Vancouver Jazz Festival 2002

Vancouver Jazz Vancouver International Jazz Festival
June 21-July 1, 2002
by Eugene Holley, Jr.

Americans invented the modern jazz festival, but Canadian organizations like Vancouver’s Coastal Jazz & Blues Society, who produced the 17th annual Vancouver International Jazz Festival in this beautiful, multicultural port city on Canada’s Pacific coast, have reinvented the art of jazz presentation. The festival presented an amazing assortment of challenging and swinging jazz in an innovative, accessible and affordable manner. The City’s open and frontier-minded attitude, it’s youthful, thriving Anglo/Asian/Hispanic population, government support, along with CJBS Executive Director Ken Pickering’s leadership, provided the perfect antidote to the defeatism and cynicism that pervades the United States in matters regarding the state of the music.

For 11 days, 420,000 people attended over 400 shows by 1,700 musicians in over 40 venues all across this temperate, eco-friendly town: from legends like Dave Brubeck and Ahmad Jamal and superstars Dianne Reeves and Bill Frisell, to the
Cuban divas Omara Portuondo of the Buena Vista Social Club and Mayra Caridad Valdes, the younger sister of Chucho

Mayra Caridad Valdes - photo courtesy of Chris Cameron
Mayra Caridad Valdes – photo courtesy of Chris Cameron

Valdes. The festival also hosted a number of dance and world music-based performers in their new du Maurier New Groove Series at the Commodore Ballroom, which included the Havana beat of Maraca and the electro-bossa nova sounds of the talented Brazilian guitarist Vincius Cantuaria.

The venues were as distinctive as the music. The Vogue and Orpheum Theatres are stately structures. The exotic Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is located in the city’s impressive Chinatown. The Market Stage is on Granville Island, a beautiful city harbor, while the free Roundhouse and the du Maurier Stage in David Lam Park are located in the City’s new Beach Crescent district. The Vancouver East Cultural Centre, an intimate, converted 19th century church, was the site of an amazing 25th anniversary concert by Vancouver’s NOW Orchestra, with special guest, pianist Marilyn Crispell. Co-lead by alto saxophonist Coat Cooke and guitarist Ron Sanworth, the ensemble performed several “cnnduction” works; spontaneous improvisational pieces that flowed like harmonic ocean waves. Another group, The Vienna Art Orchestra, also celebrated a quarter century of innovation. Appearing at the Vogue Theatre under the direction of composer/leader/arranger Matthias Ruegg, the VOA simultaneously sounded like Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Sun Ra, though some of solos were marred by sound problems, a rare occurrence at this festival.

The festival balanced local, national and international acts well. For years, the fest has featured dozens of cutting-edge European artists. Of course, Canadians like Jane Bunnett, Brad Turner, D.D. Jackson and the fusion/jam band Metalwood were showcased. The most dynamic Vancouver-based clarinetist is Francois Houle. He played a midnight concert at Studio 16, a small performance space, with his Cryptology Project. Backed by piano, drums, bas, violin, cello and steel guitar, Houle’s poetic and piercing clarinet solos signatured a number of fine-textured set of compositions including “Asymptote,” “Keystream Mystery” and “Hive-Mind” that beautifully melded avant-garde, folk and classical idioms. The lyrical pianist Linton Garner, the brother of the great Errol Garner, who worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine, moved to Vancouver in the 1970s and performs at a local club called Rossini’s. His relationship with his famous younger sibling was the subject of a world premiere work, I Never Said Goodbye, which was presented at Capilano College.

This festival inspired great performances. Tenor/soprano saxophonist James Carter unleashed his spirited organ trio at Granville Island’s Performance Works stage. With his muscular and romantic sax tone that combined Ben Webster and John Coltrane, Carter reworked Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism,”

Dave Holland - photo courtesy of Chris Cameron
Dave Holland – photo courtesy of Chris Cameron

Jimmy Forrests’s “Soul Street” and a couple of jazz standards and original compositions into dancing New Orleans grooves, Kansas City-style ballads and supersonic post-bop workouts. At the Vogue, bassist Dave Holland held court with the propulsive drummer Billy Kilson, saxophonist Chris Potter, the Bobby Hutcherson-influenced vibraphonist Steve Nelson and the fluent trombonist Robin Eubanks. The quintet delivered a deep and swinging program, which featured the Afro-Latin “Global Citizen,” an unnamed, midtempo blues which sounded like something from the 70’s soul-jazz band, the Crusaders, the funky tune, “What Goes Around” and the wistful ballads “Make Believe” and “For All You Are.” Holland’s bass was a deep, Negroidal center of gravity that pulled everyone into the groove.

Looking like urban skateboarders, the Brad Mehldau trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy was perfection in triplicate. Mehldau was a poet at the piano, reinterpreting the standards — Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and “Get Happy,” Lerner and Loewe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” and Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” — with his lyrical, Paul Bley-like lyricism and unlimited technique. The trio’s treatment of the bolero “Tres Palabras” would have made Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Charlie Haden happy, and Mehldau’s bouncy, original number “Boomer,” showed his growing powers as a composer.

Another trio, EST, was innovative with their cool, acoustic “samplings” of electronic dance music, from the jungle rhythms to hip hop beats. This threesome from Denmark consisting of pianist Esbjorn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom.

The diversity of musicians and musical styles artfully assembled at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival proves that the music is in very good hands. It also shows the vitality and freshness of jazz presentation throughout the North American Pacific coast. Jazz lovers from Chicago to New York, should take the trip next summer to this hip and laid-back ecotopia to see where the music is thriving in the 21st century.