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2011 Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Part 1

July 1, 2011

Yes it’s that time of year again. As most of you Vancouverites know (hopefully?), the 2011 Vancouver International Jazz Festival started June 24, and it’s a time to enjoy the experience of seeing great jazz performances. I’ve actually had the good fortune of being a part of the festival, as I’m a member of the TD High School Jazz Intensive (HSJI) like I was last year, playing drums and percussion. Our director, flutist Nicole Mitchell, is an incredible musician who is masterfully rehearsing us on traditional and contemporary big band pieces and teaching us new musical concepts and ideas to help approach the pieces.

One of the best things about being a part of the jazz intensive is you get free tickets to select shows. These are the shows that I’ve seen so far:

Dan Berglund’s Tonbruket
After I arrived at Performance Works for the second set of Dan Berglund’s Tonbruket, I walked up to the venue to meet with the other members of the HSJI who had just gone to see the first set. As much as they had tried to describe the performance, they were mostly at a loss for words. I felt the same after seeing Tonbruket. If you recognize the name Dan Berglund at all, it might be because he was previously the bassist for Swedish trio e.s.t. (Esbjörn Svensson Trio), which came to an end after the tragic death of Svensson. Tonbruket is completely different from e.s.t. The array of sounds and tonal subtleties coming from all kinds of genres combined to create something incredible. The addition of pedal steel to the mix changed the vibe as well. As a drummer, what I took from the performance especially was the nature of the groove, which was always there. And I definitely cannot complain about the fact that this was an extremely tight-knit band. Thank you Tonbruket for a great start for my jazz festival experience this year.

Robert Glasper Trio
I cannot explain how stoked I was for this show. Ever since my friend introduced me to pianist Robert Glasper’s music last summer, I have been in love with his music, which draws on influences from both jazz and hip-hop. With a good sense of humor to get the audience engaged, Glasper and co began the set with ease and confidence. Drummer Mark Colenburg’s style is very similar to regular Glasper drummer Chris “Daddy” Dave in the way that they both love demonstrating their abilities to use the whole kit, while also playing very “beat-based” grooves for most of the songs. The trio seamlessly played through songs from Glasper’s albums as well as some classic J Dilla beats. Another great crowd-pleaser was how the trio transitioned through popular songs, going through tunes such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Changes”, “Time After Time” and “Kiss From A Rose”. Although I loved the way all three of them interacted that night, what stood out for me was Glasper’s consistency, playing beautifully in context within whatever style he was playing.

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
Wow. If I could really sum this up somehow: a perfect accumulation of innovative sounds and moods for the modern big band. I don’t have too many words to describe this performance, but I can say that all the songs were very cinematic, as each song had an interesting backstory which Argue explained and obviously had a very thorough understanding of. The highlight of the performance was actually during the encore, which featured a solo from Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. She just went insane and blasted through the complex changes, while maintaining musicality. I thoroughly enjoyed Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, as the music was like nothing I had ever heard before from a big band (and did I mention that Argue is a native British Columbian?!).

Brasstronaut
As hard as I tried to enjoy this show, I just could not. Brasstronaut was just average for me, if not less (maybe it was the fact that all the concerts I had already gone to were amazing?). Walking into this concert, I only received the vague description that they were “indie rock/jazz”. I didn’t feel like the music was very jazz at all really. I mean, sure there was a trumpet and a clarinet but they rarely got a chance to solo, plus most of the time they were only playing harmonies over the already pretty generic sounding songs. There were definitely some unique moments because of the instrumentation, but sadly these moments were almost ruined by various technically difficulties with the sound.

Eivind Aarset Sonic Codex Orchestra
The sight that immediately struck me as I entered the Roundhouse Performance Centre: 2 drum sets! Should I also mention all the percussion/electronics surrounding those drum kits? Of course the table for guitar effects and the Mac laptop caught my attention as well. The first song began slow and spacey with mainly guitar noodling, but caught me out of nowhere as both of the drummers established a great groove. I’m usually a little skeptical about two drummers playing the same thing at the same time, but it only added positively to the thickness of the groove. There would be times when there were shots that the drummers would both catch, and the fills that each drummer would do in between contrasted really nicely, to my surprise. The performance evoked feelings that were totally otherworldly.

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