Sunday, July 01, 2007

2007Jazz Winnipeg Festival Winnipeg Free Press reviews

Reviews from the Winnipeg Free Press by Michael Wolch.

Sensational Pink Martini puts on mesmerizing show.
June 24th, 2007

OVER the course of the last 10 years, Pink Martini has become a worldwide sensation.

With sales of well over a million copies of the first two independent CDs, Sympathique and Hang on Little Tomato, and the brand new release Hey Eugene currently storming the North American charts, the band from Portland, Ore., has proved that you can have your cake and eat it, too.

The little big band, a cross between a 1930s Cuban dance orchestra, classical chamber ensemble and lush film score, brought its acclaimed orchestra to town Friday night and got the 2007 COOL Jazz Winnipeg Festival got off to a rousing start.

As the near-capacity crowd at The Pantages Playhouse Theatre gave them an enthusiastic and warm welcome, the 13-piece band filed in and occupied every inch of the stage, a feast for the eyes, and a hint of what was about to come.

Before lead vocalist China Forbes came out, the band launched into a sultry, buoyant version of Ravel's Bolero, which began gently and restrained until it slowly built into a smouldering rendition, displaying the full power of the small orchestra.

Composed of a string trio, harp, two horns, several percussionists, guitar, bass, back-up singer and band leader/pianist Thomas Lauderdale, they were able to achieve a whole array of vibrant colours on the well-known classical piece.

When Forbes arrived for the next number, Tempo Perdido, an old Carmen Miranda song from the 1930s, they kicked up their heels and transported the audience to Brazil with the lively samba beat.

On CD, Forbes' vocals are beautiful and evocative, but live they ascend to even greater heights, becoming enchanting, captivating and more expressive. Being able to see her dance around elegantly and sensually on stage it becomes obvious that she truly enjoys performing and has a passion for the music. Not only that, but she sings in at least seven different languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian and Croatian. I am probably missing some.

With that in mind, the next several songs were all in different languages. The title track to Pink Martini's debut album, Sympathique, was sung in French; Lilly, from the band's second CD, Hang on Little Tomato, was an "easy" one in English, then there was the charming Japanese song, Taya Tan from the newest CD, about a woman longing to be the guitar that her lover is playing. On this piece, guitarist Dan Faehnle was out front on acoustic guitar doing a superb job of playing the provocative notes of the lover.

The band members showed they were also more than capable of swinging as they displayed their jazz chops next on an instrumental number that would have sounded right at home in a speakeasy or 1920s nightclub.

Several members, including Faehnle, trumpeter Gavin Bondy, trombonist Robert Taylor and drummer Brian Davis, turned in great solos as they were led through this romp by their maestro, the joyous and colourful Lauderdale on piano, who deserves special mention as his arrangements and leadership are the heartbeat of the orchestra.

The evening was full of highlights, and even when they slowed the pace for a number of absolutely gorgeous ballads, including Amado Mio, Everywhere and Aspettami, the group, and Forbes, were mesmerizing. The show ran for almost two hours and never lagged for a moment. In fact, I need too much space to mention all the fabulous songs they packed into the show.

If I could, I would award the show a full 10 stars.

Two superb trios do it all up right

June 25th, 2007
Joshua Redman & The Bad Plus

Burton Cummings Theatre

June 23, 2007

Attendance: 500

4 stars out of 5

By Michael Wolch

IT was a sweltering evening on Saturday, and inside the Burton Cummings Theatre, both the air and the music were even hotter. Paul Nolin, executive producer of Jazz Winnipeg, cleverly paired two trios on the bill, The Bad Plus and The Joshua Redman Trio, who literally burnt up the stage. It was not a night for the faint of heart, but for those who braved the stifling humidity, it was worth the gallons of sweat they lost.

The Bad Plus was first on the bill. The trio, Ethan Iverson (piano), Dave King (drums), and Reid Anderson (bass), has become known for their genre-crossing music that is as much akin to rock as it is to jazz. After recording five CD's, the newest one, Prog, this year, their reputation as a crafty, hard-hitting unit has garnered them both rave reviews and criticism in the jazz media. Their performance here on Saturday reflected all the elements that get under your skin, both for the people who love them and for those who dismiss them.

The set, which lasted about one hour, was basically one free-flowing jam, which featured frenetic piano solos over driving drum rhythms, anchored by the steady flow of the bass. King proved he is a monster on the drums, as he jumped up and down on his stool, used every inch of the kit and was always searching for threads in Iverson's piano playing to pull and stretch.

Iverson has a beautiful touch on the piano and his playing sparkled throughout the performance.

All these elements came together, as evidenced on songs such as Big Eater from 2003's These Are The Vistas, which had a torrid pace, but the trio was always able to find common ground. Their cover of Everybody Wants To Rule The World, from Prog, which Iverson called a marvellous song from the '80's, was a slow, haunting, syncopated version that built to a crescendo, with all members weaving solos together.

Two of the set's highlights were a very powerful rendition of Rush's Tom Sawyer, which allowed King to become a rock star on the drums, and a beautiful ballad called People Like You.

By the time Redman and his trio arrived on stage, the audience was warmed up in more ways than one. Redman, who is widely considered one of the best young saxophone players around, was flanked by equally impressive sidemen -- Antonio Sanchez (drums) and Reuben Rogers (bass).

Although their set was full of fire as well, their songs were rooted more deeply in jazz. They opened with the standard Surrey With The Fringe On Top, giving each player a chance to loosen up with tasty solos before returning to the familiar theme of the song. Redman proved that he has really matured into a star player as he coaxed an array of sounds from the saxophone and reeled of a blistering solo right from the top. Another standard followed, East of the Sun (and West of the Moon), which featured more smoking saxophone, but to an equal extent was an opportunity to hear Sanchez smouldering on drums underneath the solo. He and Rogers, while not the stars of the show, constantly propelled the beat and kept pace with Redman.

Although the set was anchored by the familiar standards, it was Redman's original pieces that were the highlights. On Mantra #5, from his newest CD, Back East, Redman used the soprano saxophone to evoke haunting eastern melodies, which snaked in and out of the dusty grooves laid down by Sanchez. Another original, Oneness of Two (In Three), from 1994's Moodswing, gave Sanchez the spotlight and he unleashed an astonishing solo that nearly brought the house down and ended the set with a bang.

These guys are world-class artists, superb musicians and they put on a clinic in the art of serious jazz.

Hancock, Garrett continue hot streak

June 25th, 2007
Herbie Hancock & Kenny Garrett

Burton Cummings Theatre
June 24, 2007
Attendance: 1,200
4 stars

By Michael Wolch

THE Jazz Winnipeg Festival mainstage hot streak continued Sunday night at the Burton Cummings Theatre with a thrilling double bill featuring the quartets of alto saxophonist extraordinaire Kenny Garrett and the legendary Herbie Hancock.

Concert series acts have been spectacular so far, with Pink Martini, Joshua Redman and The Bad Plus all putting on world-class performances.

But to get two full shows for the price of one was amazing. So it was no surprise that the anticipation for the Garrett/Hancock performances was great, and you could sense from crowd members as they packed the theatre that they were ready for what would be almost four hours of stellar jazz.

The evening began with the Kenny Garrett Quartet. Garrett (alto and soprano saxophones), Benito Gonzalez (piano), Jamire Williams (drums) and Nat Reeves (bass) wasted no time in kicking the show off with a 20-minute piece that almost blew the roof off the place. With the crashing and driving rhythm section pushing him, Garrett reeled off a jaw-dropping, fierce solo that lasted nearly 10 minutes. It’s likely people on the street would have heard him playing as he wailed, moaned and reached to the second balcony with his blistering notes and phrases.

He did finally step out of the spotlight just long enough to allow other members of the band to have their say, with Gonzalez pounding away at the keys, Williams beating his drums at lightning speed and Reeves’ fingers flying up and down the neck of the bass.

After the opening number, members of the audience were left shaking their heads and wondering where the band could possibly go next.

Well, Garrett and his band had a lot more in their bag. The second piece continued at the torrid pace of the first, and when Garrett slowed proceedings down with a nice blues number, he had the audience clapping along. Things got funky once again as Gonzalez moved over to the electric keyboard and Garrett used some cool effects on his horn. Next up was a series of sparing and beautiful Japanese and Korean melodies that featured just Garrett and Gonzalez. The band ended its set with Happy People, as Garrett coaxed the audience several times to cheer loudly, entreaties that weren’t necessary because the audience was already fully appreciative of the outstanding performance.

After a much-needed break for some fresh air, the audience greeted Herbie Hancock with a roaring standing ovation. The multiple Grammy and Oscar winner looked in great shape, and he was backed by a superb band: Lionel Loueke (guitar), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and Nathan East (bass and vocals).

They launched their show with Actual Proof, from Hancock’s 1974 album Thrust, a funky workout for the keyboards that set the pace for the show. Next, Hancock had fun with a piece composed by Loueke called Seventeens, which he wove into his classic Watermelon Man to create a challenging, off-beat song wrapped in his signature heavy funk. Here, some of the sounds he persuaded from his array of keyboards were wild, sometimes squawking, undulating and sputtering. It is the sound that made him famous in 1973 when he released his Head Hunters album.

The set veered a bit off course when East came to the microphone to perform a few cuts from Hancock’s newest and vocal-laden CD, Possibilities. While East does have a good voice, he was challenged to sing the Stevie Wonder song I Just Called To Say I Love You, and a bit mismatched on the U2 and BB King collaboration When Love Comes To Town. He fared better with Stitched Up as he scatted along with his bass and showed off his impressive vocal range.

Loueke, who hails from Benin, Africa, was also given his moment in the spotlight, as the entire band left the stage and he displayed his command of the electric guitar. In his hands, the guitar became a virtual orchestra as he used various electronic effects and even drummed on it beating out a great solo.

While the song selection leaned toward Hancock’s funky recordings, he did pull out a couple classics from his Blue Note years, Maiden Voyage, and the set-ending Cantaloupe Island, probably his most famous piece from that that period. Garrett joined the band for the encore, an extended version of Chameleon, as Hancock sent the audience grooving and dancing its way home.

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