Heading into the final night of the 2019 TD Edmonton International Jazz Festival Saturday it was amazing to consider the broad range of sounds that were made to fit under the umbrella of jazz. Despite a week of rainy weather enthusiastic audiences of mixed ages and wider tastes spelled success for many dates, packing most smaller club and theatre events and bringing out good crowds for some hip festival debuts.Opening night, a touch of big band jazz set the tone in an excellent Edmonton Jazz Orchestra concert at MacEwan’s Triffo Theatre as featured soloists, sax great P.J. Perry and Montreal singer Ranee Lee put in dynamic performances against the lush backdrop of the EJO. Perry’s spotlight with Bob Tildesley on the trumpeter’s tune They Kept Bach’s Head Alive was a special treat, while Lee brought killer energy to a Jon Hendricks adaptation of the Miles Davis piece Four.Watching the latest incarnation of Toronto’s Shuffle Demons (now with just two original members) I was reminded of how that horn-bound band had a specific youth appeal when they first showed here in 1986. But their date at Polar Park Brewery saw as many middle aged fans, and after watching Stich Wynston’s roach dance I’m happy to say that the band retains it’s wacky energy decades later.Chalk up another mixed crowd-slash-love-in for 400 at the Starlite Room for Jacob Collier, 24, who rose to fame as a one-man-band on YouTube. On his second festival visit the British singer led a quartet with monster musicianship, playful energy and tweaked vocoder effects on a rollercoaster of loud, upbeat songs and quieter folk ballads. He even had duelling audience choirs tied to his hand gestures by the end. I’m still not convinced, hoping he has more focused sounds to come. Sadly, a loud, industrial-model fan at the bar knocked out any delicate passages for the back third of the room.16-year-old YouTube prodigy Joey Alexander at the Triffo was almost studious by comparison, opening up at the piano to display stunning technique and the sort of sophisticated improvisations you expect from someone twice his age with older trio companions who set a crisp pace from the start. His Indonesian roots seeped out in original numbers like Bali, but the take on Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge had a startling intricacy.Winspear double-billTuesday’s headliner double-bill at the Winspear was beyond satisfying, even blissful. Cecile McLorin Salvant, a star at 29, just scratched the surface of her considerable art delving into standards with an uplifting, youthful appeal. But her sudden dips into lower registers could feel like you were listening to another older, wiser singer entirely. Pianist Sullivan Fortner was a strident accomplice touching on early jazz and boogie styles, inspiring superb takes on Bessie Smith and The Trolley Song among others.Some 1,100 patrons showed up, many familiar with Joshua Redman’s quartet. The reedman made more sparks with the Bad Plus last time around, but it was enough to hear the great chemistry of a band that has played on and off for over 20 years, and cool to watch as he gradually upped the temperature of their interaction scaling tunes from their latest record. But the crowning moment came in the encore when Redman brought Salvant and her pianist back out, serenading the singer on her fabulous take of Billie Holiday’s Fine And Mellow. This was the unexpected bliss jazz fans dream of.Darting around the festival Thursday offered a cool sampler of contrasting singers. When it comes to vintage jazz and swing styles it’s hard to match Alex Pangman and her band who bring real zest to classic tunes. Davina & The Vagabonds injected fun and humour into southern-fried soul and New Orleans swing with a stellar set after serious troubles just getting here. But Moscow’s Natalia Smirnova — in gold stilettos and a bright red dress playing a white key-tar strapped over her shoulder — hit another kind of exotic energy entirely at the Varscona doing jazz medleys of Stevie Wonder.Saturday’s long Jazz In The Park date at Works With Jazz free outdoor stage on Capital Plaza came off surprisingly well despite the elements. The skies opened up for thunderstorms twice but the weather gods handily managed to schedule those downpours on the breaks so none of the four bands had to be postponed and the family-oriented crowd stuck around for the afternoon. I couldn’t catch it all but bands led by Mallory Chipman, Audrey Ochoa, Adam Czerwinski and the Latin-jazz sounds of Montuno West enjoyed warm receptions.
Montuno West marks the release of their debut Latin jazz album at Yardbird Suite Friday
Dean T Mullin /
Intimate club datesFor those who find the spirit of jazz in the intimacy of club sets a series of top drawer acts filled out the festival, most often at the Yardbird, inspiring some raucous crowds.London’s quartet Empirical delivered it all, with the tight, explosive energy of Shaney Forbes’ drums stoking Nathaniel Facey’s sax solos, and more contemplative moves from bassist Tom Farmer and Lewis Wright on the seldom-seen vibraphone. This was the height of contemporary jazz from risk-taking players with real commitment.Guitarist Jakob Bro found his own trio magic, more content creating textures, stretching patterns or sweeping sonic backdrops for moody, mesmerizing jazz that occasionally veered into power trio territory with a more combative momentum. Bassist Thomas Moore was the handy accomplice but Joey Baron’s drums really set the gorgeous glue that held it together.After 24 years, Hungary’s Djabe has a sound that’s truly beyond category, mixing fusion jazz, Hungarian folk rhythms and rock riffs into the mix. Their third visit yielded one of the most meaningful shows yet.Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and his quartet hit an exceptional mainstream sound with saxophonist Ralph Moore providing the tastiest notes. Pianist Amina Figarova plumbs a unique space between European and American styles but I often wished her soloists had fewer notes and more direction.Award-winning Melissa Aldana and her quartet brought a unique feel to their shows at the Varscona. I’m still thinking about her unique approach to the sax and the gentle energy of the show.The festival’s marketing tells us that “there’s a jazz for everyone.” Now I believe them.