Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jazz Festival - Day One

As I made my way to Nathan Phillips Square at 9 am, it was like driving into a ghost town (not that I ever find myself driving downtown at 9 am but I know that it’s usually much more congested than this). But thanks to the dire warnings of G20 protests (peaceful and otherwise) most people stayed home.  The square was very quiet as I scrambled from one trailer to another installing phones, modems and wireless routers. Every year Bell sends two guys – one to lay the cables and another to configure the high speed modems. This year, however, they deemed to send only one guy and he had his hands full because the locations of the trailers were all changed because they’re remodeling Nathan Phillips Square, so new lines had to be laid down under the massive concrete tiles that  can only be moved by a fork-lift. When I asked if one could be left open in case our guy needed to go back to the junction box, I was told that they were worried that some G20 terrorist would crawl under there with a bomb.

Anyway, that whole G20 kerfuffle made for a smaller crowd for Alex Pangman, who played a 5 o’clock show  with some great players including a couple of friends, Terry Wilkins and Jesse Barksdale. I don’t think I ever saw Jesse playing a “flat-top” guitar (as opposed to the vintage style archtops he usually plays)  and even the headliner, Maceo Parker, whose fans would have fought their way through a police barricade to hear him, had a smaller audience for sure. And what a demographic he has – his appeal stretches from the young funk fanatics, who probably listen to rap and reggae the rest of the time, and old folks like me who grew up with James Brown.

And I have to say this was just about as exciting as seeing a James Brown show in the 60s. I remember watching the James Brown Band (minus James and Maceo) rehearsing for a Blues Brothers movie shoot in Toronto a few years back. James wasn’t there but each song was performed, with all James’ signature moves, by a different member of the band, or roadie, or someone who was part of the entourage. They went through the entire show without James but it ran like a finely tuned machine. I never saw James when Maceo was in the band. Maceo has been well brought up. His show builds and builds then drops down with a whack on the snare drum (Michelle refers to this as an “Apollo”).

You got the feeling he would play all night if they let him. A couple of times he just started singing  some silly Streisand song (unaccompanied) for a few bars then  boom, then the whole band would kick into another funk number. Take me to the bridge!  Maceo was so generous with his band members – everybody got a feature spot (or two) and they all shone spectacularly – I guess that’s why he gives them the air time.  And he repeatledly acknowledged his band and all the sound crew and stage hands as well as his English-accent lady manager who was omnipresent off (and sometimes on) the stage.

I got to chat a bit with his long-time guitarist, Bruno Speight, who gave me some tips on playing that choppy funk guitar (it’s all in the upstroke). He also recommended I check out a gospel singer called Kim Burrell who he thought I would enjoy. He is based in Atlanta and I guess she is too.

Two other shows going on at the same time were young Nikki Yanovsky and still pretty young Martha Wainright. Both had sold out shows. Lori Nuic, who opened for Maceo is also a talented up and comer. She was playing some wicked slide guitar during the sound check but what I heard of her set was sans fact she never picked up the guitar for the part I heard. Several people commented what a strong show she had – I look forward to seeing her play a whole evening sometime. One of my Campfire regulars has been working with her and said he would bring her down to Highway 61 one of these Tuesdays.