Art Of Jazz Performance, Education, Cultivation
Review by Paul J. Youngman Jazz Advocate
Advertised as, 5 days, 50 jazz greats. A lifetime of memories. This spring jazz festival in Toronto’s Distillery Historic District, took place over the commonly known May 2-4 weekend, officially known as the Victoria Day long weekend, May 17- 21, 2006. Mother Nature was working against the outdoor component of the festival, that’s a shame for the local acts that were trying to perform outdoors. Fortunately, there were indoor venues for all of the major events. The first event was an opening night concert and party, unfortunately I missed it, Canadian award winning vocalist Ranee Lee hosted and performed at the event. Every one that I spoke to from jazz journalists to jazz fans agreed it was a fantastic start to what will hopefully become an annual event.
The second day of the festival had only one major event and I reviewed the concert for Jazz Review in a separate article, A Tribute to Barry Harris. Each night of the festival after the main event, there was a late night jam session, these affairs went on to the wee hours of the morning and you never knew who would take to the stage for some improvisation. The third days event kicked off the educational portion of the festival, a clinic with Hank Jones from 11:00 A.M to 1:00 PM. Through out the course of the festival there would be clinics with many masters. Sheila Jordan put on a wonderful clinic. A few pointers from this songstress and the vocalists in attendance improved noticeably. Dr. Barry Harris had clinics going most mornings. Famed Cuban pianist Hilario Duran put on an afternoon clinic. New York up and coming master drummer Francisco Mela put on a Latin percussion clinic.
Later that evening, a Canadian jazz icon was honoured, the concert, A tribute to Don Thompson, was reviewed in an earlier separate article for Jazz Review.
A special part of the festival, Legendary Jazz Powerhouse Duos was something that was highly anticipated. The first concert in the series was Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali, (John Coltrane's drummer in later years) Saturday May 20 2:00 PM This was an extraordinary concert, these two masters put up a wall of sound playing John Coltrane's, "Impressions."
Sonny Fortune on alto sax utilizing consecutive breathing played a solo that lasted over 80 minutes, I have never witnessed anything like this before, simply amazing. Fortune, was accompanied by Rashied Ali on drums, who maintained a steady rhythm throughout with thundering accentuations, powerful rolls in every direction of his set and a really heavy foot that temporarily disabled the bass drum. This didn’t phase Rashied Ali he rode hard and fast on the left crash cymbal while he made a few adjustments to the bass pedal with his left hand. The main thing I noticed was he hadn’t even broken out in a sweat, although they were half way through the concert. This is the coolest, loudest jazz drummer I have ever seen, a definite powerhouse drummer. When the break came for his solo, he was right on the money taking it up a notch or two with a fantastic example of four-way independence. He has the ability to roll with his single bass drum sounding similar to a double bass drum and adding to this wall of sound he creates. It is truly inspirational drumming from a master.
Fortune has some nice sounds, phrasing that is fluid and fast and a technique that has to be seen to be believed. He utilizes dynamics to full effect, stamping his foot on an upbeat and finding inspiration in the rhythmic rollercoaster created by Rashied Ali. The concert was not for everyone, some departed before the finale. I was completely blown away.
The next duo series, Sheila Jordan and Cameron Brown May 20, 4:30 P.M was a delight for all. This is one of the best entertainers in the business, a consummate performer with a warmth that draws you in and will not let go. She has found a great accompanist in Cameron Brown he is a very expressive and sensitive bass player. Brown displays a great interaction to Jordan’s vocal teasing.
What better way to get a Canadian audience to love you than to tell them your father was from Sarnia, so that makes her a bit Canadian. She performed many standards, "Hum Drum Blues," "Mood Indigo," "Brother Where Are You" with lyrics by Oscar Brown Jr., this was beautifully done. "You Must Believe In Spring," Oldman Trouble, lots of scatting in that one, Baltimore Oriole, Honeysuckle Rose a wonderful show very touching and emotionally charged.
The duo series up next, a day later, was Kenny Barron and Eddie Henderson - May 21, 2:00 PM. Pianist Kenny Barron and trumpeter Eddie Henderson have been playing together for many years. That familiarity was evident in the relaxed manner in which they approached the songs. Henderson played magnificently switching between trumpet and coronet in quick succession at times, such that you had a sense of a horn section at work. The horn playing of Henderson was reminiscent of Chet Baker and Miles Davis, (pre- 1960), that similar tone that just goes right through you.
Kenny Barron on piano, performing his own song Voyager was excellent. His display of melodic blending of notes from one run to the next is magnificent. A pianist I could listen to for hours. The trading off of solos between Henderson and Barron on Monk’s tune, "Well You Needn’t," was a display of absolute brilliance.
The final duet, Luis Perdomo and Ravi Coltrane - May 21, 4:30 P.M. Another duo that is very familiar with each other, having played together for the last five years. They started the concert off with a straight-ahead version of Ornette Coleman’s, "Blues Constant"; the audience seemed to be awestruck. The next song "Soul Night," Perdomo displayed his awesome piano ability and woke the audience up with some lightning fast finger technique that filled the hall with glorious sounds. A song written by Trumpeter Ralph Alessi for Ravi Coltranes’ son, "One Wheeler Willie," was nicely performed by both members of the duo. Ravi Coltrane’ sax playing is good, wonderful tone; his ability to pick band mates is magnificent.
Luis Perdomo, born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1971, is a powerhouse pianist who throws his body into his playing. He drives the energy to the maximum limit making the piano do things I don’t think it is designed to do. Reaching into the string section and strumming like a harp or plucking the strings like a bass. Putting out some of the most exciting piano playing I have ever witnessed. The influence of Bud Powell is very evident as is the finesse of Oscar Peterson. Close your eyes while Perdomo is playing and listen to the sound of all three piano players, wake up, shake your head and realize Perdomo is soloing, magic fingers.
The concert ended past the appointed hour, the audience stood and applauded, the duo of Coltrane and Perdomo had played an incredible set of straight ahead Jazz, no other label necessary. They truly displayed what the Art of Jazz is all about.
The final official concert of the event was the debut of The Art Of Jazz Orchestra, featuring an incredible line up of stars that had traveled to Canada for the festival as well as some of the top Canadian jazz players. Barry Harris on piano, as well as, Nancy Walker and Davide Virelles. Don Thompson on vibes, Ray Vega, Alex Brown, John Macleod, Alex K and Mike Malone, Larry Cramer on trumpet, Howard Johnson, baritone sax and tuba, Kirk McDonald tenor sax, Campbell Ryga and Luis Deniz, alto sax, Alistair Kay, William Carn, trombone, Jane Bunnett, flute, Reg Schwager, guitar, Cameron Brown, Neil Swainson and Kieran Overs, bass and Ted Warren on drums. The orchestra was led by John Macleod, he mentioned that they had only one rehearsal and it’s a good thing they were all excellent readers as he was normally a sideman, I thought he performed admirably.
Sheila Jordan joined the Art of Jazz Orchestra for the second set, performing a world premier of a George Russell arrangement of "You Are My Sunshine." Jordan performed her magic and captured the hearts of the audience, some of whom were in tears.
The Art of Jazz Orchestra, with a little more rehearsal time, could go on to record a dynamite CD. The concert ended with an invitation for everyone to join in the party at the Fermenting Cellar, a large club like venue within the historic facility.
The jam session that took place that evening was awe inspiring, Ray Vega on trumpet with his thundering tone led the jam session, trading off solos with saxophone phenomena Luis Deniz, another of the incredibly talented Cuban trained musicians. Howard Johnson was blowing a mighty fine trumpet solo as well, with a rhythm section that interchanged between Nancy Walker and Davide Virelles on Piano, Kieran Overs and Cameron Brown on Bass and driven along by the dynamic and expressive drumming of Francisco Mela.
Congratulations to all of the key players, Bonnie Lester, Jane Bunnett, Larry Cramer and Howard Rees for a job well done. A first class effort of monumental proportions handled with the finesse of truly gifted impresarios. Keep up the good work throughout the coming year and carry on with this celebration of music well into the future.