The 2017 TD Toronto Jazz Festival is only one week away. Already. And while there are still loose ends to be tied and details to be finalized, a definite pre-festival buzz is starting to build. Everything (well, almost everything) feels a bit new this year, and I'm looking forward to having it all finally get underway.
One of the most exciting aspects of the move to Yorkville for this year's Festival is the ability to expand our free programming. For the first time - at least, in my memory - we'll have concerts running basically all day, every day, on stages which are easily accessible on foot. The number of free concerts (over 100!) and the mix of indoor and outdoor venues has also opened up unique opportunities to program a wider variety of music than ever before. But - with so many concerts from which to choose, where does one start?
Over the next week, in what (I think) will be three separate posts, I'll do my best to highlight as many of the free concerts as possible - why I'm excited to have them on our stages, and why you might want to check them out. Today it's groups from out of town; in the next two posts I'll talk about local groups, with one post focussing more on emerging artists. I may not be able to list every artist, but I'll list a bunch - and encourage you to do some additional digging on our website.
And so - what's so good about artists from out of town?
Gypsophilia: Saturday June 24, 2:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue. This 7-piece band from Halifax plays jazz mixed with Eastern European and East Coast sounds. They're always a blast, and if rumours are true, this is their farewell tour - so catch them before they retire!
The Aaron Neville Duo: Saturday June 24, 8 pm on the OLG Stage on Yorkville Avenue. Here's your chance to see a pop/soul/R&B legend. For free. And with only a pianist with him on stage, his distinctive voice will be on full display.
Xenia Rubinos: Saturday June 24, 8:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. A newer name for me, I'm taken by Xenia's unique voice - powerful and soulful, it's garnered her attention including an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Davina and the Vagabonds: Sunday June 25, 5:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. A throwback to a more nostalgic era of jazz and blues, Davina and the Vagabonds are developing a distinctive style and are quickly on the rise.
Gord Grdina's Haram: Sunday June 25, 9:00 pm at the Pilot Tavern. Gord's an outstanding guitarist who you might have seen on tour with Dan Mangan. His own projects trend to the more creative jazz side of things; with Haram, Dan trades his guitar for an oud, and we get jazz and improvised music with strong influences from Middle Eastern musical traditions. Always high energy, always intense, always exhilarating.
Igor Butman and the Moscow Jazz Orchestra: Monday June 26, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. This is one of a few bands I've been trying to secure for a few years - so I'm looking forward to finally having them here. Igor Butman is an outstanding tenor saxophonist, and the band is made up of 18 top-notch musicians from Moscow. Where else will you hear 19 musicians from Moscow this summer playing classic swing and original compositions?
Mario Rom's Interzone: Monday June 26, 5:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. From Austria, this trio of trumpet, bass and drums plays contemporary jazz while remaining super swinging. Another new name for me this year, their submission caught my ear for the originality of the instrumentation and quality of the playing and compositions.
Luc Ex's Naked Wolf: Monday June 26, 7:00 pm at Heliconian Hall. Bass player Luc Ex is one of the better known musicians on the Dutch jazz and creative music scenes. For Naked Wolf, he's joined by four other musicians to perform a mix of jazz, rock and improvised music which somewhat defies definition. It will be great to see them in action, especially in the more intimate setting of Heliconian Hall.
No B.S.! Brass: Monday June 26, 8:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland. (At least I didn't over program this date. Yeesh.) Okay so I know I'm not supposed to pick favourites but I'm especially excited about this show. I saw this 11-piece band six years ago in New York and I've wanted them at the Festival ever since. From Richmond, Virginia, they are part New Orleans Brass Band, part funk band, part hip hop collective and all fun. Plus - five trombones! In the same band!
Quinn Bachand's Brishen: Tuesday June 27, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland. At just 21 years old, Quinn Bachand has already performed across North America, Europe and Australia. This is traditional jazz, reminiscent of the Hot Club of Paris stylings of Django Reinhardt.
Al Muirhead Trio with special guest Laila Biali: Tuesday June 27, 1:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. Trumpeter Al Muirhead released his debut album at the age of 80 - and was promptly nominated for a JUNO Award. Now 81, Al's getting ready to record a follow up album - find out why he captures the audience's attention everywhere he plays.
Ashley Summers's Raison d'être: Tuesday June 27, 2:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. This is a bit of a homecoming - one of a few at the Festival. A Humber College graduate, Ashley has now been in Chicago for several years, making a name for herself as a bassist, composer and educator. Her quintet will play music from her debut recording "True North."
Red Hook Soul: Tuesday June 27, 5:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. Another Canadian now living abroad (this time in New York), saxophonist Michael Blake leads this high-energy jazz, funk and soul outfit featuring seven top New York-based musicians.
Neil Cowley Trio: Tuesday June 27, 7:00 pm at Church of the Redeemer. UK pianist Neil Cowley played on Adele's "21", so that's kinda cool; but so is the music he makes with his trio. Their output lies somewhere between space jazz (their new album is called "Spacebound Apes") and rock jazz, at times focusing more on composition than improvisation. Performing original compositions which oscillate between more groovy and more spacey moments, they are sure to use the acoustic of the church to their advantage.
Phronesis: Tuesday June 27, 7:00 pm at Heliconian Hall. In another brilliant feat of programming (hey - artist availability is what it is), while Neil Cowley and company are at Church of the Redeemer, another UK-based piano trio (but founded by their Danish bass player), Phronesis, takes over Heliconian Hall. Phronesis definitely lands more in the rock jazz category, but their compositions are carefully crafted and masterfully contained; their tight ensemble playing will sound excellent in this intimate space.
Sammy Miller and the Congregation: Tuesday June 27, 8:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. I saw Sammy et al perform their interpretation of early jazz music (they call it Joyful Jazz) in New York last year and they are a blast. The musicianship and choice of repertoire is impressive to begin with; that they all seem to be under the age of 30 is even more so.
Nomadic Massive: Tuesday June 27, 8:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. Let's see: a couple of UK-based bands, some traditional jazz, some funk and soul...and now a 10-piece collective from Montreal which combines jazz with funk, soul, R&B and hip-hop, with emcees rapping in English, French, Creole, Spanish and Arabic. Nomadic Massive puts on a fantastic, high-energy live show, and represents in many ways the fusion of cultures prevalent across the international jazz landscape.
The Monterey Jazz Festival Next Generation Jazz Orchestra: Wednesday June 28, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. Sponsored by the storied Monterey Jazz Festival in California, this auditioned band features some of the best young jazz musicians from across the United States. The Orchestra performed at the Festival a few years back and they were fantastic - you won't believe these aren't professional players!
Hyper+ featuring Nick Fraser: Wednesday June 28, 7:00 pm at Heliconian Hall. Italy meets Canada! Italians Nicola Fazzini (woodwinds) and Alessandro Fedrigo (bass) join forces with outstanding Toronto drummer Nick Fraser to play original compositions rooted in bop but exploring more improvisational territory. This one will get wacky, but it's also bound to be a great deal of fun.
Matthew Stevens: Thursday June 29, 4:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. Another homecoming: Toronto-born, New York-based guitarist Matthew Stevens, who can regular be seen in the bands of Christian Scott and Esperanza Spalding, performs music from his recently released - and critically acclaimed - sophomore album "Preverbal". Strong solos, interesting compositions - rooted in jazz with a heavy dose of groove - plus a hometown connection? Many reasons to check this out.
The Andrew Rathbun / Jeremy Siskind Duo: Thursday June 29, 7:00 pm at Church of The Redeemer. Another New York-based Canadian musician, saxophonist Andrew Rathbun teams up with pianist Jeremy Siskind to perform music from their Debussy Preludes. The music is beautiful - respectful of the source material while still sounding original - and should sound fantastic in church acoustics.
Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Thursday June 29, 7:00 pm at Heliconian Hall. FINALLY - Ryan's another artist I've been hoping to have at the Festival for several years. Whether in big bands led by Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue or leading his own bands, Ryan is simply one of the best trombone players I've heard: great sound, impressive technique, moving compositions. His Catharsis project combines a variety of musical traditions: jazz, Afro-Cuban, Spanish; singer and guitarist Camila Meza also stands out - she is someone to watch.
Blue Moon Marquee: Friday June 30, 1:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. The music of duo A.W. Cardinal (vocals/guitar) and Jasmine Colette (vocals, bass and drums) belies their simple setup. They cover traditional jazz, blues and original compositions with heart and soul; their chemistry on stage is hard to miss. I'm glad to have them back at the Festival this year on a fully produced stage - their music deserves a bit of a spotlight!
Only a Visitor: Friday June 30, 4:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. A Vancouver-based, self-described avant-pop quintet, Only A Visitor features impressive lead vocals from Robyn Jacob and a focus on fundamentals which resonate with jazz: strong melodies, interesting harmonies, well-crafted arrangements and acoustic instruments played live. Something a bit different, but well worth the adventure.
Jason Palmer Berklee Septet: Friday June 30, 5:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Avenue. In town as part of our Youth Jazz Showcase, this is an ensemble of students from Berklee College in Boston, led by Faculty member (and acclaimed trumpeter) Jason Palmer. Jason has played with the biggest names on the international jazz scene; the students he leads here will demonstrate why Berklee has a long-established reputation as one of the world's top jazz training programs.
BassDrumBone: Friday June 30, 7:00 pm at Church of the Redeemer. Celebrating 40 years as a performing trio, Mark Helias (bass), Gerry Hemingway (drums) and Ray Anderson (trombone) have individually made impressive marks on a variety of musical scenes. Together they carry on the avant tradition of performing swinging, hard bop compositions which veer into experimental territory - and then come back again.
Diyet: Friday June 30, 8:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. Diyet's performance at a showcase concert in Victoria this past November was so compelling, that I jumped at the chance to bring her to the Festival...all the way from Yukon! She describes her music as "Alternative Folk, Roots, Country and Traditional Aboriginal with catchy melodies and stories deeply rooted in my Indigenous world view and northern life." She's got a fantastic voice and the storytelling in her music is moving - in a variety of languages.
The Claudia Quintet: Saturday July 1, 7:00 pm at Heliconian Hall. Led by drummer John Hollenbeck, this is another group I've wanted to bring to the Festival ever since hearing them play in New York several years ago. John's compositions take full advantage of the sound spectrum available with the unique instrumentation of clarinet/tenor saxophone, accordion/piano, acoustic bass, vibraphone and drums; and you never know exactly where they'll lead you. There is a mischievous element to John's writing which I enjoy - and which compliments the outstanding playing.
Gravity Zero: Saturday July 1, 8:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Hazelton Avenue. From France, the duo of pianist Laurent Coulandre - playing more keyboards than I can count - and drummer Martin Wangermée combine to make original music which starts with groove then adds jazz, soul, funk and more. This will be their first performance in Toronto - we're all in for a treat.
Canaan - Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts: Sunday July 2, 12:00 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. The Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, in Israel, has earned an international reputation for developing outstanding jazz talent - musicians like Shai Maestro, Gilad Hekselman, Anat Cohen and more. Canaan, made up of five current students at the school, will demonstrate the quality of musicianship fostered at Thelma Yellin while performing a mix of originals and standards.
Bria Skonberg: Sunday July 2, 8:30 pm on the OLG Stage on Cumberland Street. Closing off this year's free programming is trumpeter, singer, and 2017 JUNO Award Winner (for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year) Bria Skonberg. Bria has been tearing it up on the more traditional jazz scenes in the United States and around the world (she's the co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Festival) so we're excited to have her at the Festival. For this performance - her Toronto debut - Bria will perform repertoire from her most recently released album, "With a Twist".
Okay - that's it - I'm exhausted! And that's only a fraction of the music happening on our free stages! Daily listings - along with full bios - are available here. And on Monday I'll start to tackle the myriad - and world-class - local musicians performing at the Festival.