The Guelph Jazz Festival & Colloquium Guelph ON September 5 to 9

If you were a DJ and wanted to figure out what to put in your crate for spinning this year’s Guelph Jazz Festival, there would be a significant amount of old school vinyl making its way onto the decks. While the festival has gained a reputation for challenging new music, this year further underscored a shift to more conservative programming. A high standard of musicianship prevailed overall, but the number of acts with truly new ideas and approaches to the music was notably smaller. Interestingly enough, the various papers presented at the colloquium may have sparked more interest and debate than the music (wag the dog, perhaps?). Thursday started with Isaiah Cecarelli’s ensemble performance; while thematically interesting, it provided little variance in its presentation though guitarist Stephen Raegele provided some subtle and sophisticated playing into this music. The Exploding Star Orchestra’s evening show explored the space cleared by Art Blakey and the AACM with some energetic work, but pretty much stayed in the jazz pocket. Meanwhile, Do Make Say Think, with their horn-heavy line-up proved that they are Constellation Records’ best post-rock highlife band. Friday evening’s double bill gave us diametrically opposing visions with the incredibly complex, conducted improv strategies of Anthony Braxton brought into sharp focus by the AiMToronto large ensemble. The performance itself was breathtaking in its on-the-edge excitement and pointed out the incredible talent, skill and dedication brought to bear by this Toronto musician’s collective. What followed was a performance by the William Parker Ensemble juxtaposing music by Curtis Mayfield with radical commentary by poet Amiri Baraka. This show had possibilities but was sabotaged by bad acoustics in the venue. Saturday started off with some Indo-fusion by Catherine Potter’s Duniya project, sheathing strong playing in a gentle ambiance, while the all-day street performance afforded some great sets notably Jah Youssouf and friends, the Damien Nisenson Ensemble and the Inhabitants. The two p.m. concert with Myra Melford, Mark Dresser and Matt Wilson blazed with intensity. This concert, along with the midnight guitar onslaught of Nels Cline and G.E. Stinson and next morning’s performance by Anthony Braxton’s Diamond Curtain Wall Trio, with Toronto’s Kyle Brenders sitting in, more than proved the potential of the truly inspired music that is out there. The evening’s main stage concert brought Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra to the stage, with a rare appearance by Carla Bley, presenting a truly sweet and heartfelt performance of revolutionary anthems; proving that you can be old school and still inspire.