Russell MaloneOn February 7, the American guitarist Russell Malone plays at Hugh’s Room Live. For those unfamiliar with his work, Malone is a swinging, bluesy player, steeped in the hard bop tradition, who has worked with many of jazz’s leading names, including bassists Ron Carter, Ray Brown and Christian McBride, keyboardists Benny Green, Jimmy Smith and Monty Alexander, and crossover star vocalists Harry Connick, Jr. and Diana Krall. It is unusual to see someone of Malone’s stature playing in Toronto outside of a major festival setting; to see him in a club, as opposed to a soft-seat theatre, is more unusual still, and speaks to the singular nature of this event. Malone favours large, hollow-body guitars, minimal effects and clear, articulate right-hand technique. He is a representative of a jazz guitar tradition that extends back to George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian, and he is an expert interpreter of the Great American Songbook. A highly recommended show, for fans of the guitar generally, Malone specifically and, really, anyone who has an interest in the living history of jazz. 

Read more: Jazz History at Hugh’s with Russell Malone

Later on, we’ll conspire 
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we’ve made
Walking in a winter wonderland

Winter Wonderland, Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith. 1934. 

“Christmas starts on November 1;” so goes the knowing refrain, spoken in tones of world-weary authority to those affronted by the instant shift from Halloween to Christmas in retail displays, both digital and physical. Those who repeat this defeatist bromide are not necessarily less affected by the sudden onslaught of candy canes and evergreens, of reindeer and elves, of living in a dystopian paternalistic surveillance state ruled by the Clauses. No, they are simply stating the obvious: that the secular advertorial spectacle of Christmas constitutes an overwhelming, inescapable part of our experience of the season, even in households for which the holiday holds a primarily religious significance. 

Read more: If Only in Our Dreams

Ah, November. A month so rich in music that it causes one to strain against word limits, bridle at the constraints of the page and discard a number of truly perfect jokes, whose inclusion – if a writer took less seriously his charge to write about, well, music – would have sent this magazine’s readership into dangerous paroxysms of laughter, such that finishing the rest of this column would surely prove impossible. Out of kindness: let’s get to it. 

Gentiane MG TrioOn November 14 and 15, the Montreal-based pianist Gentiane MG (Michaud-Gagnon) leads her eponymous trio at Jazz Bistro in support of her recent album, Wonderland. Though Michaud-Gagnon may be a new name to Toronto audiences, she has been increasingly active on the Canadian jazz scene following her time at McGill, at which she studied with Rémi Bolduc, André White and Jean-Michel Pilc, among others. Her debut trio recording, Eternal Cycle, was on CBC Music’s list of 10 outstanding Canadian jazz albums of 2017, along with the likes of Matthew Stevens, Diana Krall, and PJ Perry. At Jazz Bistro, Michaud-Gagnon brings her working rhythm section, bassist Levi Dover and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel. The trio’s playing runs the gamut from introspective, pensive ballads to uptempo swingers. Throughout it all, Michaud-Gagnon discharges her pianistic duties with aplomb, playing both single-note lines and lush chords with succinct clarity. 

Also at Jazz Bistro: vibraphonist Dan McCarthy, on November 26, appearing in quartet formation with guitarist Ted Quinlan, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Ted Warren. McCarthy’s quartet appears in support of his recently released album, City Abstract, which features the same band. Recorded in May of this year at Canterbury Music Company, City Abstract is something of a homecoming for McCarthy, who, after living and working in New York for 15 years, has moved back to his hometown of Toronto. McCarthy is a superlative vibraphonist, with chops, tone and taste to spare; his performance/recording credits include work with American musicians such as Steve Swallow, Ben Monder and George Garzone, as well as with leading Canadian musicians, including Lorne Lofsky, Terry Clarke and Laila Biali. Though the vibraphone has been something of an uncommon instrument in modern jazz, McCarthy – along with other notable young players, including the American Joel Ross and Toronto’s Michael Davidson – serves as a good reminder of the instrument’s strengths and capabilities, and of the unique music that it makes possible. 

LandlineOn November 6 and 7, saxophonist Chet Doxas brings the group Landline to The Rex. Though currently a Brooklyn resident, Doxas was born and raised in Montreal, where he attended McGill for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees; his brother, Jim Doxas, is one of Canada’s better-known jazz drummers, and still based in their shared hometown. Landline – whose eponymous debut album will release on November 1 – is a quartet, made up of Doxas, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Landline is something of a family affair: in May of this year, George Doxas, Chet’s father, recorded the album in Montreal at Boutique de Son Studios. Landline gets its name from a two-year-long process of “collaborative composition” by all four members of the quartet, each of whom made contributions to each piece in a process reminiscent of the children’s game “broken telephone.” What this means isn’t precisely clear, but I imagine that all will be revealed at The Rex. What is clear is that Landline represents an intriguing new project from accomplished modern jazz musicians who have played together – both in this specific quartet and in other configurations – for a number of years, with a collective group dynamic that only comes with shared experience. 

Dan WeissSacks will be returning to The Rex later in the month with the Dan Weiss Trio, where he – along with Weiss (drums) and Thomas Morgan (bass) – will be playing two consecutive nights on November 20 and 21. The last time that I wrote about Weiss for The WholeNote, it was in the wake of his 2018 Jazz Festival performance with his Starebaby project. Drawing influence from Twin Peaks, the album Starebaby was a study in Lynchian intensity, with bombastic and quiet moments sustained past conventional points of resolution. During the group’s packed Toronto show, this exploratory spirit was on display in full force; the show that I saw qualified as one of the loudest and quietest shows that I’ve ever seen at The Rex, or, for that matter, at any jazz club. Though Weiss’ trio may not have the same mandate for extreme dynamics, it does have the same mandate for intensity and intentionality. It is not hyperbole to say that Weiss is one of the preeminent jazz drummers of his generation; a brief look at his recent schedule reveals engagements with the likes of Nir Felder, Adam Rogers, Miles Okazaki and Chris Potter’s Underground Quartet, amongst many other notable gigs, including his own. As a drummer and as a bandleader, he is much the same: specific, exacting, exciting and, at unexpected moments, funny, in a way that complements the seriousness of his dedication to his craft. 

A final note on The Rex: guitarist Robb Cappelletto, who has crafted a unique musical identity that straddles the line between jazz, rock, blues, and other genres, releases his new album Double Red on November 14, in performance with keyboardist Michael Shand, bassist Andrew Stewart and drummer Amhed Mitchel. Cappelletto – a faculty member at York University – has been putting out consistently interesting music since his debut album !!! was released in 2012, both under his own name and with the instrumental group re.verse, which has been heard in its residency slots at 416 Snack Bar and The Drake, as well as at Koerner Hall, collaborating with the likes of Shad and DJ Skratch Bastid. Cappelletto is a fiery player, with ample technical command of his instrument, but what sets him apart from his peers is his conscientious attention to the nuances of tone, and his commitment to building a multilayered sonic world in which his music can live. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS 

NOV 6 AND NOV 7, 9:30PM: Chet Doxas’ Landline, The Rex. Landline, a new project helmed by Montreal-born saxophonist Chet Doxas, play in support of their new self-titled album, the material for which the band composed cooperatively through a musical version of “broken telephone.” With pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Zack Lober and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. 

NOV 14, 9:30PM: Robb Cappelletto Group, The Rex. Robb Cappelletto celebrates the release of his new album Double Red, the latest entry in the fusion guitarist’s discography. With keyboardist Michael Shand, bassist Andrew Stewart and drummer Amhed Mitchel. 

NOV 14 AND NOV 15, 9PM: Gentiane MG Trio, Jazz Bistro. An up-and-coming musician from Montreal, Gentiane MG (Michaud-Gagnon) leads her eponymous trio (bassist Levi Dover and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel) at Jazz Bistro in support of her recent album, Wonderland.

NOV 20 AND NOV 21, 9:30PM: Dan Weiss Trio, The Rex. Playing compelling modern jazz, drummer Dan Weiss’ trio, with pianist Jacob Sacks and bassist Thomas Morgan, has been active for over a decade, and has developed a thrillingly intuitive musical connection. 

NOV 26, 8PM: Dan McCarthy Quartet, Jazz Bistro. Toronto-born vibraphonist Dan McCarthy returns from New York with a new project and a new album, both of which feature guitarist Ted Quinlan, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Ted Warren. 

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

It is October, and summer – which clung on so tenaciously throughout September – is officially over. In many ways, this month is a hopeful one: after a perpetually hot, sticky and undignified period, the prospect of wearing a sweater and coat has become almost thrilling. In other ways, however, this month is frightening: the weather will get ever colder, the evenings ever darker, and, no matter how you’re planning on voting, the federal election will bring a certain amount of anxiety (October 21: don’t forget!). But regardless of the coming changes, rest assured that there are a number of standout shows coming your way, and multiple opportunities to hear excellent musicians in action.

Kirk MacDonald and Pat LaBarberaColtrane Tribute at The Rex

On October 10, 11 and 12, saxophonists Kirk MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera present their annual John Coltrane Tribute at The Rex, with pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Joe LaBarbera. This yearly run of shows has become an institution unto itself, a tradition that serves to highlight the Toronto jazz scene’s appreciation and respect for Coltrane’s invaluable musical legacy. It is also an opportunity, of course, to delight in the prowess of MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera, both of whom are leading voices on the saxophone, as well as being conscientious stewards of the modern tenor tradition inaugurated by Coltrane. The rhythm section is equally impressive: Dickinson, Swainson and Joe LaBarbera bring their own set of experiences to Coltrane’s music. (Though he and Pat are indeed brothers, Joe LaBarbera is the only non-Torontonian in the group; he is based in California, where is he a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, in Santa Clarita.) In addition to their careers as performers, MacDonald, Pat LaBarbera, Dickinson and Swainson are also faculty members at Humber College, and it is normal to see a large cohort of jazz students from Humber, U of T, and York at any show that they play.

The Coltrane shows are happening a bit later in the year than is usual – they typically take place around September 23, on Coltrane’s birthday – but it’s likely that they will still generate a strong back-to-school sensation, an inspiration to budding jazz musicians as well as an opportunity to experience a sense of musical community. Head down to The Rex to hear it all: masterful playing, the music of one of the 20th century’s greatest musical innovators, and sporting-event-style cheering when students recognize the changes to Giant Steps being superimposed on a blues.

Rexcetera!

While the Coltrane Tribute will be a major highlight, The Rex’s October schedule is replete with notable concerts. On October 23 and 24, pianist Florian Hoefner celebrates the release of his new album First Spring. Hoefner is one of Canada’s most interesting young jazz pianists, and his path here has been somewhat unconventional. Originally from Germany, he went to school both in Berlin and in New York, where he obtained an MMus from the Manhattan School of Music. He is now a resident of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and a faculty member at Memorial University. Featuring Toronto musicians Andrew Downing (bass) and Nick Fraser (drums), and released on the Canadian label Alma Records, First Spring speaks to Hoefner’s ongoing engagement with the Canadian jazz scene. At The Rex, Hoefner will be playing with Downing and drummer Jim Doxas. Also at The Rex: vocalist Joanna Majoko brings her sextet on October 19, Chelsea McBride’s large ensemble Socialist Night School plays on October 21 and Dayna Stephens’ Pluto Juice – with Anthony Fung, Andrew Marzotto, and Rich Brown – plays on October 25 and 26.

Sam Kirmayer at the Bistro

On October 2, Montreal guitarist Sam Kirmayer will be stopping by Jazz Bistro as part of a cross-Canada tour to promote his recent organ trio album, High and Low, released on Vancouver’s Cellar Music label. As on the album, Kirmayer will be joined by Montreal’s Dave Laing on drums and the American keyboardist Ben Paterson on B3. Kirmayer is something of a traditionalist, and his playing resembles that of Grant Green and Wes Montgomery more than it does Pat Metheny, John Scofield or Kurt Rosenwinkel. His preferred instrument is a large-body archtop guitar, and he typically plays with minimal effects, a choice that lends itself well to the swinging, bluesy style that he favours. Kirmayer has made an apt choice in bandmates: Paterson has worked with Bobby Broom, Johnny O’Neal and Peter Bernstein, and is equally adept on piano as he is on organ. Laing – a McGill faculty member – has performed with a wide range of notable jazz artists, from Canadian luminaries such as Ed Bickert, Lorne Lofsky and Don Thompson, to international musicians such as Dave Liebman, Kenny Werner, and Sheila Jordan.

Burdock Beat Goes On

Burdock continues to be a venue at which jazz consistently intersects with indie music, to ongoing success. On October 12, the New York-based singer Emma Frank makes a stop at the Music Hall on tour in support of her recent release Come Back, with Aaron Parks, Franky Rousseau, Tommy Crane and Zack Lober. On October 29, Bernice – Toronto vocalist Robin Dann’s pop, jazz and R&B-flavoured indie vehicle, which features Thom Gill, Felicity Williams, Phil Melanson and Dan Fortin – plays with Booty EP. Frank and Dann play different kinds of music, and have each developed an interesting, individual body of work. But the projects are aligned in the sense that they feature open, creative musicians with a high degree of formal jazz training playing intelligent vocal music with a distinctive indie sensibility. Also at Burdock: On October 21, guitarist Dan Pitt celebrates the release of his trio’s debut album Fundamentally Flawed. Joined by bassist Alex Fournier and drummer Nick Fraser, Pitt’s trio plays a brand of modern jazz rooted in an open, improvisatory practice that allows for a diverse range of influences – from classical to folk to metal – to make themselves heard. 

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

And we’re back. After The WholeNote’s typical aestival hiatus – and our packed-to-the-margins summer issue, which featured information on a wide assortment of excellent festivals in the Greater Toronto Area – I’m happy to be writing this column for you again, doing my best to provide a preview of some of the most interesting musical events that will be occurring around town each month. It has been exactly 12 months since I first took over this column, and the timing seems appropriate; though it has been a few years since I finished grad school, September still feels like the spiritual beginning of the upcoming year. Though we know that the month brings with it waning heat, it also heralds the promise of much to come: the return of musical friends from sweaty summer touring; the reinstatement of all of your favourite regular gigs, artist-curated concert series, and post-secondary-student nights at The Rex; scarves. It is, in short, one of the most exciting times of the year to be a jazz fan in Toronto.

To begin: there are quite a few notable festivals taking place in September. To run any festival in Toronto is a difficult, labour-intensive process; earlier this year, I wrote about the TD Toronto Jazz Festival’s shift to Yorkville, and the many challenges that artistic director Josh Grossman deals with on a regular basis in order to keep an established, decades-old, major-Canadian-banking-institution-sponsored festival ticking. The prospect of establishing a new festival – of working with local communities, of soliciting sponsor partnerships, of booking venues and talent and vendors and making sure that guests are happy and artists are hydrated and, oh my god, did no one think that we might need porta-potties?! – is a daunting undertaking indeed. But that is exactly what the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival (TUJF) and the Kensington Market Jazz Festival (KMJF) have done.

The TUJF, which began in 2015 in the Distillery District, with 26 distinct undergraduate bands performing over the course of three days, has grown into a five-day affair, from September 3 to September 7. The bulk of the programming will take place on September 6 and 7 in Mel Lastman Square, with a kick-off performance by the Robi Botos Trio at Hugh’s Room on September 3, and two days on September 4 and 5 at The Frog, a pub owned by the Firkin Group, located a convenient seven-minute walk from the Square. The TUJF will feature performances and master classes by a variety of local and not-so-local groups, including the aforementioned Robi Botos Trio, the Pat LaBabera Quartet and Donny McCaslin.

While the TUJF has emulated, to a certain degree, the large, primarily outdoor format of traditional Canadian jazz festivals, the KMJF has chosen a different approach. Taking place, as the name suggests, in Kensington Market, the KMJF does not have an expansive communal space like Mel Lastman Square to transform into festival grounds. Instead, under the guidance of the unsinkable Molly Johnson, they have opted for a more grassroots approach, working directly with pre-existing venues and other businesses throughout the Market to create a network of unique performance spaces. Last year, acts played at traditional venues, such as Poetry Jazz Café and Supermarket, at which it is possible to hear live music throughout the year; at Café Pamenar and Koi Koi Saké Bar, at which it is not typically possible to hear live music, but at which one can imagine performances taking place; at the men’s clothing store Tom’s Place, at which, presumably, no one has ever expected to hear live music. (Far from being an outlier, Tom’s Place – and eponymous Tom’s Place owner, Tom Mihalik – is a major festival sponsor. Mihalik is referred to as “the festival’s patron saint” on the KMJF website. In 2018, the clothing store provided the location for the “Yamaha Grand Piano Room,” which, considering the complications of moving a grand piano anywhere, let alone into a retail space in a busy neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, should be proof enough of Mihalik’s commitment to the festival’s artistic cause.) Performers for this year’s festival, taking place from September 13 to 15, include Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night School, Jozsef Botos, Ethan Ardelli and Virginia MacDonald, to name but five of the well-over-100 established local musicians who will perform in more than 30 venues around this iconic market neighbourhood.

Chelsea McBride’s Socialist Night SchoolOutside of the Greater Toronto Area, the Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) will celebrate its 25th birthday this year, continuing to fulfil its stated mission of inviting “listeners to be inspired by and engaged with creative music,” from September 11 to 15. As this mission statement suggests, the focus of the GJF is on creative, improvised music that falls outside of either mainstream modern or neo-traditionalist jazz styles; this year’s festival will include performances by Jen Shyu, Malcolm Goldstein and Rainer Wiens, the Brodie West Quintet and Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey and Hank Roberts. As in past years, the GJF will also partner with Guelph University’s International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation to convene a colloquium on improvisation and its social contexts. Some of this year’s presentations will include Jesse Stewart’s “Different Drums: Unorthodox and Unusual Percussion Instruments,” Niel Scobie and Alyssa Woods’ “Finding the Groove: A Workshop on Hip-hop Turntablism and Improvisation,” and Lee Blalock’s “Instr/Augmented Bodies: A Performative Artist Talk About Hybrid Bodies, Modes of Communication, and Modified Behaviours.” 2019 will also mark a year of new artistic leadership for the GJF, with Scott Thomson assuming the role of artistic and general director, and Karen Ng taking on the role of assistant artistic and general director.

There are also a number of excellent non-festival performances happening in September. Head to Burdock on September 12 to catch saxophonist Matt Lagan, on September 19 to hear TuneTown (Kelly Jefferson, Artie Roth, Ernesto Cervini), and on the 21st to hear Mingjia Chen and Claire Lee. At The Rex, check out the return of Monday nights with University of Toronto Jazz Program students, Humber College’s Annual Back-to-School Faculty Jam on September 19, and a full schedule of great music for the rest of the month. 

MAINLY CLUBS, MOSTLY JAZZ QUICK PICKS

SEP 3 TO 7: Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival, various venues. The best of Toronto’s undergraduate bands playing alongside established local and international artists, including saxophonists Pat LaBarbera and Donny McCaslin. tujazz.com

SEP 11 TO 15: Guelph Jazz Festival, various venues (Guelph). Canada’s most important creative/improvised music festival, complete with top Canadian and international performers and a colloquium co-presented with Guelph University.
guelphjazzfestival.com

SEP 13 TO 15: Kensington Market Jazz Festival, various venues. The fourth annual installment of this exciting new festival, which sees traditional and non-traditional Market venues come together to create a network of performance spaces.
kensingtonjazz.com

MONDAYS, 6:30PM: University of Toronto Jazz Ensembles, The Rex. Catch up-and-coming students from the U of T Jazz’s undergrad and grad programs performing in the comfortable confines of The Rex, in September and on most Mondays throughout the school year. therex.ca

Colin Story is a jazz guitarist, writer and teacher based in Toronto. He can be reached at www.colinstory.com, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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