Storm Nilson is easily one of the most breathtaking jazz guitarists I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.
He’s performed with the likes of Charlie Haden, Wynton Marsalis and Joel Miller and assumed the guitar seat once occupied by Kurt Rosenwinkel in Miller’s band Mandala. He’s so good he just landed a recording contract (a rarity for jazz musicians these days) in California.
The LA guitarist is currently splitting his time between his home state and Victoria and has been performing around town with Kelby MacNayr and Sean Drabitt. Most of the elite players who have heard him can’t find sufficient superlatives to describe the quality of his playing.
Apparently he’s an amazing educator as well, having been a guest artist and clinician at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
In April he will offer intermediate and advanced jazz guitar workshops through Larsen Music here in Victoria. Guitarists on the Island, and the Mainland for that matter, should jump at the opportunity to learn from someone who is clearly a master musician.
The intermediate workshop runs on April 11 & 12, with the advanced going April 17 & 18th. You can read all about them here. Highly recommended.
Vocalist Miranda Sage returns to Victoria from an Alberta tour with two shows at Hermann’s on Friday, Apr. 2 and Saturday, April 3. Sage will appear with Don Thompson on piano, Ken Lister on bass, Roy Styffe on sax and Dan Brubeck on drums. Sage and this stellar quartet will perform material from Daydream, her most recent album, a classy mix of standards, Latin tunes, and original material. The album has been getting international airplay and was critically well received. Promises to be a very high quality show. (8pm)
Also on Friday night, guitarist Steve Grebanier performs with his trio at the Heron Rock Bistro with Kelby MacNayr guesting on drums. Grebanier favours a more contemporary repertoire, including tunes by Stevie Wonder, The Police, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, and The Kinks. Should be a good one. (7:30 pm/no cover)
Guitarist Bill Coon pays a visit to Vancouver Island, performing with vocalist Dale Graham and bassist Ken Lister at Joe’s Garage in Courtenay on Friday, April 9. Coon is an outstanding guitarist, one of the best in the country, and has extensive experience backing elite vocalists from Karin Plato to Denzal Sinclare. With support like that and Ken Lister’s Juno-award winning work on bass, Graham, who has been developing a following in the Comox Valley, is sure to offer an outstanding evening of music. (8pm/$15)
The Jazz Vespers folks at St. John’s United in Deep Cove are getting ready to welcome Trombone Mayhem on Sunday, April 11. This spirited group fronted by Nick LaRiviere and Jeff Agopsowicz on trombones and backed by pianist Karel Roessingh, bassist Sean Drabitt and drummer Josh Dixon should raise the roof of the comfortable and intimate space at St. John’s. Well worth taking in! (7pm/freewill offering).
More to come….
Two major jazz events are happening in Victoria this weekend. The first is an appearance by Vancouver vocalist June Katz at Hermann’s on Saturday night (March 20) with Hugh Fraser (piano), Dan Brubeck (drums), Ron Thompson (bass), Noah Becker (saxes), and Lorae Farrell (trumpet). Billed as “Romancing the Seasons,” the show will feature seasonal tunes from Katz’s latest album to celebrate the arrival of the vernal equinox. Katz, of course, is a highly respected jazz vocalist who has been on the Vancouver scene since 1973 and helped “school” a veritable who’s who of young west coast jazz artists over the years. (8 pm/ $20).
The second is a jazz vespers appearance by the Brooke Maxwell Seven at the Church of the Advent in Colwood on Sunday evening (March 21). Contrary to the name, the group is actually a trio featuring Maxwell on vocals, sax, and keyboards, Joey Smith on bass and Kelby MacNayr on drums. It might as well be a septet since Maxwell has the energy and versatility to make up for the four musicians who aren’t there. (7 pm/ freewill offering).
In other news, there’s still a few seats available for trombonist Ian McDougall’s Jazz at the Gallery appearance next Sunday, March 28 at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. McDougall will be appearing in a quartet featuring Jodi Proznick on bass, Craig Scott on drums and Ron Johnston on piano. Like the two previous Jazz at the Gallery shows, this one promises to be a stellar concert in the intimate setting of the Spencer Mansion. (2 pm/ $23 & $25). Phone the Gallery to reserve (250 384-4171 ext. 0).
Drummer James McRae’s Nanaimo-based Brazilian group The Big Bossa has three performances set for next weekend. They appear at Hermann’s in Victoria on Friday, March 26 (8 pm); at the Red Martini Grill in Nanaimo on Saturday, March 27 (8 pm); and at the Elks Hall Jazz Club in Courtenay on Sunday, March 28 (7:30 pm). McRae’s dynamic octet includes young performers as well as seasoned veterans and offers new takes on seminal compositions by the great Antonio Carlos Jobim. More info at theiconoclast.com
Other upcoming events worth taking in include U-JAM’s annual general meeting at the Victoria Golf Club on Friday, March 26 (6pm) with performances that will include the Young Jazz All Stars starting at 7 pm. The Flora Scott Quartet appears at Sylvan United Church in Mill Bay on Saturday, March 27 (4:30 pm).
The big event this week is the 29th Anniversary Celebration for Hermann’s Jazz Club, featuring vocalist Joe Coughlin and Friends at a very special Saturday night birthday bash. The “friends” are a veritable who’s who of west coast jazz greats, including Pat Coleman, Bob Murphy, Ken Lister, Buff Allen, Bruce Hurn, and special guest Phil Dwyer. This promises to be a superb, not-to-be-missed show. Better get your reservations soon (7:30 pm/$15).
For trad jazz fans, the celebrations continue on Sunday with the Al Pease Show(4:30 pm/$10).
On Friday night at Hermann’s you can catch the Gerry Hebert Quartet, a group from Calgary that bills itself as having a “lush, layered and driving style” and “a slight western flavour within a jazz tradition.” Hebert is very active on the Calgary jazz scene as a performer, educator, and arts administrator and is a Yamaha Performing Artist. The group features Hebert on sax, Aaron Young on guitar, Simon Fisk on bass and Jon May on drums. (8pm/$15/$10).
St. John’s United in Deep Cove welcomes the Peter Dent Trio to their monthly Jazz Vespers on Sunday. Dent will be joined by drummer Mike Griner and bassist Alex Olson. Dent has worked with many name musicians, including Oliver Jones, Neil Swainson and Terry Clarke. Should be a good one. (7pm/freewill offering).
The Georgia Straight Jazz Society continues its Thursday night Jazz Club at the Elks Hall in Courtenay. Jilli Martini and Friends appear on March 11. (7:30 pm/no cover).
This is just a taste of the great jazz happening around the Island. For events in your area, click the “Venues” button at the top of the page where you’ll find links to various venues offering jazz.
Create the right set of conditions and magical things can happen.
Such was the case on Sunday afternoon when Montreal pianist and composer Marianne Trudel, working with Victoria musicians Sean Drabitt (bass), Kelby MacNayr (drums), Anne Schaefer (vocals), and Alfons Fear (trumpet) produced jazz magic at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Condition #1: a gifted pianist and composer with a truly transcendent vision.
Condition #2: supporting musicians able to rise to the challenge.
Condition #3: an audience that can really listen.
All three conditions were in place, along with an acoustically responsive room that allowed everyone to play unplugged, including Drabitt, who, in the sound check before the show, was able discard his amplifier after he found a sweet spot on the stage that produced all the presence he needed from his double bass.
The result: sublime music that transported the 80 or so people who chose jazz over hockey on the final day of the Olympics. (Trudel said she was amazed to see a full audience, joking that this might be the first time in Canadian history that a jazz concert won out over an important hockey game).
Trudel’s music has all the spirit and freedom of our national game, blending, as it does, classical, jazz, and free improv elements to create open, spacious musical landscapes filled with movement, drama, and colour.
Colour is the right word, since her compositions – one of which was acknowledged with a major prize at the Montreal Jazz Festival not long ago – are more akin to paintings than “tunes.” Using complex harmony (she favours seven note chords), varied rhythms, lyrical lines that really sing, and an unbounded musical imagination, she creates atmospheric pieces that capture time and place beautifully, whether it be a snowfall in the small Quebec village where she grew up (Mots d’hiver) or the joy of traveling on the open road (Sur la route).
Trudel values jazz for its potential to create great music in the moment and was quick to acknowledge the audience’s role in this process, saying that when the audience is listening, “music can really happen.” After the show she told me it was a treat to be able to play acoustically for such an appreciative group.
On stage she also acknowledged the role of the musicians supporting her. Clearly moved by their rendering of M, the very first piece they played, Trudel noted that she, MacNayr, and Drabitt had never played the piece together before, a testament not only to their skill, but also to the power of jazz to align its disparate elements in the moment and produce an emotional laser that cuts right to the heart of human experience.
Trudel’s music was filled with such moments, both in the first set when she, MacNayr, and Drabitt played as a trio, and in the second when Schaefer joined them on vocals and Fear sat in on trumpet and flugelhorn.
Schaefer’s unique voice seems perfectly suited to Trudel’s music, and she clearly enjoyed singing in the wide open fields of these spacious compositions. (She, also, I might add, delivered a beautiful rendition of the more traditional Bye Bye Blackbird, the one standard Trudel called ). Fear produced high quality horn work, particularly on his extended Blackbird solo.
A surprise in the first set was Trudel’s calling of a new tune penned by Kelby MacNayr. As artistic director of the series, MacNayr had asked Trudel to peform her own compositions, but having encountered some of his music on Friday night at Hermann’s, she opted to play his Ballade Numero Quatre. Despite its odd title (conceived by MacNayr as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Trudel’s French heritage), this sensitive, beautifully melodic song proved to be a hit not only with Trudel but also the audience.
From the feedback I got, the entire concert was a success and most members of the audience were delighted to hear this gifted performer from Quebec producing some of her magic on the west coast. She sold all of the CD’s she brought with her and returned to Montreal with a list of names and addresses from concert goers who missed out.
This concert was a fine example of what can happen when a great touring musician joins great local players to produce a new musical experience that enriches themselves and the audience. It’s a shame that our major jazz societies are not particularly attuned to this concept when organizing their events. Hats off to Kelby MacNayr and U-JAM for producing a series that encourages such cross-fertilization.
Rumour has it Trudel will be back on the west coast possibly this spring and very likely in the summer.
You can read more about Marianne Trudel and sample (and purchase) her music here.
The next concert in the series happens on Sunday, March 28 with one of Canada’s greatest musical treasures: trombonist Ian McDougall. Tickets ($25/$23) can be purchased through the Gallery at 250.384.4171 ext.0 More information on the series is available here.
To read more about other U-JAM produced events, visit the u-jam website.