The flipside

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Fri Jul 1 10:09am

First - Happy Canada Day! We're looking forward to a fun, family-friendly day on Metro Square.

With more than half of the festival now completed - and heading into a long weekend, when some of our audience inevitably heads out of town - our schedule has lightened up considerably. However, although day 7 may have lacked in quantity (compared to previous days), it was no lighter on quality...

At noon, Sienna Dahlen took to the Outdoor Stage for her Lunchtime Concert. Joining vocalist Sienna were Dave Restivo (piano), Jim Vivian (bass) and Ernesto Cervini (drums). Sienna has a beautiful voice and, as was clear at the end of her varied set, is an excellent songwriter. She and her bandmates primarily performed her original material, and the repertoire ranged from standard-sounding jazz to French cabaret to the avant-garde and back again. It's been a while since I've heard Dave Restivo play, and he was especially "on". The weather was gorgeous and the audience appreciative; it was a lovely way to start the day.

At 2 pm, I sat down with Darcy James Argue as part of the Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop series to talk about big bands. We discussed his experiences with his big band (The Secret Society), but also the big band tradition in general, and where it stands in the contemporary jazz setting. I enjoyed especially hearing about how various influences - musical, political, social - make their way into his composing. And, as a big band leader myself, I was pleased to hear Darcy's take on the state of big bands today - the fact that he was able to list off several bands and composers that are creating interesting music was exciting (although, he did say that no one is making any money with big bands...). For those in attendance, I'm hoping the interview provided some framework for the Secret Society's 5:30 show.

Some welcome downtime meant taking the opportunity to socialize with some colleagues (and discussing, as is often the case, how we would "fix" jazz if we ruled the world, among other topics) over coffee and mini-donuts at Little Nicky's. (It's possible this is becoming a freshly-baked-dough habit...)

By the time 5:30 rolled around, there was a buzz surrounding the Outdoor Stage. It's always exciting to see a large jazz ensemble, but this particular big band is one of the most important on the modern jazz landscape. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society has earned wide acclaim, along with Grammy and Juno Award nominations. Toronto was the last stop on a cross-Canada tour, and they played a full, 90-minute set of Darcy's unique and creative music. The band sounded excellent; soloists shone; and the audience responded with enthusiasm. It was great to see a couple of ex-Torontonians in the band (Gord Webster and Dave Smith), and it's always a treat for me to hear Ingrid Jensen play. Darcy's music can challenge listeners - especially if they are expecting more traditional big band sounds - but everyone seemed up to the challenge, and the buzz I felt at the beginning of the set was still as, um, buzzy, after the last note of the encore.

From Metro Square I was off to the Music Gallery to emcee the double-bill of the Ugly Beauties and Tigran Hamasyan. The Ugly Beauties (Marilyn Lerner, piano; Matt Brubeck, cello; Nick Fraser, drums) performed first, and they played a set of original music. I enjoyed the repertoire, and the trio setting truly allows each musician to shine. (Marilyn's "Blue Violins" I found to be especially moving.) Whether improvising freely or working within clearer structures, the three musicians sounded like a team, and their set flew by. I was able to stay for the first two tunes of Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan's set - which amounted to 25 or so minutes of music, impressive for a solo pianist. His technique is massive; he employed the full dynamic range of the instrument. At times I couldn't tell whether he was playing rehearsed music or improvising lines; either way, what I heard was impressive, and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

I was next off to the mainstage to catch Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' epic set. They went on at about 9:45 and wrapped up at around 11:45, and they kept the packed tent engaged for the full two hours. On display was their usual fusion of jazz, rock, country, bluegrass and funk, and each musician's virtuosity was given time in the spotlight. It was these spotlight moments that I think I enjoyed best: Bela is an outstanding banjo player whose technique becomes most evident when playing alone or with minimal accompaniment; Victor Wooten whipped the crowd into a frenzy with his bass acrobatics; "Futureman"'s drumitar is an instrument to behold; Howard Levy is able to get around a harmonica like few others; and Casey Driessen's occasional violin contributions fit right in. The audience got the high-energy show they wanted, and the festival got an exciting end to the day.

My final stop of the night was The Rex Hotel, where Korean pianist Jangeun Bae was performing with Justin Hay on bass, Adam Teixeira on drums and special guest Greg Osby on alto sax. This was swinging, straight-ahead music, and everyone sounded good. Plus, it was a good hang - a great way to unwind after a musically satisfying day.

Today's theme is fun - it's a full day of party music:

Here comes day 8 and, along with it, the sun! See you on the Square...