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Jazz festival gets ready to rhumba

Festival has local flavour and broader horizons

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014 06:00 am

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  • HEADLINERS – Guitarist John Scofield will join the improv trio Medeski, Martin and Wood for a Sunday concert at the Winspear Centre.
    HEADLINERS – Guitarist John Scofield will join the improv trio Medeski, Martin and Wood for a Sunday concert at the Winspear Centre.
    Supplied photo
  • VOCAL GUY – Bobby McFerrin brings his vocal talents to the Winspear stage on Tuesday, June 24.
    VOCAL GUY – Bobby McFerrin brings his vocal talents to the Winspear stage on Tuesday, June 24.
  • BASS ACE – Morinville bassist Travis Switzer will play the jazz festival as part of jazz-pop singer Paul Ledding’s band.
    BASS ACE – Morinville bassist Travis Switzer will play the jazz festival as part of jazz-pop singer Paul Ledding’s band.
  • JAZZED SINGER – St. Albert jazz singer Lindsey Nagy is also a member of Paul Ledding's band.
    JAZZED SINGER – St. Albert jazz singer Lindsey Nagy is also a member of Paul Ledding's band.

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Edmonton International Jazz Festival
June 20 to June 29
Winspear Centre, Old Brittany’s Lounge, Churchill Square, Edmonton Petroleum Club, Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre, Yardbird Suite, Jeffrey’s Café and Blue Chair Café
Tickets: Single Tickets and $99 pass. Visit edmontonjazz.com

It’s that time of year when the jazz soul floats freely and the entire area breathes it in.

The Edmonton International Jazz Festival is back for a 10-day run from June 20 to June 29 as national and internationally acclaimed artists take up residence – even if it’s only for a few days.

Organizer Kent Sangster is importing two headline acts with a magic touch. On Sunday, June 22 improvisational jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood, along with guitar guru John Scofield, bring a mash of jazz, funk, soul, rock and reggae to the Winspear Centre.

“They represent a fusion that is very intellectual but it’s fun and kind of hip,” said Sangster.

And on Tuesday, June 24, the irrepressible Bobby McFerrin, with a five-piece backup band, also gets into groove at the Winspear. His new album, Spirityouall, has a bluesy vibe and honours the legacy of his father, the operatic baritone Robert McFerrin Sr., the first African-American to sign a contract with Metropolitan Opera Company.

One of Sangster’s favourite stories is of the laid back McFerrin arriving to conduct the formally dressed Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in his bare feet.

“His instrument is second to none. He can scat like a trumpet player and sing like an opera singer.”

In addition to the acoustically perfect Winspear concert hall, there will be a jazz blend of styles at the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre (OSPAC), Yardbird Suite, Edmonton Petroleum Club, Jeffrey’s Café, Blue Chair Café and Brittany’s Lounge. Perhaps one of the more popular low-key events is the free outdoor Works With Jazz at Churchill Square.

New venue

Brittany’s is a new venue partner this year, added for night owls who feel the night is still young after the headliners’ two concerts.

“There will be jam sessions after the two big shows on Sunday and Tuesday and they can go across the street to the lounge. And P.J. Perry will be playing there on select nights during the festival.”

Sangster added that there are also some groups that will surprise with their energy, exuberance and patterns of musical melody.

“Check out Jorge Luis Torres and Iroko Project. It’s really high level Cuban jazz.”

Shifting slightly from the pure idiom of jazz is Montreal based Nomadic Massive, an ever-developing hip-hop group that has discovered inspiration from the past, and combines live instruments and a broad swath of vocal styles.

“Nomadic Massive is neat. We wanted to do a hip-hop event and this type is cool. They’re large – at least 10 people – and they’re multi-language. The music is fresh and new. We are trying to branch out and tap a younger audience.”

Sangster also speaks highly of special event artist Rudresh Manhanthappa Gamak, a Guggenheim Fellow and the 2012 Downbeat International Critics saxophonist of the year. An innovative composer, he fuses the musical culture of his Indian ancestry and jazz with a myriad of other musical influences.

Closer to home, the Al Muirhead Quartet featuring P.J. Perry and Tommy Banks pair up for an evening of vintage jazz.

Last year the $650,000 festival packed in 8,000 jazz fans, many whom view the festival as a necessary and graceful indulgence.

Morinville bassist Travis Switzer is once again delighted to play the jazz festival on Wednesday, June 25 in Churchill Square as part of Paul Ledding’s support team. Ledding, an Edmonton music teacher, just released his first contemporary jazz-pop album.

Switzer, an all-around bass player who received the 2013 Canadian Country Music Awards outstanding bassist, believes the local jazz musicians definitely “punch above their weight.”

He performs at country, rock and jazz festivals and can easily define the personality of this music fest.

“It seems really focused on the music which is different from other festivals in country and rock that like to party. It’s a lot like a folk fest. You’re focused on the music and you want to take it all in,” Switzer said.

Locals enthused

Born and bred St. Albert pianist Doug Organ has played every year at the annual jazz festival since the late 1990s when it was then called Jazz City.

Founder of Edmontone Recording Studio, Organ is happiest when playing as part of the Doug Organ Trio with St. Albert guitarist Peter Belec.

This time around the keyboardist is also part of Ledding’s backup players for the Winston Churchill outdoor concert.

“It’s such a change of pace from dark jazz clubs you’re used to playing in,” Organ said, adding they are prepared for blazing heat or frozen fingers from a surprise dump of snow.

“Performing outdoors is hit and miss. The weather can be great or not. One year we played at the festival where electrocution was an issue. It could be an engaging audience on their lunch break or whoever happens by. At Churchill there’s an appreciative audience and the free music goes over really well.”

Organ encourages music lovers to catch some of the big names or interesting acts that are booked.

“We don’t always get big acts. We’re geographically so far north and far away from places these acts play at that it’s a luxury for us to go. We don’t have that much summer and it’s a luxury to take it in.”

St. Albert jazz singer Lindsey Nagy, also part of the Ledding debut, makes one final point.

“When I attend the jazz festival, I don’t feel like I’m in Edmonton. I feel like I’m having a great cultural experience that transports me out of Edmonton. You might feel like you’re in New York,” she said.

Other St. Albert musicians slated to perform are Thom Bennett, John Taylor, Glenn Durksen, Sean Sonego, Brett Hansen, Sandro Dominelli and Matthew Atkins as well as Legal chanteuse Rollanda Lee.

For a complete downloadable brochure visit edmontonjazz.com.


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