This year's TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival ended with a bang
It takes a certain calibre of artist to warrant a standing ovation before they even get on-stage, and R&B–favouring genre blender Janelle Monáe has made those ranks. Sure, a top-hatted hype man demanded the crowd get to its feet moments before Monáe and her mighty Wondaland Arch Orchestra took to the stage, but the fantastically coiffed vocalist’s scintillating and sweat-soaked TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival show—at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Friday (June 29)—had many dancing from their seats the whole night through. The opener, “Dance or Die”, was a funky, conga-laced sizzler that had the singer fast-rapping down a short set of stairs in her black-tie-and-cape ensemble. The fun continued with the jazzy shuffle “Faster”, with the two-piece horn section busily jogging on the spot to keep up with their leader’s fancy footwork. Monáe commanded most of the attention, but props should be given to pageboy-sporting six-stringer Kellindo Parker. The guitarist damn near set his fretboard on fire with some tasteful rock shredding on the psych-soul epic “Mushrooms & Roses”, though you’d have been forgiven for not noticing, considering Monáe was painting mustard tones and a woman’s figure onto a canvas at the time.
Other highlights included the slinky crowd favourite “Tightrope” and Monáe‘s octave-jumping vocal acrobatics on a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. Following a freeform scat session between the vocalist and the crowd during her encore, she capped the night by running down the aisles and getting a piggyback ride off-stage. When she returned to say goodnight, it was no surprise that the crowd was still standing…
The 2012 edition of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival ended with a bang, on-stage and off. Just minutes after local clarinetist François Houle’s brand-new 5+1 sextet had finished its Ironworks set on Sunday (July 1), Canada Place unleashed a massive Canada Day fireworks exhibition. So celebratory was the mood in the room that the pyrotechnics—and the cheering from onlookers on the nearby overpass—seemed to honour a performance that came close to perfection. And once the noise had passed another Vancouver artist with an international reputation, pianist Paul Plimley, created further sonic explosions with a bicontinental band. Ending the festival with locals rather than an imported big-ticket star might have been mandated by the VIJF’s reduced budget, but it was also a test of the Vancouver improvised-music scene’s strength, which has been immeasurably bolstered by festival artistic director Ken Pickering’s aggressive pursuit of border- and genre-crossing collaborations.
This paid off wildly with Houle’s new band, which Pickering helped to assemble. The sextet—which also includes New York–based Canadians Harris Eisenstadt and Michael Bates on drums and bass, respectively, as well as American brass player Taylor Ho Bynum, Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser, and French pianist Benoît Delbecq—has immediately established itself as one of the most exciting new bands on the international jazz scene. In addition to its carefully constructed compositions, virtuosic soloists, and huge ensemble sound, the group brings surprising warmth to the stage, and its Ironworks set was among the most impressive of the entire festival.
Hexen Trio, which teams Plimley with British bassist Barry Guy and Swiss drummer Lucas Niggli, is a crazier proposition—as befits a unit that’s not above donning brightly coloured feather boas for a vocal improvisation based on the writings of Samuel Beckett. Bizarrely, given his dancer’s physicality and slashing arco attack, Guy is the calm centre of this musical coven; flanking him, Plimley and Niggli mirrored each other’s flailing limbs and witty sonic commentary. Was that really a snatch of “La Cucaracha” that ended one improv? Yes, it was…
As far as we know they end up short of being groupies, but every year jazz-festival lifers find a new artist to follow from show to show. In 2011, that performer was saxophonist Colin Stetson, who has since been discovered by the general public thanks to his work with Bon Iver and Arcade Fire. French guitarist Marc Ducret might never find that level of fame, but for those who checked out his three festival appearances, he is most definitely a star. At his Saturday (June 30) workshop, he came across as the consummate Parisian intellectual, coolly discussing how Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Ada, with its palindromes and intertextual references, had influenced his compositional approach. In concert, however, his simian mugging and ability to wring very unguitaristic sonorities from his red six-string proved both smart and visceral. Ducret’s Performance Works duet with trombonist Samuel Blaser on Sunday (July 1) was an especially impressive showcase for sinewy, episodic tunes and uninhibited improvisation—including one comic moment when he mimed blowing into the upper horn of his guitar before, through some sonic sleight of hand, unleashing a very trombonelike blast of sound. Let’s hope he returns soon.