See our story about the 2013 Chamberfest.
2011 has been a sparse year for jazz lovers at other local music festivals.
For the second year in a row, Bluesfest had no signature jazz acts. The Folk Festival has a single act that might be considered improvised music. The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival, the Tulip Festival, The Victoria Day Festival, The FrancoOntarion Festival, WakeFest, the Carnival of Cultures, Westfest have all had jazz or Latin or swing acts in the past, but this year little or nothing.
The one notable exception to this is Chamberfest. In 2011, its program again includes prominent jazz artists, many with links to the chamber music and new music that is that festival's primary focus.
Roman Borys is Chamberfest's artistic director and the cellist in the well-known chamber ensemble, the Gryphon Trio. He said that Chamberfest is "looking for ways to demonstrate that the boundaries between chamber music and other forms of music-making aren't quite as stiff and impenetrable as people might think. And I think that I'm looking forward to having people from the jazz community come down and see what we do in the late-night and I hope they come and check out some of our other many, many, many concerts."
The 2011 Chamberfest program included the following jazz or improvised music acts:
- The Hogtown Syncopators
- Phil Nimmons, David Braid, and James Campbell
- The Stretch Orchestra
- the Asphalt Orchestra
- the Montreal Guitar Trio
as well as a series of outdoor free concerts in conjunction with the Rideau Canal Festival.
Most of these shows are in the late-night series at St. Brigid's Church, starting at 10:30 p.m. – "at the end of the day in a very relaxed setting down at St. Brigid's, where people can have a beer", he said.
Borys was particularly excited about Nimmons/Braid/Campbell and the Stretch Orchestra (formerly called the Tallboys).
"Those two concerts in particular both have artists within the groups who have a strong foot at least at one point in their careers, in classical music. In the Tallboys, Matt Brubeck was actually a classmate of mine at Yale. He's a cellist; we studied with the same cello teacher. If you look closely, you'll see that anybody that I have in late night that does cross boundaries, whether it's into jazz, or whether it's into dance or visual art, we've got collaborations like that as well, they all have had some sort of significant connection or continue to have some sort of significant connection to classical music.
"And the thing is that there are all sorts of classical musicians now, and musicians in general including jazz musicians, who are not afraid to collaborate with musicians from other musical genres. And as long as the willingness is there to accept them as collaborators, they go and they learn and they come up with incredible things."
But surely Nimmons and Braid play hard-core jazz improvisation?
"But when you throw James Campbell in on top of that, though, it kind of changes it again. James Campbell, who's one of Canada's most beloved clarinetists – a clarinetist that plays with the Gryphon Trio a lot in fact – when he plays with the two of them they go off in some other directions. Of course, a classical artist is going to impact the direction in which the two hard-core improvisers are going to go off in. Phil Nimmons teaches at the U of T where I teach as well. I see him all the time. He's had an incredible impact on the faculty of music there. So I think that it's been a long time that the musicians have been sneaking and skulking around and working around the fences all over the place. The fences are just coming down a little bit."
He also enthused about the Asphalt Orchestra, which played a series of outdoor concerts downtown and in the ByWard Market. "The Asphalt Orchestra is a brass band, with a couple of drummers and percussionists. They've worked with a designer and a choreographer, so they have a very cool, urban look. And they play all sorts of things, including arrangements of pieces by Björk, all sorts of contemporary music, classical music. They play all sorts of arrangements of jazz works, but really tight, tight, tight stuff. They are quite amazing actually.
"And their whole "thing" is that they don't need a concert hall. You bring them to town, you put them in a couple of vans, you drop them off in the ByWard Market, and see what happens. And they just move around: they have all these moves choreographed. People can check them out on the web: see them at Lincoln Centre. It's great. People are standing around and these guys are twirling all around them and the music is hard and it is tight. Usually brand band marching band stuff: it's limited and it's usually about size. So the big thing is that's it's a mass sound, a wall of sound that's really impressive. But in the case of Asphalt there's only 12 [musicians]. They play completely without any kind of conductor or leader per se. Pretty much memorized. They have little cue cards but for the level of difficulty in the music they're playing it's all in their heads."
"They're all about just bringing the ensemble playing experience right to people, right where they live."
The collaborations help make connections to new audiences, he said.
"Chamber music has such a long, long, long tradition. We have repertoire that's survived three hundred years. Our primary purpose is to make sure that the core of our repertoire is some sort of representation of all this incredible music that continues to resonate and that continues to make connections to audiences that have never heard it. The late-night and the jazzy presentations and the collaborations with other artists give me an opportunity to give the other artists the chance to actually put that stuff, put that passion, that newly-discovered passion in some cases, on the stage. Put it to the test of performance. Bring it alive. It's not alive if you just do it in your living room. You get a violinist like Mark Fewer (who will be coming next summer): he's just all over it. He's improvising with everybody, he's playing spectacular jazz and then the next day he goes upstairs and plays a sonata."
Borys pointed out that the Gryphon Trio has run a series in Toronto at the Lula Lounge playing with local jazz artists like bassist Roberto Occhipinti, pianist Hilario Duran, Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto (formerly in Canada, now in New York City), and multi-instrumentalist Phil Dwyer. Dwyer has actually written compositions for the Trio.
"I know it's all a buzz in town these days here. Everybody's talking about how this festival's turning into that festival and all the boundaries. It's turning into one big huge festival. Well, good! As long it's all really incredible music that's performed at the highest level possible with the greatest respect for the art and musician and audience, I'm all for it."
– Alayne McGregor