Published Jul 04, 2009Unconstrained by the 'jazz' tag, the festival invited Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings as the opening headline act this year. Smart choice, even if the queen of the American soul revival didn't quite pack the marquee tent. After a fine set from Toronto blues-funk family band Blackburn, Jones' crack nine-piece Dap Kings, warmed up the crowd until she walked onstage with a "How ya feeling, Toronto?" greeting. No believer in the slow build, she was shimmying and shaking and inviting audience members onstage for just the second song. Her voice shone on both soulful ballads and heavy grooves, and she paid touching tribute to Michael Jackson via a fine cover of "I Want You Back."
The formal setting of the Four Seasons Centre hosted one of the biggest names of the Festival, The Gary Burton Quartet Revisited. This is a reunion of sorts, as Burton, guitar virtuoso Pat Metheny and bass legend Steve Swallow (now joined by younger drummer Antonio Sanchez) played together with great success in the '70s. They returned to much of this repertoire, offering superbly executed renditions of compositions by Chick Corea, Carla Bley, Keith Jarrett, Swallow ("Falling Grace") and Metheny. While master vibraphonist Burton is billed as the bandleader, it was obvious many were here for Metheny, whose fluent solos drew many to their feet. Classy stuff.
A less than capacity crowd responded warmly to the fine showmanship and musicianship of r 'n b veterans Kool and the Gang. The 11-piece lineup delivered a full-blooded, horn-fuelled sound that shone on their renditions of hits like "Get Down On It" and "Ladies Night," while they displayed nice vocal harmonies on their classic "Cherish The Love." An unexpected extended foray into Jamaican sounds on "The Island Shake" was a little cruise-ship style bland, though.
Madeleine Peyroux's sultry and soulful voice has elicited comparisons to Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf. It was in fine form at her Music Hall show, though was ill-served by pretty bland accompaniment. Her original material is strong, and covers of Dylan ("You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go") and Cohen ("Dance Me Til The End Of Love"), though well received, were pleasant but a mite monochromatic. Opener Royal Wood made converts here.
It's unlikely the festival would have witnessed any finer ensemble playing than that displayed by The Dave Holland Quintet. Under the subtle leadership of virtuoso veteran bassist Holland, they excelled on both lyrical ballads and post-bop excursions that were adventurous yet accessible. Trombonist Robin Eubanks and sax star Chris Potter especially shone. Sweet stuff.