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Pilot Jazz

The Toronto Jazz Festival is a massive event; on any given night or day for that matter during the ten day festival it is possible to see a varied group of musical acts. As most jazz festivals are now mixing musical styles so to is Toronto Jazz Festival. On June 29th, the Main stage at Nathan Philips Square had lots of activity as they prepared to welcome Kool & The Gang with opening act Harrison Kennedy. I ventured out to the Toronto harbor front, the Fleck Dance Theatre was playing host to the wonderful Mose Allison. After the finale of that delightful show, I took flight to the northern part of the city to take in Chris Potter’s Underground at the Pilot. The Pilot had a saxophone summit planned, Bobby Militello was on the bill as well and this is one of my favorite sax players.

The Pilot was packed, standing room only and I had arrived in good time. The band had a late start or possibly a New York start. As I stood in the corner, just next to the coffee machines and in the way of the wait staff, I watched the line up at the bar grow, the folks with no tables had to order drinks from the bartender. I’m sure the management knew it was a sold out show as I had acquaintances tell me they could not get tickets. Only one bartender and a wait staff that was virtually running to keep up. I also watched in dismay as they turned away at least eight people, no tickets. How often does that happen in a jazz club?

The band took to the stage with limited fanfare and proceeded to produce glorious fresh sounds of jazz festivities. The opening sound was of a melodic mellow tenor, Mr. Potter has a deep bold tone, he breaks into a chirping of sophisticated communication with the drummer, who pulls off funky beats, ripping them from his skins in a near reggae pulse, sometimes marching, sometimes racing. The guitarist lays down chords and patterns that are of a twangy surreal nature the keyboard player, playing on a Fender Rhodes, produces thick Hammond B3 overtones that sustain, grow and build to a tumultuous crescendo. The band blew through "Facing East", "Viva Las Villas", "Small Wonder", "Lotus Blossom" and "Tweet".

Chris Potter’s Underground is Nate Smith on drums, Craig Taborn playing keys and Adam Rogers on guitar. The band is promoting their current CD, Ultrahang on the Artistshare label, released July of 2009.

Bobby Militello, the saxophonist played the Pilot July 2nd . This gig came right after his sold out show the previous night at the Main stage, Nathan Philips Square. Known primarily as a member of Dave Brubeck’s Quartet, Militello has played with a wide range of people. Big band work with Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinson, Steve Hofstetter, Bill Hollman and in small groups as a leader and with the Don Menza quintet as well as recording with Chuck Mangione.

He was joined by three of Toronto’s first call musicians Terry Clarke on drums, Steve Wallace, stand up bass and the incomparable Bernie Senensky playing keys. The band started on time, there was a good sized crowd, many in the audience had only just discovered Bobby Militello the previous night and wanted more. As Mr. Militello opened the show by announcing his band mates he also explained to the audience what they would be doing, "Were going to wing it tonight, but that’s what jazz is supposed to be."

The first number performed was a moderate swing tune with a melodic pleasing sound. The beautifully toned alto sound of Mr. Militello sang through chorus after chorus. As the song developed it took on a wildly exciting edge with featured spots for all members of the band. The next song "Estate" featured Militello on flute, a very adventurous display of flute dynamics. Bernie Senensky took flight on this song. Upon conclusion of the song Militello addresses the audience, "You just heard Oscar, you hear Monk and you hear lots of Bernie." He would also make reference to legendary drummer Terry Clarke as, "A Canadian natural resource." The Toronto audience was pleased.

The featured photo is of the Chris Potter Underground band.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Chris Potter & Bobby Militello
  • Concert Date: June 29, July 2
  • Subtitle: TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival
  • Venue: The Pilot
  • City State Country: Toronto
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