Whitaker, supported by an A-list of west coast players, delivers the real thing with her signature dark, husky voice that seems made for jazz.
And while that voice thins now and then under the load of these demanding tunes and arrangements, Whitaker makes up for any tonal challenges with sensitive phrasing that respects the lyrics and knows when there should be sound and and when there should be silence.
Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry is a fine example with the gorgeous interplay between her muted trumpet voice and Dwyer’s sweet, supple sax. You’ll also hear it in My Foolish Heart as she plays off rich horn lines and Dwyer’s spare piano work.
Fact is, all the songs on this album are delivered with style, not the least of which are the Stevie Wonder tunes Overjoyed and Creepin’, well-chosen contemporary contrasts to the standards that are at the core of the album.
Speaking of Phil Dwyer, is there a better musical mind anywhere in the country? He, along with the other masterful players he’s recruited, including Brad Turner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ian McDougall on trombone and Ken Lister on bass, has given Whitaker an expansive musical sandbox in which to play.
Just listen to the percussive fun and excitement on the opening The Song is You and you’ll know you’re in for a treat. This album is a winner vocally and instrumentally.
Note: Sadly the CD arrived too late for me to review it in time for Whitaker’s Victoria show this past weekend, but you can catch her tonight (Wednesday) at The Cellar in Vancouver at 8 pm. And the album is now available on disk or digital download through Whitaker’s website. It would make a great Christmas gift.
There were times last night when I thought the Wayne Shorter Quartet, triggered by Brian Blade on drums, would levitate right through the roof of the Royal and soar into the evening sky.
Blade was that astonishing and they were that good.
Before I say more, a caveat: they weren’t for everybody. The guy beside me, who left early with his partner, held his head sometimes as if in pain.
The dude who thought he was at a rock concert and shouted, “Play Birdland!” was probably disappointed.
One avid jazz fan I know spent the concert making up funny show titles to cope. The one she shared with me was brilliant: “What Fresh Hell Is This?”
But I think it’s safe to say that most of the audience, once they abandoned all expectations of conventional harmonic structure and melody, were dumbstruck. Evidence: the spontaneous standing ovation and shouts for more that erupted at the end of the 90-minute set.
(Note: this was not one of those obligatory standing O’s, where a few people get up, and others, self-consciously thinking they should join in, rise slowly from their seats. This was instant, explosive, and sustained enough to bring the group back on stage for an encore after a long delay).
I confess, I was one of the shouters.
What triggered my response?
It was the ability of these great musicians to create in the moment with pure abandon.
To play as if the pages of their charts were filled with questions.
To play as if they were blank.
To experiment and stumble only to rise on a wave of exalted improvisation.
To perform as if they were discovering music for the first time.
To know where they were going but not know.
To play with deep beauty.
To dare to play with chaos.
To be so fully attuned to each other that at times they were one musician not four.
To spin off into four separate worlds and then awake to each other and come together once again.
To play with humour.
To be deeply serious.
To answer the Birdland dude with the most hesitant and unpracticed of beginnings. (I love it that Shorter felt free enough to make the warming up and tuning of his sax part of the music).
To go crazy (witness Blade leaping off his stool and laughing as he drummed like a madman while John Patitucci’s right hand became a blurr on his upright bass).
To be still and silent and play little or nothing at all.
To love what they were doing so much that it didn’t matter what they were doing.
To play until they could play no more.
Watching these guys was like watching a painting come to life:
Danilo Perez on the grand piano stage right peering at the charts and then looking at the others intently as he sent single notes or extended chords their way and waited for a reaction.
Shorter, standing casually beside the piano in his Indian-style kurta, playing one phrase on his soprano sax and then, enough said, putting it down.
Patitucci swaying and twisting with his bass in the wind of Blade’s drumming.
Blade, stage left, exploding into the most impossible of drum riffs and then settling quietly into the tinkling of a few bells.
This was art, not entertainment.
In its own way the Wayne Shorter Quartet did rise into the night sky.
For those who missed it, here’s a taste from a concert in Vienna:
Jazz fans could be excused for thinking they died and went to heaven last night at Alix Goolden Hall.
Two groups took us there in totally different ways.
First up was Montreal’s DBLT, performing a tribute to Bill Evans of such range and beauty that to describe it seems ridiculous. How do you explain perfection?
Volumes could be devoted to the impossible bass playing of Michel Donato, the sublime piano work of Francois Bourassa, the transformative tenor saxophone of Frank Lozano, and the dynamic drumming of Pierre Tanguay.
A few words come to mind – space, light and fire – but the truth is you had to be there, and if you weren’t, the best you can do is sample their musicianship through this clip which will give you a small taste of the sonic banquet they gave us:
Phil Dwyer Sextet featuring Laila Biali
Next up was Vancouver Island’s own Phil Dwyer and his breathtaking compositional tribute to classic Canadian composers like Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, and Joni Mitchell.
On the magical Canadian mystery tour with Dwyer were Jodi Proznick on bass, Rob Piltch on guitar, Vince Mai on trumpet and Davide Direnzo on drums, as well as special guest Laila Biali who, as Sting has recognized, plays piano like a demon and has a voice from the gods.
In an Ottawa Citizen review of this show, Peter Hum suggested that in a fair world Dwyer and Biali would be as famous as the musicians behind the popular songs they were performing.
He’s right, particularly when we’re talking about Dwyer, who last night demonstrated that he is one of our great Canadian composers, albeit in a vein that the majority of music fans will likely never approach or recognize.
Those looking for the familiar melodies and simple chords of the original tunes would be disappointed since Dwyer transformed the songs – among them Robbie Robertson’s Down By the Lazy River, Gordon Lightfoot’s Beautiful and Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds – into sonic landscapes of such beauty and chaos that it was like hearing The Group of Seven transfigured through the musical imaginations of Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett and Ornette Coleman.
Crazy, I know, but that’s what heaven sounded like.
Here are some samples, albeit with a septet and slightly different personnel. Make sure you listen to Lightfoot’s Beautiful: Phil Dwyer
Hermann’s was jammed to the rafters last night for guitarist Michael Occhipinti’s Shine On: The Universe of John Lennon. We arrived later than most but managed to grab a table dead centre at the front – a blessing but also a curse since we were right in the line of fire of Occhipinti’s Fender amp, which was cranked. I don’t know how the balance was elsewhere in the club but from that vantage point the guitar was far too loud, often drowning out Elizabeth Shepherd on piano and even Kevin Turcotte on trumpet who was five feet in front of us. Occhipinti played well but it would have been nice to hear guitar levels more akin to those found on the album, which by the way is superb (more on that in a moment).
Despite that complaint, the music was fabulous, particularly on quieter tunes like Across the Universe and Working Class Hero when we could hear all the musicians and fully appreciate Occhipinti’s creative re-imagining of these songs, not to mention (in the case of those two songs) Elizabeth Shepherd’s sublime vocals.
Jazz arrangements of pop songs can go awry, particularly with a songwriter like Lennon and a group like The Beatles, where the musical bar is high and we hear the tunes in a particular way. They can be too saccharine or stray too far from the original, pitfalls Occhipinti has avoided through his choice of musicians and vocalists, his arrangements, and his fine guitar work.
This was a great show and they’ve produced a superb album that I highly recommend. Have a listen courtesy of the CBC:
My wife and I caught three shows yesterday at Jazzfest: the Pablo Cardenas Fusion Project, Nick La Riviere Septet and the Barry Elmes Quintet. The first two were at Centennial Square. The latter at Hermann’s. I’ll start there.
Barry Elmes Quintet
A side note: other jazzers could learn from Elmes’ easy rapport with his audience. First, he uses a mic so folks can actually hear. Second, he takes a moment to connect between songs, introducing each piece with a brief – usually funny – story. Third, he’s just himself – and plays with sophistication and style.
Here they are in Toronto at the Rex:
Cardenas started slow but picked up as the set progressed, although the electric piano and outdoor venue at Centennial Square did little to support his sophisticated playing. I’ve heard him twice before on acoustic piano at Hermann’s with a stellar rhythm section and each time was mightily impressed. This time less so but I blame the venue, instrument and sound for the most part. A couple of tunes worked very well, though, and Cardenas is a great player – just catch him in the right venue on the right instrument.
Nick La Riviere Septet
The Nick La Riviere Septet followed and served up a lively, energetic set, including a surprise guest appearance by Michael Kaeshammer. Again, the outdoor stage and sound-on-the-fly did little to enhance the subtler aspects of La Riviere’s arrangements, particularly the strings, which sounded thin, but his eclectic, cohesive set was a big audience pleaser. This guy knows how to put on a show and moves easily through the genres, playing trombone and conch and even indulging in some vocals, including his take on a Dr. John tune, which was a lot of fun. La Riviere was more than ably supported by a strong rhythm section with Damian Graham on drums, Ryan Tandy on bass, and Karel Roessingh on keys.
And like her debut album Twelve Easy Pieces, it’s a major artistic success unlike anything you’ll hear anywhere else.
If you did want to classify it, I suppose you could call it “indie alt world jazz” or some such thing, but labels utterly fail her work as they fail the artist herself who, with her diverse talents as musician, composer, arranger, and vocalist, and with her many influences, simply can’t be put in a box.
And while the album has a unifying concept – a collection of imagined characters sitting in a room waiting for… well, mostly love, but also freedom, acceptance, and the unexpected – each song is unique, making for a kaleidoscopic ride through pop, jazz, classical, folk and world music forms, feels, and grooves, a journey that periodically surges into impressionism or slows into free-flowing ballads so awash with beauty and emotion they’ll make you weep.
And while traveling, Schaefer explores the universal themes of loss, love, decline, and renewal that artists have examined for ages. She does this in part through her ability to inhabit the skin of her characters lyrically while creating the right musical setting for their voices to emerge sonically. This ability is no more apparent than on the breathtaking Elixir, a song about aging so sublime that it just might break your heart.
I don’t want to get carried away and say that Schaefer is darn near Shakespearean in her range but I’m tempted. And lest that comparison make her album sound hopelessly lofty and serious, just know that, as with the bard, you’ll laugh a lot. Schaefer has a killer sense of humour and her lyrics and music reflect that. “Please be apprised that my sensual guise is just a smokescreen/ ‘Cause I’ll clean your clock if you think you can just walk away,” from Black Canary is just one example of her wit.
A nod must go to the fine musicians who accompany Schaefer and help her realize her vision. They are Scott White on bass, Kelby MacNayr on drums, Adrian Dolan on strings and accordion, Kevin Fox on voice and cello, and co-producer Joby Baker on drums and “clanging pipes.” Schaefer herself plays piano, guitar, shaker, “clanging pipes” and “boots.” Like I said, she has a sense of humour.
When Twelve Easy Pieces came out, critics across the country raved about Schaefer’s talent. Marke Andrews of the Vancouver Sun called the record “a thing of beauty.” Greg Quill of the Toronto Star referred to her “exceptional voice,” “poet’s eye,” and “courageous heart.” Andre Rheaume of Radio Canada heralded the arrival of a new star. The Waiting Room is a worthy successor to that album and deserves similar praise.
Schaefer herself uses superlatives like “amazing,” “spectacular,’” and “incredible” in her liner notes to thank all the people who helped make the recording possible. In speaking about the album, I would add “inventive,” “original,” “sensitive,” “startling,” “challenging,’ “lyric,” “intense,” and “beautiful.”
Well worth the wait, this is a gorgeous record worthy of attentive listening and many spins on your CD player.
Anne Schaefer launches The Waiting Room on Thursday, March 1, 8 pm, at Alix Goolden Hall. Tickets are available in advance at Larsen Music and Lyle’s Place. $20/$18 VJS and UJAM/$15 students and seniors. Doors open at 7:30. More info here.
Jazz for Christmas, featuring the Winnipeg version of the Bob Watts Trio (Bob Watts, drums; Bert Johnson, piano; Bob ‘Moose’ Jackson, bass) is different than most seasonal CD’s in that the group has ignored the usual candidates (Let It Snow, The Christmas Song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, etc.) in favour of nine traditional carols.
In their press release they claim this is the only jazz CD out there with such a repertoire.
Whether that’s true or not, they’ve made these tunes – everything from God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen to What Child Is This – swing.
The familiar melodies are there, beautifully rendered, but what makes the recording soar is the superb improvisational work of Bert Johnson, a young Winnipeg pianist who completed his Masters in Music (jazz piano) in 2009 at the University of Manitoba and now teaches at the Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Art.
The good news is you don’t have to travel to the frozen prairie to catch this material live. In fact you can hear it this Sunday, December 4 (7:30 pm) at St. Phillips Anglican Church in Oak Bay, where Watts, with the Victoria version of his group, has been offering monthly jazz vespers concerts for over a year.
Tom Vickery takes the piano seat this week and is sure to serve up his own tasteful renderings of these charts backed by the solid work of Watts on drums and Ross MacDonald on bass.
I can’t think of a better way to ease into the Christmas season. And you should be able to snag the CD at the concert as well to carry you right through December.
Originally from Vancouver, Cole produces ultra-short documentaries featuring players like Montreal trumpeter Kevin Dean (you may recall he was here in Victoria in May with PJ Perry), saxophonist Al McLean, and guitarist Mike Rud (who will be very familiar to Vancouver and Victoria audiences of the past).
Cole’s latest film captures the musical and emotional bond between Kevin Dean and his late father Richard through Dean’s telling of the story of Pops, a jazz ballad he composed for his dad shortly before he died.
Against the backdrop of a lovely rendering of the song in the serene setting of a Montreal church, Dean talks about growing up in a musical family and being inspired by his farmer father who, as a musician (sax and bass), could really “play pretty.”
Although brief, the film takes us right to the heart of their relationship and reveals the deep emotion that often inspires musical creation.
While you are at it, you might want to check out Cole’s other films. The ones I’ve seen are superb. In fact, watching this material has got me thinking – maybe there’s a filmmaker on Vancouver Island who might want to capture some of our own jazz stories?
And what a recording it is. Released on October 25, Changing Seasons is a lyrical 35-minute jazz-suite-cum-violin-concerto performed by a 17-piece superstar big band, a 20-piece string section, violin virtuoso Mark Fewer and trumpet great Ingrid Jensen all blowing, bowing, and swinging their way through 1000 bars of classical, jazz, and show music cooked up by the great Phil Dwyer and his fertile musical imagination.
Modelled in part on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, it’s a refreshing breeze bringing the warmth of spring and the promise of summer to a sometimes frozen music world.
For some time now I’ve been thinking about the jazz and classical communities within that world and their apparent inability to get together in any meaningful way – at least on this continent.
My wife and I were in Europe in September and attended a concert at Bimhuis, the acclaimed center for improvised music in Amsterdam. There we saw a 30-piece big band of jazz and classical players (with a vocalist and tap dancer to boot) thrilling the audience with startlingly original compositions that mixed classical, jazz and experimental music as naturally as fresh water blends with salt in Holland’s seaside estuaries.
Changing Seasons isn’t quite that adventuresome, but it does challenge the notion that jazz is jazz and classical classical and never the twain shall meet. It also throws down the gauntlet to the institutions that keep music boxed up.
I’m reminded of my attempt two years ago to convince a local symphony to take a risk and produce Christine Jensen’s amazing Treelines jazz suite, a tribute to her Vancouver Island roots inspired in part by Emily Carr’s paintings (imagine the music together with the projected paintings), but no such luck. I didn’t even get the courtesy of a reply to my letter.
That symphony and others like it across the country will occasionally stick one toe out on a limb and produce a Holly Cole or Michael Kaeshammer concert but sadly that’s about as daring as they’ll get.
And our jazz societies that control most of the meagre funding that goes to improvised music in this country generally stick with the same formula of big-name (often non-jazz) acts filling the auditorium seats while the jazz groups are sequestered in the far corners of the city.
In the meantime our gifted Canadian jazz composers have to move mountains all by themselves just to get their work performed and recorded and then hope that somebody somewhere might eventually have the vision to present it to a larger audience. Which almost never happens, except, God bless them, now and then on CBC radio.
Enough ranting. We can do something about it. Do yourself a favour and download or order Changing Seasons. You won’t regret it. And as the winter winds start blowing, consider writing letters to a few music directors. If they get enough maybe they too will understand that they must believe in spring.
Note: Ottawa Citizen reporter Peter Hum has posted on his superb jazz blog a five-part interview with Phil Dwyer. Dwyer talks about the new album, his childhood fascination with jazz, hanging in NYC in the 80s, his career, his personal struggles, and his advice to aspiring players. It’s a deeply personal and moving interview. Highly recommended.
And blessing of blessings, Phil Dwyer performs with Ken Lister on Sunday, November 20, 7pm, at a Church of the Advent jazz vespers gig in Colwood.
Saxophonist Monik Nordine , one of the most compelling voices on the west coast, has just released a new CD with her group Departure, featuring Brent Jarvis on keys, Phil Albert on bass, and Buff Allen on drums.
Nordine submitted the following review-cum-liner-notes written by Peter Taschuk to Island Jazz in advance of their upcoming shows (Thursday, November 25 on Salt Spring; Friday, November 26 in Victoria; and Sunday, November 28 in Nanaimo). It’s worth a read and the group is definitely worth a listen. Performance details can be found at the end of the review.
Be sure to check them out.
– Rick Gibbs
Review by Peter Taschuk The jazz scene on the west coast is fundamentally different than that in most other regions in Canada, in that it is more spread out, not completely concentrated in an urban centre, as in most places. A large number of musicians have moved out west, attracted by Vancouver’s lifestyle, climate, and setting, and many of them have discovered the attractions of the communities on the islands. Home-grown jazz musicians have thrived on the associations that they’ve formed with these travellers, and this recording is one of the many fine products of these affiliations.
“Departure” is the newest jazz recording by the group consisting of Monik Nordine, saxes; Brent Jarvis, keyboard; Phil Albert, bass; and Buff Allen, drums. It opens with “Instep”, written by Monik, who was born and raised on Salt Spring Island, left to study and play in Vancouver and Montreal, returned a few years ago, and is now based in Nanaimo. This tune kicks off the proceedings in fine style, with a somewhat gentle feel propelled by the light clash and chatter of the master drummer Allen, and supported by the broad, understated strokes of the Fender Rhodes piano of Jarvis. The song showcases Monik’s modern, adventuresome style, the great influence of John Coltrane, and actually ends with a paraphrase of Coltrane’s groundbreaking “Giant Steps”.
Second in the program is “Questar”, one of Keith Jarret’s beautiful tone poems. Here Jarvis, who studied at the University of Toronto, uses a lush, processed tone on the Rhodes, which is the perfect foil to the tone Monik achieves on her alto sax (the Nordic sound), which is a slightly more biting and astringent timbre . The Rhodes, which was used by many jazz pianists in the 70′s, has a funkier sound than the acoustic piano, longer sustain, and less dynamic range. This tone colour, along with the busy, yet subtle drumming of Allen, defines the sonic feel of this whole project, giving it a highly cohesive and distinctive feel.
The next number, “Waltz”, was written by Jarvis. I think he purposely gave the tune this bland, generic name to alert the listener that is indeed a waltz, even though it doesn’t feel like it at first. The short lyrical melody, stated by Monik on the soprano sax, gives us the distinct impression of 4/4, and what follows, throughout the solos, is the wonderfully ambiguous polyrhythmic feel of 4 against 6.
“Vi”, written by Monik, is a calypso in the spirit of the grandaddy of jazz calypsos, St. Thomas, written by another one of Monik’s great influences, Sonny Rollins. It is essentially a duo for sax and drums, accompanied by bass and keyboard, with a nice solo by Albert, who is also originally from Salt Spring. Buff Allen, who lives on Bowen Island, and who has been playing jazz for 40+ years, shows his consummate command of the whole drum kit here.
“Ballad”, by Brent Jarvis is a heart-rending lyrical melody, a sweet repose, followed by finely constructed solos by Monik and Brent.
The set ends with what is, essentially, a blowing session on the two “pure” jazz forms: blues, and rhythm changes. Everyone has practised and played these structures for their whole careers, and are consequently able to strut their stuff, blow inside and out, and generally have a good time. “Detour”, written by Monik, is an angular bebopish, Monkish, 12-bar blues. Great solos from all. Monik actually starts hers by quoting “Blue Monk”, one of Thelonious’ most well-known tunes. The burner “Sireusly Mean” by Phil Albert is the rhythm changes piece, this one in the spirit of Charlie Parker, who essentially built his career composing new melodies (and improvising) on these structures.
This recording plays like a set on a live club date. It takes us on a journey through some pretty spectacular scenery, and leaves us wanting to drive this road again. The recording quality is warm and alive, the mixes are superb, and the flow of the whole session is wonderful. It feels a lot like like an old LP, which we listened to in its entirety, rather than to a succession of single unrelated tunes on an Ipod set to shuffle. This is a potent bunch of musicians, and their distinctive individual styles have come together in a superbly unique blend.
The band is holding these CD launch events: Salt Spring house concert on Nov. 25, Hermann’s Jazz Bar on Nov. 26 in Victoria, Downstairs at the Acme Food Co. on Nov. 28 in Nanaimo (as part of a new series of jazz events once a month on Sundays). In Feb. they will be playing for the Georgia Straight Jazz Society in Courtenay, and in March at the Cellar in Vancouver. Also, they’re planning a festival tour across Canada in the summer of 2011.