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My Toronto Jazz Fest: Heat Warnings, Lightning, Rain, Air Quality Advisories

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Mary Ancheta Quartet
Mary Ancheta Quartet - Photo: Paul J. Youngman

The 36th edition of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival has come and gone. For me, the jazz festival signifies the official start of summer and it’s close to the actual 1st day of summer. This year the festival ran from June 23 to July 2, 2023.

I did not manage to get to Toronto until Sunday the 25th. I was enjoying nature in the Blue Mountain area of Ontario. I went Sunday to get my media pass, and with the media pass in hand, I went exploring the festival grounds.

Now, as it was last year the festival is taking up some of Yorkville and one of Toronto’s main streets. Avenue Road at Bloor was closed to vehicular traffic and a section of the street was set up for a super concert. Pop stars were going to be in attendance and the big crowds were forming.

Mary Ancheta Quartet
Mary Ancheta Quartet – Photo: Paul J. Youngman

The first show for me was a jazz quartet, well, perhaps modern is a better description. The Mary Ancheta Quartet. The band is made up of Mary Ancheta on keys, tenor saxophonist, Dominic Conway, bassist Matt Reid, and drummer Trent Otter. The band has a new EP, Level Up and it has some wonderful tunes, most if not all, played during the quartet’s appearance.

I enjoyed the show, Mary Ancheta on synthesizer takes a fill and wails, causing the folks in Yorkville to stop and gather around, me included. The bassist and drummer provide solid funk rhythms and push the song into overdrive. Not being outdone in the wailing department Dominic Conway takes the next break and he digs deep for a growling, honking rip-roaring run of magnificence, blowing heavy on his tenor saxophone.

The drummer Otter takes some fills and trades off with bassist Reid. The quartet joins in on the exit chorus and ends in a tight, dynamic fashion.

Exciting music, powerful tunes, and explosive fills by all the musicians. The show went from one strong tune to the next with a smooth flow and great playing all around. The highlight tune for me was “Level Up”. Some great Jaco-like runs and Herbie-esque organ playing, a very exciting tune.

After the show, I reached out to Mary Ancheta and asked her if she would like to take part in an interview. My “Take Five with Mary Ancheta”.

I decided I would approach a few female artists and ask them if they would like to do an interview. Malika Tirolien, the outstanding vocalist who was leading her own band agreed to an interview. Look for my interviews with these awesome artists in upcoming segments.

My next show happened the next day, Monday, one of the headline acts, well, there were supposed to be two but only one showed up. Avishai Cohen Trio and Brad Mehldau Trio. Avishai did the work of two trios, so it was fantastic.

Avishai Cohen is an outstanding stand-up bassist, a master of the contrabass. He plays in a percussive style. The excitement of his playing is in every string he slaps and plucks, pulls and strums, it is an event in and of itself. Stunning!

Prior to the show I checked out Aline Morales and friends. The friends were a samba powerhouse: “A Fantástica Bateria”, featuring Brazilian-based popular music and incorporating soul, funk, samba, afro, and afoxé. Music to get you moving, your heart pumping and your foot stomping. Aline Morales is a fantastic performer, singer, and percussionist.

Aline Morales & A Fantástica Bateria
Aline Morales & Friends – Photo: Paul J. Youngman

When I arrived at Koerner Hall for my two-trio concert I noticed the sign on the front entrance. A small sign, really just a simple note, “Brad Mehldau Trio will not be performing at this evening’s concert”. No! I thought.

I found an official-looking person who told me that Brad Mehldau’s trio’s flight out of New York was grounded because of the severe lightning storm occurring early in the morning.
“Not to worry,” she said. “Avishai has agreed to do both shows.”

The band took to the stage. A young band, Guy Moskovich 26, on piano and drummer, Roni Kaspi 23, are both recent graduates of prestigious music schools. Avishai Cohen waved his greetings to the audience and made an apology for Brad but told the audience he would play both sections of the show with no intermission and it would be “incredible”.

The Avishai Cohen Trio - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
The Avishai Cohen Trio – Photo: Paul J. Youngman

He was correct, for me the show was incredible. From his phenomenal bass playing to his drummers’ outstanding showmanship and his pianist, who performed with solid technique and skillful stylings. The trio went through the new album Shifting Sands (2022) and some Cohen standards, including a song he performed with vocals. A love song, in Yiddish.

The next day June 27, a rainy, overcast, grey day presented me with a beautiful performance by Malika Tirolien Quintet. Her band is Malika Tirolien (Vocals and keyboard), Harvey Bien-Aimée (Drums), Caulder Nash (Synth Bass), Philippe L’Allier (Guitar), Jean-Michel Frédéric (Keyboard).

The weather cleared up for Malika Tirolien to put on her show. She had the audience moving and grooving to her melodic rhythms and her beautiful voice. I found her to be a great performer, interacting with the audience and getting the audience to sing backup vocals on the song “Don’t Come Around”.

Malika Tirolien Quintet
Malika Tirolien Quintet – Photo: Paul J. Youngman

Malika’s songs reminded me of the West Indies. She was all about a chill vibe, love, and spreading kindness to the audience through her catchy tunes, lovely voice, and dynamic band. A mix of genres, R&B, funk, soul, techno, jazz, and hip hop. All good music when in the hands of these fantastic musicians.

The next day, Wednesday the 28th saw the Toronto area with a smoke advisory and the Toronto Jazz Festival taking Environment Canada’s advice and postponing all outdoor events until further notice.

Well, that was it for me. Done! The rest of the shows I had intended to check out were all outdoor events.

That’s my festival wrap, I was fortunate to get to meet some great artists, hear some fantastic music, and share some of what I heard. I had made other plans for Canada Day, July 1st, and the 2nd of July I was back up north at my Sanctuary.

YouTube Video – TD Toronto Jazz Fest 2023 Recap

An independent journalist, based in Toronto, Canada. A professional musician and a fan of music, dance and the arts. I have written short stories, lyrics, poetry and reviews. I have been published in numerous online webzines. I’ve taught drumming and played in bands; I have felt the passion to create. I enjoy expressing that passion, the artistic experience, in words, reporting on the shows and musical experiences that I have witnessed.

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