Thursday, March 29, 2012

Concert Review - Propagandhi, March 23, 2012 - The Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg, Canada

Propagandhi are popular world-wide. For this show, it was originally supposed to someplace else but ended up in the Burton Cummings Theatre. The band actually apologized for the high ticket price ($37 or so), since about $7 from each ticket went to Ticketmaster. They normally charge less for their tickets at other venues.

I now regret having missed the other opening bands. Seven bands played before Propagandhi: Dreadnaut, Seventh Sin, Asado, Kids And Heroes, On This Day, Mortal Ruins, Dangercat. I thought there was no way the first band would take to the stage around 6 pm, so I showed up about 90 minutes later and managed to catch two bands before the headliners. Seventh Sin were pretty good, melodic metal with keyboards, with a fine lead guitarist and a very good singer. They have a CD coming soon. Dreadnaut played next and put their hearts into their performance but weren't quite my thing.

Propagandhi's lead singer Chris Hannah strolled on stage with his bicycle, complete with child seat and parked it near the back. This sort of gave you the idea that he might be trying to send a message about how it's better to not use a fossil-fuel consuming vehicle if you don't have to. Being a very political band, the message, unintended or not, didn't seem like a surprise. Bassist Todd Kowalski ranted about the Mayor by stating that Osbourne House should have received funding from the City. The only surprise for me was that they played for only an hour. The people who I was with said that Kowalski player messed his back up big time and was probably full of painkillers and might not have been able to play longer with his hernia.  He wasn't full of pain killers and if you saw his performance, you would think that he has an amazing chiropractor.

Concert Review: Damo Suzuki, March 22, 2012 - West End Cultural Centre, Winnipeg, Canada

Damo Suzuki with with Sound Carriers Greg Hanec, Chris “Mama” Bauer, Jay Taylor, Rob Menard, March 22, 2012, West End Cultural Centre.

Suzuki (1950) joined the German experimental rock group Can in 1970 after he was discovered while busking on the street. He was with them for about four years, recording some of their best known albums. It has been said that without Can, there would be no Radiohead.

Playing with three local musicians,multi-instrumentalist Greg Hanec, drummer Chris Bauer and bassist Jay Taylor, Suzuki's show at the West End Cultural Centre featured only two "songs," each one about an hour long. Each song varied greatly in tempo from slow to midtempo to fast, all wrapped up in endless improvised jamming. It was at times, psychedelic and that feeling was enhanced by the video footage on the screen behind the group, of the group, which sometimes showed the video footage of the group, and so on.

I found the show refreshingly original, the perfect antidote to mainstream music, which is pretty much every other style of music compared to what this group.

The Artistic Director of the West End Cultural Centre had to walk out in front of the stage at the 1 hour mark, in order to signal to the group to wind down the first set, otherwise, as he told me later, they would have played a lot longer. Suzuki often plays for two hours straight and sometimes his shows go on for over four hours.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Concert Review: Aaron Goldberg Trio at the Berney Theatre, Winnipeg, MB 3/10/12

A few years ago, I was in my local Future Shop store, browsing through the computer section, when I heard this amazing jazz tune emanating from a desktop PC.  It was Aaron Goldberg’s "Oam's Blues," a barnstorming straight-ahead number, being played from the Windows Vista sample music folder, which is on all Vista computers. I headed to my favorite local book store, which has the largest selection of jazz CDs in the city, to inquire about the Aaron Goldberg CD, Worlds. The clerk had a copy and was surprised that I had heard about Goldberg.

I quickly relayed my story to him and have been following Goldberg’s recording career ever since, always hoping that he would perform in Winnipeg. He actually was here a few years ago, as a sideman in the Jazz Winnipeg Festival, but back then I didn't know anything about him.

When the Izzy Asper Jazz Performance concert series announced its 2011-12 offering of shows last year, I was excited to see that Goldberg's trio was booked for three shows in March 2012. While at Harvard University, he won the International Association of Jazz Educators' Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Fellowship. After graduating, he performed as a sideman, most notably with Joshua Redman. In 2010, he earned his Master's degree in Analytic Philosophy from Tufts University. He’s well-educated in addition to being a top-notch jazz pianist.

There is no doubt that Aaron Goldberg is a rising star in the jazz world. His March 10 performance in Winnipeg was even more than I expected. During the quieter compositions, his playing was simply beautiful. His playing during the speedier numbers was dazzling, churning out a furious set of notes all while contributing to a glorious vortex of sound along with drummer Gregory Hutchinson and double bassist Reuben Rogers. Goldberg was gracious and affable as he spoke about key figures in the local jazz scene and how they were turning Winnipeg into “the newest borough of New York ... the coldest borough.”

After playing "Oam's Blues," he said that the song title was censored by the Chinese government. The track "Mao's Blues" appears on his second album, 2001's Unfolding. Throughout the show, when he spoke to the audience, he frequently used the term "de-arranged" to joke but also describe how the trio interpreted other composers' works in their own unique way. During intermission, after they had just performed such a number, the buzz word heard among the audience was "wow!"

I didn't catch all the song titles but one of the songs from the first set that I recognized immediately was Pablo Milanés’ "Cancion Por La Unidad Latino Americana," which Goldberg explained, translated to "Song For Latin American Unity." It's on his 2010 CD, Home, which was his fourth as leader. He joked about the song "Burrito," which they performed, from the 2011 album collaboration with Guillermo Klein, Bienstan. He quipped that Bienstan was a fictional escape country where there was peace and that Spanish was the spoken language.

Gregory Hutchinson's drumming was at times not unlike virtuosic displays that I've seen in other jazz drummers, but what made him stand out was the amount of risky maneuvers that he undertook. I kept on wondering how he would command his kit next. It's the ability to improvise with considerable unpredictability and yet make it all sound delicious that is the hallmark of a confident and experienced jazz musician. Hutchinson is a much in-demand live and session player, as well as instructor. Had this been him performing with a couple of unknown players, it would have been more than worth the price of admission. Depending on the moment, he struck his kit with a stunning ferocity or quietly tapped out solo notes while playing off of bassist Reuban Rogers. This was as exciting and powerful a jazz drum performance that I can ever recall seeing.

Rogers was constantly smiling and performed in a style that appeared at times to be playful, comfortable and creative while still displaying considerable challenge. Quite simply, Rogers took acoustic bass soloing to not necessarily to a higher level but to a different plain altogether, all the while appearing to be on the verge of laughing or singing. He did vocalize a tad and at one point, Hutchinson actually stopped drumming to egg on Rogers to sing.

While some other bass players perform in more or less a stoic style, Rogers truly involved himself in the show. At times he would spin the double bass so that he would position his face directly in line with Goldberg's. Rogers expressed himself with facial movements pretty much as much as he did with his fingers on the bass. Like Hutchinson, Rogers, who has recorded on over 70 CDs, was so much a focal point of the show, that he could easily lead his own group with lesser-known players and still have the audience raving. Some of the best audience reaction was as a result of Rogers' most quiet and delicate playing, especially when it was a deliberate reaction to Hutchinson’s drumming.

Not surprisingly, the group earned a boisterous standing ovation at the end of the main set. This led to them returning to perform Stevie Wonder's “Isn’t She Lovely,” which also appears on Goldberg's Home CD. After another standing ovation, they took a collective bow to bid the audience farewell. I left with a smile on my face as well as a copy of Rogers' 2006 CD, The Things I Am, and a copy of 2012’s Yes! CD featuring Goldberg, drummer Ali Jackson, and bassist Omer Avital.

I arrived early at the Berney Theatre (a.k.a. Rady Jewish Community Centre) in order to take in the (opening) performance of the University of Manitoba jazz students. You get a chance to see new performers before they become fixtures in the local scene. For this evening's performance, there was a bass player, drummer and guitarist, along with a singer, Joanna Majoko. I'm not sure how widely known it is that the audience can show up at the Berney Theatre early to catch the students perform, but it's worth it.

As I was waiting for the Theatre to open, I had the pleasure of meeting the Producer of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performance series, and the evening’s MC, Bev Aronovitch. I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me who I thought she should try to bring in. I encouraged her to book U.S. guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, who has worked with Aaron Goldberg.

One thing is for certain, the Aaron Goldberg Trio will be in considerable demand for a return engagement to Winnipeg.

Article first published as Concert Review: Aaron Goldberg Trio at the Berney Theatre, Winnipeg, MB 3/10/12 on Blogcritics.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Concert Review: Farewell 274 CD Recording at Aqua Books, Winnipeg, MB, 3/2/12

Aqua Books has hosted many cultural events over the years at its 274 Garry Street location in downtown Winnipeg. Recently, they announced that they would be moving less than a kilometer away to 123 Princess Street, in the Exchange district, very close to their original location of 89 Princess Street. They left that location for Garry Street in 2008.

To commemorate the closing of the current location, which has also hosted many jazz shows and is a very fine sounding venue due to the wood and carpet interior and a lack of windows, a special recording session was organized by drummer Curtis Nowosad and sound engineer Paul Yee. Several of Winnipeg’s rising jazz performers, along with a few veterans, were invited to perform their original compositions. Audience members would be able to purchase tickets that would get them an MP3 download of the album or a CD, which is due out in December, 2012.

This was my first time to Aqua Books, but not to the building. Years ago, it was a Chinese restaurant. The main floor hosts the book store and also the recently closed EAT! Bistro. Upstairs features rooms for writers-in-residence as well as a hall for events that looked as if it would seat about 90 people. While waiting to enter the hall, I met Kelly Hughes, the creator of Aqua Book. He actually called me yesterday to say that he managed to track down a new copy of an out of print book that I wanted. I also found his staff to be friendly and interested in me as a customer. After ditching my jacket, I made a bee line for the back of the room for popcorn and drinks.

The event began with singer Amber Epp and her composition “Inside Out,” accompanied by bass player Luke Sellick. Epp’s soulful and downright beautiful vocals set the stage for the other singers, who were just as excellent but also unique in their own ways. Epp is a member of Trio Bembe, who are well-known as top exponents of Latin music and who have two CDs out, 2009's Trio Bembe and 2011's Oh My Soul. She graduated with the gold medal from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Music in the Jazz Studies Program in 2009. Sellick is currently finishing up his degree in Jazz Studies at the University.

Saxophonist Neil Watson performed his composition “Occam’s Razor” next with guitarist Keith Price, Sellick, and drummer Quincy Davis, collectively known as the Neil Watson Quartet. For those not in the know about the curious title, he explained that it was about the concept that the simplest explanation for something is usually the best choice. This was one of my highlights of the evening, with the outstanding, nimble soloing and rich tones from all the players, which earned them much applause. Watson earned his Master’s Degree in jazz performance almost six year ago and is an essential part of the local jazz scene. Davis is a distinctive and dynamic drummer of international renown and is also an associate professor in the Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba.

Price performed with this group and then fronted the Keith Price Quintet for the next performance. He has two CDs out, 2011’s Gaia/Goya and 2009’s Breakfast of Champions, the latter of which furnished the composition that was played, “Pablo’s Trio.” Subtle and deliciously engaging at the same time, this Price original was performed with Watson, Sellick, pianist and local recording artist Will Bonness and omnipresent drummer on the local jazz scene, Curtis Nowosad. Bonness is another graduate from the University of Manitoba and is a well-respected educator there and at the Canadian Mennonite University, in addition to being another cream-of-the-crop musician. He has international touring experience as well as recording credits as a sideman. He released his debut CD, Subtle Fire, in 2009. There wasn’t room for a full-sized piano this evening, but when Will takes flight on a keyboard, it’s an experience not soon forgotten.

Completing the first set were a couple of musicians who I had not heard of before fronting the Littleford/Carter Quintet. Brandon, Manitoba-born trumpeter Andrew Littleford, earned his Master’s Degree with distinction in Jazz Performance, from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA. Littleford was joined by another person I hadn’t heard of before, tenor saxophonist Mike Carter. Rounding out the group were Price, Sellick and Nowosad, performing “Flying With The Flock.” Based on their performance, I’ll definitely be checking out this quintet at their future gigs.

The second set opened with two more unfamiliar performers to me, singer Rayannah Kroeker and bassist Karl Kohut, with the composition “The Floods Don’t Wait.” Both are graduates from the University of Manitoba. Kohut graduated in 2010 with his Master’s degree in music (performance) and has established himself as an in demand player. I’ll give Kroeker credit for taking on the challenging task of scatting during the song. It’s harder than it looks but it a real crowd pleaser when it’s done well, as Kroeker demonstrated after receiving ample applause from the audience.

I’ve seen singer Heitha Forsyth before, the first time being in the lobby at the Berney Theatre at the Rady Jewish Community Centre a few years ago. Her enthusiasm continues to be infectious as she performed “What You’re Gonna Do.” She teased that it was an original song and that her originals sound like country music. On the contrary, this was soulfully sung, with nary a twang. Backing her were Bonness, Kohut, Nowosad, and veteran guitarist and educator, Larry Roy, my favorite local jazz guitarist for well over 20 years now. I did check out some of her performances on YouTube, and she really wasn’t kidding about having a country sound on occasion.

Sheena Rattai was up next with guitarist Aaron Shorr, Nowosad, Bonness and Kohut, performing “Yet To Be.” I’m certain I’ve seen Rattai before. She’s dynamic, charismatic and displays an obvious love for singing. This was my first time seeing electric guitarist Shorr, but it certainly won’t be the last. He was sensational. Shorr attended Toronto’s Humber College as well as the University of Manitoba, and among other things, he’s part of the Artists in Healthcare Manitoba program, along with around 15 other musicians, including Keith Price.

Shorr closed off the set with the composition “Living In The Sims,” in which he joked that Nowosad hated the title so he kept it. Backing him in the Aaron Shorr Quartet was another new face to me, tenor saxophonist Niall Bakkestad-Legare, along with Sellick and Nowosad. Bakkestad-Legare and several of the evening’s performers can be heard on Soundcloud.

The evening’s third and final set opened with Quincy Davis & Promise performing “Oasis.” Joining Davis were Sellick, Bakkestad-Legare, Paul De Gurse, Shannon Kristjanson, Landen Seesahai, and Kris Ulrich. Pianist De Gurse, saxophonist Kristjanson, trumpeter Seesahai and guitarist Ulrich are all University of Manitoba students or alumni. I hadn’t heard of any of them but I look forward to catching some of their future gigs. Davis demonstrated his mastery of employing subtleties along with powerful dynamics in his drumming. Ulrich also stood out to me, as he soloed brilliantly near the end of "Oasis."

Karl Kohut appeared next on vocoder, along with Will Bonness, Luke Sellick and Curtis Nowosad, performing “Listen To Your Love.” Years ago, vocoder would have been considered a highly unusual choice of instrument but in the constant evolution of jazz and in its broadest definition, it provided to me a street smart effect that is hip without trying too hard to be so. Vocoder was also employed by one of the players in the recent Robert Glasper Experiment show. Glasper’s cutting edge group is in contrast to his more straight-ahead ensembles and Kohut tapped into the experimental vibe.

Steve Kirby was up next on bass with Kaleb Kirby on drums, along with Roy and Bonness, performing “Question of Lift.” There’s no doubt that the local jazz scene has coalesced into a fine collection of young players through the University of Manitoba’s Jazz Studies program that Kirby heads up with a selected group of educators, all of whom are distinguished players. Educators, students, alumni and others have performed at the weekly “hang” events that Kirby established in 2004, which have given the players, especially the younger ones, an opportunity to hone their skills in a live setting. I can recall hearing someone give Kaleb Kirby, Steve’s son, advice about how to approach drummer extraordinaire Herlin Riley to have Riley listen to his drumming, in 2009, at a Monty Alexander show in the Izzy Asper Jazz Performance series. Riley is one of the world’s greatest jazz drummers and Kaleb Kirby, a student at the Berklee College of Music, is developing into a fine player in his own right.

The final performance of the evening featured an original by Nowosad, entitled “Blues of a Material Sort,” and featured Steve Kirby, Bonness, Bakkestad-Legare, Watson, Littleford and Roy. The tune provided plenty of opportunity to hear each performer solo. You can hear a version of it on Soundcloud, which was also recorded at Aqua Books. The beautiful sound of the room was one of the reasons why the Farewell 274 recording project was created.

Larry Roy has been a fixture in the Canadian jazz scene for a few decades now and the virtuoso player and educator has been my favorite local guitarist for over 20 years. The Roy/Lerner CD that he recorded with pianist Marilyn Lerner, Quarter To Three, remains a stunning example of straight-ahead jazz and is a world-class recording.

Without a doubt the busiest person during the gig, Curtis Nowosad, was not only serving as the master of ceremonies by introducing every performer, promoting the CD recording project, and ensuring the evening ran as smoothly as possible behind the scenes, but he also drummed on seven of the evening’s 12 songs, all the while managing to keep his wits about himself. Nowosad also studied at the University of Manitoba, learning from among others professors and notable performers in their own right, Terreon Gully, Qunicy Davis and Steve Kirby, Nowosad’s mentor.

If there was a commonality to the shows, it was how the audience had the chance to often see performers back other performers and later on, see some of these players lead other ensembles.

All of the performers were of professional caliber and I can definitely see all of them on future CD recordings, many as group leaders. They all donated their time for free to help make the recording, and Curtis Nowosad and Aqua Books' Kelly Hughes are still accepting donations from the public to help offset the costs of the project, which is a fundraiser for Winnipeg’s Cultural City Hall, Inc., the new non-profit that Aqua Books is morphing into this spring. Needless to say, I can't wait to hear the CD!

Article first published as Concert Review: Farewell 274 CD Recording at Aqua Books, Winnipeg, MB, 3/2/12 on Blogcritics.


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