The highlight of last year's Jazz Festival for me was a tight and tasty show by Dave Douglas's Tiny Bell Trio (with live wire Jim Black on percussion; Brad Shepik on guitar; and, of course, Douglas on trumpet and attitude) at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. "The Cultch", originally a church built in the 1920s, was renovated 25 years ago for a new life as a theatre, dance and music performance venue and is beautifully set up for intimate shows where the performance is paramount. While there is bar service in the lobby, the focus is firmly on art at The Cultch, and those who attend shows there are generally serious arts lovers who don't mind the short trek over to the Eastside (20 minutes by bus, 10 by car from downtown). The Cultch has a certain vibe, and, almost as a general rule you come to expect the least-mainstream stuff happening there. The two-storey room can hold up to 348 people with its built-in graduated-row balcony that makes its way around three walls of the room, rows on the floor in front of the performance area and, when attendance demands, additional chairs brought in with the front rows having the great fortune to be pretty much on stage with the performers. Beautiful vibe for jazz.
I've been counting the days until this year's jazz festival pretty much since last year's ended (78 now). This year's 10-day jazz grip on the city goes from June 24-July 4 in 38 venues (clubs, theatres and free outdoor stages add up to about 300 concerts by about 1500 musicians, providing an abundance of choice that sends me scurrying about town to take as much of it in as humanly possible. I have long held the belief that this festival truly has something for everyone, from the multitude of free shows to the swanky concerts in theatres like the opulent Orpheum and the recently restored heritage venue The Vogue. In fact, I've been known to insist in print that everyone should check out at least one thing. And, despite last year's record attendance (over 350,000), I don't suppose I can take all the credit (!), but at the very least I hope fun is contagious.
And if this sounds like an ad for the fest, so be it, as in all my lookings about I've rarely come across a festival so all-encompassing with its variety of local, national and international artists from way-out-there improv to sweet, swingin' standards and the sheer number of free gigs that not only bookend the festival with their quantity on weekends, but happen throughout the week all around the city. So, ya, I suppose I'm just a wee bit excited that it's nearing, and with spring in the air, it makes it all that much closer!
Running at exactly same time is the Victoria International Jazz Festival (a 2 ½ hour ferry ride away) which will see many of those scheduled for Vancouver's fest crossing the strait for more dates while they're in the hood. For instance, the Victoria festival website (www.vicjazz.bc.ca) is trumpeting a June 27 show by the ever-more legendary Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter (who were last year about 1 ½ years ago), which means it can be taken pretty much as fact that the boys are headed for Vancouver (yes!). Many also will, no doubt, be off to more festival dates around the continent, including the Montreal festival which I've heard called the world's best. I dunno, I'm rather partial to ours, but I'll reserve final judgment until I actually attend the Montreal fest while noting that any fest that offers such a great roster of shows, particularly dozens and dozens and dozens of free ones, has to be pretty damned good as far as I'm concerned. But, for now, I'm inclined to agree with the Seattle Times when a jazz writer there declared, "Let's just come out and say it, [du Maurier International Jazz Festival Vancouver] is the best jazz festival in the world." The more people out to enjoy one of life's greatest riches, the better.
...IN THE MORE recent future I look forward to the Hard Rubber Orchestra's ambitious leader/composer/trumpeter John Korsrud's taking the size thing and blowing it all out of proportion (yeeehaa!) with a show called Big Night at The Cultch happening April 22 at, of course, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. The show also features Queen Mab (pianist Marilyn Lerner and bass clarinetest Lori Freedman) and the fiery, brilliant Vancouver pop of singer/pianist Veda Hille, whose 1998 "song cycle" paid homage to the late, renowned painter/artist Emily Carr. A recent Hard Rubber gig saw the ensemble taking a swing down to some heavy danceable Latin vibes, and this time out they'll premiere new commissioned work by maximalist composer Paul Dolden, new work from Korsrud, and a video from what must've been nothing short of a luggage nightmare, their tour last spring that led them to Amsterdam. Should be veddy interesting (info: 604/683-8240).
...LATE APRIL WILL see the always anticipated return of trumpeter Dave Douglas in yet another incarnation. The man does not know the meaning of the words "stand still" and we love him for it. This time he's got a quartet consisting of Mark Turner on tenor sax, James Genus on bass and Ben Perowsky on drums. I'm expecting the always sharp, always on the edge Dave Douglas who is never ever shy and something tells me that's what I'll get. Throw in a member of my favourite group (Lounge Lizard Perowsky - you don't get to be a Lizard without an off-the-beaten-path measure of both chops and soul) and I am so there! That's April 24 at the Starfish Room, which I suppose would be in keeping with the always moving Douglas, as I've never seen him in the same venue more than once in the three times I've seen DD-lead groups (info: www.jazzvancouver.com).
...LAST BUT NOT likely least of the big shows in April we'll have what should be a huge treat in the form of Elvin Jones-Jazz Machine, with the fiery performer once labelled "the world's greatest rhythmic drummer" on the 26th at The Cultch (no doubt they'll be hauling out the extra chairs for this one). Jones appears with tenor saxist Antoine Roney, saxophonist Sonny Fortune, pianist Carlos McKinney and Greg Williams on bass (info: www.jazzvancouver.com).
MAY, MY FAVORITE month of the year is further enhanced by great anticipation over the Tony Wilson Sextet show on the 9th at the Western Front (an intimate, yet otherwise nondescript room where only hardcores dare to tread to hear the most off-the-beaten path jazz, including pretty much all the improv that comes to town - I love The Front). The performance will be recorded for release later as a CD (the word finally! is not entirely uncalled for here). Guitarist/composer Wilson's sweet, often haunting sound evokes a deep passion and abiding respect that he applies to everything he does - from his own gorgeous, emotionally fulfilling compositions, to concerts which are often tributes to those who have influenced him, and what seems to be a personal mission of shedding light on the music of composers he feels an affinity with (a long list which includes Buffy St. Marie, Albert Ayler, Jim Pepper, and Sun Ra). Making these shows particularly wonderful is the return of recently relocated to Toronto trumpeter Kevin Elaschuk who blows all heart, which makes him a perfect fit with this warmly resonating group (Paul Blaney, bass; Peggy Lee, cello; Dave Say, tenor sax; Dylan van der Schyff, drums). The Sextet's final gig with Elaschuk as a regular member last June was one of the most moving experiences this listener has felt in jazz (info: www.jazzvancouver.com).
...I WAS EXTREMELY fortunate to have attended some of the recording session this month for the Kate Hammett-Vaughan Quartet (André Lachance on bass, drummer Tom Foster and pianist Chris Gestrin, with tenor/soprano saxophonist Jim Pinchin adding alarming verve to about half the tunes) which is a long-overdue CD of standards. Ah, but don't let that word fool you too much, see, cause Kate's got her very own private take on things which can kind of sneak up on you because she looks like a jazz diva. It's really a disguise which works pretty much every time because it can hook you in and then she hits you with The Voice, The Personality, The Stage Presence, The Magic. She's got it all - she can make you laugh along with her light, airy phrasing that has you concentrating on trying to keep up (I once asked her to do "Autumn Leaves", unbelievably a song I had never heard live and was presented with a tune I barely recognized and, of course, instantly loved), and then she'll wrench your heart from your chest and remind you of heartaches long forgotten with the depth of the pain and soul she can bring to the surface. She'll do it to you with a deadly version of the Ellington-composed/Peggy Lee-lyricized "Gonna Go Fishing" that you'll hear on her album due out later this year (don't worry I'll let you know).
...ALSO IN THE studio this month is the relatively newly formed Chris Gestrin Trio (Gestrin, piano; André Lachance, on bass; and Dylan van der Schyff, drums). Gestrin is also a member of the young group Diversions, who have been pushing the limits of soundscapey jazz to great effect for over a year now, and just released a CD this past January - look for a review of it on this site!. Then look for Gestrin's disc later this year (ya, I'll let you know).
Until next time, in the words of Neil Finn, "Love this life/Don't wait til the next one comes", which, of course, means keep jazzin'.