Friday, May 24, 2013


As a celebration of being signed to John Zorn’s record label Tzadik records as well as recording a brand new album, Jonathan Feldman’s group Zebrina performed an exhilarating concert to a sold-out audience.    What is amazing is that I have not seen so many people pack the house to catch a klezmer jazz fusion band that brings creative, inventive jazz at the forefront with its tight grooves, meticulous composition, and soulful playing at its best.

The band for the evening consisted of keyboardist/composer Jonathan Feldman, bassist Bret Higgins, guitarist Joel Schwartz, Juan Carlos Medrano on percussion and Max Senitt on drums.   The band was joined by two special guests, consisting of San Francisco-based clarinetist Ben Goldberg and local Toronto trumpeter David Buchbinder.

All of the songs performed were written by Jonathan Feldman, and I must say that he is a composer to watch in new jazz and klezmer music.    His music draws influences ranging from blues, funk, soul and Middle Eastern music, fusing it into an organic sound that is completely original and completely its own.

I want to comment on three of my favourite pieces of the evening.    “The Spirit Within” is a moody, groovy, spaced out composition, which is wide open to improvisation and to further, out explorations with the group.    It is one of my favourite new songs and this should be in the constant live repertoire of the group.   “Breath of Life” has an intro in which Feldman interpolates everything from Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, the classic Jewish standard “Hava Nagila”, Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” and Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are” before breaking into an explorative groove.     Feldman is a very creative and fresh voice and thanks to his signing on Tzadik Records he is going to go places with his intriguing music.

“Chant of the Ages” is a great Latin inspired tune that brought up special guest David Buchbinder along with the rest of the working band.    It was a great fusion of Latin rhythms and melodies with Jewish liturgy and practice.   

I have heard this band three times and I must say that thanks to guys like Feldman jazz music is going further and building new audiences to like its music.    Overall, it was a hugely successful and powerful night from a great band that is taking off in big and bold ways.


(Jonathan Feldman) 

(Max Senitt) 

(David Buchbinder) 

(Bret Higgins)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


To kick off the third annual Jewish Music Week in Toronto, I decided to take in the sounds of an all star band paying tribute to a Canadian jazz icon and legend who has gone too soon.   I am talking about the music and legacy of flautist, saxophonist and composer Moe Koffman.   The concert was held at Toronto’s premier jazz club, the Rex Hotel and Bar.

The band was made up of pianist Bernie Senensky (Koffman’s long-time pianist), flautist Bill McBirnie, guitarist Lee Wallace, bassist Neil Swainson, drummer Terry Clarke, and Koffman’s grandson (and good friend of mine) Jake Koffman.  

It was a program of eclectic music, ranging from original repertoire by Bernie Senensky (great blistering takes on his original blues “The Mover” and the Brazillian samba piece “Paco Paco”), classical music (a moving rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sicilliene”), standards loved by Koffman (great arrangements and takes on “Night in Tunisia”, “Caravan”, “Angel Eyes” and “Jitterbug Waltz’) and of course, Koffman’s claim to fame through his classic composition “The Swinging Shepherd Blues”, which was bluesy and swinging at its hardest and best.

One word about my friend, Jake Koffman.   I am honored to get to know this fine musician from when I first saw him play at the Beaches Jazz Festival with the early version of Canada’s prime hip-hop rock band, “Down With Webster”.    He has come a long way from those early years and I am blessed to know that the future of Koffman’s music and the spirit of Canadian jazz lives on through people like him.   At the night of the performance, it was intriguing that I was meeting various members of the Koffman family, wishing that I got to know Koffman at the prime of his career personally.

All in all, it was a great way to kick off a great week of Jewish music and honoring a great icon of Canadian Jewish jazz music.

(Jake Koffman and Me)

Monday, May 20, 2013


On a nice spring evening, I was invited to check out an intriguing jazz trio at Toronto’s newest (and finest) jazz club, the Jazz Bistro.   The trio was lead by none other than Halifax’s own Peter Togni.

The evening consisted of jazz interpretations of classical music, showing the effective bridge of the past, present and the future with its innovative and fresh re-imaginations of such timeless pieces, along with contemporary pop material as well.
Togni opened up his set with his take on “Bittersweet Symphony”, which is a jazz version of the great pop hit by the band “The Verve”.   Here, it is taken at a pensive and reflective pace, embodying the classical influences that dominates the peace and putting it forth into a jazz context.

The next tune, in which Togni calls it “CafĂ© Midnight”, is in essence the classic Prelude in C Minor by Frederic Chopin.    This tune brought me to tears with its beautiful and haunting melody, which happens to be one of my favourite classical pieces (and one in which I have to learn to play on the piano).   Then it is followed by a very ancient take on a Gregorian Chant piece, Ubi Caritas.   On this piece we hear the great spirituality and the wonderful interplay between the trio members as they bring something new into an old piece.

For the remaining pieces, the trio is joined by none other than Juno award winning sax giant Mike Murley.    Troll Time takes Edvard Grieg’s classic theme and turns it into straight ahead music that really swings and gets down hard.  

Not only Peter Togni is a fine interpreter of classical music, he is also a fine composer.   On “Waltz for Patricia”, dedicated to his wife, the melody is beautiful and the solos by both Togni and Murley bring a sense of romanticism into the piece.

The next two pieces are back in the classical vein, both Bach’s Prelude in C Major from the Well Tempered Clavier and Beethoven’s “Joyful Joyful Lord We Adore Thee”.     Especially on “Joyful Joyful”, I heard the gospel church-like influences in the arrangement a la Keith Jarrett.    The set closes with “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”, the classic Creedence Clearwater Revival hit.   

Overall, it was a great night of fresh jazz, beautiful music, and clever approaches to fuse classical traditions and music with the improvisational freedom that jazz has to offer.   Look out for this group in the future when they come into town next.

-       Conrad Gayle

Thursday, May 9, 2013

CHRISTCORE: The Documentary

On a nice spring evening, I decided to go see a provocative new movie that takes a look at an exciting and growing subculture.   The film:  ChristCore.

The main premise of the film is a documentary in which director Justin Ludwig follows two hardcore bands (Messenger and Sleeping Giant) throughout America profiling their music and lifestyle.  What is so amazing is that the director himself is an atheist hardcore artist, whereas the subjects profiled in the film are church going Christians with an undeniable edge.

Being a born-again Christian myself, we have seen the Christian church and its artistic expressions of faith evolve from Gregorian Chant, Bach Chorales, soul gospel, country gospel, and contemporary Christian/Jesus people music.     What astonished me is that although hardcore music is not my bag (although it makes for intriguing listening), we are seeing Christian music continuing to evolve to new expressions and dimensions of faith.   

What is also astonishing about the profiles of Messenger and Sleeping Giant is that these men wear tattoos, jeans, t-shirts, dance in mosh pits, and when the music dies down give a sermon and calls for prayer and healing.    Young kids in droves are being drawn to this faith, probably many more than what Billy Graham could have reached during his lifetime.

As a Christian, I am open to new and exciting forms of faith expression.   For me I want to express my faith through the cool complexity of jazz music.   Messenger and Sleeping Giant choose their aggressive approach to speak to a generation of disenfranchised youth.    What’s even more amazing is that they do not even do this for fame, fortune or money.   They do it for the love of God and for the love of the people.

To close with this, at the end of the film, director Justin Ludwig still stands firm that although he is impressed with the level of community and the great movement of Christian hardcore music in America, he still is not convinced that there is a God.   My hope and prayer is that one day Justin Ludwig will come to a living and dynamic faith that is more exhilarating and dynamic than being high on ecstasy.

Christcore Facebook Site: