The big-name opener of this year's edition of the Atlantic Jazz Festival is singular jazz-guitar musical collagist Bill Frisell and his stellar trio members, the irrepressible impster/drummer Joey Baron, and longtime Frisell collaborator the fine bassist Tony Scherr.
It takes exceptional musicians to play with Frisell: The ability, as pointed out, "to turn on a dime from twisted Americana to abstract density and defined swing" with an innate, quicksilver sense of mischievousness. Frisell has in Scherr, as one observer noted, the "special kind of player able to stretch definition and bring together disparate approaches." Alright. As for largely self-taught drummer Baron, he has recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Laurie Anderson, John Scofield, Philip Glass and been a member of NYC's Naked City, led by John Zorn, with Frisell, Fred Frith and Wayne Horvitz. An impressive range of styles. Now you dig Baron's fit with Frisell. All those textural colours, the sense of dynamics, the cocky ease with the derring-do no-safety-net approach of a Frisell performance.
Baltimore-born Frisell (1951), a clarinet player growing up in Denver, Colorado, picked up an interest in guitar listening to pop music radio—finding his then centre in Chicago blues, Otis Rush, BB King, Buddy Guy. He studied music at the University of Northern Colorado before attending Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Among his esteemed teachers was the sophisticated jazz guitarist, Jim Hall. In 1978, Frisell went to Belgium, to dive deep into composition. While there, Frisell met German bassist Eberhard Weber of ECM Records, who hired Frisell as in-house guitarist with the fabled jazz label. In New York City, from 1979 to 1989, Frisell made himself one of the most sought-after guitar voices by recording or performing with such diverse musical practitioners as Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithful, Ron Sexsmith, Canadian jazz luminary Paul Bley, Julius Hemphill, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno and a number of philharmonic orchestras.
Today he resides in Seattle where, aside from music activities, he enjoys a friendship with Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson. From this casserole of earlier reports, here's what you're likely to get at this Bill Frisell show: "A mesmerizing panoply of tonal textures," "timeless moments," "mystery, musicality, shimmering sonic surprises," "haunting, at times scary, at times so beautiful and joyous as to bring on tears" from a musician "thought to be the most original guitarist in the world today."
Friday, July 13 w/Joey Baron and Tony Scherr, Festival Tent, 8pm, $25
The three multi-instrumentalist members of Montreal's Torngat—Julien Poissant, Mathieu Charbonneau and Pietro Amato—share a history of studying music at Concordia University several years ago and, even earlier, of high school in the Ottawa area.
"Me and Julien played in a concert band together and we became buddies because I was playing French horn and he was playing timpani right behind me," recalls Amato, who plays the horn as well as electronics, percussion and melodeon in Torngat. "And I would give him the cues: "Alright, bar 159 is coming up, Julien. Don't forget to pick up your cymbal.'"
At university they dreamed about and debated "what music is and what music should be." Formed in 2001, Torngat became their answer. "At first we were playing largely improvised music. It was kind of just freeing ourselves from anything we needed to think about—playing very freely."
Torngat was originally a quartet, but the bass player left the band. Charbonneau, who plays Wurlitzer, analogue synth, Hammond organ, percussion and some horn, filled in. "He plays bass with his left hand. He plays Wurlitzer with his right hand and analogue —a synth bass—with his left hand," Amato explains.
By the time its third album, La Rouge, came out in 2005, the band functioned well as a trio. That album, Amato says, was composed "note for note. When we became a trio we improvised a lot less because Mathieu had to concentrate on playing two hands."
Though carefully constructed, La Rouge doesn't lack soul, grace or emotion. It's a gorgeous piece of modern, melancholic chamber music (in the order of Amato's other band, La Belle Orchestre). The forthcoming album You Could Be (on Montreal label Alien8) continues with the same tone but the arrangements have a little more room to move on stage.
"It feels like we're stretching out in a more rock and roll kind of way, not in a jazz kind of way," Amato says with a laugh. Though Amato describes the overall album as "pretty mellow," some songs can be built up into loud, intense affairs, a point that helped seal the deal with the folks at Alien8.
The multi-instrumentalism helps make a Torngat show a spectacle to witness, too. "On this particular song," says Amato, "Julien plays keyboard with his left hand, a bass drum and high hat with his two feet and trumpet with his right hand."
Saturday, July 14 at The Seahorse, 10:30 pm, $15
Canadian-born Andy Milne came to prominence in the early '90s after a chance meeting with New York jazz icon Steve Coleman and his M-BASE collective at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Coleman convinced Milne to move to New York and since doing so, Milne has played alongside fellow M-BASEmembers Cassandra Wilson and Greg Osbey, as well free jazz legends such as Archie Shepp. He is known not only as a passionate player with his band Dapp Theory, but as a respected composer and arranger, citing such diverse talents as Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum, Stevie Wonder, Bella Bartok and Joni Mitchell as influences. In 2004 he was voted Rising Star Keyboardist by Downbeat magazine and was awarded the Chamber Music of America's New Works commission in 2006.
With the 2007 Dreams and False Alarms, Milne stepped away from his role as leader of Dapp Theory and released a beautiful and eclectic solo collection of covers and originals. The music is a long step away from the funky and free improv that was the backbone of his appearance at the fest with Dapp Theory a few years back. The disc proves Milne not only a skilled pianist and composer but as an equally inspired arranger, bringing to life works by Mitchell, Sting, Bob Marley and Neil Young. The passionate and heartfelt style, that echoes work by Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner and that has won him worldwide gigs with Geri Allen, Dianne Reeves, Robin Eubanks and Sonny Greenwich, is featured throughout.
This year Milne will be playing two shows at the Atlantic Jazz Festival. The first is a solo gig at the Commons Room, to coincide with this marvellous new release, and a show with local saxophone great Dani Oore at Argyle Fine Art.
Monday, July 16 w/Jon Ballantyne, Commons Room, 9pm, $25 and Tuesday, July 17 at Argyle Fine Art w/Dani Oore, 8pm, $10
Brandi Disterheft Trio
With praise coming from none other than Oscar Peterson, 25-year-old Brandi Disterheft is currently one of Canada's rising jazz stars. Her debut—titled, fairly enough, Debut—shows her talents as a bassist, composer and bandleader. Her style is very much rooted in bass icons such as Ron Carter and Dave Holland, but is mostly rooted in the Atlantic years of bassist, composer and jazz god Charles Mingus.
Disterheft hails from Vancouver and began playing with her jazz-pianist mother, Fran Jare, when just a teenager. Later, she studied under Don Thompson at Humber College before winning the bassist spot in IAJE's Sisters in Jazz Collegiate All-Stars Sextet in 2000. Her many notable appearances include playing as a featured soloist with David Warrack's Canada Pops Orchestra (at only 21) and representing Canada in 2003 as a composer and performer in Chicago's Ravinia Jazz Festival and the Ravinia Jazz program, under such luminaries as James Moody. Disterheft has also been appearing with many Canadian greats including Mike Murley, Phil Dwyer, Richard Underhill and Michael Kaeshammer. Aside from building up a notable resume as a side player, she has also been leading and touring with her own bands since she was just 19 years old.
Disterheft's disc displays a great cross-section of talent. Upon hearing the soul and depth of her playing it is hard to believe she is only 25. The record has a foundation of hard-bop as the tracks recall the dominant vibe of Miles Davis's second quintet, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver's groundbreaking solo work and pre-Candid and Impulse Mingus. Debut shows amazing promise for Disterheft's talents as a composer and arranger.
Monday, July 16 at Stayner's Wharf, 11:30pm, $10Christine Jensen Quartet
Blessed with a rich tone and solid chops, Christine Jensen and her trumpeter sister, Ingrid, have been unstoppable forces in Canada's hard-bop scene. Jensen's fiery solos and textured compositions conjure up vibes of sax greats Sonny Rollins and Miles-era Coltrane.
Jensen has made her mark not only as a leader but also as a tremendous improv side player. Though based in Montreal, Jensen was born in Sechelt, British Columbia. She has been an active part of the Montreal scene since graduating from McGill's jazz performance program in 1994. (She received her Masters in 2006.)
The Quartet was formed in 2003 when Jensen was asked to perform some of her pieces on CBC's In Performance. She put the group together with pianist Dave Restivo, who has played alongside Rob McConnell, Dave Holland and Maynard Fergusson, bassist Fraser Hollins and percussionist Greg Ritchie. The Quartet has also had its share of stellar guest players such as Michel Donato, Gary Versace, Steve Amirault, Francois Théberge and Joel Miller.
With the Quartet, Jensen recorded her third disc as a leader, Look Left, made up from compositions written during Jensen's stay in Paris in 2003. Though Jensen has been busy touring through Europe and South America, she has taken time to record with her sister and Swedish composer and pianist Maggi Olin, releasing Flurry under the moniker Nordic Connect. Both Jensen and her side-people have a reputation for astonishing chops and killer live performances—the Christine Jensen Quartet is a must.
Wednesday, July 18, Commons Room, 9pm, $25
Barry Romberg's Random Access
One of the most acclaimed jazz percussionists to ever come out of Canada, in his 36 years behind the skins Barry Romberg has played with greats such as Gil Evans, Hank Jones, Kenny Wheeler, Sam Rivers, Sonny Greenwich, Don Byron, Holly Cole, Mike Murley, Moe Koffman, Rob McConnell, Molly Johnson, The Shuffle Demons and Metalwood, to name a few.
Romberg won a Juno in 1991 for his work on Brian Dickenson's In Transition as well as being nominated five times for work with Michael Occhipinti's Creation Dream, Chris Tarry and three times with NOJO. In 2003 the MRC Trio that he co-leads was nominated for the Best Electric Group at The National Jazz Awards and from 2005 to 2007, Random Access was nominated for the Best Electric Group at The National Jazz Awards, while Romberg was nominated for Drummer of the Year in the past two years.
Romberg is an incredibly busy man, teaching and composing while leading two groups. He also plays in Inside Out with Lorne Lofsky and Kieran Overs, The MRC Trio and the collective Three Sisters, featuring bassist Chris Tarry (Metalwood) and guitarists Geoff Young and Daryl Jankhe.
With 60 recordings to his name, including 10 as a leader and co-leader, Romberg has left a deep impression on fans and musicians. He is noted for his incredible speed and ripping fills, making him a drummer's drummer. His quirky skills and unsurpassed style mounted with his talent as an arranger and composer should make for an extraordinary show.
Wednesday, July 18 at The Seahorse, 10:30pm, $10
Though Kristen Cudmore writes, rhymes and plays classical guitar in Language Arts, she needs her band.
"I don't really feel like it is my band because when I play the songs on my own, it's not the same," the Nova Scotia-native (she hails from New Minas) explains from Vancouver, where she lives with her partner, fellow maritimer and bassist in Language Arts, Michael "Finn" Vaughan.
Cudmore performed solo for the 2006 Halifax Pop Explosion. This time the whole quartet's along—Cudmore, Vaughan, guest drummer Neil MacIntosh (usually it's Max Myth, himself a replacement for Cody Osborne, who appears on the self-titled debut that came out earlier this year) and Matt Dawson on keys and "gadgets." He also engineered the record.
"Having the band is a lot more natural to me," continues Cudmore. "The machines are cool and looping is really fun but it's a whole different experience playing with people you really enjoy. I play harder and take more risks when I play with the band."
In terms of writing, every member owns his own part and has input into the overall arrangement of a song. For example, Cudmore added "natural effects like tremolos or playing octaves."
Dawson "did most of his arranging on his own and then when we listened to the unmixed tracks we were so excited hearing some of these sounds for the first time," Cudmore recalls. "Finn added in a few surprises, too, with solos and tone and he made some of his bass parts more busy or added more rhythm."
Bass (in this case, double bass) plays a big part in the sound. Switching from groove to disco to melancholic bow-playing, Vaughan anchors this band brilliantly. "Most of my inspiration in Language Arts comes from hip-hop lines that usually aren't played on a standup," he says, "but so far as players go I'm really inspired by guys like Scott Lafaro, Edgar Meyer and Jaco —guys who changed people's perceptions of what the bass is capable of."
Vaughan also plays double bass in two symphony orchestras, Kamloops and Vancouver Island. That helps them, Cudmore says, maintain separate "musical lives." Even when they go out for dinner to get away from the business, they can end up talking and planning. "But we both love what we do and love that we get to do it together."
Wednesday, July 18 at Argyle Fine Art, 8pm, $10
Dan Weiss is no ordinary New York City-based, movie-star-handsome, drummer-percussionist. No sir. Oh, sure, he's played or recorded with David Binney, Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman, Rudresh (call me Rudy) Mahanthappa, Wayne Krantz, Kenny Werner, Uri Caine, the Village Vanguard Orchestra and Ravi Coltrane to list but a few. Sure, he's been criss-crossing Europe and North America extensively over the past seven years. And has studied tabla for the last nine years with Pandit Samir Chatterjee. And flash-fingered the complex beats of classical Indian music (in India, no less) as well as the US with Ramesh Mishra, Mandira Lahiri, Subra Guha, Anounshka Shankar, Joyas Biswas, KV Mahabala and Steve Gorn. If you're well acquainted with classical Indian music performers, this list is so awesome, dude. But I digress.
Sure, his abundant technique can transport from blistering fury to sparse whispers in a blink. Sure, his comfort with odd or blends of metres can be galvanizing. Sure, rim knocks, press rolls, chocked cymbal crashes, stick shots, hits on tom-toms, one second remorselessly direct or wondrously complex, could dazzle the profoundly tin-earred.
So what does this "sheer musical force" who parcels out some of his precious time clubbing the skins with Bloody Panda, a "doom" metal band, like in a jazz trio setting with "two of the most creative musicians on the NYC jazz scene today"? Apparently chiding, goading, coaxing, daring, cheering and rallying his bandmates. Whatever it takes.
Amazingly, there's no "Let's lose Charley" resentment to be found in either hard-charging pianist Jacob Sacks (also possessing a strong individualistic voice) or bassist Thomas Morgan, a young cat with an uncanny maturity. Morgan's gifted with the vital skills to lock in forward motion while being keenly and intuitively responsive with quickly twisting bass lines and sudden tonal and time shifts.
The lanky Sacks, who crouches over the keyboard in Glenn Gould fashion, can cook hot or poetic with extended lyricism or sprightly scatterings of "note sprinkles." He earned his chops pounding keys with the mainstream Mingus Big Band, the "compositional free jazz" of the Mat Maneri Ensemble and vamp-based fusion groups.
OK. If you've got an irascible band leader of seemingly "antipodal musical personalities" that gambol from heavy metal thunder to the finger-ginger of trad Indian tabla with two equally accomplished accomplices, you've got a ticket to go where musical imagination should dare to go. Soaring.
Thursday, July 19 at The Commons Room, 9pm, $25
Toronto's Mr. Something Something is about to hit the road from Banff to Saskatoon. It's the "last stop on this first leg of a three-month tour and it's also our 13th show in 14 days," writes vocalist Johan Hultqvist in an email sent just before the band hits the road again.
Complete with onstage choreographer/dancer Jennifer Dallas, two former horn players from The Shuffle Demons—Richard Underhill and Perry White—a crack rhythm section and a tireless guitar player, this Afrobeat band goes big. Very big.
A busted wrist doesn't stop the singer from working hard. "Normally I play a calabash gourd shaker with both hands but since my left arm's in a cast I've had to play it on my thighs," says Hultqvist. "I was rubbing Arnica gel on my bruises but after a couple of weeks of touring my thighs were completely black and blue and I could barely walk. So before our show in Nanaimo I bought some tensor bandages."
The tensor bandages came loose and eventually unwound, trailing out of his pant legs like errant toilet paper. Yuks were had all around and Hultqvist ended up duct-taping the bandages to his legs. Now, that's commitment.
"The live show is all about creating a space where people feel safe enough to explore and express themselves," he writes. "Because that's when the magic happens. That's when the healing occurs. And the dance floor is really just a representation of society. The empty dance floor may look hostile but one brave soul is all it takes to change people's perception of what's possible."
Started by drummer/percussionist Larry Graves and John MacLean (tenor sax, flute, clarinet), Mr. Something Something released The Edge in 2005. MacLean produced that record and will do the same on the forthcoming follow-up Deep Sleep, a collaboration with Nigerian spoken-word artist Ikwunga the Afrobeat Poet.
In Afrobeat tradition, this band inspires unselfconscious dancing and consciousness through the words. "The biggest challenge for me and John is to write powerful songs without sacrificing the subtlety—or becoming preachy."
It's hard to put into music, he explains, such as, "Why should we pay for externalized costs of pollution, illness, health care and public infrastructure to support corporate expansion? Banishing corporations from political participation is the first step to reclaiming our democracy. These kinds of statements are easy to put into an essay,
but how do you put statements like that into a song lyric? That's our challenge. Words like "externalized' aren't very poetic."
Thursday, July 19 at Festival Tent w/Salsa Picante, 8pm, $20
Simon Fisk is one of Canada's most innovative jazz voices. He's a stellar bassist in the Mingus tradition, but not afraid introducing the ideas of alternative and indie music into the jazz form. Though Brad Mehldau may have arranged Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" into a genius jazz jam, Fisk takes it to the next level by putting Radiohead's sound directly into his compositions. (He's even made a full-length tribute to British folk-jazz cult icon Nick Drake.)
Originally from the east coast, Fisk obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Music from St. Francis Xavier University before moving to his current base of operation in Vancouver. Fisk played with the much-lauded boogie/stride pianist Michael Kaeshammer from 1999 until 2003, when he formed his own trio. With this trio Fisk recorded two critically acclaimed CDs; the debut Trainwrecks was nominated for a Western Canadian music award for Outstanding Jazz Recording in 2003 and the follow-up Intent was nominated for two Leo Awards.
The music has often been compared to popular hard-bop and free jazz trios such as Brad Mehldau's Trio. Fisk's vision pulls together a cornucopia of soundscapes that range from free-jazz to folk to art rock to sonic noise. A variety of influences, as diverse as Tom Waits, Wilco, Daniel Lanois and Beck, can be heard in a variety of forms throughout his music.
This time out Fisk is doing bass duties, along with synths and noises. His quartet features pianist Chris Gestrin from the original trio and is rounded out with Aaron Young of The Polyjesters on guitar and punk/free jazz drummer Kenton Loewen replacing Tom Foster. The show should be an interesting experience for fans of post-modern jazz and experimental sound.
Thursday, July 19 at Argyle Fine Art, 8pm, $10
Argyle Fine Art, 1869 Upper WaterCommons Room, Holiday Inn Select, 1980 RobieFestival Tent, Spring Garden at QueenThe Seahorse, 1659 Argyle