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Guelph Jazz Festival @ “19” & Going Strong



The Guelph Jazz Festival is always a treat, always offering up a taste of fresh innovative music. On this occasion the festival looked back to one of the great innovators, John Coltrane and featured two versions of his 1966 release Ascension one performed in the afternoon by saxophonist Jeremy Strachan’s ensemble and the other in the evening by Rova’s Electric Orchestra.

Both concerts were exciting and thoroughly enjoyable, for details please check out our coverage here.

Report by Paul J. Youngman  – September 2012

Nels Cline the guitarist for the Rova Orchestra performed in another show right after the encore of Electric Ascension. Walking a short distance from the River Run Centre to St. George’s Church, Mitchell Hall to perform with his band mate from Wilco, Glenn Kotche as the two were guests of Norwegian groupHuntsville.Huntsvilleis made up of   Ivar Grydeland (guitars, banjo, pedal steel guitar and various instruments), Tonny Kluften  (electric bass, double bass, bass pedals and various instruments), Ingar Zach (percussion, tabla machine, sarangi box, sruti box, drone commander and various instruments). The music started softly with a twangy guitar sound, Cline played his electronic gizmos more than he played his guitar. Hitting one or two notes, maybe even a chord and proceeding to manipulate that sound through a spectrum of deterioration and decay by toe tapping pedals and adjusting control knobs until the original sound became unrecognizable, a new twangy sound. Some interesting sounds developed and some neat melodious tones were created. The highlight was the interaction between Grydeland and Cline as they seemed to have an enjoyable time of pushing the boundaries of just how far they could go in manipulating sound.

The festival took on another dimension as things ramped up with the combination of indoor and outdoor Saturday concerts as well as Nuit Blanche. The first concert, a brunch special at Guelph Youth Music Centre, 10:30 AMto witness  Jenny Scheinman, one of the violinists who performed with Rova Orchestra the previous evening who teamed up with pianist Myra Melford. The two have collaborated on previous occasions, Melford is a guest on Scheinman’s record Shaligaster (2004 Tzadik Records).

For this occasion they were fresh, vibrant and endearing, playing mostly Scheinman compositions and interacting in complete harmony. From that album they played, “Nigun” the opening number, a Klezmer melody, soothing violin from Scheinman. Melford worked a small pipe organ, actually a portable Harmonium that produced sustained organ like tones while she pumped it up. The song started adagio and climbed through intricate patterns to a moderate tempo. Melford took to the piano and played beautifully, augmenting the stirring cries from the violin with tasteful musings. The composition built through various emotions to culminate in a joyous climax.  Other songs they performed from the album were “American Dipper” and “Into The Clearing”.

They also performed “Infant of Dinosaur Crane” a song Scheinman performs live with Bruce Cockburn, a tune with a good strong melody. The song starts as a ballad, all folksy like, to breakdown in the middle with violin coughing and howling. A wild movement that is both enchanting and humorous. A new song, a debut for Scheinman “13 Days” the length of time past the due date to deliver her 2nd child Rosa. The song had an Irish lilt to it, a Celtic feel, a happy stir crazy kind of tune in a moderato tempo.  “Into The Chimney”, a slow intro by Melford on the Harmonium and Scheinman comes in drawing long strokes across the strings of her violin to produce howling, slithering sounds. This was one of my favorite concerts of the festival, a joyous performance with perfect tone and wonderful sound modulation in a well designed intimate space. The next concert took us back to the River Run Center for a double bill with Brew and Matthew Shipp, Darius Jones Duo.

Brew is made up of  Miya Masaoka, Reggie Workman and Gerry Hemingway, they took to the Cooperators Hall stage and proceeded to invent new music. Masaoka is a Koto player, the multi stringed (17, 21, or 25) Japanese instrument. Workman, a bassist and  collaborator with John Coltrane during the New Thing era. Hemingway a drummer, composer and eleven year veteran of the Anthony Braxton Quartet. Brew is not a ‘New Thing’ as the first performance of this trio occurred in 2000 and an unreleased album Brew Heat is in the can awaiting a home. Doesn’t this sound like a perfect fit for the Guelph Jazz Festival record label IntrepidEar? Judging from the enthusiastic response of the audience who packed the hall it seems this group has some adoring fans. And so they should, these musicians play from the heart, they breathed fire into the music. Subtle textures of string sections and start-stop rhythms, counterpoint melodies and a blending and diverging of musical voices as all three musicians blur the lines of structure and form to ultimately come together harmoniously providing for a sonic performance of exquisite proportions.

Pianist Matthew Shipp and alto saxophonist Darius Jones came on strong, determined and single minded. They did not speak to the audience, barely did they acknowledge the audience, but they worked hard for us. The duo recorded together on the album Cosmic Lieder (2010 AUM Fidelity) and the material presented at this concert emanated from this. Jones plays with a unique voice, a mix of tame melody and wild reed contortions. A soft melodic high register descends to a growling howl of bent notes and intense vibrato. Shipp played melodically as well and with classical leanings he worked at the rhythm, pounding and finessing in equal parts. He possesses a percussive piano style that blended with Jones, he led and filled the few spaces available with undulating rhythms. He pushed the intensity such that his body was in a near convulsive state lending little time to push his glasses back onto his nose as he raised his head to check on Jones status. Jones and Shipp pushed this intensity throughout this concert in an awesome display of muscular musical exploration.

The Market Square set up out front of the Guelph City Hall played host to a non-stop array of work shops and concert performances. I caught  the Gordon Grdina led group Haram. Vancouver-based guitarist, oud player, and composer, Gordon Grdina, is an intrepid explorer whose music accommodates varied influences that include Bartok and Webern, jazz, experimental electronic music, and traditional Persian and Indian music. At this concert he focused on oud and played music from the group Haram’s  CD Her Eyes Illuminate. Joined by Jesse Zubot (violin), François Houle (clarinet), JP Carter (trumpet), Chris Kelly (saxophone), Kenton Loewen (drums), Tommy Babin (bass), Tim Gerwing (darbuka), Liam MacDonald (riq), and Emad Armoush (vocals and ney).

The evening concert at River Run Centre kicked of with KidsAbility Youth Parade Band  followed by Abdullah Ibrahim. For a report on that concert please refer to the link. The Guelph Jazz Festival was over for me after the Ibrahim encore but it was just beginning for some. The Nuit Blanche acts were setting up or preparing to see time they had never witnessed as one Rova Quartet member was heard to say, he had never seen 6:00 AM before. They were to play Macdonald Stewart Art Centre at that early/late hour, depending on your perspective.

I was on my way back home Sunday for a family gathering and would miss the festival finale that included a solo performance by Myra Melford and later in the day a group performance by Charles Spearin, The Happiness Project. My sources inform me the finale was excellent and a great way to end another stellar Guelph Jazz Festival.

Photographs by Robert Saxe

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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