A Festival with a Vision by Paul Serralheiro
/ June 4, 2003
Vancouver International Jazz
Festival --18th edition, June 20 to July 1, 2003
In the great panoply of yearly
jazz festivals one gets something old and something new in varying proportions.
The goal of reaching the largest number of people, yet keeping the musical
offering in the non-formulaic spirit that is the touchstone of jazz -- while
stretching the limits of the genre and indeed furthering the art itself by
creating an audience and a milieu for artist and listener to meet with an open
mind -- is not an easy balancing act.
But it must be done and there
are many that succeed in striking the right balance. In many respects the
Vancouver International Jazz Festival is first rate in the sense described
Vancouver's Jazz festival, which
runs from June 20 to July 1, overlapping Toronto's Downtown Jazz and dovetailing
into Montreal's early July event, offers lots of choice. There are the big names
-- prominent artists like singers Cesaria Evora and Holly Cole, guitarist John
Scofield, and saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter -- and there are the
lesser-known top names in the many smaller circles and networks of improvised
music that fall outside the usual specifications of mainstream American jazz,
artists like Joelle Leandre, Marilyn Crispell and Rene Lussier. There are also
blues, contemporary urban and world rhythms, electronica, a series of club
concerts, and woven through it all is a theme of collaboration -- e.g. Vancouver
drummer Dylan van der Schyff's International Project, the Mike Stern Band with
Montrealer Alain Caron, Lewis/Crispell/Masaoka/Drake, and Toronto's Nojo
ensemble with Sam Rivers.
well-sponsored and publicly supported event is the result of the efforts of a
dedicated group of people working as The Coastal Jazz and Blues Society. Looking
back to the first festival in 1985, the society's artistic director, Ken
Pickering, reflects that now "We're a lot more professional," but quickly points
out that since the start there's been a clear artistic vision: "There's a lot of
interesting music being made that people love or would love to hear if they were
given the opportunity to hear it. And that's what we're trying to do. We're
trying to put lots of music before the public. There are not very many places to
hear this music, so we have to make sure the music is heard."
Bringing an eclectic blend of
music is "a balancing act of addressing sponsors' issues and dealing with
artistic integrity," Pickering adds. And the intense 11 days of the summer
festival is just the main attraction. Throughout the year The Coastal Jazz and
Blues Society produces about 40 concerts and publishes an informative
newsletter. Through its activities the society nurtures the thriving Vancouver
Jazz Community which includes artists like the NOW Orchestra, trumpeter Brad
Turner, clarinetist Francois Houle, cellist Peggy Lee, drummer Dylan van der
Schyff, saxophonist Mike Allen, guitarist Oliver Gannon ... the list of working
Vancouver Jazz musicians is too long to enumerate.
"We're trying to maintain
year-round activity so that the music isn't produced in a vacuum," says
Whereas in Montreal the
community goes to the central festival site, here the festival goes out to the
community, literally, in terms of the geographical locations of the events.
Significantly, the series of concerts are identified by place (Vancouver East
Cultural Center, Western Front, Gastown, Granville island, etc.) rather than by
themes. The festival also reaches out to the North Shore, while in the city it
is, again, literally all over the map.
"We had about 450,000 people
come to the event last year. We're the largest cultural event in Vancouver, and
second only to Montreal in size," Pickering pronounces. "In size" is a
significant qualification. Vancouver's festival is as artistically rich as
Montreal's, but its integrated and truly balanced representation of the range of
improvised music that's out there is hard to beat.
"Concerts I'm personally excited
about," says Pickering, "are the collaborations -- Kenny Wheeler and the Jon
Bently Quintet, The NOW Orchestra with George Lewis, as well as Joelle Leandre,
Fredrick Nordstrom's Quintet, Pago Libre. Really, we've got the whole 360
degrees of the music."
on the Vancouver International Jazz festival, which runs from June 20 to July 1,
Verve 3145435582 (57 min 7
Early in his career, Wayne
Shorter seemed to develop a distinct compositional style and to stick to it.
Marked by floating melodic cells in extensions of the blues form, based on
material drawn from sources ranging from the European concert repertoire to
Brazilian folk music, Shorter's tunes have always had a poetic quality. The
originals and adaptations in Alegria are no exception. Despite its being made up
of tunes from a number of sources and times, the recording has a coherent
artistic vision. The only new tune is "Sacajawea," a feisty hard-bop reference
to the spirit of the legendary Shoshone Indian woman who helped explorers Lewis
and Clarke on their way to the Pacific. The other tunes include an odd but
cohesive assortment: a peaceful bossa nova take on Leroy Anderson's "Serenata";
a poignantly pleading adaptation of Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras
No. 5"; and two simple anonymous tunes, "She Moves Through the Fair" and a 12th
century carol that show Shorter and his musical associates' ability to create
interest in the simplest melodies with harmonic colouring and attention to
dynamic nuances. "Angola," "Orbits" and "Capricorn II" are reworkings of earlier
Taken as a whole, the recording reveals interesting interactions among the
musicians, made up of a core quartet of Shorter on soprano and tenor, Danilo
Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums, but also
including appearances by pianist Brad Mehldau, drummer Terri Lynne Carrington,
Alex Acuna on percussion and an unidentified group of cellists and horn players.
Shorter's trademark sound--dry, vibrato-less, multi-timbral and multiphonic-- is
still a wonder to hear. The same cannot always be said for the writing for horn
backgrounds, which recall the composer's days with Weather Report and sound
dated and flat on many of the tracks. On the plus side is the coherent poetic
statement made by the disc as a whole, whose interpretation is aided by the
track "Vendiendo Alegria," a 1930's Flamenco tune whose title can be translated
as "selling joy". The irony of the album's title becomes clear from that tune,
which presents a rather cloying, unconvincing attempt at joy. The "Alegria"
suggested here is really wishful thinking; the music is rather imbued with
melancholy questioning. Reinforcing this impression is the disc's final tune,
the wistfully two-faced "Capricorn II," as if to say the end and the beginning
are one, and the disc ends with the breathy expiration of Shorter's tenor, as if
to remind us of the ephemeral nature of our earthly pleasures. Paul
Wayne Shorter will perform at
the jazz festivals in Vancouver (June 21), Toronto (June 24) and Montreal (June
26). Check festival listings for details.