Brampton, a city north west of Toronto played host to its second annual jazz and blues festival this past August 9th through to the 12th.
Report by Paul J. Youngman, August 2012
The city did it with the help and guidance of the Art of Jazz, a non-profit organization whose mandate is to promote the arts – jazz and its many offspring to the public through performance and education. The mainstay of the operation is artistic director Bonnie Lester. Lester has been involved since the inception of Art of Jazz in 2006, with the first presentation at the Distillery District in Toronto. I was at that first celebration and the final one in 2009 at the old Distillery District. Art of Jazz is one of my favorite jazz experiences as it encompasses everything I believe a jazz festival should possess. I was pleased to see Art of Jazz make a resurgence in 2011 in co-operation with the city of Brampton and even though I could not attend I heard great things about it. I made up for it this year. I trekked out to the city, about an hour drive for me and I was entertained from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon.
What I like most about the Art of Jazz concept is the idea of a celebration of the arts and its accessibility to everyone. The interaction between the audience and the artists, through participation in workshops and seminars as well as the overall quality of the artists, from jazz legends to current superstars, young emerging talent, be it local or international and students of the arts. The Brampton Jazz and Blues festival has embraced this and invites you in with open arms and serenades your soul with pleasing sounds.
A musical celebration!
The celebration for me began on Friday with Mother Nature’s act of a torrential rainfall pounding out a frightening rhythm as I drove to the Rose Garden Square, an outdoor venue featuring one of the first acts of the festival, the Fabrizio Mocata Trio. There was never a thought of turning around as I had tickets for an indoor show as well – in the sheltered Rose Theatre, but a distant three hours later. To my relief the storm had eased up and the sun was breaking through upon my arrival at the outdoor stage.
The featured act, Italian pianist Mocata was preparing to take to the stage, his bandmates were Canadians, bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Ethan Ardelli. The trio played a lively set to a rather thin but attentive audience. Mocata played a Latin tinged style of jazz bop with classical overtones. A very enjoyable set of music with rousing piano and solid bass and drums in support.
The acts would keep coming on the Garden Square stage and I managed to catch a few songs of each group. The Joe Louis Walker band with their dynamic front woman vocalist who reminded me of the great Janis Joplin. This singer, whose name I didn’t manage to catch, like Joplin energized the audience with her powerful delivery. After each group an MC came on stage to keep the audience interested, this allowed for set up of the stage for the following artist. No doubt an important element for a smooth transition between sets but there must be a better way than the use of comics who pull all the punches to try and get a laugh, without much success.
There were other venues offering up entertainment, Ken Whillans Square for one, but it wasn’t the same as the venues of the Distillery District with their close proximity to one another. Not being familiar with BramptonI had no idea where Ken Whillans Square was. My program gave directions but no map. My time was spent at the Garden Square (free events) just outside the Rose Theatre, the Rose Lobby (free) where the late night jams were held and the Rose Studio. The main stage concerts, ticketed events were held at the Rose Theatre and Friday’s performance was Shemekia Copeland, a Grammy nominated blues vocalist. Prior to her show I caught Shakura S’Aida on the Garden Square stage, a wonderful vocalist with a powerful voice and a high energy stage persona. As she took to the stage at about the same time as Copeland I only listened to a couple of songs before heading into the Rose Theatre.
Copeland is a name I’m only somewhat familiar with, the father of Shemekia is Johnny Copeland, a blues guitarist. The younger Copeland raised on blues, schooled in Gospel and influenced by rock put on a good energetic show. She was aided by a powerful band of three guitarists and a drummer who played with heavy intensity. The finale reached its peak as Copeland ventured to the apron of the stage and sang acoustically to the crowd. A gospel powerhouse with a gorgeous tone and a style that is warm and friendly.
The blues carried on after the main stage show as the Garden Square featured blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite and his band. He and the band blew Chicago style blues till well after his appointed hour as the all night jam band waited to go on in the intimate Rose Lobby with leader Kieran Overs. The late night jam was scheduled to start at10:30 but got underway much later as a crowd of hard core jazz enthusiasts waited for it to get started. Overs was joined by guitarist Reg Schwager and drummer Ethan Ardelli. They started while Musselwhite was still howling but it wasn’t a distraction, it was pleasing and great music ensued, both indoors and out.
Saturday, the first show I caught was the Ingrid Jensen Quartet, the clouds overhead were dark and threatening, a stage hand was monitoring wind speed, apparently trying to determine an impending lightning strike. Jensen opened with a rain go away song, a cha-cha groove with offbeat piano prodding while Jensen blew sweet notes in a continuous flow of delightful sounds. Her style is fluid, her tone deep and passionate; she runs her fingers all over the horn, hitting the highs, the lows and everything in between including the occasional squeal and growl. Jensen’s rain go away song did little to deter the sky from opening up and weeping a gentle tear on the square full of listeners. A very surreal image as the rain came down through an intense glow of sunshine while Jensen and the quartet played a trippy tune “Centre Song” to what appeared to be an audience of umbrellas. The quartet played on through it all, striking tunes, with titles like “661″, “Now and Zhen” and “Angelica”.
Other acts that I caught glimpses of included Autorickshaw, led by singer Suba Sankaran, her quintet combines south Indian music with classical and modern to create a pleasing medley of sonic delight. The crooner Sachal Vasandani and his quartet as well as Funkadesi, a percussion heavy funk band all of who took to the Rose Garden Square stage at various times throughout the evening. The Mainstage ticketed events featured Vijay Iyer Trio and Branford Marsalis Quartet.
If music is ever considered competitive, you may look at Vijay Iyer Trio leveling the playing field by invitation to Rudresh Mahanthappa, an altoist with a long time association to Vijay Iyer projects as just such a move. Mahanthappa and his quartet Samdhi played in the early afternoon on the Garden Square stage. The Iyer Trio was now on the same footing as the Marsalis Quartet. To the benefit of the audience Iyer took to the stage and played blistering piano, the trio in complete sympatico. “Optimism”, “The Star of The Story”, the third song in, a Herbie Nichols composition and the fourth song “Little Pocket Sized Demons” -by this time Mahanthappa had made his entrance and “Human Nature”, “Mystery Man” and “Good on the Ground” were performed, the later tune took on an Indian flavour, exciting and dynamic with an excellent sax solo, piano chords that were choppy and fragmented. This was a complex song, so much so that I think the audience was lost along the way as Iyer had to prompt for applause upon ending the song. An exciting concert with amazing musicianship from bassist Stephan Crump, drummer Marcus Gilmore, pianist Iyer and saxophonist Mahanthappa. The winner of this throw down can only be the audience when the musicianship and the performance is of such a high level. A brief intermission and The Branford Marsalis Quartet took to the stage, exciting to say the least. And for more details check out my report on the subject.
The last day of the festival featured the Art of Jazz Orchestra with Branford Marsalis. The concert was held under the tent of the Rose Garden Square stage. Another sunny day with threatening clouds that broke open briefly near the end of the performance. Some of the players of note, who traded off with Marsalis included pianist Robi Botos, drummer Darnell Lewis and best of all trumpeter Ingrid Jensen who blew some wicked solos.
The highlights for me and there were many, included the performances of the amazing young drummers, Ethan Ardelli, Marcus Gilmore, Darnell Lewis and Justin Faulkner. I have been following the careers of Ardelli, Gilmore and Lewis for the past few years, Faulkner the newest on the scene was a refreshing delight to witness in action.
Well done Art of Jazz. Bravo Brampton Global Jazz and Blues Festival – keep getting better, keep going forward with presentations that bring together the highest quality of jazz from around the world. Here’s looking to a stellar 2013.
Art of Jazz Orchestra with Branford Marsalis – Photographs by Robert Saxe