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Fridays at Five is Jazz

Quotes Bar & Grill in the heart of downtown Toronto offers the ideal setting for enjoying outstanding jazz talent in an intimate dining atmosphere. "Fridays at Five" is a time to unwind from the hectic work week and start the weekend off with the outstanding Canadian Jazz Quartet. This relatively new jazz club is located just a few steps below street level at 220 King Street West (right next to the Royal Alexandra Theatre and directly across from Roy Thomson Hall).

There's NO COVER CHARGE and NO RESERVATIONS, so it's a good idea to get there early so you can pick a choice spot. I have arrived late on two occasions and still found a spot where I could sit in comfort, eat a fine meal and listen to superior jazz in a venue where the sound and sightlines are excellent.

The Canadian Jazz Quartet has been a favorite of mine since I became aware of them. There first record, C.J.Q. Canadian Jazz Quartet an independent release, has been in my collection since its debut in 1995. The band was formed in 1989 by Gary Benson (guitar) and Don Vickery (drums); the original band included the now deceased bassist Bob Price (1938-2002) and vibraphonist Frank Wright. The foundation is now held down by bassist Duncan Hopkins.

The band always swings; driving the pulse with dynamic energy is legendary Canadian drummer Don Vickery. The ultra smooth rhythm guitar playing of Gary Benson creates the crystal clear swing melody that motivates and inspires, think somewhere along the lines of a Freddie Green for maintaining that sumptuous swing rhythm, and Jim Hall for that distinct pure jazz phrasing, with that in mind you have some idea of the Gary Benson sound. Frank Wright shares the lead spots with mesmerizing solos that put him in a class by himself. He has a style that reminds me of the great Milt Jackson, a touch that is all about spirit, phrasing that captivates your attention and will not let go. Wright’s comping skills are exceptional; he adds the finest embellishments to the tunes, a polish that glows brightly. Bassist Duncan Hopkins plays with a great swing feel, very intricate player with wonderful intonation. He digs in and produces a full round sound with pleasant sustain on slower numbers. He has a feel for the music that allows him to phrase with authority, not straight ahead, not off beat, always in the pocket, a captivating bassist.

Each time I have visited quotes Bar and Grill I have seen a different guest artist; the trend is to feature a different guest artist for each Friday at Five jazz concert. I have visited during guest performances by flutist Bill McBirnie, saxophonist Rick Wilkins, trumpeter Denny Christianson and saxophonist Pat LaBarbera. At my first visit, Bill McBirnie was the featured guest, his playing was tremendous, he picked up on the synergy of the band, fit right in and proceeded to blow wicked runs of tremendous virtuosity. For a detailed review of Bill McBirnie, check out my cd review of Paco Paco in the review section.

On one of my spontaneous moments, I happened to be downtown at a business meeting on a "Friday at Five" I’m now aware that Quotes Bar and Grill is the place to go when you’re in that situation. It seems that many jazz artists are also becoming aware of this little known fact as the audience included many Canadian jazz stars, including David Clayton Thomas singer from the seventies super group Blood Sweat And Tears. The guest artist for this evening, trumpeter Denny Christianson, who showed up to play with serious intensity was joined on stage by David Clayton-Thomas who joined in for some vocalese on "C Jam Blues." Other highlight tunes included jazz standards, "When I Fall in Love," "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," "My Foolish Heart," "Alone Together," "Straight No Chaser," "You Don't Know What Love Is," and "My Romance."

My most recent visit was a planned outing to catch one of the best saxophonists around, the world renowned, Pat LaBarbera. Mr. LaBarbera is a smooth toned, melodical tenor player who fires off flowing runs that just keep coming. He seems to have developed his own form of circular breathing that allows an un-interrupted cascade of glorious sounds to flow freely from the bell of his saxophone.

The last number of the evening, a number that was a favorite of Mr. LaBarbera’s old boss Elvin Jones, who also liked to use this song as a grand finale. "If It Ain’t Got That Swing" was played with rousing intensity. Pat LaBarbera’s solo for the number was most impressive and it did swing, from staccato triplets to lightning fast runs. As he digs into the tune his body language also digs in, left leg bowing out slightly and upper body tilting sideways, blowing and blowing, for three minutes, four minutes, the beautiful tones have not stopped, they flow with ever increasing passion, mostly melodic, the occasional growl in the low register - followed by a slide up to the highs and settling back into the most pleasing of tones in the mid range. A mixture of tremendous dynamics, well placed accents and reminiscent quotes all blending beautifully, make for an incredible sonic experience that provides the Canadian Jazz Quartet a glorious finale.

The place to be when in Toronto, "Fridays at Five" for a tremendous taste of live inspirational jazz - Quotes Bar & Grill.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Canadian Jazz Quartet
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