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JazzFest Reviewed

June 25, 2012

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 

The Barry Elmes Quintet was the treat of the day. Straight ahead, Blue-Note-style-jazz just doesn’t get any better than with these guys: Elmes on drums, Steve Wallace on bass, Reg Schwager on guitar, Mike Murley on sax and Kevin Turcotte on trumpet/flugel. They’ve been together for over twenty years and it shows. They played Monk and Shorter but stuck mostly to Elmes’ own compositions from his latest CD Redshift. Pick your word – swing, burn, smoke, whatever – these guys do it in spades. I went primarily to hear Schwager, a guitarist I really admire, but left a huge fan of the whole group.

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:


Pablo Cardenas

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.

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