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Bring On All That Jazz- TD TorontoJazz Festival 2011

The Toronto Jazz Festival may have moved back to its original location in Toronto's theatre district but it did not feature a very strong line up of jazz. Following along with most of the major jazz festivals the organizers attempted to attract a more varied audience by appealing to a wide array of musical tastes. The opening act on day 1, June 24th - Aretha Franklin, a public favorite, The Queen of Soul gave a free concert that shut down one of Toronto's main streets - King St., adjacent to the Metro Square.

Other acts to follow, included The Average White Band, Robert Cray Band, Los Lobos, The Count Bassie Orchestra, Bela Fleck, The Roots, Bootsy Collins and the closer, Nikki Yanofsky.

Jazz central at this year's festival was a series aptly entitled Jazz by the Lake. All the concerts were at the Enwave Theatre. Featured artists included Dave Holland and the Quintet, The Mose Allison Trio, Kurt Elling, The Bad Plus and Eliane Elias.

The Grand master series at the Glen Gould Studio featured solo piano by two definite masters Randy Weston and Kenny Barron as well as two fine pianists Vijay Iyer and Jacky Terrasson.

The Koerner Hall Jazz Series featured a couple of jazz masters, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Brantford Marsalis with Joey Calderazzo as well as classical superstar Jessye Norman.

For my tastes, the best jazz was found at small out of the way places. During day 1 of the festival I found it at Big Daddy's Crab Shack. Arriving to festival headquarters early and not able to gain entrance to see one of my favorite bands, Canadian Jazz Quartet with special guest Harry Allen at Quotes, I ventured next door to Big Daddy's and took in the wonderful jazz guitarist Phil Kane and his Combo Deluxe. The trio - of bass, drums and guitar went through a few sets of blues and jazz.

I got into Quotes near the end of the festival to catch Gord Sheard's Brazilian Jazz Experience with featured guest Bill McBirnie. An excellent show, full of exciting music and a varied set that included Brazilian standards "Desafinado", "Chega de Saudade" and Sheard originals, "Bahian Lullaby" and "The Hermetic Arts" dedicated to Pascal Hermeto. Sheard had Brazilian percussionist Maniho Costa laying down those hypnotic Afro-Brazilian rhythms while the rest of the rhythm section, George Koller - bass and Mark Kelso - drums added jazz fire to the bottom line.

The Music Gallery featured a series of shows entitled The Incubator, featuring Atomic, Koptor, Gord Grdina Trio, Hat and Beard, Colin Stetson, Ugly Beauties, Tigran Mamasyan, Marianne Trudel Septet and Trio M.

My visit to this happening showcase found Marianne Trudel Septet operating as a trio and performing for a half full theatre. On this evenings performance Trudel dug in with passion and performed for an hour and a half with phenomenal intensity. Her full band made an appearance after the first songs conclusion. Performing songs from the group's most recent album. For me this was one of the best concerts of the festival.

When music can transport you to other places, paint pictures in your minds eye and caresses your soul it must be grand. When the music is played by exceptional free thinking musicians and guided by a masterful pianist with a passion that can inspire and motivate it is heart wrenching. Such is the music of pianist Marianne Trudel. Her concert at The Music Gallery took the small audience on a whirlwind tour of songs of hope and other powerful things.

My last show of the festival found me back at the music gallery for Trio M. A trio made up of Myra Melford caressing the piano, Mark Dresser coaxing the bass and Matt Wilson tickling the drums. A self professed leaderless trio of experimentation and freedom with no boundaries. This group seems to have an open market to produce the music that each musician feels is important, music that is wildly imaginative, three instruments with a multitude of sounds.

Melford is a gifted pianist playing a style that is as emotional as they come - from dark and powerful to light and beautiful. Her statements on original tunes such as "The Kitchen" ran the gamut of emotions and featured a flurry of notes that burned and gradually smoldered to a melodical and beautiful nursery rhyme structured in a T.S. Monk like pattern.

Dresser played his modified acoustic bass in every manner possible - pounding out sounds with percussive playing or in col arco style, creating eerie tones as in the song "Mojo". The slapping of strings augmented by precision note picking and chord strumming, Dresser is always driving the rhythm. Wild and passionate, with no boundaries, visible or audible. Pure excitement.

Wilson oversees it all from his rhythmic launching pad. The spokesperson for the group, announcing the songs and offering up explanations on the creative process. Throughout this performance his playing is highly imaginative, fun, strange, whacky and oh so musically cool.  

On my drive home after the show I reflected on this years festival and I thought about how exciting the music of the last few days had been. I think the Markham jazz festival is up next, followed by the Guelph Jazz Festival. The shows at the Music Gallery make we wish for Guelph and all that, out there, music that Guelph is so famous for programming.

I'm looking forward to the release of the Guelph schedule, so I can start planning now.

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