The theme for the 14th annual Guelph Jazz Festival - People Get Ready, The Future of Jazz is Now, held true to that concept and could even have been stated as the future of jazz is among us; it is youthful, energetic, alive, well and ever creative. The festival for those who may not be aware is the penultimate venue in North America for jazz experimentation, exploration and collaboration in performance and composition. Jazz mentors, legends, educators, master musicians and leaders in their fields, inspire, break down barriers and build bridges, while performing for and with the youth of jazz improvisation as well as the community of jazz at large, who are always well represented at the Guelph Jazz Festival.
The line up at this years Guelph Jazz Festival featured some heavy hitters, Anthony Braxton (pictured at right), William Parker, Carla Bley and Charlie Haden. The concert that took place the evening of September 7th will be considered by many to be one of the landmark concerts in history, a double bill with Anthony Braxton leading the Association of Improvising Musicians Orchestra, Toronto and The William Parker Ensemble; Playing The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield. If that feature presentation wasn’t enough for you, the next evening’s performance of The Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra featuring Carla Bley should have hit the jazz lovers spot head on. Still not satisfied? The Sunday morning concert featured Anthony Braxton Diamond Curtain Wall Trio and a performance that was out of this world, emotionally charged and audibly delightful.
The other acts performing at the festival may not be as well known as the headliners, but their passion runs just as strong, their musical sensibilities are as honed and the musical performances were first rate and at the highest level of professionalism. The following are some of the high-light moments of the festival, at least the ones that I managed to attend. There were wonderful improvised sessions that took flight with world musical influences and even audience participation, such was the workshop concert on Friday Sept. 7 at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, entitled Cross Border Conversations featuring West African musician, Jah Youssouf a master of the kamelen n’goni or hunters harp, who was joined by a wonderful cast of supporting personnel. Lewis Melville, Dave Clark, Michael Herring, Jason Kenemy, Karl Webb, Alain Derbez, Mark Kyriacou, Jeff Burke, Jayme Stone, Jesse Stewart and Marianne Trudel all took part in a rousing performance that spanned the globe in sound and style. The audience was pulled into the composition by Dave Clark who had three different sections of the audience clapping three different rhythms while Jah Youssouf sang a blues style refrain and strummed his hunters harp.
The same day and little farther a field, the festival takes place in numerous venues throughout downtown Guelph, the next act, Marianne Trudel Quintet took to the stage at The Guelph Youth Music Centre, a very intimate theatre, seating 180 people. Marianne Trudel, a gifted pianist and a fine composer; she has a piano style that combines sensitivity, with delicate beauty and intense dynamics. She was joined on stage by drummer Jim Doxas, bassist Morgan Moore and reed players, Jonathan Stewart and Joel Miller. The quintet under the leadership of Trudel, gave a spirited performance running through five songs that show-cased the combined collective energies of five tremendous, musical motive forces. The songs were all named in French, Ms. Trudel graciously provided the English translation and I copied same, "First Flight" a trio performance of piano, drums and bass. "Overture," with a rich sounding soprano sax interlude followed by some hot sax playing with tenor and soprano sax’s joining forces. "Journey" a very intricate tune, with varying tempos and piano majesty, and an intense duo of drums and piano that set the room ablaze. "Essence of Life" a lullaby came to mind, a slow tempo with a strong soprano sax intro, tenor sax and bass join in, followed a few bars later by piano and drums, a weaving of instrumentation, changing the texture of the song, from fragile beauty to strong magnificence, the song and the concert builds to a dramatic finish.
The next concert, a featured event at the River Run Centre was an hour of incredible intensity, featuring the musical genius of Anthony Braxton accompanied by a youthful, improvisational, creative and energetic 18 piece orchestra. The Association of Improvising Musicians Toronto or AIM Toronto. Performing with superlative skill, the orchestra, under the guidance of Anthony Braxton, played a well choreographed musical drama of creativity that held the future of jazz out for examination and discovery.
The intermission allowed the audience to come back to Earth, to reflect on what had occurred and to discuss what exactly we had heard, I would have to say the music of Anthony Braxton, is without a doubt the music of the future.
The second act of the double bill, William Parker Ensemble - The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield, transported the audience back in time, the concert took on a sixties revolutionary bent with a free-bop attitude in the inspirational - improvisational solos. The poetry of Amiri Baraka, blending with the singing and dancing of Leena Conquest created an impassioned performance of music, dance and poetry, all dedicated to the memory of Max Roach.
This was only my first full day of the Guelph Jazz Festival, as I was commuting to and from the show - I missed many of the acts that I had intended to catch, Catherine Potter - Duniya Project, a concert that took place early Saturday morning, I reviewed the CD of the same name and would have loved to have seen a live performance. The Jayme Stone Quartet, banjo player Stone leading a quartet of Canadian jazz heavies, he treads a fine line between the tradition of bluegrass and the improvisation of jazz, I scored his most recent CD and I look forward to reviewing the Jayme Stone CD The Utmost. Trio M: Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), Matt Wilson (drums), a super-group, a CD must be in the works, at least Matt Wilson played again later that evening, drumming for Charlie Haden and The Liberation Music Orchestra a show that was perfect for the time, the present political climate and "Blue Anthem" state of mind, body and soul that permeates society today.
The final concert of the Guelph Jazz Festival, for me at least, was the Sunday morning show featuring Anthony Braxton - Diamond Curtain Wall Trio. The group comprised of trumpeter and cornettist, Taylor Ho Bynum, arch top electric guitarist Mary Halvorson and special guest saxophonist, Kyle Brenders explored the universality of Braxton’s music, an eclectic performance of intriguing proportions, if looking to define improvisation, look no further, as Anthony Braxton has taken improvisation to an area that is all encompassing, blending electronic, natural, elemental and soulful renderings that mesmerize and polarize in an other worldly fashion. Intense!