When you think of music’s greatest guitarists, there are a few names that tend to come up: Jimi Hendrix. Stevie Ray Vaughn. B.B. King. But who are the axe-bearers of today’s generation that can shred a dirty solo or strum out a riff that simply sparkles? Gary Clark, Jr. just may be the answer.
A funk-rock party had the crowds dancing and screaming for more at Nathan Philips Square on Friday night, day nine of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. Fusion jazz outfit Snarky Puppy stirred up what Miles Davis might have called a real “Bitches Brew” under the Toronto Star tent with their unique mix of synth-centric riffs, atmospheric reverb and punching horn lines.
Back when I played in my high school’s jazz band, “Green Onions” was a critical part of our repertoire. Between the clean, syncopated guitar strum, the driving bass groove and the classic organ tone, the song initiated many a jam session with its legendary riff. So when I heard that Booker T. Jones would be performing at this year’s Toronto Jazz Festival, I knew that catching his performance was a must.
It’s the first thing Robert Glasper said before his performance last night after the crowd applauded his entrance, but it’s more than just a word. It’s the syrupy, sly tone he says it in that gets underneath the audience’s skin. It becomes a whispering echo among the crowd: cool. A pure expression that goes beyond the boundaries of that simple, monosyllabic word. In the same breath he makes a joke about the pronunciation of "poutine;" this word is followed by an eruption of laughter. That’s really what it comes down to with any Robert Glasper performance: it’s an unpredictable experience that can’t quite be captured outside of its own moment, but manages to resonate beyond the barriers of space and time.
The Boxcar Boys. John David Williams,
third from left.
In the age of technology and all things digital, where does a classically trained clarinet player find his place in the music scene? By bringing the past into the present, of course. John David Williams, bandleader of the six-piece old-time ensemble The Boxcar Boys, harnesses the vitality of New Orleans, Dixieland, klezmer and bluegrass to bring the roots of jazz to the streets of Toronto. As Williams proclaims, “in a time where it’s difficult to part yourself from a computer screen or cell phone, there’s something grounding about playing acoustic music of this style.” However, his musical influences extend much farther back than the early 20th century.
There was a whole lot of rhythm going round yesterday as the TD Toronto Jazz Festival kicked off the party with some of the funkiest acts to perform at Nathan Philips Square. By 5 o’clock, hundreds had already begun to fill the plaza with anticipation for the night’s festivities, and buzz about George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic’s mothership landing took to the streets like an intergalactic wildfire. But before the citizens of the universe could put a glide in their stride, they were graced with New Orleans’ up-and-coming funk outfit Dumpstaphunk and the slick Minneapolis sounds of the one and only Morris Day & The Time.
Jessica Stuart has become such a familiar face in Toronto that she’ll be recognized at least once at one of her West End favourites, I Deal Coffee, even if it’s on the rainiest of Sunday afternoons. On her way out she’s stopped by the café’s barista, who wants to catch up with her before she takes off on another international tour. “I feel so famous right now,” she says in a most modest manner. But it’s hardly a surprise—since her debut with Kid Dream in 2010, she along with her eponymous band, The Jessica Stuart Few, has presented herself as a unique voice within Toronto’s diverse music scene. And yet she hasn’t always been a Torontonian.
Sonny Knight was just 17 years old when he released his first 45’ in Minneapolis, featuring signature Motown doo-wops overlaid with Knight’s powerhouse presentation that tugs at the heartstrings. He went on to serve in Vietnam for three years before joining the band Haze, but eventually took a position as a full-time truck driver, appearing to have quit music for good.