Now officially underway, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival has taken over downtown Toronto in various venues across the city. With the opening weekend behind us, here are some highlights:
This trio from New York boasts an unconventional lineup with an even more unconventional sound. Consisting of two saxophones and a drummer, the group's Saturday night set in Yorkville featured plenty of different wind instruments, inventive use of traffic cones, bohemian outfits, and honestly the closest thing one will see to moshing over the course of this festival. Their sound was even more startling: a mashup of EDM and jazz, with the energy of a rave and the loose, playful spontaneity of a seasoned jazz trio. Each player dazzled when they got a chance in the spotlight and moved effortlessly as a unit through their hour-plus set while barely stopping for a break. Indeed, it felt more like a DJ set than a jazz performance, but if there's one thing Moon Hooch can do well, it's play with your expectations.
North Carolina-born Becca Stevens is an interesting soul. With a resonating voice, a penchant for unusual string instruments and alternative guitar tunings, she made her moment on the Rex's stage on Sunday evening count with a mystifying and enjoyable set. She brought with her the adventurous spirit of Kate Bush if Bush had recorded with Snarky Puppy and Jacob Collier at different points in her career. Drawing primarily from her most recent record Regina and 2014's Perfect Animal, her chamber-pop, folk and jazz-inflected performance style captivated the audience, and she shared stories of recording and touring with David Crosby, who refers to her as one of his "big sisters" while on the road. Her setlist consisted of everything from material inspired by the poetry of Jane Tyson Clement to Stevie Wonder covers, all material she handled with ease.
When players such as Toronto's Rich Brown, Larnell Lewis, Robi Botos, and Luis Deniz are in the room together, you know you're in for something special. Sure enough, their Sunday show was a virtuosic display of each musician's seemingly endless talent, with inspired soloing from each player. Brown and Lewis made for a powerful rhythm section, on bass and drums respectively; Botos was at home either with light synth pad inflections or more intense piano solos; and Deniz held his ground with absolutely whirlwind saxophone solos. As easy as it is to focus on each of their individual skills, what was just as dazzling was the group's tightness as a unit. The group was rock solid throughout their set, yet loose and having fun at the same time. It wasn't uncommon to catch the band members laughing amongst themselves mid-song, as though this were just another jam session for the four of them.