Sunday, December 27, 2015


Landen Viera
5 out of 5 Stars

At just 23 years of age, tenor saxophonist and composer Landen Vieira is quickly emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the Toronto jazz scene.   A student of the storied University of Toronto, Landen in his stunning debut album shows what jazz should be all about in this day and age. 

Landen is one who really respects the tradition of the music at such a young age.  In an age where young jazz cats are forgetting about swing, blues, groove, feel in favour of abstract explorations, odd time signatures, and making the music contemporary, Landen is showing everyone that it is cool to innovate yourself while still honouring the storied traditions of the jazz idiom.

For instance, “Light Piece” is a spritely bebop line that opens with sheer intensity and breakneck swing from Landen and his storied quartet of pianist Adrean Farrugia, bassist Malcolm Connor, and drummer Ethan Ardelli.   “Do It” is a groovy hard bop number that gets the core of the blues and groove down solid and doesn’t even let go. 

However, two of my favourite pieces of the album, tend to show Landen at his most expressive and his most soulful.   “Dove” is probably one of the most effective ballads ever written by the current young cats, which brings an Ellingtonian vibe into the mix that is purely sublime.   The title track “Dream”, shifts from 12/8 Latin feel into a driving 4/4 minor groove that is completely arresting and sorely theatrical.

If you want a CD from a young cat who knows the history of the music and does it with such conviction, run, don’t walk to pick up this record.   This may very well be the best debut record coming from a young jazz musician in the year of 2015, signaling the glorious hope of the future of jazz in Canadian culture.

Monday, December 21, 2015



1) Tony Bennett and Bill Charlap: The Silver Lining: The Jerome Kern Songbook

Almost approaching 90, Tony Bennett shows with this album that he is a fine wine that simply gets better and better with age.   This album featuring the sensitive piano styling’s of piano great Bill Charlap (featured in solo, in duo with his pianist wife Renee Rosnes and in his classic trio with Peter Washington on Bass and Kenny Washington on Drums) takes the timeless songs of Jerome Kern and makes it a definitive statement in 21st century jazz and popular song.   Quite frankly one of the best CD’s of 2015 hands down.   Highlights:  All The Things You Are, Pick Yourself Up, The Way You Look Tonight, Yesterdays, and Look for the Silver Lining.

2) Landen Vieira: Dream
One of the most stunning jazz debuts in a long time from a 23-year-old saxophonist and composer wunderkind from Toronto.   Hearing his playing shows real depth, emotion, and maturity well beyond his years, and his writing has echoes of some of the best composers in jazz such as Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Wayne Shorter.    It is also a record that respects the tradition of jazz while taking the music forward.  

3) Various Artists: Oscar With Love

Kelly Peterson, Oscar’s widow, produced and orchestrated this well executed valentine for Oscar Peterson Fans with this stunning and well priced three CD set.   It comprises of mostly Oscar Peterson compositions played in solo and duo configurations, and all pianists played on Oscar’s home piano in their home studio.   This is a collection that all fans of the great Oscar Peterson should run and get a hold of.


Christian McBride Big Band – high-octane swinging big band led by one of the top bass players in the world

Blind Boys of Alabama:  Free concert during Panamania that brought the gospel soul and rhythms to an infections audience

Danilo Perez Panamania: Danilo Perez, with orchestra, and a quartet featuring Miguel Zenon, John Pattitucci and Brian Blade, premiering an arresting work especially commissioned for the Pan American celebrations in Toronto

David Virelles and Gnosis:   Avant Garde Latin-jazz at its most intense, rhythmic, and melodic from viruostic Cuban pianist and composer David Virelles.

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic: One Nation Under A Groove.  Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up The Funk).   Nuff Said.

Snarky Puppy:   the premier jazz jam band of all time played an arresting set of high octane funk and electric jazz to a packed audience.   One of the most electric moments I have ever encountered.

Oscar @ 90:  Star Studded concert spectacular celebrating the release of the brand new “Oscar With Love” recording, with Benny Green, Robi Botos, Oliver Jones, Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, Kenny Barron and Gerald Clayton taking turns on Oscar’s very own Bosendorfer piano.

- Conrad Gayle



Nestled in the heart of the Junction in West Toronto is a live venue that features genre-bending jazz and live music on certain nights of the week called La Revolucion.   The band happened to be led by Justin Haynes called “This Tranquil Life”.

In this particular form, there is Justin Haynes and Ryan Marshall Driver alternating on keyboards and acoustic piano, with a custom rhythm section of electric bassist Michael Overton and drummer Evan Cartwright.  

The music throughout this set was a blend of free improvisation; inside out takes on standards, and vocal numbers with the luscious, sexy and dreamy voice of Ryan Marshall Driver.   Among the repertoire, the standard “It Could Happen To You” was taken in an inside/outside direction where free playing, in-the-pocket grooves and a mellow esthetic has enveloped in the explorations of this quartet.    The same has been treated on the standard “This is Always”, taken in a straight ahead piano trio style.     Undecided, transforms the swing piece into a spritely bebop number that plays with the conventions and takes the piece into new territories and exciting adventures for the listener and musician alike.

By luck of the draw, I also was treated to a nice helping of Tacos, which was served three ways:  grilled chicken, grilled steak, and mixed bell peppers.   It was a nice and refreshing dish that accompanied my enjoyment of the evening well, and I appreciated the courtesy of the wait staff for extending their warm hospitality and offering to provide a nice meal in exchange for reviewing the food and the show.   The food is excellent and I really can’t wait to try more of their Mexican/Latin offerings provided at La Revolucion.

Overall, a delicious and an inspiring night of music from a great yet underground jazz group.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Before my official lunch meeting on a nice Thursday afternoon, I happened to embark on a special holiday boutique setup where the famous brand President’s Choice (PC) is offering its special signature items for holiday entertaining.

First off, I was treated to a nice treat of Decadent Hot Chocolate served with marshmallows.   It was a nice sweet start to a wonderful hour of sampling.  

In the boutique there were four stations where you can taste each of the featured offerings in the Presidents Choice Holiday collection.   The stations are: Brunch, Mingle, Dine, and Gift.

The brunch station was a nice and light start to the day by offering samples ranging from PC Oval Appetizer Flatbread served with Greek Salad tapenade; PC Smoky Bacon flavoured maple syrup; PC Speculoos Cookie Butter, and PC the Decadent Chocolateer Cherry Loaf.   The Flatbread serving was nice, light, refreshing, and amused the pallet; due to my abstinence of pork I didn’t try the bacon maple syrup serving with the waffle; and the tasting of the chocolateer cherry loaf with a cherry jam spread really put it over the top.

The mingle station brought in the spicy, tantalizing, and savoir faire into the boutique tour by samples ranging from PC Thai Chicken Curries Mini Hors D’Oeuvre Collection; PC Poutine Kit-Butter Chicken; and PC World of Flavours Sweet and Spicy Gochujang Chicken Wings.   The thai appetizers had the right amount of kick and tantalization in every bite; the butter chicken poutine is a unique fusion of Old World Indian with New World French Canadian cuisine; and the Gochujang Chicken wings were very juicy, had the right kick of spice, wasn’t overpowering, and had a nice texture to them.

Since I did not have the PC Spiral Smoked Applewood Ham, I was treated to the PC Black Label Beet and Goat Cheese Cappellacci, PC Strawberry Blonde Potatoes, and PC Vanilla Bean Mascarpone Cheesecake at the “Dine” station.   The Cappellacci, which is pasta made with a beet and goat cheese filling, is very bold and intriguing.   The Strawberry Blonde Potatoes served in a gratin style had a fine balance of texture that involved the creamy, the crunch and the lush rich texture of the dish.    The star of the station, the Vanilla Bean Mascarpone Cheesecake, is something that I would pay the retail price of $7 for a full out slice.   It is very rich, bold, well accentuated, and has the right level of sweetness.

Closing out the tasting was the “GIFT” section, where we were treated to PC Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt Popcorn and PC White Chocolate Cranberry Pistachio and Toffee Bark.   I took these gifts and handed them to a lovely waitress who served me in my lunch hour meeting with a new banker friend of mine.



(PC Vanilla Mascarpone Cheesecake)

(From Left: PC Strawberry Potatoes; PC Black Label Beet and Goat Cheese Cappelletti served with Roasted Brussel Sprouts)

(The Mingle Booth Feature:   PC World Of Flavours Sweet and Spicy Goacheng Chicken Wings; PC Poutine Kit Butter Chicken; PC Thai Chicken Curry Mini Hor D'Oeuvres Collection)

(PC The Decadent Chocolate Cherry Loaf French Toast Served with Cherry Jam and Whipped Cream)

(Waffle Served with PC Speculoos Cookie Butter and PC Smoky Bacon Flavoured Maple Syrup)

(PC Oval Appetizer Flatbread Served with a Greek Salad Tapanade)

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Friday December 11th, 2015 will go down as a very historic moment for Koerner Hall, where they put on a concert to cement the ever-present legacy of the great Canadian jazz legend Oscar Peterson.  

This particular concert was a double edged sword of sorts, since it served the dual purpose of unveiling two new exciting initiatives that will further cement the legacy of Oscar for years to come.   The first initiative was for Bosendorfer, Oscar’s piano brand of choice, to unveil a signature piano dedicated to Oscar Peterson.   This particular brand of piano has only 12 made in the entire world, and it features an electronic initiative where it captures the player piano feel of an Oscar Peterson playing his signature style in your own living room.

The other initiative is for the official release party of the 3CD set “From Oscar With Love”, which involves 17 pianists performing all original compositions never before recorded by Oscar or dedications for Oscar Peterson.   The goal of the project is to zero in on Oscar’s work as a stellar composer, and one who is equaled to the greatness of a Duke Ellington or a Thelonious Monk.

Among the many highlights was Robi Botos playing a very stellar blues etude that showed the depth, the swing and the commanding presence that he has on the piano; Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes doing a stellar and fun take on my favourite Oscar Peterson piece “Sushi”; Robi transforming Oscar Peterson’s classic installment from the Canadiana Suite “Wheatland” into an impressionistic feature reminiscent of Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans; Gerald Clayton bringing the soul and gospel feeling into his style of playing in Oscar’s classic civil rights standard “Hymn To Freedom”; and Benny Green showing off his prodigious swing and command of the piano in his selections for Oscar.   Kenny Barron also takes some consistent and maturing turns honouring the legend, and Oliver Jones being his majestic, controlled self along with accompaniment from bassist Dave Young.

In a night honouring a great jazz legend, I wanted to point out some audience observations that made me concerned about the state of how jazz is appreciated in its hometown.   In a mostly sold out audience, I noticed that in my age bracket there were only six people in attendance.   In another count, I also counted about 5 people of Afro-Canadian descent attending the program.   On the CD front, it was a really amazing and valiant effort by Kelly Peterson to put it together independently, since record companies and major labels are shocking oblivious and unwilling to put a tribute together to one of the most important musicians to grace the Canadian cultural landscape.  

From the sounds of what I experienced at Koerner Hall, it was a well fitting tribute to one who made many sacrifices and crossed many bounds to get where he had to go in life.   Let’s just hope that people young and old will hold on to the great legacy of Oscar Peterson and remember the sheer artistic command and qualities he brought to the jazz canon and bring it into the 21st century and beyond.