Sunday, June 03, 2007

Art Of Jazz

Not sure whether it was the hotel connection or Blogspot, but I haven't been able to connect since I got to Toronto for the Art of Jazz festival on Friday.

Terrific shows by a Kenny Wheeler sextet with Norma Winstone, Lee Konitz, Dave Holland, Don Thompson and Joe LaBarbera, a Konitz trio with LaBarbera and Toronto bassist Kieran Overs, and a special Carla Bley/Steve Swallow big band with a handful of Toronto's top players (including festival co-organizer Jane Bunnett, Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke) and some Bley standbys like Gary Valente and Howard Johnson.

The Wheeler show was in the funky -- and cavernous -- old distilling building that is one of the centrepieces of Toronto's historic Distillery District. He was in better form than is often the case these years, and Winstone proved again that she is the ideal partner for him, transforming a number of his melancholy melodies into touching songs of love and regret. Any band with Holland on bass is interesting, and he was just a pillar of strength on this gig.

Saturday morning featured a Q&A session with Bley and Swallow, which despite being in a less than hospitable outdoor setting, provided some illuminating insights into their working processes.

It was a hot, humid day, and the outdoor site was baking by mid-afternoon's gig with Konitz, but his set was a relaxing series of standards and originals that allowed the leader to show his unique voice and mastery of the alto sax.

What to say about Bley's music? Just that it is a rich palette that allows players of this calibre to sound like themselves while building taut, dynamic performance pieces.

It was an exciting weekend in Toronto, with the gala opening of Daniel Libeskind's new addition to the Royal Ontario Museum and a number of events associated with the premiere of the Luminato festival, and Art of Jazz -- now in its second year -- added some high-profile improvised music to the mix.

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