Published Sep 18, 2009Guelph's reputation for some of the best festivals in North America was nailed down by this year's Guelph Jazz Festival. The 2009 program had more of a world music direction when it came to divergent acts and was made even more interesting by the various street "actions." This, in addition to some thought-provoking panels and some brilliant keynote talks, fleshed out the five-day party admirably.
The festival's main-stage highlights featured a crazed punk/Ethiopian dance party hosted by the Ex and saxist Getatchew Mekuria, along with the sublimely ecstatic duet of drummer Milford Graves and reedman David Murray and the stunningly intense chamber ensemble of Crispell, Leandre, Campbell and Maneri.
The main-stage performance by the Stone Quartet was an outstanding series of chamber quartets that flowed with the tightness of a composed work, but the loose flexibility of free improv. This had virtually no "jazz" sound except for the occasional "blue" interventions by trumpet virtuoso Roy Campbell, becoming incredible in its implication of form.
Saturday's daylong outdoor event was the main focus for the diversity theme.
Michael Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project reinvented the folkloric recordings of Alan Lomax in Sicily into a broader definition of pan-Mediterranean culture. The highlight of the day was the ever-fresh Shuffle Demons, still grinding out those great grooves and over-the-top solos. Rebel Rhythm turned in a solid set, as did Jean Derome's Monk project, Évidence Trio + 3. Odessa/Havana was a little underwhelming due to the lack of key players from their brilliant recording, and Mr. Something Something's Afrobeat party was a rousing end to the day.
The festival's most notable trend to date is the programming of outdoor performance actions that literally brought the music to the streets and into the everyday life of the city. Scott Merritt and Jeff Bird's Three Parades project presented the more traditional spectator/performer dynamic, orchestrating the movement and music of three different and interwoven parades with the compositional centre of church bells, while Scott Thomson's Acoustic Orienteering took a more random approach, sending individual musicians on prescribed routes to interact (sometimes uncomfortably) with people on the street as using the acoustic spaces and random meetings to create duets and trios.
All this, combined with five days of beautiful weather, easily made the 2009 Guelph Jazz Festival one of the places to be this year .