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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 9

A Festival with a Vision

by Paul Serralheiro / June 4, 2003

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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 above.

Lots of choice

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.

Vancouver's mature, 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 Pickering.

Reaching Out

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."

For more on the Vancouver International Jazz festival, which runs from June 20 to July 1, visit www.coastaljazz.ca.


Wayne Shorter
Verve 3145435582 (57 min 7 s)

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 Shorter compositions.

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 Serralheiro

Wayne Shorter will perform at the jazz festivals in Vancouver (June 21), Toronto (June 24) and Montreal (June 26). Check festival listings for details.

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