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Victoria JazzFest International – Best Bets

June 22, 2009

I’ll be away from my desk for a few days and so I thought I’d leave you with my take on some of the shows worth seeing at Jazzfest International this year in Victoria.  I’ll most likely  add a few suggestions towards the end of the week.

Hugh Fraser Quintet/Chucho Valdes Quintet

Has the potential to be one of the most exciting shows of this or any jazz festival. Fraser has known Valdes for years, first studying with him and then going on to perform and record with him. Inspired by their friendship, you can bet both players (and their bands) will be in top form, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Valdes invites Fraser to sit in at some point during his set. If that happens they’ll blow the roof off the Royal Theatre. Both groups will likely do that anyway. If I were to pick one big-ticket show only, this would be it.

Marc Atkinson Electric Band

Marc Atkinson is always worth hearing, and with this new project featuring himself on electric guitar, Joey Smith on electric bass, Chad Geekie on keyboards, and Bill Hicks on drums, Atkinson will be offering cool blues/funk sounds to contrast with his acoustic trio’s gypsy jazz flavours. This is the group’s debut Victoria performance and should be a whole lot of fun.   The only catch – Atkinson is opening for Hiromi’s Sonic Bloom at the Royal, and so you will have to pay the big bucks to get in. Mind you, Hiromi sounds pretty interesting, too – should be quite a show.

Maureen Washington Band

I first heard Maureen Washington several weeks ago at Hermann’s, and all I can say is you should take the time to catch her show at JazzFest.  There’s a whole lot of sass, energy, and personality in her performance, and she knows how to make a jazz standard come alive. This lady is the real thing.

Emily Braden Quartet/Misha Piatigorsky

Emily Braden has spent a lot of time in New York this past year, opening her ears, refining her vocal style and recording a studio album that Piatigorsky produced for her. Backed by Sean Drabitt on bass, Jesse Cahill on drums and Piatigorsky on piano, she’ll have a lot to say to her adopted home town audience. For his part, the New York-based Piatigorsky is an inspired pianist with incredible energy. His performance last year was a highlight. Expect more of the same.

Sean Drabitt Group

One of Victoria’s hardest working bassists, Sean Drabitt has assembled a fine group, including Brent Jarvis (piano), Roy Styffe (sax), Josh Dixon (drums), Leon Torres (conga), and Emily Braden (vocals) to present the music of the great virtuoso bassist Jaco Pastorius. Drabitt takes his Pastorius seriously – expect a really good show – too bad it’s in Centennial Square (note to JazzFest folks – Market Square was a much better outdoor venue).

Esquimalt High Jazz Combo

Hugh Fraser says that these Esquimalt students are playing at a higher level and sounding better than a lot of college bands he’s heard over the years. They’ve been developing their performance skills all year at Hermann’s  A couple of the players, including Sean Fyfe on piano, could well go on to major jazz careers. Definitely worth catching their young energy.

Kind of Blue at 50: Jimmy Cobb’s So What Band

And on the other side of the age and experience spectrum, Drummer Jimmy Cobb has hand-picked a fine group of players to recreate the Kind of Blue session he was part of as a 50th anniversary nod to Miles Davis and this most influential of all jazz albums. He’s already played a number of dates in the US and will take the show to Europe after touring Canada. All indications are from early reviews that it’s worth the price of admission and if you close your eyes, you’ll think you’re listening to the original group.

Scott White Quartet

Victoria bassist Scott White, who has been living and performing in Europe for much of the last 12 years, has assembled a group of favourite musicians (Roy Styffe, Kelby MacNayr, Alfons Fear) to present what he describes as music “loosely in the Ornette Coleman Quartet tradition, with a combination of burning energy, free group composition, some rock energy, hair raising tenderness, and humour as well.”  Sounds like fun. The group plans to record a live CD at Hermann’s on July 10, but you can catch them before then at JazzFest.

Roberto Occhipinti Quartet

Toronto-born bassist Roberto Occhipinti, well-known for his work with Hilario Duran and Jane Bunnett, has assembled a fine group of young Cuban musicians including David Virelles on piano, Luis Deniz on alto sax, and Dafnis Prieto on drums. The group’s new album A Bend in the River is getting very positive reviews.  Should be an excellent show and it’s at Hermann’s, which usually means a great listening experience.

Larry Roy/Steve Kirby Quintet

Winnipeg-based Larry Roy is reputed to be a great guitarist much in demand as a session player, and backed by Steve Kirby on bass, who has performed with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Elvin Jones, this group is likely to be one of the hits of the festival for real jazz fans.

As I say, more to come at the end of the week…

– Rick Gibbs

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