Saturday, August 6, 2016

Blainletter 83 – Hot Summer Night Edition | Flurry of Festivals | CD Launch Oct 29 at the Old Mill

It's been so long since my last Blainletter, I don't hardly know where to start.  Oh yeah…gigs!  Well as usual I'm giving you kinda short notice, I'll be doing a short set tomorrow, Saturday Afternoon August 6 at 2pm  at  the "Words & Music Salon" at Vino Rosso, 995 Bay St.  And if you're not ready for an afternoon of music and poetry, run don't walk to the Kitchener Blues Festival where Harry Manx is doing a set at 3pm.

Then unless something comes up, it's over to October for me when I'll be making an appearance or two in my old stomping grounds, the Eastern Townships then back for a return engagement at the Home Smith Bar in the Old Mill on Saturday, October 29.  Since we never had an official "launch" for New Folk Blues 2.0, this will be it. I will be bringing together some of the players who helped with the "upgrade" – Alison Young , Michelle Josef and of course the illustrious George Koller who recorded the original tracks with me.  We're calling this a "re-boot" and my friend Gary Kendall is putting on his publicist hat and helping me get version 2.0 out to the world.

A Flurry of Festivals

The first video you see if you go deeper into the Blainletter is what was just going on at the foot of my street a couple of weeks ago.  Sort of a hybrid South Asian bangra rock. As I walked down my street I could make out real musical instruments being played by real musicians – this is not the typical fare at the Festival of South Asia where the main attraction is the wedding fashion show.  Anyway, as I got close up I could see that the musicians were kind-of add-ons to the recorded track.  They were playing allright, but if they stopped playing you wouldn't even notice.

This follows a fabulous Afrofest last week-end which was a little further down the street but still just a walk away from my place.  Lots of great food and music, everybody dressed in their tribal colours.  I was sitting next to one woman who had given the cold shoulder to a handsome gentleman only to chase after a guy who just walked by. She could tell by the clothes he was wearing that he was from her country.

Both these festivals are genuine "community" events, unlike the festivals I attend or work for.  And it just occurred to me that I didn't see a single black person at the South Asian festival and I didn't see a single South Asian at Afrofest.  We love the multicultural diverse thang, but left to their own devices, most cultures tend to stick with their own  …except for a lot of white people like myself who want to take it all in.

A few nights later I got a taste of afro-blues in a free concert at Roy Thomson Hall in their beautiful "poolside patio."  A great setting and some great programming.  They had a blues week-end and this was afrobeat  just the way I like it with an amazing kora/guitar player.  The video is here.

The Day before that Afro-Blues  at RTH, I was at a music industry gathering of folk who made millions in the music business, collectively and even individually. Some who lived in lavish homes and others who didn't have a pot to piss in.  But there's a brotherhood there – I'm not really part of it but I do get invited to it and always run into a few folks I know or whom I've heard of.  This time I met Nicolas Jennings, a great chronicler of the Canadian music scene. And here was Peter Moore, a master mastering engineer – and an expert at restoring old tapes  (which I did not realize until I was sharing my story of restoring the Fraser & DeBolt tapes until he finally blurts out "That's what I do – that's my wheelhouse!") I didn't know he did tape restoration, I just knew him as the best mastering guy in town – although it's a funny thing about mastering guys.  They might be praised to the sky by one client and dismissed by the next person you talk to.  But now Peter's got a Grammy for the Bob Dylan Basement Tapes (and he brought it to the party) so that will shut up any critics. I wanted to get my picture holding the Grammy but I was told that would be bad luck – meaning I would never get one of my own, I guess. Personally I've never used Peter for mastering but I would not hesitate and now that I know he's the miracle man of tape restoration I passed on his info to the label that put out the Fraser & DeBolt because I think they sometimes have to do some audio "rescues." One guy at the party made my day when he responded to our introduction with "Brian Blain? Are you the guy that did that song about a girl and a car?"  I said "Saab Story?" then he went on and on about how he heard it many times on Jazz FM and how the song posed so many questions…

Then there is the wonderful Toronto Jazz Festival where I am semi-retired, part-time Managing Editor, though it was pretty damn full time for those ten days. Double-time! But I ain't complaining. Got to hear some great music close-up and all I had to was to get lots of great pictures on the website and make sure that everybody's internet was working.  No big fires to put out this year though there was much more security even though half of them were tiny young women five feet tall.  When it comes to stopping a fence jumper (and we had a couple) they were quite ineffectual.  They were good for checking people's bags (first time we ever had to do that), but that's not security.

There was a bit less of the backstage party atmosphere than previous years but it's what happens on stage that counts and as always I had my mind blown a few times. One thing, there were no guitar stars at all!  Hell, we had some festivals where it was "the Year of the Guitar!" Not this time.  And I didn't get to hear any blues on the Square until the last day – my buddy Raoul and his Bigger Time band kickin ass.

But I didn't say there was no soul at the festival.  Sharon Jones gave a performance that will go down in Toronto music lore.  Unbeknownst to the audience she had come directly from St Mike's Hospital where she had some treatment for the cancer which has returned into her life.  But you wouldn't have known it from the show she gave.  Everybody knew she was not well and I had overheard backstage that the band & singers would be doing 5 tunes before she came on but after a couple, she pounced onto that stage and sang like it was the last performance of her life, but it was not to be because she had to play Ottawa Jazz the night after and Montreal Jazz 2 days after that. At the end she announced to the crowd that she was quite exhausted and would not be doing an encore…but she just bounced back on stage and did a rousing finale.

There were lots of great shows in the Big Tent, starting off with a free concert with…wait for it, KC and the Sunshine Gang.  Seven costume changes!  It's the first time we had to set up a "Quick Change" room right behind the stage. Allen Stone was the festival favourite of a couple of my friends, but I never even heard they guy.  He had a great voice and sang his heart out.  Every fan that stuck around got a hug and a selfie.  But the other half of that bill was Lee Fields and the Expressions, whom I never really heard of until I was getting their info for the website, and that was a phenomenal performance – unforgettable, like the time I saw James Brown or Ray Charles.

My "Decouverte de L'Annee" is Kandace Springs, who was opening for Gregory Porter.  She has it all, plus a very easygoing personality.  She ended up sitting in the media trailer with me for a while – she said she didn't want to impose upon Gregory Porter's dressing room.  I showed her the video clip of Lee Field's performance which I had just Instagrammed and she was suitably impressed though she had not heard of him.  Joel dropped in to the trailer and neither of us knew she was the opening act until she told us – then I told her that there was a trailer with her name on it on the other side but by then they were announcing her from the stage so off she went to a brilliant performance with perfect relaxed vocal sound and piano chops that were quite impressive. She did two instrumentals and they were killer.  She's the next Norah Jones/Diana Krall. I won't go on and on but this girl is going places.

Well here I am posting about the jazz festival to my Toronto blues diary and really there was no blues this year, and hardly any guitar. You'll see from the clips below that I caught a couple of great local guitarists at the Rex, Eric St Laurent was playing with Alison Young and another great guitarist playing with Rebecca Hennessey's band , FOB.  And I shouldn't neglect to mention the phenom Sean Pinchin who is a big part of Dione Taylor's new sound. Sean has that effortless Derek Trucks thang, like he was born with a slide on his finger.  There's only a few slide players that I abide, Derek Trucks, Harry Manx, Bonnie Raitt…maybe a couple of others.  I've even had occasion to invite a sideman to put down the slide and even made my campfire jam a slide-free zone.

Got my fill of tubas/sousaphones this year – one band, from Romania, had four! Before that was the Robert Glasper Experiment and I know that he's making chords that are beyond most pianists/keyboardist  (even legendary Lou Pomanti was impressed). Last time I saw Glasper he was playing standards in a standard trio setup. Now he had an amazing "frontman" and a high-energy band. The singer and used a vocoder ALL the time. Hard to sustain that all night long but he had a powerful presence.

Molly Johnson played with the phenomenal Andrew Craig, and, the wonderfully talented Colleen Allen - also a long-time member of Molly's band.

I got coaxed over to the late night hang at the Rex by my friend Glenn who said there was an interesting band from L.A. At the door I am confronted by the hardest-ass doorman in the city, John, and despite having a special pass for the late night jam (it hadn't started yet) and manager Tom waving me in, this guy still managed to get ten bucks out of.  I don't mind, as he has reminded me many times, "it's all for the musicians". Still, that's got to be the only club in town where the doorman can over-rule the manager.  Anyway, the Rex was transformed into a throbbing mosh pit with people all bouncing in unison. You could sure feel that floor flex. The enters Gregory Porter, the most shy and sedate jazzman on the scene today. I didn't stick around for the jam and I don't think Gregory played.

NXNE for me started with a speech at their new interactive component. A great speech from Nolan Bushnell but a disappointing first experience with virtual reality. I had a very nice taste of VR in a geodesic dome at CMW but this headgear was uncomfortable and seemed a little out of focus.  Not ready for prime time though my friend Jordan insists there are some amazing products

Musically I didn't see anything till Thurs and I was having a hard time getting out of the house. I really wanted to see King Khan - I remember lots of people raved about him in previous years and it was quite fabulous.  A big band with lots of horns and guitars and lots of energy. The Horseshoe was packed solid. If I had made my way to the front before they started I never would have got there. On my way to King Khan, I got a taste of a group that my friend Barbara always loved (and I don't think it's just because of the name - they're called "Run with the kittens"

Also dropped in to Nocturn a couple of times, where I've caught some great electronica sounds but both times I poked in, all I heard was a succession of solo electro-crooners, singing along with tracks they produced and adding lots of elaborate hand gestures…

And right at the start of June was the fabulous Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival, where I got 4 plays in two days and thank God I had Joel to help me schlepping around my Fender amp and being a big help, though I won't go so far as to call him a roadie.  A few folks came up and were glad to see me back in Orangeville.  The last play was a club and they wanted me to play for four hours and Joel was ready to get heavy with the club owner but I calmed him down and I played 4 hours and it didn't kill me.   Dropped in on Allan Fraser and Maryanne where they live close enough to the mainstage that they don't even have to leave their apartment – though they are leaving at the end of the month and heading for Italy.  Exciting!

… and equally exciting is the Fraser & DeBolt vinyl release which looks fabulous – it's a rare thing nowadays to crack open a big gatefold LP.  It sounds great too, as far as I can tell – I still haven't listened to the vinyl – I don't have a turntable.  Anyway, I've talked about this already but now there is some news: I addition to the double album, Roaratorio is putting out an EP which contains the track I produced at Manta Sound in 1973, "Flight of the Light Air Force". The flip side has 2 tracks, live versions of "Dance Hall Girls" and  "You Can't Always Get What You Want." 

New Folk Blues 2.0 gets a re-boot

Well just when I was feeling retired (or at least, semi-retired) there's a new spurt of energy and we are going to give New Folk Blues 2.0 a proper send-off with a media blitz and mailing to radio stations and reviewers across the country.  I can thank Gary Kendall for lighting a fire under me and believing in the music to put some of his time and energy into promoting it.

And to end this long, rambling Blainletter (probably the longest ever), I'm sad to report how many "celebrations of life" I've attended in the last couple of months.  We had a musical gathering for our sound engineer Paul "Eggs" Benedict in Stratford.  Paul spent many years on the road with Ronnie Hawkins and came up with many of the guys who went on to play with the Hawk and Dylan.  As we were singing "The Weight" I had the sudden realization that many of these guys in the crowd had started out playing with Garth Hudson, the Danko's and John Till.  Later there was a beautiful gathering for Kirstin McCullough, the daughter of Barb McCullough who hired me at the jazz festival so long ago and was a pioneer music publicist.  And just a few days ago, it would have been Jim Galloway's 80th birthday and some friends gathered for an event (at an upscale LCBO) where he was toasted repeatedly with 3 kinds of champagne and (of course) some very expensive scotch.

A few days ago, we heard of the passing of Penny Lang, the "grande dame" of the Montreal folk scene.  I was asked by the FYI Music News to comment on her passing and this is what I wrote: "No one passed through Montreal's 60s folk revival without being touched, inspired and encouraged by Penny Lang. She was a fixture on the folk scene with her beat-up Martin guitar and usually accompanied by Roma Baran (who went on to become Laurie Anderson's sidekick/producer) or her brother Scot (r.i.p.) who was a brilliant musician and the legacy continues with her son Jason, an equally brilliant musician who has backed up many of Quebec's biggest stars. " 

Godspeed, Penny, and thanks to all who read this far.  The next one will be a lot shorter, I promise (but I can't say when I'll get it out :-)