2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 1-3
For a night-cap, and certainly a change of pace from the more esoteric music heard this first day of the VIJF, my ears were grateful to hear a late set by Portland, Oregon-based vocalist Nancy King accompanied by pianist Steve Christofferson at one of Vancouver's finest jazz clubs, The Cellar. Their version of "All Too Soon" incorporated the harmonica-sounding melodica in addition to piano accompaniment (Christofferson ambidextrously playing both simultaneously). King proved why she is one of today's greatest (and arguably most unheralded) female vocalists. The recent septuagenarian makes every syllable not just every word count, as heard on her rendition of the not oft heard Slim Gaillard tune "Flat Foot Floogie" (with Tom Wakeling guesting on bass). Masterful subtlety and instrumental-like prowess in all her vocal performances marks this veteran vocalist as not only one our lifetime's greatest but in the history of this music as well. The paintings of Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday that decorated the club's walls only added to the magical and timeless atmosphere that King created within a set's worth of selections, including "Easy Street," Dave Frishberg's "Zanzibar" (which she recorded with Christofferson and the Metropole Orchestra in the mid '90s), "Heartbreak Hotel" (in which she creatively incorporated Monk's "Misterioso") and "It's You Or No One" (an ideal scatting vehicle).
The nightly jam session at O'Doul's (literally adjacent to this correspondent's hotel conveniently enough), which features jazz seven nights a week throughout the year, serves as a good final stopping point and watering hole for their special late night jam sessions throughout the VIJF until 2am.
Other than being able to hear GUO musicians in various contexts, the other first-week highlight proved, as expected, to hear bassist Barry Guy on numerous occasions and in different projects. The early afternoon performance of Guy in duo with Maya Homburger (violin) at Performance Works contained a mix of solos and duos. "Vini Creator Spiritus" (an 8th Century hymn which Homburger began playing in the crowd before working her way to the stage) was connected with an interlude by Guy to "Carrying of the Cross, Sonata no.9" (from H.I. Biber's Mystery Sonatas; Biber's "The Agony in the Garden, Sonata no.6" was performed later in the set, too). The bassist's composition "Lysandra" was a feature for solo violin, while "Annalisa" was the bassist's turn for playing unaccompanied. While having heavily improvised parts, there also seemed to be definite form and structure. The duo created an interesting crossroads for the worlds of classical and improvisation, not necessarily to collide but certainly to interact and coexist naturally.
A 10- minute segment of the set was dedicated to Guy's "Fizzles," an excellent introduction for the uninitiated to hear the bassist's arsenal of (extended) techniques. Five minutes through a young child was heard sighing, "Wow. Ahhhhh!" and Guy immediately reacted, dedicating the following few minutes worth of his arsenal (foot pedal effects included) to magically developing themes around the child's expression. Then, the same kid whispered "Yay!" Now, whether Guy heard this or not, it marked another defined movement in his improvisation, perhaps coincidentally, as he attacked his strings with a ferocity that soon led him to the conclusion of the awe- inspiring improvisation.
The duo's set-closing "Tales of Enchantment" presented lots of overlapping arco statements before the bassist inserted a long stick under one of his strings and atop the rest, occasionally plucking and seesawing left and right to create an eerie underlining foundation for his partner's long bowed violin notes. (At one juncture he even placed two sticks under his strings, bouncing them while bowing and also tapping the sticks in different places with two smaller rounded stick objects, creating a world of soundsand emotions). Guy helps to give meaning, perhaps even new meaning with every performance, to the concept and definition of "extended technique." This recital proved no exception.
The next set's duo paired Guy with GUO pianist/leader/founder and living legend Alexander von Schlippenbach. Their opening 35+ minute improvisation featured 10 minutes of back and forth exchanges that became much more subtle as the set progressed, the pianist reaching inside his instrument to play the piano's strings to better match the tone and effect of his partner's playing. Both tapped their respective instrument's strings creating a dynamic fuzzy overtone bringing their set's primary piece to a whirlwind conclusion. (They followed with a quick yet extremely focused one- minute encore in response to the grand applause demanding for more)