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.
Toronto Star Stage, Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen Street West
Tuesday, June 24; 10 p.m.
Out promoting her disc Gratitude (Justin Time), Vancouverite-born, New York-based bassist Brandi Disterheft returned to the festival with her quartet as the opening act for jazz chanteuse Diane Reeves, sticking to her concentrated playing and temperament she so flawlessly displays as well as her band mates to a reasonably packed tent.
Starting with the easy, mellow “Ugesh” and singing along to a ragtime background for “The Man I Love,” Disterheft’s solemn tribute to a late relative on “Gratitude (For David Jahns)” did have its reserved presence, that later followed an excellent blues/soul Ramsey Lewis-like play for “Blues for Nelson Mandela” and a lively cover of the Whitney Houston chestnut “Saving All My Love for You.”
She does, however, falters just once with her take of “Compared to What” that sounded a tad defanged in its originally powerful angry message that capsulated the feelings of late 1960s America with no raging bite and it didn’t help matters by ending it by going James Brown “Gimme one hit” on it either. Fortunately Disterheft went back to basics for “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” to make up for that.
It’s almost traditional for a touring band to do a little warm-up for a featured artist, especially for someone of Grammy-winning Diane Reeves’ calibre, to at least show off their talents. Playing “Summertime” to a contemporary pacing was nice enough, but taking up about a good ten minutes before coming onstage is just lengthy filler that really wasn’t that necessary.
Eventually it was worth the wait to hear Reeves give a full-bodied rendition from a dynamic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” that had more emotional impact than the original version, “Stormy Weather,” samba-flavoured “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “Get My Life Back” and “Waiting in Vain.” The highlight stood within that 90-minute concert belonged to the Latin underpinning of a stretched-out scat session involving wordplay and ad-libbing based on Reeves’ music collection, not to mention her revealing that she once fronted a heavy metal band (!) at a gig during Toronto’s own Caribbean Carnival (formerly Caribana Festival) back in 1983 within the tune.
Sometimes a diva never ceases to amaze you, musically and personally.
Left to right: Madison McFerrin and Bobby McFerrin
Toronto Star Stage, Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen Street West
Friday, June 27; 8 p.m.
Local nine-piece R&B/funk group Soul Nannies did a pretty good job in riling up the crowd prior to main act Bobby McFerrin with a plethora of 1960s and ‘70s hits and determined to, in their own words, “put the rumpus in your posterior” in getting them up to dance to the nonstop music barrage they drummed out for the duration.
Medleys made out of Stevie Wonder and Jackson Five songbooks weren’t that bad, as led by bandleader Andrew Craig and three other backing singers, but they really got down and gritty in pulling an Ike and Tina Turner for “Proud Mary” and danceable Earth, Wind & Fire (also a fest attendee this year) rendering of “September,” while bookending the set to their own short calling card theme song provided a unique touch.
Like a living beat box that he is, the man who put the “a” in “a cappella” and made it mainstream almost three decades ago, Bobby McFerrin played to a full house based on his latest release spirityouall (Sony Masterworks) accompanied by his band that included his daughter Madison, a singer in her own right; of old and new gospel numbers easily won them all infused with country, folk, bluegrass and a little dosage of rock.
McFerrin truly is the essential entertainer with his easy-going nature and sense of humour (once jokingly referring the jazz fest as the “Toronto Country/Western and Blues Festival” after an improvised tune), he came strongly across on “Everytime,” “Joshua,” soul-stirrer “Woe,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” plus tinkled on piano – he used to be a pianist for Ice Follies earlier in his career – on “Jesus Makes It Good,” ensuing a wholesome result.
The best moments came between him and Madison doing a cappella to Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and “A Song for You,” praising her like a proud father would for her natural-born talent despite cracking up in-between songs and trying to find a echo in his ear pieces; and allowing audience members to take the microphone on “Jesus Will Fix It” and “Whole World.”
Closing out on “Rest/Yes, Indeed” for all the hoedown rapture it inspired and a brief encore solo on “Blackbird” went quite satisfactorily to McFerrin’s candid candour to what was definitely the fest’s best concert experience.
Tara Davidson(left), Andrew Dowling (back) and Fabio Ragnioli(right)
Acoustic Stage, Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen Street West
Saturday, June 28; 5 p.m.
For her two-set appearance at the festival’s Acoustic Stage, Toronto’s Tara Davidson did some steady straight forward originals with her bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Fabio Ragnioli as the final act at the tiny set-up tucked away in a corner of the City Hall square, yet managed to draw a small late afternoon crowd gathered to hear some clean, linear sounds.
An established alto/soprano saxophonist on the local scene, she tossed about previously-released songs “Battle Stars,” a sultry if not overbearing tango undercurrent for “Black Night Blue,” “Code Breaking,” “Signal Hill” and included new material from her forthcoming duets album, the old-school “Train to Terry Town,” “130 East 39th Street,” a shout-out to her favourite New York City stay and “31 Days.”
The gumshoe mystique looming within her final number “Look Back” had an adventurous momentum to it, as the Juno-nominated protégé of Canadian sax legend Mike Murphy has a humbling and light aura to her performance to add credence that sometimes the best gems at these jazz festivals aren’t always the major draws, but at least they get a chance to be in the spotlight for a little while.
Toronto Star Stage, Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen Street West
Saturday, June 28; 8 p.m.
Brad Mehldau (left) and Mark Guiliana (right)
In any music festival, you always want to end your final big show with a sound name(s) in order to go out on a decent note. Bass legend Stanley Clarke not only fulfilled that obligation, he managed to give us a quick look at the future of jazz from two very outstanding potentials to keep the music going.
The opening act Mehliana, using the last names of pianist extraordinaire Brad Mehldau and drummer Mark Guiliana; have been performing together under that term as a duo project for years but very recently put out their debut recording as one, Taming the Dragon (Nonesuch), taking the audience through some space-aged jazz fusion. Done in the essence of Deodato and Emerson, Palmer and Lake on the synthesizers and keyboards that you don’t hear Mehldau do often, they filled the air with trippy soundscapes and funky planes in getting a receptive response.
Wayne Shorter’s “Never Broken” was the kickoff number for the Stanley Clarke Trio, the grand master bringing with him pianist Beka Gochiasvili from the Republic of Georgia, a quiet figure sublimely contributing to the collective compared to the explosive, and do remember this name, Mike Mitchell on drums – both barely out of their teens – unlike any I’ve ever heard in almost two decades of covering this festival that would almost put Jeff “Tain” Watts and Art Blakey to shame. He has a huge future ahead of him in this game.
Only doing four lengthy numbers (the powerhouse “Brazilian Love Affair” and supersized “No Mystery” from Clarke’s Return to Forever period taking up most of the clock), I did feel that although he deserved to be noticed there was too much emphasis on giving Mitchell all the attention and not enough on Gochiasvili.
But nobody was going to take away the true centre of attention here, for Clarke’s dexterity could outdo most of his younger contemporaries, including doing a mocking Pete Townsend-like windmill strums of sorts in the middle of “No Mystery” as well as a heavy blues bridge; and wowed them further on electric bass in a encore jazz-rock sizzler that the reverberations could be felt throughout the tent to great applause.
The organizers did a bang-up job this year, regarding they had a little bit less jazz content for the roster unlike previous festivals and having to go hand in hand with Toronto WorldPride 2014 to compete with. However, there was more of a Canadian presence this time around, large and small, which was a very good deal but a couple of lost venue spaces like Harbourfront and the Distillery District, their absences was noticeable.
Maybe with the hope of getting the UNESCO International Jazz Day celebration to come to town, currently being campaigned by JAZZ FM 91 at Change.org for next year; it could draw in some more publicity and jazz acts in order to bring audiences’ and artists’ attention to book for next summer, considering it’s going to compete against Luminato and the Toronto 2015 PanAm Games. Something to think about, along with changing the dates for next year as not to clash with both events would be a good idea.
By Pascal Girard; English translation by Helge Dascher
100 pp., Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast Books
Being on the rebound is no fun for anyone unless you’re the type that can turn it into a tragicomedy as Québécois comics star Pascal Girard has done with Petty Theft, built on his own experiences that is part-autobiographical, part-catharsis and part-confessional in bearing out his feelings and vulnerability for contemplation and learning to move on.
Relocating to Montréal to a friend’s place from Québec City after he and his girlfriend of nine years have called it quits, Pascal naturally feels adrift as he tries to reassess his life and even his own cartooning career in battling depression and writer’s block. It’s made no better when his ex keeps sending him his zillion book collection that keeps coming by the truckloads literally, plus he’s hurt his back while jogging and physiotherapy advises him not to do any running for awhile just when he needs a new focus.
Deciding to go back to his former day job as a construction worker just to keep busy and delving into books as his only solace, Pascal spots a young waitress, Sarah, at his favourite bookstore which he sees her shoplift a copy of one of his earlier works Bigfoot (a recommended read, by the way). More than intrigued by her actions as much as her attractiveness, he decides to tail her around – he prefers not to call it stalking – and gets to know her gradually at the café she works at, little get-togethers and such, disregarding advice in taking it slow as to why she steals constantly and hoping to love again after such a long-time relationship, at least in his mind.
Acerbic wit, a uncomplicated pen technique and real-life experiences gives Petty Theft a humorous reading the author places all his self-depreciative nuances and unsteady steps getting back into the dating game with some trepidation, not to mention the moral issues as what to do about Sarah’s kleptomania whilst he drifts into fantasies about her.
Girard’s light-hearted and personal exposé is a humanistic one at best, yet will make one feel more hopeful about the complexities of relationships or make you grateful for the one you already have (or don’t have).
Are the latest spending cuts at CBC creative management or cruel amputation?
Every now and then I would joke that the words CBC meant the Castrated Budget Corporation each budget time. Nowadays, it’s become less funny.
As the June 25 announcement by CBC President/CEO Hubert Lacroix stated that between now and 2020 that the national broadcaster will shed about 25% of its workforce, which roughly means that 1,000 to 1,500 jobs will be lost already on top of the previous layoff of 657 jobs mentioned back in April 2014, due to the government cutback of C$130 million funding cuts, including a reduction of in-house production and dinner-hour news broadcasts, phasing out live music recordings, shuttering the sports and documentary divisions which the latter garnered petition letters from CBC personalities Peter Mansbridge, Anna Maria Tremont to David Suzuki denouncing the move and plans to be more digitally mobile-centric and less from radio and television.
It seems that things have gotten worse for the CBC since Steven Harper’s Conservatives came to power almost a decade ago in either silencing it for its overt criticisms on who’s running the House of Commons. As much as I hate to admit, even during the Mulroney years and early Chrétien period, CBC got a hell of lot more government funding. With them losing 2,107 jobs at CBC since the Great Recession hit in 2008, cancelling TV shows from Arctic Air to The Ron James Show and plans for the London, Ontario station expansion being scuttled; needless to say things look pretty grim at dear old Mother Corp.
As far as public broadcasting globally, Canada rates as the third worst in the Western world with about C$30 per citizen contributing to its annual funding compared to the highest, Norway, that spends C$164 per individual a year (the United States is the worst, about C$4 per person). At one time, much like public housing, Canada used to lead the world in this department and the CBC had a solid global reputation, so much so that they used to send their people to mentor other broadcasters in other countries, like my cousin who benefited from that experience he was taught back in the 1980s.
There are lots of other reasons for the cutbacks, what with them losing their beloved Hockey Night in Canada broadcasting rights to the Rogers conglomerate, falling advertising revenues and the rise of the internet diminishing traditional media platforms. But that doesn’t excuse Harper from cutting off monies to deprive the nation of its many voices it speaks of, just so he can spend extra cash on military expenditures and probably our decade-long misadventure in Afghanistan that we ended may have had a hand in it.
As a naturalized citizen, I grew up in the 1970s watching The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dress-Up and the Canadian content of Sesame Street, learning the bilingual nature and culture of this country. I thrilled on its opening its daily broadcast day before 24/7 TV of it playing “O Canada” in whatever form it came in. In my formative years, I tuned in listening to jazz programmers Ross Porter and “Sister” Katie Malloch on After Hours and Jazz Beat respectively, and the comedic antics of the Royal Canadian Air Farce, The Frantics, Double Exposure and Radio-Free Vestibule. Needless to say, CBC is pretty much a part of my DNA as any citizen born in here, not to mention that it still provides basic services to communities across Canada on informing them of what is happening in their own backyard where they don’t have the basic “luxury” of internet or even television (No, that’s not an exaggeration. Once I called a very nice elderly lady in Newfoundland as a market research pollster and she wanted to finish up in time for her bingo programme on the radio – and this was back in 2010).
What good is having a public broadcaster that covers both our official languages plus those of our First Nations peoples being left to limp along without a national identity and character that makes us the country that we are? This is an attempt to neuter it to or make it more compliant to the government of the day? It would be a sad, tragic event in our democratic society to allow the CBC to be a shadow of its former glory. It is time for us as a people to stand by and not allow any government to gut its core to the point it no longer can serve a purpose. It wouldn’t be the Canada I was raised in and it’s certainly not the kind of Canada I want to die in. I’m not the only one in thinking so, even in nostalgic terms that CBC holds a very special place in all of its citizens and the nation we are now.
©2014-2017 Julian Bynoe/Snow Leopard ArtsEntertainment. All rights reserved.