We got the funk...

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Sun Jul 3 9:55am

I admit it - I'm starting to feel the effects of eight consecutive late nights. But some great music and a mid-afternoon break yesterday helped me push through...Here's how it went:

Alexander Brown kicked things off on a high-energy note on the Outdoor Stage with his quintet. The Cuban-born trumpeter has been in Toronto now for over five years, playing with the top local jazz and latin-jazz players. His fusion of jazz, Afro-Cuban and funk was evident right from the get-go; it was clear that he and his bandmates (Luis Deniz on alto sax; Todd Pentney on piano; Paco Luviano on bass; and Ahmed Mitchel on drums) were going to musically "take no prisoners". The sun was shining, the audience was grooving, and the music was top-notch - a fairly good way to start the day, I would say!

I could only stay for about 30 minutes of Alexander's show, as I had an interview lined up on Ted Woloshyn's CFRB talk show. The interview went fine, I think; Bill King is the show's musical director, playing an in-studio keyboard to introduce the show's different segments, and adding his own colour commentary. It was helpful to have a familiar face in the room.

Since I unfortunately would not make it back down to the Square in time for the 2 pm Ken Page Memorial Trust Workshop, I set up a hang with a friend and colleague living nearby. It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours - pains au chocolat, Americanos, a tree-lined backyard and great conversation about music, the influence of digital technology on the world in general and various other topics of greater or lesser import.

Back on the Square around 5 pm, I said hello to Jayme Stone after his soundcheck; a few minutes later I was onstage to introduce the band's Afterwork concert. The band (Jayme on banjo, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Andrew Downing on cello, Joe Phillips on bass and Nick Fraser on drums) performed music from their new album Room of Wonders as well as older hits. I enjoy Jayme's mix of jazz, bluegrass, country and world music, and yesterday's show explored these various musical styles.

I stayed at Jayme's show for about 30 minutes and then it was time for dinner; I was then off to The Music Gallery for the Marianne Trudel Septet. Marianne is an interesting pianist and composer, and I was looking forward to seeing her in action in her first official Toronto appearance. Usually losing band members is not ideal (a few of her musicians got lost on the way back from dinner), but last night it meant we got to see the band in two configurations: she started as a trio; the wayward musicians completed the septet for the second tune of the night. I think of Marianne's writing sort of like mini-symphonies: multiple sections, sweeping melodies, broad dynamic ranges...even in the trio setting she and her musical collaborators produced a wide variety of sounds. The full seven-piece ensemble (wordless voice, trumpet, trombone, french horn, piano, bass and drums), with its interesting instrumentation, allows even more textural exploration (Anne Schaefer's singing especially added a gorgeous tone). The scope of the compositions meant I could only stay for the first two tunes, but when I left the audience was engaged and was responding enthusiastically.

I arrived back on the Square about mid-way through Saidah Baba Talibah's soul/rock set on the Outdoor Stage. (Officially she was the opening act for Bootsy Collins, but a ridiculous stage setup for Bootsy meant no extra space for the opener!) Saidah's star is quickly rising, and her high-energy set showed why: great singing, great grooves, and an excellent band. And hey - any time you choose to have a sousaphone onstage instead of an electric bass, in my mind, you're a few steps ahead already. Add cello and some great backing vocals and, well, you've got Saidah's group, and she had the crowd dancing along - by the end of her set the crowd was revved up and ready for Bootsy.

If the audience wanted a party, a party they got. By the time Bootsy made his appearance, there were already 17 other musicians on stage laying down the groove and setting the atmosphere. What followed was perhaps more spectacle than spectacular, but the packed audience was into it, singing along and responding with roaring ovations. By order of Bootsy himself, chairs (but for a few on each side) were banned from the floor: he wanted to make sure people were on their feet, and he had the crowd moving and grooving all night.

I slipped out shortly before 11 and made my way (in the rain) to the Horseshoe Tavern, where Lee Fields and the Expressions were about to take the stage. If my soul-search had been left a bit wanting by the Bootsy show, I quickly got my injection at the 'Shoe: a tight seven-piece band (the Expressions - trumpet, trombone, sax, keys, guitar, bass, drums) laid down the grooves and when Lee Fields took the stage, the group launched into a fantastic set of classic soul and funk. I felt as though I was being transported back to the golden age of soul - it was a treat. It was impossible to keep still, and the crowd pushed forward, eager to be close to the awesome combination of style and substance emanating from the stage. The band's stamina was impressive - after 45 minutes with barely a break they showed no signs of slowing down, and I left the club rejuvenated.

My final stop was The Rex Hotel, where the Justin Gray project was on stage with trumpeter extraordinaire Ingrid Jensen. Justin is quickly establishing himself as a double-bass giant in Toronto, and he surrounded himself onstage with equally talented musicians: Luis Deniz on alto sax, Todd Pentney on keyboard, Larnell Lewis on drums. Justin's writing embraces funk and captures interest with great horn lines and non-standard time signatures. The playing last-night was top-notch, with each musician showing off whether playing melodies or soloing (and, as a trumpeter myself, I could listen to Ingrid play any time...). The Project's funky, energetic performance was a great way to end the day.

So - here we are - the last day of the festival, already. The sun is shining, the rain clouds are gone...help us make today a great final day by joining us on the Square, in the Distillery District, at Shops at Don Mills, or in the various clubs presenting jazz throughout the city. Here's what's on my list for today:

I may also get to The Distillery District, and my day may wrap up at The Rex for the end of the set by the Heavyweights Brass Band.

Thanks for a great week so far - see you on the Square!