Free concerts, local geniuses, and big ass names at this year’s Jazz Fest

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There’s a decidedly spicy vibe to the programming at this year’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Sitting amidst some of the bigger names coming to town for the 10-day bash—which includes a staggering 150 free shows out of 300 between June 21-July 1—is that venerable old purveyor of musical hoodoo Dr. John, playing at the Vogue Theatre with his Nite Trippers on June 26.

In the same humid vein, Treme fans will want to catch John Boutté’s sonic gumbo (he performs the theme from the popular HBO series) with Vancouver’s Steve Dawson and the Black Hen Music Band at North Shore Credit Union Centre for Performing Arts, on June 28, while transplanted Brit Jon Cleary brings yet more of the Louisiana vibe to this year’s fest at the same venue two days before that.

In those three nights alone, you have the essence of the festival: a fully fledged giant, some hot up and comers, and a local genius.

“What we try to do is create a balance and a state of the art music festival that’s global in its proportions," co-founder John Orysik told the Straight. "So you’re going to see some of the established legends like Herbie Hancock (June 30, Queen Elizabeth Theatre) and people like Bettye LaVette (June 22, Vogue), who’s been performing for 50 years and is only in the last few years finally getting the recognition she deserves.” Orysik added that he’s especially excited to get the Vijay Iyer Trio (“who’re blowing up all over the jazz world”) to open the festival at Performance Works on June 21.

“And then of course the festival supports and nurtures the emerging musicians, and no one is more prolific on the scene right now than Esperanza Spalding,” Orysik continued. The luminous Grammy upsetter brings her Radio Music Society for a long-awaited Vancouver debut at the Vogue on June 23. On June 29, the Vogue also hosts Montreal tyro Nikki Yanofsky, while Macy Gray’s appearance with the David Murray Infinity Quartet is likely going to sell out the same theatre on June 27.

The exceedingly busy Murray was Village Voice’s “Musician of the Decade” in the ‘80s. If he has an aughties counterpart, it might be saxophonist Colin Stetson, whose resume spans everything from Tom Waits, and Arcade Fire, to TV on the Radio, Feist and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

“He blew everybody’s mind last time he was here,” Orysik noted of the Michigan-born musician, whose opening slot for “Noh-wavers” Yamantaka // Sonic Titan at the Venue (June 23) will make for one of the more outré spectacles the festival has to offer.

Stetson is also sitting in with local guitar hero Gordon Grdina and his Trio at Ironworks on June 22. “One-of-a-kind collaborations with Vancouver-based musicians is something the festival is known for,” Orysik said, adding that Grdina—who also presents two Middle Eastern inflected outfits this year, Haram and Qalandar—is the kind of homegrown talent that he’s gratified to show to the rest of the world.

Other local notables include Tommy Babin’s Sendero Luminoso, intriguingly described in the festival program as “Pan-American revolutionary music of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” (June 29, David Lam Park Exhibition Hall) while guitarist Tony Wilson pops up with the Juno award nominated rebel soundtrack ensemble Pugs and Crows (June 22, Electric Owl) and later with Reach for the Sky, featuring former Mother Mother vocalist Debra-Jean Creelman (June 22, free Downtown Jazz Robson Stage).

And then there’s the weirdo edge. “This sets us apart from other festivals,” Orysik said. “We have a strong and deep Innovation Series. It’s cutting edge. That’s why this festival is so comprehensive. It covers the entire spectrum of jazz and improvisation, and also jazz related genres as well. That’s why you’ll see some musicians who aren’t normally associated with jazz but are valid in a jazz festival as far as we’re concerned. For us, there’s no such thing as purity.”

To that end, John Brennan’s Destroy Vancouver project (June 29, Ironworks) should bring in the extreme sound fetishists, whose numbers grow every year as Vancouver becomes renowned for its insurgent noise and improv scene. One of Brennan’s cohorts also gets his own show when the V. Vecker Ensemble performs on June 28, also at Ironworks. For further locally grown mindfuckery, Robots on Fire will take you to the outer limits at the Roundhouse Performance Centre on June 29.

Finally, artists like Tyler, the Creator collaborators BADBADNOTGOOD (June 23, free Downtown Jazz Georgia Stage) and L.A.’s Nosaj Thing—known for his remixes of Beck, Radiohead, and the xx among others (June 27, the Venue)—act as a kind of gateway experience for the Pitchfork readers out there. Orysik sees it as an opportunity for fresh attendees to get caught up in the festival’s heady buzz and maybe check out something new. And that, along with the sheer scale of the event—you can see the full and very impressive schedule here—is why Orysik can proudly declare, “I don’t think there’s a music festival in the world like it.”

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A. MacInnis
Saw Dr. John in Victoria a few months ago - his band was phenomenal, his new material is tight, hot Afrobeat, and he was impeccably stylish and sang brilliantly (tho` he showed his age when he moved around!). I just hope wherever they`re playing you get to DANCE (because I saw the band at a former church where dancing is discouraged, and the majority of the audience were senior citizens... I still had to jump up and shake my ass now and then...).
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