from the first to last notes. Her quicksilver phrasing and pointillistic technique make many people forget Melford’s background in stride piano and the blues, but this concert kept cycling back through language written in the ’20s and ‘30s, then springing forward to timeless improvisation. Wilson and Dresser are also masters of the signature statement: Wilson’s incredible cymbal dynamics, and Dresser’s unexpected ‘chords of doom.’ It’s a cliché now to use the metaphor of conversation for a jazz performance, but it was really apt for this show, with each musician possessing a distinctive accent yet sharing a familiar language. There was laughter and episodes of sustained tension; in short, a performance of the highest order.

Sten Sandell Trio with John Butcher: Vancouver International Jazz Festival – My notes for this show include a line that I decided was too cute by half to include in my DownBeat review: “You know a show is great when even the drum solo is memorable.” I write down all sorts of non-sequiturs when I’m reviewing a show, but my notes for this are pretty sparse; I was engrossed. This was the first time I’d seen Butcher live, and I was really floored by his technique, which is on a par with Evan Parker’s. He has the ability to sculpt phrases that shift from pure notes to micro-tonality. The show was one seamless piece, and for long periods drummer Paal Nilssen-Love was silent. At the end, he exploded into a solo that was one loud roar of noise. A perfect conclusion.

Kenny Wheeler All-Star Tribute: Art of Jazz, Toronto – The chemistry between Kenny Wheeler and bassist Dave Holland is always delightful, and with the piquant solo voice of Lee Konitz and vocalist Norma Winstone’s inventions added to that this was a sure-fire winner. The band pushed Wheeler to play outside his blurry, romantic comfort zone, and the program covered a wide range of his compositions.

John McLaughlin & the Fourth Dimension: Dominion-Chalmers United Church, Ottawa – I somehow missed the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s only appearance in Ottawa in 1972 and never thought I’d hear McLaughlin play with the volume and intensity that marked that band. Fronting an energetic trio that had chops to burn, McLaughlin was clearly enjoying himself, and playing with tremendous abandon.

The Bad Plus: Vancouver International Jazz Festival – An exceptionally clean sound mix in a big soft-seat theatre seems to be just what the trio needs to make every element of their sound pop out. A terrific version of Ornette Coleman’s “Song X.”

Carla Bley Orchestra: Art of Jazz, Toronto – A terrible outdoor venue, sound problems and a band that seldom plays together (albeit one stuffed with a lot of Toronto’s best players), and Bley’s book of compositions still sounds great.

1 comment:

tim said...

James, I totally agree about the Mclaughlin show...I saw the one in Toronto. I had to split before the second set to go to my gig but man was I ever in the mood to play the guitar that night!