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Festivals Report

Puerto Rico – Ponce Jazz Festival 2013

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“There are several reasons why I like the Ponce Jazz Festival. One reason is that it gives me the opportunity to get out of the Puerto Rico Metropolitan area and travel south to one of the most beautiful and historical cities in the island, Ponce.”

Report/Photographs by Wilbert Sostre

I also know personally the fest producer, radio personality and friend Wanda Borrero, so this gives me more mobility and direct access to the fest artists. Another good thing about this fest is that because this is just its second edition and because it is Wanda’s goal to support the local talent, all the musicians are local jazz heroes and most of them are from the south of Puerto Rico. Of course, Wanda’s vision is to invite international jazz artists in future editions of the fest.

This second edition was a perfect mix of young new talent and virtuosic jazz veterans. Friday, April 27th was a perfect example of this young and veterans balanced approach. The students and future jazz masters of the Juan Morel Campos Music School opened the night and prepared the stage to another group of young talented musicians, the all women quintet “Diversis.” This was Diversis’ first presentation in an event of this magnitude, so, of course they were a little nervous for the first two pieces, but once they warmed up these ladies demonstrated they really can play.

The third act of the night, flutist Joche Caraballo delighted the audience with jazz arrangements of some Puerto Rican classic like Pedro Flores “Obsesión”. Caraballo invited singer Jenny Gómez for the interpretation of the Jobim classic “One Note Samba” and  the standard “Autumn Leaves”.  One of the fest honorees, bassist/composer Irving Cancel and his Latin Jazz Ensemble closed the night presenting a fusion of jazz with Puerto Rican Bomba and African rhythms in pieces like “Sarabanda” and “Tym Mary”.

Saturday night was a special one for it was the official dedication to bassist Irving Cancel and saxophonist Frankie Pérez. The night started with Luis González Latin jazz tribute to the music of percussionist legend Ray Barreto.  The band included three special guests: drummer Jimmy Rivera, pianist Pedro Bermudez and flutist Kalani Trinidad.

Trumpetist Joseito Ruiz continued the Latin jazz mood and at one point invited his brother and father, also master trumpeters, to join him on stage.

The night closed with the original concept of Puerto Sax, a quartet of just sax players: Ricardo Pons on alto and soprano, Frankie Pérez on tenor, Angel Torres on alto and Roberto Calderón on the baritone. There is no rhythm section on this quartet so these sax virtuosos had to take turns in doing harmonies, rhythms and melodies on “Contigo en la.distancia” (César Portillo de la Luz ) and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop”.

Besides the first act, there was a tribute to jazz legend Art Blakey by a group of excellent young musicians who called themselves “Black Jazz.” The last day of the fest was dedicated to Big Bands. “Master Jazz Big Band” followed playing classics like Juan Tizol’s “Caravan”. The big band took a break to allow “The Ponce Municipal Band” to continue in a tradition of broadcasting their live performance every Sunday night at 8pm through Católica Radio. After the Municipal Band, the Masters Big Band came back to the stage to close a successful second edition of the Ponce Jazz Festival, this year joining in the celebration of the International Jazz Day.

Member of the Jazz Journalist Association since 2010. Member of the Ponce International Jazz Festival Commitee. Studied music and guitar, 1985-86. Music studies at the University of Puerto Rico and the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico, 1986-1990.

Festivals Report

TD Toronto Jazz Festival – June 24 to July 3, 2022

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TD Toronto Jazz Fest 2022

10 Days of Free Shows — Say What!

My TD Toronto Jazz Festival started mid festival, Tuesday, June 28th, early evening. It was all about Juno winners and nominees. The first act, Sammy Jackson and her quartet performing at the TD Main Stage at the OLG Grove.

Sammy Jackson - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Sammy Jackson – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

Sammy Jackson won a Juno for vocal jazz album of the year. Her band, made up of Jackson on Vocals, Thomas Fleming – guitar, Chris Pruden – keys, Mark Godfrey – bass and Ian Wright playing the drums. Jackson sang songs from her award winning 5-track EP With You, featuring original compositions. Sammy Jackson added some songs from her 2016 release, the 5-track EP Take Me Back, to make for an enjoyable hour long performance. Jackson’s songs are about joy, vulnerability, long distance relationships, and love. Jackson blends jazz, R&B, soul and pop with her beautiful voice.

Sammy Jackson - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Sammy Jackson – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

Jackson covers an impressive vocal range, and her phrasing is delightful. Jackson shines on the ballads. I especially enjoyed “Bad Reception” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye”.

Sammy Jackson concluded her show with one dedicated to her son, entitled “Chuckie”, a toddler who happened to be in the audience and made a cameo at the front of the stage. This tune was upbeat and had a happy go lucky, dance groove to get everybody moving.

I spoke with Jackson after the show, I asked her if she noticed the Juno enhancing her career? She said, “I think it’s why I’m here. The Juno increased my exposure. So that’s great. Thank you Juno!”

Kellylee Evans - Photo by Danilo Navas
Kellylee Evans – Photo by Danilo Navas

Kellylee Evans performed the evening of the 28th and I was not going to miss her concert at the TD Main Stage. Kellylee Evans was in great vocal form and in accompaniment with a wonderful band made up of Joel Visentin – keyboards, Mark Godfrey – bass, Rich Grossman – guitar, and Ian Wright on drums.

Evans has suffered some serious physical setbacks in her recovery from a tragic accident in 2013. She has an injury that is effecting her ability to walk and even to stand. She performed the show from a sitting position.

Kellylee Evans - Photo by Danilo Navas
Kellylee Evans – Photo by Danilo Navas

Evans puts her heart and soul into her singing. She is a Juno winner for vocal jazz album of the year for Nina, released in 2010. One of my favourite vocal jazz albums.

This evening, Evans performed songs from her new 5-song EP Green Light as well as many others. A beautiful, dynamic, high energy performance—even from her seated position.

Alexis Baró Quintet - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Alexis Baró Quintet – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

I started off Wednesday, the 29th with the amazing trumpet playing of Alexis Baró. The Alexis Baró Quintet was performing at the TD Stage at Festival Village in Yorkville.

I really enjoy Baró’s trumpet playing. I think he is one of the most expressive players in the Afro Cuban style. Baró performed songs from his new album Ma Raiz.

Larnell Lewis Band - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Larnell Lewis Band – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

I only stuck around for a few of the songs as Joy Lapps and Larnell Lewis were performing at the TD Main Stage at the OLG Grove, a few streets south. It is most unfortunate to have these scheduling conflicts. However, It is amazing to have so much talent at one festival.

Joy Lapps and Larnell Lewis performed on the TD Main Stage Wednesday the 29th – a dynamite performance. The band, made up of Larnell Lewis – drums, Joy Lapps – steelpan, Jeremy Ledbetter – piano, Elmer Ferrer – guitar, Rob Christian – woodwinds, Andrew McAnsh – trumpet and Marc Manhertz – bass.

Larnell Lewis Band with Joy Lapps - Photo by Paul J. Youngman
Larnell Lewis Band with Joy Lapps – Photo by Paul J. Youngman

“Rejoice” was the title of one of the songs performed and to hear this band is to rejoice. When I listen to Larnell Lewis play I feel the pulse through my soul. I think this is the most heartful drummer I have ever heard. His music is uplifting, powerful, dynamic, his beats, fills and rhythms, just outstanding. He shares his heart with the audience, nothing is left on the stage. 

Now to get ready for a return to Koerner Hall, after 2 years of isolation, for one of the few ticketed events, the Gregory Porter band. Excited? Yes, indeed!

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