Sunday, July 29, 2007

There's A Sign Upon My Door

No new posts until after August 15.

Like Louis sang to Papa Bing: "Gone fishing, by a shady, wade-y pool."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dog Days

The weeks after the initial blast of jazz festivals in June and early July are always a bit of down time for me. The only live music I've seen is George Clinton & The P-Funk All-Stars, by special request of my younger daughter. That was a lot of fun, almost as much for the audience of 20,000+ as the assembled Clinton crew. The funk was thick, but I couldn't help wishing for a rhythm section as tight as Miles' circa 1972. Always the critic, even on holiday!

I've been enjoying Maria Schneider's new CD in preparation for a DownBeat review, and just today dug into the new Nostalgia 77 release for the same reason. On the first couple of spins, I thought it lived up to the promise of "Portishead meets Charles Mingus." That was while driving, though; it might come in for harder criticism when I sit down with it in earnest tomorrow.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Closing The Curtains On Two Jazz Venues

The end of the main batch of Canada’s jazz festivals also marks the last festival shows in two of the country’s most-venerated rooms: the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (“the Cultch” to one and all) and Montreal’s Spectrum. Both are slated to close this fall – the Cultch for major, much-needed, renovations; the Spectrum for demolition.

While neither venue has attained the kind of shrine-like status that the Village Vanguard, The Five Spot or Birdland hold, each has generated its own share of memories among jazz fans, and raise the issue of what gives a musical venue its character.

Personally, I never cared much for The Spectrum as a listening room, though I’ve heard some great sets by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, James Carter with D.D. Jackson and Masada there. Outside of the jazz realm, I also recall a show by Devo – their first performance outside the U.S. – when the buzz in the room was as tangible as any I’ve ever felt. What the place always had for me was a great funky vibe, owing to its roots in the early ‘50s, when Montreal was a hotbed for nightclubs and the neighbourhood on eastern Ste. Catherine Street was really marginal. The terraced sections in the club remind me of photographs I’ve seen of the classic Manhattan clubs from Damon Runyon’s day.

My experience with the Cultch is much briefer, dating only to 2003, but it immediately won a place in my heart because it is so definitively West Coast without even trying. First, there’s its location up the hill from the cross-cultural buffet that is Commercial Drive. Then, there’s the hip, little snack bar with great coffee and local artisan beers, and the ability to order your intermission drinks before the show starts. The portico’ed entrance and side parking lot invite patrons outside to chat and critique opening sets. And all that says nothing about the sheer intimacy of the performing space itself, with its cozy, U-shaped balcony and small stage. Even the bad shows I’ve seen there – are you listening In The Country? – have felt personal if nothing else. Put a big group, like the Dedication Orchestra, in there and the place literally fills with sound, creating an unforgettable experience.

I haven’t heard about what the new Cultch will look like, though John Orysik tells me the renovation will be substantial (the place will be closed for two years). Hopefully, it will retain its best qualities while adding things like modern washrooms and some type of air conditioning.

None of this is to say that jazz rooms have to be decades old to have that certain something. The Fourth Stage at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa has a great vibe, terrific sightlines, first-rate sound and good bar service. Although the building is now 40 years old, the venue is less than a decade old and it’s wired with a state-of-the-art fibre optics system for broadband simulcasting. Iridium in Times Square manages to re-create that classic New York jazz bar feel without resorting to the faux-nostalgia that permeates so many other “attractions” in the area. On the other hand, The Knitting Factory, despite being wired for the Information Age, never really did it for me. Unless you score one of the four good seats in the balcony of the main room, watching music being made there has always been somewhat uncomfortable.

Here’s hoping that festival organizers in Vancouver and Montreal can find substitutes for what they’ve lost. Like all good things, they’ll probably only know what they’re looking for when they’ve found it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

JJA Awards

While I was in Vancouver my colleagues at the Jazz Journalists Association were feting the winners of our annual music and media awards.

For a full list of winners, check out the JJA site.

Here's Maria Schneider accepting her award for Arranger of the Year. The photo is by Enid Farber.

Day & Night

The weekend found me at two ends of the musician/audience relationship spectrum.

First, drummer Matt Wilson, as generous a performer as you’ll find anywhere. Despite a horrendous travel day that began before dawn for a performance that ended after midnight, Wilson was both warm and witty as he led his recently re-constituted Arts & Crafts quartet at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre. Paraphrasing Phil Woods, Wilson said: “You don’t get paid to play; you get paid to get there. My hourly rate is pretty low today.”

Flash forward less than 24 hours and listen to Keith Jarrett threaten to skip an encore after several audience members at Montreal’s Place des Arts had the temerity to take his photograph as his trio took their bows. After cussing out the photographers, he further ingratiated himself by dumping on the city’s dominant French-language media. No word on whether he threw the mattress out of his five-star hotel room and ordered a new $2,000 one in, as he did during the Toronto stop on his tour.