Friday, February 27, 2015


Dave Holland.  A master bassist, composer, producer, bandleader and sideman.   Has worked with the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Anthony Braxton and Kenny Wheeler to name a few jazz greats.   He has led and recorded projects ranging from solo bass to a big band format.   His compositional output as a bass player is second to none other than Charles Mingus.

For a weeklong engagement from February 23-26, Dave Holland came to Toronto to be the first “artist in residence” at York University’s prestigious music program.   There he conducted master classes and workshops to students studying in the program.   Culminating a weeklong of intensive study with the master, the students and the public were treated to a dream jam session where Dave Holland jammed with various members of the faculty at the storied music program at York University.

The first band, consisting of Holland, drummer Barry Elmes, pianist Mark Eisenman, guitarist Lorne Lofsky and saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan, went through lush readings of “Stella By Starlight” and “What Is This Thing Called Love”.   The former was led by Viswanathan’s liberal taking of the melody into newer heights and the band locked into a free flowing groove, with easily swung solos by all in the band, ranging from locked in simplicity by Eisenman into the hard driving range by guitarist Lorne Lofsky.   On the latter, it was set up by a funky Latin groove before breaking into break-neck swing by all in the band, building up intensity and fire as the solos carried on.  

The band was changed up at the third song to add trombonist Jamie Stager and guitarist Robb Cappeletto to do another brisk reading of Cole Porter’s “I Love You”.   Stager’s trombone reading provided a cool, laid back tone to the reading of the tune, and Cappelletto added a youthful spark and fire to the reading of the tune.   For the fourth tune, Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”, cellist Matt Brubeck and drummer Anthony Michelli joined in the fun by fusing in classical, modern improvisation, Middle Eastern and Latin influences into their solos and rhythmic treatment of the tune.  

To close off a wonderful afternoon of jamming and improvisation, the crowd was treated to a “double bass” performance by a duet consisting of faculty member Jim Vivian and Dave Holland himself.    In their treatment of Duke Ellington’s “Take The Coltrane”, they really have fun with the blues head by engendering interplay, conversation, call and response, rhythm and swing by the act of having just two basses playing together.   Jim Vivian has a pretty solid foundation and tone with his treatment of the bass, complimenting well with the surprises and flights of fancy master Dave Holland has up in his sleeve.  

Dave Holland in this faculty jam showed that in music, it is all about having fun and being like-minded in your goals and approach to music.    There was no grandstanding or ego in the faculty jam.   I found it was a splendid and a joyous affair of celebrating the joys of music to a young audience and inspiring up and coming musicians to be the best that they can be. 



(Friend Donovan, Dave Holland, and Me)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Before going to the other side of town to catch the swinging sounds of the Matt Wilson Quartet, I decided to stop over at the Monarch’s pub to catch an artist that never disappoints and thrills with his choice of repertoire, musicians, and directions in music.   It would be none other that the great local National Jazz Award winning and Trinidadian-born trumpeter Brownman Ali (who spent much of the last year touring with A-list rappers such as Jay-Z and Mos Def) and one of his many group configurations, this time in a classic “akoustic” quartet setting.    In this setting he pays respect and homage to the classic sounds of the 1950’s and 1960’s, with its influences of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Blue Note hard bop era.

The band first of all, is anchored by the rhythm tandem of young guns Julian Anderson-Bowes on bass and Morgan Childs on drums.   To make it a quartet, the "plus one" added stellar award winning pianist David Restivo to give the ensemble the classic oomph as they put their own stamp onto the classic jazz repertoire.

Starting things off on a swinging note is the quartet’s take on the classic standard “Beautiful Love”.   From the get-go the ensemble swings hard, making every note count and feeling every bit of the rhythm they could get from the piece.   Brown’s performance ultimately carries him into the upper registers of his instrument, building on its intensity and strength.    David’s piano solo is full of new modernistic ideas, channeling the great modern pianists such as McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock while at the same time bringing his own unique voice into the performance.   Julian provides solid rhythm and timekeeping that is in sync with Morgan’s superlative drumming styles.   Overall, it was a great and a strong way to start off an incredible evening of jazz.

Things cooled down with Brown’s take on “Dolphin Dance”, fleshing out its complex chord changes and melody with expert aplomb by the quartet with emphasis on Brown's dark tone and delicate touch.  More widely known for his virtuosic dexterity as a jazz trumpet player, this tune  showcases his expressive melodic abilities.   For the Latin number of the set, Brown and his men put on a stellar, rhythmic take on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic bossa nova piece “How Insensitive”.    Morgan Childs’ drum technique is in full display in this piece, employing an effective bossa nova feel that is groovy and full of feeling at the same time.    It really shows how he is one of the most sensitive and effective drummers playing in Toronto today.   

Closing out the first set was the spirited take on Miles Davis’ classic bop number “Seven Steps to Heaven”.    Brown effectively channeled the spirit of Miles Davis with his rendition of the piece, showing that throughout his career and in his performances he has studied, breathed, and lived out the true spirit of jazz music, just as Miles did. 

For those that want classic jazz that goes in various directions and wants superb musicianship and playing by all, Brown’s “Akoustic” groups is definitely your best bet for a good night of jazz.


Sunday, February 8, 2015


Liam Kinnon
4 out of 5 Stars

After working as a musician for quite sometime as a worship leader and as a gigging musician, singer/songwriter Liam Kinnon has crossed off his bucket list to cut out his first EP of original material.    After turning to Kickstarter to fund the project, Liam has successfully raised all of the support necessary to create an album that is full of heart, passion, soul and charm captured in only 6 tracks and under 20 minutes of music.

The quality of the music is clean-cut, charming songs that are a great breath of fresh air from the overly sexualized fare presented in current pop music.   The album celebrates love at all fronts, ranging from spousal love, patriot love, familial love, love of nature, and spiritual themes.    Liam’s songwriting, singing, and adaptability on all instruments would be an ideal fit for mainstream radio play, sort of like folk music with an updated, yet light edge.

A strong debut from a promising local talent in the singer/songwriter genre.

Highlights:  “Home is Love”, “Made Whole”

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Straight out of the hustle and bustle of New York City, drummer Matt Wilson and his stellar quartet lit up the first of two nights at the Rex with its stellar display of jazz that bordered around straight ahead swing, fleets of modernism, and explosive inside/outside fits of jazz freedom.

Even after emerging from a tragic experience involving the death of his beloved wife, Matt Wilson’s performance echoed joy and happiness, even evident through his energetic performances and his million-dollar smile.   

The evening got to a soulful, swinging start with the quartet’s take on Gene Ammon’s “The One Before This”.    Matt Wilson showed that he is a true force of rhythm behind the drums, employing a hearty Art Blakey-influenced backbeat that grooves hard and keeps the audience wanting more.    The performance was even highlighted by a soaring sax solo by Jeff Lederer, even reaching into the upper high registers of his instrument and pouring his all into the performance.

On Butch Warren’s “Barack Obama”, things cooled off as the piece was a more introspective and reflective look at America’s first black president.   After all is said and done, the quartet rips into free jazz with Dewey Redman’s “Bubbles”, employing effective stop and go dynamics and atonal bebop.    First Jeff Lederer goes for the altissimo upper registers and fleets of fancy on the saxophone, cornetist Kirk Knuffke takes on the role of a mellowed and restrained Don Cherry, and bassist Dan Fortin takes on a very moving and probing bass solo employing echoes of Charlie Haden before the performance is brought together by Matt Wilson’s spoken word poetry.

Matt also happens to be an inventive composer through his two pieces of the set, “Crop Rotation” and “Arts and Crafts”.   These pieces brought the elements of early Ornette Coleman into the forefront with its clever stop and go techniques, and its complex, opened up rhythms.     The two other covers in the set, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Blue Pepper (Far East of the Blues)” opened with a percussive display by Matt Wilson before breaking into Middle Eastern scalar blues funk.    The ballad “Don’t Blame Me” was a very romantic and lush reading that brought the band together in unison and provided a sense of rest and relaxation for all of the intensity that insured throughout their performed set.

Matt Wilson’s Quartet brought the excitement, energy, action and high life of New York City into the city of Toronto in a big way to start its northern tour.    It is a band that knows how to employ swing, freedom, and modernism in a way that is fun and accessible to the audience without the need of watering down the music.    Be sure to catch this band or pick up their latest CD when you have a chance.   It is worth a good listen.


(From Left:   Kirk Knuffke, Dan Fortin, Jeff Lederer and Matt Wilson)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


On a cozy, intimate winter Tuesday evening, I decided to attend the first of four special concerts put on by JAZZ FM 91.1 that dedicates itself to the art of solo piano.   For the inaugural concert, none other than the contemporary great pianist Bill Charlap took the stage, performing to an audience that was captivated and attentive throughout the duration of his set.

The concert had the feel of being in an upscale Manhattan jazz club, without the need to spend money on a trip to New York to catch in all of the great sights and sounds of the city.   

To give you a background, Bill Charlap comes from a very musical family that is prominent in both the cabaret and Broadway world.   Bill’s father, lyricist Moose Charlap, is well known for writing lyrics to the musical version of “Peter Pan” and other Broadway hits.   Bill’s mother, the cabaret singer Sandy Stewart, is known for her intimate performances of the great torch songs of old in her native New York.

His entire set was a rich encyclopedia of the great wealth of music produced via the “Great American Songbook”.    Bill takes each song, both familiar and obscure, and makes it unique, adaptable, and breathes his own voice into its interpretations.    Opening with a take on “Easy Living”, he blends in stride, shimmers of Bill Evans, and his phrases are succinct and to the point which leaves the audience wanting more.   On his highlighted take on “April in Paris”, he adapts the classic Count Basie arrangement into a solo setting, incorporating the famous “Pop Goes The Weasel” quotes and the climatic ending, treating the piano like a complete orchestra.

What I appreciate about Bill Charlap’s approach to the Great American Songbook and to jazz is that he adapts and plays music that people wouldn’t normally hear in a jazz context yet it surprisingly works effectively in such a setting.   “Riverboat Shuffle” brought elements of ragtime, boogie-woogie and stride into the forefront, making it into an exciting performance.   “When We’re Young” is molded into a spirited waltz full of life and excitement that makes the listener want to dance and be caught up in the moment.   “That’s Entertainment” brings an unlikely choice for a jazz treatment and treats it with such joy and vivacity that it will surely make listeners want to discover that song anew.

Bill Charlap’s concert was truly a masterclass and an example of great command of the piano, adaptability to various styles and techniques of the piano, and complete knowledge and total respect of the classic repertoire that he has studied so well.   It really helps to have parents in the cabaret and Broadway fields to rear him in the good qualities of music so that one day it can be shared throughout attentive listeners and the world.     The concert was a night of sheer music heaven to cap of an intimate night out.


(Myself and Bill Charlap)