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Guelph Jazz Festival 2009

Varios Artist's Varios Artist's

I started my Guelph jazz experience on Friday afternoon the colloquium featured Professor Milford Graves. I ended up arriving early and I caught the tail end of a workshop entitled New Communities of Sound: Improvising Across Borders. The improvisers included Jane Bunnett, Hamid Drake, Jah Youssouf, Abdoulaye Kone, Getatchew Mekuria, Rob Wallace, Alain Derbez, Terrie Hessels and Brad Muirhead. This was an entertaining jam session with an African feel, percussion heavy, some great horn playing and lots of interaction between the participants.

Professor Graves received a warm welcome; he delivered an inspired keynote address. This is an innovative individual, a modern day philosopher king (check out my interview with Professor Graves for As I reflected on the Graves talk over fine Guelph fare, they have great restaurants in Guelph, serving farm fresh food. Over a fine dinner I found time to read the program, Percussion In The Park by Jesse Stewart at Riverside Park. I traveled down the road a ways to the park; the percussionists were just getting underway. As I relaxed in the park to some cool gym apparatus percussion swings, monkey bars, ladders, slides and teeter-totters all became accoutrements of music makers. Children started flocking to the park, picking up sticks and shakers, hitting all the fun elements of the park.

The big show Friday evening featured the Woodchoppers Association with Jah Youssouf and Abdoulaye Kone. This seemed a continuation of the jam session from the afternoon workshop. Jah Youssouf is a folk singer; he has a bluesy vocal style. The folk music he sings is of his country, Mali, West Africa the Sahara desert. He makes his own instruments. His main axe is a kamelan n’goni also known as a hunters harp. His associate Abdoulaye Kone took the spotlight; he soloed and played counterpoint to the western instruments trumpet, saxophone and trombone. The drummer Dave Clark took on the role of leader, looking like a mad scientist he conducted from his kit and from the front of the stage, a spirited performance. I was impressed with the alto playing of Karen Ng, an impressive tone and a powerful young player.

The second big show of the night featured tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson with tremendous support from Marilyn Crispell and percussionist Hamid Drake. An inspiring performance, wonderful playing, straight ahead modal music. Anderson has a cool tone, he plays beautiful melodies and captures the listeners’ attention, deceptively weaving a heated dynamic that swells and boils to overflowing. His cascading tones branch out into ever evolving intricacies that are played at a dizzying pace. His thoughtfulness reels you in, a change of pitch and a billowing sustain gently bring you back to the melody, he exits the song with a glory be phrase and a hallelujah to the spirits above.

The pianist Marilyn Crispell is a combination of pure energy and refined splendor. She adds to the dynamics by pounding the keys with spirit and passion. On this night her playing, pure joy, her love of the music came out bright and clear.

Hamid Drake is a well rounded percussionist of the free flowing style, not stuck in any particular style he seems willing and able to march to the beat of his own choosing. A ram rod straight posture that towers high over his kit. Drake bends his drums through his awesome musical dexterity. He modulates the drums tones through sticks, mallets, brushes and bare hands. The cymbals become accoutrements of flash and fire, never hit the same way twice, they sizzle, hiss and purr - his role is musical accompaniment.

The big show Saturday evening was one that I was eager to check out. The World Saxophone Quartet playing Hendrix Experience. Prior to the show the John Geggie Project.

Geggie is a talented Canadian composer and double bassist. He is classically influenced and this comes through plainly in his style of music. His selections for the evening leaned heavily on the classical side; "Credo" an open ballad gave pianist Marilyn Crispell plenty of room to give lofty interpretation to a Monk inspired theme. A highlight number, "Runaway Sheep" gave Geggie an opening bass solo that was all about excitement. The drummer Nick Fraser stepped out of the box to lay down a most inspired drum break.

The World Saxophone Quartet plays Hendrix Experience: The WSQ came out strong with plenty of groove, a nice sound, some of the funk of the Experience. A soulfulness with a surprisingly strong R&B feel that was more Motown than Electric Ladyland. This edition of the quartet featured original members Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray. Along with new members James Carter and Tony Kofi. The rhythm section on this outing included famed bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Lee Pearson, no stranger to acid jazz; I last witnessed his performance with Roy Ayers and the Superstars of Jazz Fusion.

The original WSQ group formed in 1977 and included Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake. The band recorded nine albums; Hemphill left the band in 89 and was replaced by a long list of saxophonist leading up to Toni Kofi. The Experience (Justin Time 2004) album included Oliver Lake, Bruce Williams, Hamiet Bluiett and David Murray.

I’m a fan of J.M. Hendrix and I only recognized a few of the songs the WSQ performed, "Hey Joe" was performed as a funeral march I suppose a song that speaks of going some where with a gun in your hand could be taken that way. "Hear My Train a Comin’" or Crosstown Traffic, either way it came out as a blues that I’m sure Hendrix would have been impressed with. "Little Wing" to close out the concert, a beautiful song timeless.

I caught bits and pieces of the festival. Acoustic Orienteering, fifteen musicians performing a forty five minute composition as they marched through the streets of Guelph. From my vantage point this innovative creation by trombonist and composer Scott Thompson drew in the city of Guelph. Each musician seemed a pied piper with long lines of people following in their harmonic wake. But nothing impressed me as much as the duo performance of Milford Graves and David Murray. The CBC Radio network recorded the concert for broadcast sometime in October. Hopefully a CD will come out of this meeting, for me this was the highlight moment of the festival. Check out my review of the concert, Graves & Murray - Reunited In Guelph.

Report by Paul J. Youngman

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Varios Artist's
  • Concert Date: Sept/ 9 - 13, 2009
  • City State Country: Guelph, On. Canada
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