A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #3 - WEEK OF JUNE 23-29, 2014

TORONTO JAZZ FESTIVAL 2014 REVIEWS – PART 1
Part 1 of a 2-part series

Habana Jane’s New Groove

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque

Lula Lounge, 1585 Dundas Street West

Thursday, June 19; 10 p.m.

Vocalists Celia Jimenez (left) and Daymé Arocena (right) and Jane Bunnett (centre)

Fresh off the plane from Cuba, Canadian saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett breaks a three-year recording silence to premiere her latest album Maqueque (Justin Time) which was also the name of her new all-female band project of Cuban musicians for the 28th Toronto Jazz Festival’s first night out at the popular west-end Latin joint to make its energetic debut.

Being jetlagged and sleep-deprived that explained the slow start to things, Bunnett and her crew played admirably with their fearless leader still in fine form and keeping her explorations with Cuban music inventive and exciting for the last three decades all at once. And once they got the ball rolling, there was nothing holding them back.

Consisting of barefoot pianist Danae Olano, percussionist Magdelys Savigne, drummer Yissy Garcia, bassist Yusa and vocalists Celia Jimenez and Daymé Arocena along with Bunnett kicked it off with the fiery “Papineau” and easy plateaus and added montuno improvisation in between from Olano gathered towards its epic ebb in the titular track. One could feel the raging emotions heard on “Tormenta,” inspired by the Caribbean hurricane season; and listening to Yusa’s solo in “Guajira S. XXI” makes one wonder if she could give Esperanza Spalding a few lessons.

Taking a slowdown approach in doing an Afro-Cuban bluesy cover of soul classic “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” was more solemn in presentation and style before capping it off with “New Angel,” “Song for Haiti,” “Cantoo Bubba” and salsa sizzler encore “Mo’mey.” Bunnett’s got her groove back with Maqueque (pronounced MAH-keh-keh) for all its radiance involved and more than competent band mates and partners to play with.

Glitz overwhelms Etheridge’s spotlight

Melissa Etheridge/ Deborah Cox/Steve Grand

Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen Street West

Saturday, June 20; 8 p.m.

Not since the visit of Nelson Mandela to Toronto’s City Hall in 1991 have I ever seen Nathan Phillips Square this jam-packed at the opening ceremonies of Toronto WorldPride 2014, held in conjunction with the jazz festival organizers for its Friday night freebie concert; for a triple bill of rock star Melissa Etheridge, R&B diva Deborah Cox and newcomer Steve Grand that the air in the square crackled with electricity from the crowd.

Wish I could say the same for the performers involved.

First out of the gate were the two opening acts – after long speeches from the WorldPride organizers, some local politicos that included recently re-elected Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (the first Ontarian woman and openly lesbian premier for the province and Canada) and a two-spirited First Nations dance powwow of sorts – Steve Grand on keyboards and backing guitarists in their first visit outside of America did “Stay,” a passable cover of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” “Loving Again,” new song from his upcoming album; and the song that made him a YouTube star “American Boy,” about a idyllic gay love affair; got its fair amount of cheers.

Pulsing out a few hits from Cox afterwards out on the City Hall Pond jetty stage (probably a first here), the Torontonian dance music queen turned the place into a nightclub briefly like a young Whitney Houston. These were rather unusually short performances for both Cox and Grand, but given the time that was used up prior to their acts and everyone waiting for Etheridge anyway; things were just pressed along tightly.

Breaking out with “I Want to Come Over,” the veteran she-rocker kicked it good and hard with her familiar raspy vocals to the crowd-pleasing tunes “Come to My Window,” “Uprising” and gave praises to Canada in being the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage and her own country’s in allowing it to be so (depending from state to state) in a U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling last year, being a newlywed herself – for the third time.

Having Canada’s Serena Ryder doing a surprise duet on classic “Bring Me Some Water” and the closer “Like The Way I Do” where she took up drums alongside her drummer into a rhythmic Japanese taiko set (who knew she was this talented?) were the concert highlights, but Etheridge trying to get all Bob Dylanesque for a harmonica solo for “I’m the Only One” and fusing Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up” and “One Love” into one of her songs were the weakest spots in a otherwise half-decent show.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the worldwide LGBTTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, questioning and asexual) community in their never-ending struggle for equality and their contributions to society and the arts, even sharing a spot on the jazz fest’s roster. It was more to do with the venue space and an inadequate sound system that put a slight damper to things. I’ve been to Harbourfront summer concerts that had better sound than this. Polishing it off with a fireworks and laser light display made up for it somewhat, yet one can’t help feeling that it was a way to put a little flash and glitz to a sub-standard event when less, as has been proven time and again, is more.

Fine Cuban-Klezmer Fusion

Odessa/Havana

Shops at Don Mills, 1090 Don Mills Road (O’Neill/Clock Tower Roads)

Sunday, June 22; 12 p.m.

Left to right: vocalist Maryam Hassan Tollar, pianist Hilario Duran, trumpeter David Buchbinder, sax John Johnson, violinist Aleksander Gajic and percussionist Joaquin Hidalgo.

Intoxicating Afro-Cuban jazz and Euro-Middle Eastern pulses floated around the stage area up at the northerly Shops at Don Mills shopping complex from the Juno-winning ensemble Odessa/Havana, fronted by trumpeter David Buchbinder and pianist Hilario Duran for a modest, receptive crowd on a really sunny afternoon provided the perfect backdrop score to the day.

Bouncy Caribbean sounds mingled with Old World klezmer sophistication around “Coffee Works,” “La Roza Una,” aided by vocalist Maryam Hassan Tollar; ‘70s Steely Dan vibes for “Walk to the Sea,” a firm concoction on “Colaboración” and peppy “Aventura Judia,” all joined in with bassist Roberto Occhipinti, drummer Mark Kelso, violinist Aleksander Gajic, sax/flautist John “Terminator” Johnson and percussionist Joaquin Nuñez Hidalgo providing the spice and drama executed in the hour-long set.

Proof provided was the presence of one couple dancing nearby and a cute addition to the group when Kelso’s toddler daughter (below, centre) wandered onstage looking bemused while her father played on during “Aventura Judia” and the percussion-heavy starter on their final tune “Rumba Judia” nicely and cleanly satisfied the audience in the fest’s first weekend of festivities.

Space Opera goes Navajo

Slide photo of Navajo Star Wars vocal cast and the familiar opening title card in the Navajo Dené language (lower centre).

Navajo Star Wars

TIFF Lightbox, 350 King Street West

Saturday, June 21; 3:30 p.m.

Dené Navajo with English subtitles

Film Review

Years ago in a Starlog Magazine interview, George Lucas realized he had something big on his hands when several days after the initial release of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope he learned that it was going to be translated into Arabic. Since then, the film series has been translated into 35 languages, the most recent – and a first – the Native American Navajo Dené tongue, as was screened for the first time in Canada at TIFF Lightbox on June 21 in time for National Aboriginal Day.

The brainchild of Manuelito Wheeler of the Navajo National Museum, who appeared with Lucasfilm Worldwide Distribution Operations Manager Michael Kohn and TIFF Film Programming Head Jesse Wente, who happens to be of the Ojibwe Nation and fondly recalled Star Wars being the first film he saw as a child and the inspiration in getting him into the cinema world; the project got its start back in the late 1990s when Wheeler was discussing with his educator wife on how to preserve their language (which he admits he doesn’t speak) which is fast disappearing with only 171,000 in North America that can speak it. Suggesting they try popular media like Star Wars (the only other film translated into a Native language is Bambi in Arapaho) as a cross-generational thing that could lead to its potential survival.

Several years of knocking on Lucasfilm’s door paid off in 2012 with the almost immediate blessing from Lucas himself to give the go-ahead. Months of technical obstacles and translations went on, including the audition process and three months of dub recordings with a Navajo audio-visual company doing it on its own time; until April 2013 finally brought Navajo Star Wars to life last summer at the Navajo Reservation at Window Rock, Arizona. The premiere was so popular that it led to the theft of a billboard sign promoting the event less than 24 hours after the screening and sold-out DVD copies at their Wal-Mart store, which has now garnered a highly-acclaimed tour through 12 U.S. cities and the possibility of The Empire Strikes Back next to be dubbed in Navajo.

In all its grandeur, Navajo Star Wars upholds itself pretty well by not taking too much artistic liberties in the translation like trying to find words to describe “Jedi Master” or “Jabba the Hutt” in Navajo since they’re part of the global pop culture lexicon (a relief to fans) on the Lucas 1997 redux version (sorry, diehards). Regarding the challenge on such an undertaking in having 70 voice actors using five dialects to embody the beloved characters, they easily slip into the personas will all their hearts, particularly that of the feistiness between Princess Leia (Clarissa Yazzie) and Han Solo (James Junes) and one interesting twist: protocol droid and all-round worrywart C-3PO gets voiced by a woman, Gerri Hongeva, doing it with humour and feeling.

What could be a bit of a stumble is doing Darth Vader, voiced by reservation basketball coach Marvin Yellowhair. Described as a cowboy-like type, if shy; he has certain moments but lacks just a little gravitas in the booming baritone that is the Dark Lord of the Sith. Then again, it’s next to impossible to mimic the same pattern as original voice James Earl Jones did in the same depth and nadir emotional plane, so you got to give Yellowhair some credit for trying.

Most of all, Navajo Star Wars fits well into traditional storytelling, philosophies between the tides of humans and nature (read: The Force) and metaphorical concepts in the Navajo Dené language, not to mention the power of the science-fiction masterpiece itself and the timeless message about good versus evil show how extended its popularity it maintains almost 40 years later.

The Anti-Bollywood Bengali Auteur

Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray taking a break between shooting on a beach, circa 1976.

The Sun and The Moon: The Films of Satyagit Ray

Venue: TIFF Lightbox, 350 King Street West

Dates/Times: July 3-August 17; various screening times

Admission/Information: Regular $12.50, Students/Seniors $10, Children (under 12) $9/screening. Call 416-599-8433 or tiff.net/satyajit-ray.

Arts Feature

Influential as he was, India has yet to produce another filmmaker quite like Satyagit Ray (1921-92). Born into a family of creative types, he made over 36 films that he wrote, directed, produced, visual designed and composed music for in his 37-year career TIFF Lightbox is marking in their Cinemathequé summer retrospective, The Sun and The Moon.

Originally a graphic designer for a British-run advertising agency and a local publishing house in 1942 after graduating in economics from Presidency College in his hometown of Kolkata and visual arts from Visva-Bhakti University in Santiniketan – the latter founded by national poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore – Ray’s first taste of film work came when he co-founded the Calcutta Film Society in 1947, screening many foreign films along with befriending American soldiers stationed in the city during World War II who informed him of the latest American films of the day.

But it was the arrival of legendary French director Jean Renoir in 1949 that launched his career, being the location scout for Renoir’s The River, plus a three-month stint in London courtesy of his ad agency where Ray say 99 films in that period , including the 1948 classic The Bicycle Thief that he decided to become a filmmaker. Among the 25 films and six shorts being showcased are the groundbreaking Apu Trilogy of Pather Panchali (July 3), Aparajito (July 4) and The World of Apu (July 5), chamber drama masterpiece Days and Nights in the Forest (July 6), the Shakespearean The Music Room (August 2) to Ray’s adaptations of Anton Chekhov’s The Chess Players (July 18) and penultimate film Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (August 10; yet strangely enough, his upbeat, brilliant swan song commentary about civilization, The Stranger, is missing from this retrospective).

An auteur who almost always insisted shooting his films in his native Bengali tongue, Ray also took pot-shots at the very industry he worked in, as seen in The Hero (July 26) of an matinee star, played by Indian film icon Uttam Kumar, travelling on a Kolkata-Delhi express with a sympathetic female journalist en route to a film awards ceremony. But just because he never did a Bollywood musical didn’t mean he was above commercialist stuff as will be seen in his 1968 musical-comedy/fantasy hit The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha (August 17) and sequel The Kingdom of Diamonds (July 29) about two bungling troubadours and his popular crime thrillers The Golden Fortress (August 15) and The Elephant God (July 19) featuring his beloved betel leaf-chewing sleuth Feluda, a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Tintin (one will see the connection with his cousin sidekick Tapesh reading a copy of a Tintin book in Golden Fortress as an obvious salute).

Ray’s films held a universality and humanism, if some did find them a bit glacial pace-wise to build up their plots. Often accused as not showing a more modern India in his works, as pointed out by one actress-turned-politician Nargis Dutt did once back in the 1980s; that’s hardly the case such as the changing roles of women in Mahanagar (July 12) or in The Three Daughters anthology (July 17). With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences giving him an Honorary Oscar in 1992 for a lifetime achievement of work, in stated in his acceptance speech broadcast from his deathbed due to heart complications and 24 days away from his passing, he noted it as “the best achievement of my movie-making career” and jokingly recalled in writing fan letter to Ginger Rogers (and “didn’t get a reply”) plus a 12-page letter to Billy Wilder after seeing Double Indemnity (“he didn’t reply, either”) which he owed a lot to American films, seemingly forgiving Hollywood after accusing them of plagiarizing his script The Alien in the late 1960s that he once claimed was the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

It’s easy to get swept away by Ray’s film worlds balancing real life and the fictional one from pioneering photo-negative flashback and x-ray digression techniques and influencing other directors like Wes Anderson, Danny Boyle, Martin Scorsese and Canada’s Deepa Mehta on her own Elements trilogy. And TIFF will also give roundtables and talks on Ray’s artistry (July 11-18) and screen India-related films in the counter series Passages to India: India Seen by Outsiders (July 5-27) which includes Renoir’s The River (July 5), Louis Malle’s seven-part Phantom India study (July 20 and 27, respectively) and Roberto Rossellini’s India, Matri Bhumi (July 19).