Sunday, July 16, 2006

Keyboardists ailing

Just heard that two of my favourite musicians (both organist/pianist) are in bad medical shake. Rod Phillips and Richard Bell both appear on my current album and I looked forward to many more opportunities to play with them in the years to come. Now I pray for their recovery

Gotta Get Out More

After an endless procession of world class bands over the last few weeks, I finally took a break the other night...only to discover I missd an outstanding Bulgarian group that were part of the Small World Festival. Tonight I ended up at Harbourfront through a succession of changed week-end plans. Boy, am I glad I did. I got there in time to hear a wonderful kora player called Seckou Keita. Just last Sunday I heard the world-renowned kora player Mamadou Diabate but somehow I was not as mesmerized by him. Maybe it's because I was standing off to the side having conversations or eating exotic food. This Seckou Keita was a virtuoso but more importantly, he had the groove. He was really holding it together with his quartet, fiddle, string bass and his brother playing some strange drum set-up where the round top of a drum was hit with the hand to make a "kick" sound and played with a light stick to get a "clicking" sound. There was a cymball, though I only recall seeing it used one time. The main feature was the Jamaica-Toronto Connection with a lot of old-timers. When they first came on, one of the vocal mics was not turned on when he started singing into it, se he ran one way and and the money went the other way.

TIPS TO TAKE HOME: Throughout his set, he would launch into a solo "duel" with one of his sidemen. This would be built up to a fever pitch (and although he didn't do it, I love it when one of those solos gets so loud and intense that you don't know who's playing what! I strive to get it up to that point and achieved it with Roberta (in a rhuthmical way) but also got it happening with Carlos' harp a few days before. I just found exactly the same note as Carlos was wailing then try to get the guitar sounding as much like the harp as possible - so sometiems you could play the note together and it would crteate some wild flaging effects and perk up the audience. ANOTHER IDEA: Try doing "Ghost of Clinton's Tavern" at a much slower (more African) rhythm

Friday, July 14, 2006

Another week in my musical life

Two weeks since the jazz festival ended and I guess I'm recovered. It was a lot of music to take in at once. Then again, this week wasn't much different.

Tonight I read that mandolin player Matt Smith was in town doing an opening set with Doc Mclean at the Silver Dollar. The headliner was a young blues phenom called "Slick" Ballinger. I had also received a last-minute email invite to a video taping of the Kevin Breit and Sisters Euclid. Turns out they were taping a new music series for a High-Definition TV Channel in the US. The series is called "Beautiful Noise". It was obviously big-budget: six cameras and it seemed like three people to operate each camera. A big crane and a steadicam, too. Very professional, except for one thing: After four or five songs Kevin finished up a number with a scorching solo and I watched as he broke one string, then a second and at that point he just decided to go all out and before he signaled an end to the song, he had only two strings left on the guitar. It was a spectacular ending. Then the director steps up onto the stage to say they'll have to re-do the ending because the tape ran out. I don't think so... there's no strings left on the guitar!

I slipped out and raced up to the Silver Dollar hoping to catch a few tunes of Matt and Doc but when I walked in Slick Ballinger and his band had already taken the stage. Slick, like me, played a flat top guitar but got a very edgy electric sound. The rhythm section had that Mississippi hill country rough edge tome - made me think I should put together a power trio with bass and drums. You sure have to crash people over the head to made any kind of impact in this town. After the Dollar, I slipped down to Healeys to hear Jerome Godboo playing with Jeff Healey. To hear both Jeff Healey and Kevin Breit in full flight in one evening is an amazing gift - something one shouldn't take for granted. Oh yeah, Pat Rush was playing second guitar. It was guitar-heaven. The club, meanwhile has a broken air-conditioner amd floods every time it rains. I think those guys are ready to get out of the basement.

Last night I made my way to the Lula Lounge to hear a 15-piece Afrobeat band led by Femi Abosede (6 horns - it rocked!). (Note to self: If you're going to have fifteen musicians on stage you'll have to rehearse five times as much as you would for a trio.)

The night before that, I had a gig of my own but that didn't stop me from getting out to hear some more great blues. Kelley Hunt was in town at Hugh's Room. My set at the Red Guitar was 7-9 (I played with Roberta Hunt, and I think we made a few new fans) and promptly dragged Roberta to hear Kelley who I knew she'd enjoy (even though I'd never heard her live, I knew that Kelley was one barrelhouse piano mama). Seeing her, there was a lot more variety than I expected (that's a good thing). Kelley was a knock-out. The band was soooo tight. Roberta was an instant fan, bought two CDs and booked a trip to Ottawa to see Kelley play at the Ottawa Bluesfest.

On Monday I guess I didn't go out, but Sunday, I drove directly from my gig in Haliburton to Queen's Park to take in Afrofest. As I walked towards the park I ran into Donne Robert who was part of the African Guitar Summit, along with Mighty Popo, Adam Solomon and Alpha Yaya Diallo from BC. Alpha got a lot of sound out of his acoustic guitar and was mostly driving the set. Muna Mungole played - she's a Cameroonian singer living in Montreal, though I wouldn't be surprised if she ends up in Toronto. The gig I played on the Saturday night was in a "sugar shack" in Haliburton - kinda reminiscent of the Townships. It was a big barn of a building with the maple syrup production facility on the main floor and a small concert room upstairs. A great listening audience and it was packed - in fact this may be another milestone in my music career: "First sold out show" (with a waiting list, to boot).

Also overheard this week: A renowned scientist claims that the global warming effect is irreversible and within 30 to 100 years, all hell will break loose. It will start by raising sea-level and countries like Bangladesh will be completely submerged. The mass exodus will create other problems and it could conceivably be the end of a civilization (for about the 300th time on this planet). He was saying we should make sure that all the knowledge we've accumulated should be gathered in a "time capsule" or something. "So that the next civilization will know things like disease is caused by bacteria, not witches"

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Brian's festival blog

Did I say I'd be sending daily reports during the jazz festival? Ooops, I blinked and it's over.

Phone just rang. It was Bell Canada calling about repair ticket number such-and-such at 100 Queen Sttreet West... I had to laugh. The whole site is torn down and now they call to respond to my frantic call on day 2 of the festival when the internet went down (at the most inconvenient time, of course). Thank goodness they (mistakenly) sent us more than one modem and a quck swap had resolved the problem.

Last night was the last of the tent series and traditionally, everyone would go hang out at the after hours till 4am. Unfortunately the after-hours is happening at the Rex and the Rex has a bit of a bee in their bonnet about people with festival passes expecting free admission. I walked in with Harry Manx, who dropped in while he's touring Ontario with Michael Kaeshammer, and he had to pay. Open Letter to the Rex: "Hey guys, you should buy the bar across the street because they were doing very good business just with the folks that were turned away (or ejected) from the Rex." I stood helpless as I watched John the doorman turn away a couple of the Diva Big Band members - I would have tried to say something if I hadn't already been through a big discussion with the doorman who reminded me that as a musician, I should understand that they need to collect the money to pay the musicians. Well other headliners graciouly paid the admission fee, Geoff Keezer and McCoy Tyner's extraordinary bassist Charnett Moffet. I'm going to be watching what he does next...he really was able to make the bass do stuff I've never heard. Anyway, I think he just paid whatever the get in because he was starving! The Divas, on the other had, just stomped away furiously...they are, after all, divas. They had some amazing charts - great arrangements and fine playing from all 15 of them. Ann Hampton Calloway was a phenomenal front-person. Kidding around with the audience...singing up a storm...making up a song about Toronto with lyrical ideas from the was like May West revisted. The Divas (let's get the name straight at least one time: Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra) will surely make an impression as they continue on the jazz festival circuit, undoubtedbly relating how they were expected to "pay to play" at the after-hours jam in Toronto.

I had two gigs on the first week-end of the festival (I won't do that again!) but somehow everything got done. I played the newly constructed Greektown stage in the Alexander the Great Parkette with two phenomenal musicians - Carlos del Junco and Henry Heilig. They billed me as Colorblind Blain Blues to remind everybody (especially me) that I was going to be playing Blues this time. Last time I was invited to play up there it was the 04 Jazzfest and I thought (since it's a jazz festival) that I would do something completely different. I went in with a DJ/remixer called Caspar Project along with a tabla player who doubled on digiridoo. I played a MIDI duitar and sent a feed to the Caspar who also grabbed clips from the tabla and digiridoo and looped them. It was a lot of fun...but not (as the club owner pointed out) the jazz trio they expected. We were fired after the first night. I was fired from my own festival - that was the running gag at HQ for a while. Anyway, this time they loved it. And I loved it because I had a quiet, attentive audience - who could ask for more?

So, what else did I see, you ask? Well, I didn't make it to Mike Stern which was right after my gig but I just didn't have any steam left. Heard it was a phenomenal show. Saw Molly Johnson on opening night and she spun her magic spell like she always does. Colleen Allen played beautifully - she is at the top of my list of people I want to play with before I die. The following afternoon I slipped off to the Distillery to play a solo set at the City Roots Festival. They were very appreciative and I stuck around for the "grand finale/group hug" with a bunch of folkies gathered on the stage singing Goodnight Irene. How quaint. Then it was back into the jazz zone where I heard such phenomenal artists as John Pizzarelli, Paquito D'Rivera, Pharoah Sanders and Charlie Hunter and his unique 8-string guitar - even if Charlie wasn't playing the bass part on those two extra strings he would still be a phenomenal, soulful guitarist. His keyboard player was a monster - I think his name was Deutch (??). I told Charlie about a young woman I met who played a similar guitar (Kate Shutt?) and he remembered her. He must have a network of 8-string devotees all over the planet.

On Sunday night I made my way down to Harbourfront to hear the Maple Blues Revue - The singers, Dawn Tyler Watson, John Mays and Chuck Jackson were topnotch and the whole show ran like a well-oiled machine - which it is under the leadership of Gary Kendall. Not a big crowd but a phenomenal show. Blues is hurtin'.

Tuesday I watched the opening acts for Preservation Hall but then skipped over to the Hummingbird to hear Etta James. The voice is still there, but it was pretty low0-key compared to other performances I've seen years back. Boy has she lost weight...she looked like a sweet old grandma, except for when she was humping the stool and shaking her booty.

Also at Harbourfront I saw the Neville Brothers with Roxanne Potvin opening. Roxanne may have been a little nervous about that show but she was all confidence on that stage. I saw one thing that I noted as a GOOD TIP: When she wanted to acknowledge a solo from one of the sidemen, she just pointed rather than trying to say his name. Many a time I've fumbled a lyric entrance just because I'm saying somebody's name. Next time. I'll just point - everybody knows his mane anyway. It also made me realize that I often stifle a spontaneous burst of applause after a solo or whatever. If the audience wants to applaud, we should encourage them, no? Then I made it back to the main stage to catch the encore of Maceo Parker (which lasted as long as some folks' entire show - he played almost 3 hours straight - old school...)

Other stuff...more than I can relate here. Everyone playing at a very high level. Buck 65 struck me as the next Tom Waits. Seu Jorge had a huge following (mostly Brazillians, I guess) and he gave a beautiful show - holding it all together with his beat-up nylon string guitar, probably the same one he had when he was busking on the streets of Rio. Dave Brubeck showed that even as you are well into your eighties, you can still play with the vigour of a twenty year old.

My "discovery of the year" was bass player Charnett Moffet, who was here with McCoy Tyner but who sat in with anybody who would have him (and everybody wanted him). He was doing some things with the sting bass that I've never heard. It was quite something to see Neil Swainson relinquish his bass to Charnett mid-song at the Montreal Bistro in what turns out to be the last jazz jam ever to take place at the Bistro as it closed for good after the festival. That's right, there's no more Montreal Bistro. And now I have to find a new venue for my 60th Birthday bash. Argh!