From June 22nd to July 1st, this year’s TD Toronto Jazz Festival featured no shortage of highlights, from tons of free content to powerhouse marquee shows including names like Herbie Hancock, Holly Cole, Snarky Puppy, and Gregory Porter. Here are some personal highlights from this past year - moments that featured dazzling musicianship or which captured the artist at their best this festival.
1. "Chameleon" - Herbie Hancock
After Herbie Hancock and his band walked off the stage before their encore at Sony Centre, they waited a minute or two before the iconic bassline to "Chameleon" filled the room. Hancock strode in, keytar in hand, playing the song's opening bars; he then proceeded to treat the audience to an undeniably funky rendition of one of his most renowned compositions. The audience never left its feet, as they watched Hancock take a lengthy but stunning keytar solo. For a set that featured everything from ambient synth exploration to effects-driven vocals, Hancock made the straight-ahead funk moments count, and delivered arguably one of the best funk performances of the entire festival on "Chameleon."
2. "Flood" - Snarky Puppy
Snarky Puppy was at their best as a band on set opener "Flood," from 2010's Tell Your Friends. Opening with an extended cadenza from guitarist Mark Lettieri, the group navigated through plenty of odd time signatures, and made them groove hard. Trumpeter Mike "Maz" Maher's solo was a thrill ride, and it felt like once the band got going on this chart, they couldn't stop. In a set that featured plenty of thrilling moments, the group's chemistry, soloing ability, and tightness as a unit all shone bright on "Flood," and really did set the tone for the rest of the set.
3. "Lingus" - Snarky Puppy
On the record, the back half of Snarky Puppy's "Lingus" features an intense, memorable keyboard solo from Cory Henry. So what happens when Henry isn't playing with Snarky and "Lingus" pops up in the set? Give the solo to drummer Larnell Lewis of course. Bandleader Michael League had to a little convincing on-stage to make it happen, but once Lewis got going, there was no stopping him. The Toronto-based Lewis was receiving a ton of appreciation throughout the evening from the audience, so getting a chance to watch him, on "Lingus" no less, was definitely a highlight of the set.
4. "The Government Knows" - Knower
Knower drummer Louis Cole began "The Government Knows" by frantically reeling off the lyrics to the song on top of a thumping kick drum pattern, and soon the song morphed into a lengthy extended jam with whirlwind solos from the group. It was a strong encapsulation of the group's strengths: capable improvisation, fast tempos, high energy, and the band's own lyrical idiosyncrasies. But the juxtaposition of the song's lyrics (primarily about masturbation) and the group's individual solo efforts probably captured the set the best, and it was a dazzling moment in a strong set.
5. "Window" - GoGo Penguin
Saturday night (June 30) at the Rex featured a different kind of piano trio—one more fascinated by electronic music rather than Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson type trio work. "Window," their second-last song of the evening, was probably the best showcase of the group's approach, driven by a recurring piano vamp from Chris Illingworth and Rob Turner's nimble drums. It was mystifying but still had a strong sense of groove and spontaneity. The group let their music do the talking.