It’s a sure sign of summer when the TD Toronto Jazz Festival takes over the city, or at least Yorkville, running from June 21st through to June 30th. With 10 days of jazz festival activities, the organizers made sure to appeal to a wide range of audiences.
This year’s version saw some major street closures for the opening weekend shows. With featured gospel singer Shirley Caesar and Downchild Blues Band with special guest Dan Aykroyd on the main stage, which had been set up on Bloor Street, one of the busiest streets in Toronto. The festival featured over 175 free concerts in the Bloor-Yorkville community over the course of the 10 day jazz festival.
I managed to catch a few of the free shows taking place on Bloor Street, Cumberland Street and Hazelton Avenue, the last two mentioned streets in Yorkville were closed for the duration of the festival to vehicle traffic and made for great wandering from show to show. Mostly I could hear the music but could not see much of the show as there were a lot of people in attendance.
Some of the clubs and restaurants in the neighbourhood hosted jazz talent. The Gatsby at the Windsor Arms Hotel, Sasafraz Restaurant and Proof Bar at the Intercontinental Hotel Yorkville were all happening every night of the festival. Local Toronto area performers were performing at these clubs with the Mill Street late-night jam presided over by bassist Lauren Falls. The Sassafraz Restaurant featured a different act every night. The Gatsby was most accommodating and I stayed there to enjoy concerts by Mark Kelso and the Jazz Exiles and the Hilario Duran Trio.
Drummer Mark Kelso and the Jazz Exiles started their show at the Gatsby at 10 pm on Friday June 21st. The Exiles are made up of Jeremy Ledbetter on keyboards, Luis Deniz on alto saxophone, Marc Rogers, electric bass and Elmer Ferrer playing electric guitar.
The Jazz Exiles combine funk, jazz-rock fusion and modern jazz in a high energy, exciting fashion. I am reminded of one of my favourite bands of the 70’s, Herbie Hancock Headhunters.
The Jazz Exiles would burn through four extended tunes in their first set. Songs from the Jazz Exiles second recording, Elementals, the song “Slank”, a melodic number with a solid back beat that funks it up and gives room for choppy keys, fantastic bass playing and golden toned saxophone playing. Other tunes played included, “Solace”, “Bloom Tune” and ending the first set with “Zig Zag” a super exciting syncopated number.
The next evening at the Gatsby featured the Hilario Durán Trio with Hilario Durán on piano, Roberto Occhipinti on acoustic bass and Amhed Mitchel on drums.
The sound was mellow, a little too mellow as the Bloor Street jazz festivities and the wedding party DJ next door, drowned out the trio at times. The band persevered, playing to the packed house with serious intensity. I managed to get a table close to the group for the second set and found their acoustic playing to be sublime.
Tunes like “Take The A Train”, “Chamakos” written by Roberto Occhipinti as a tribute to the young Cuban cats in Toronto. Names like pianist David Virelles, saxophonist Luis Deniz, trumpeter Alexis Baró and the drummer Amhed Mitchel, to name a few of the outstanding young Cuban musicians who were mentioned as inspiration for the composition. And the beautiful Durán composition, “Spain In My Mind” were some of the songs that the trio performed to an appreciative audience.
The Toronto Jazz Festival featured some great ticketed events, names like Dianna Ross, Norah Jones, Omara Portuondo, Emilie-Claire Barlow and Cécile McLorin Salvant. I lucked out and managed to get tickets for Cécile McLorin Salvant. Check out my report on Salvant’s performance and opening act Ethan Ardelli Quartet, coming soon.