June 25 – Victoria Jazzfest highlights
It was the second full day of Jazzfest here in Victoria and it would be one for the ages. It began with some clouds and rain and unpredictable weather.
Having spent many years attending the Saskatchewan Jazzfest in my hometown of Saskatoon, I became used to some phenomenal outdoor performances in the Bessborough Gardens on the banks of the south Saskatchewan River. In Victoria, there are much fewer outdoor performances with the majority of events taking place indoors. The free stage in Centennial Square is the spot of all of the outdoor shows, however lacks the natural beauty of the Bessborough . That being said, the local artists playing on Saturday came to play and bring the funk yesterday. Local soul and funk band Groove Kitchen played a mix of soul, funk and reggae hits and also more obscure songs from the likes of Bajka. Local favorite and Monday Mag award winner Maureen Washington, Daniel Cook and their band played a mix of soul, blues and even reggae. Washington has an incredibly powerful voice that echoes some of the greats including Etta James and Carmen McRae. She played tunes from Washington and Cook’s newest release Here We Go Again and more.
My evening began as emcee at Hermann’s for the jazz quartet Koptor, made up of some fine musicians from Canada and Denmark, who played a lively set mostly made up of compositions from drummer and bandleader Kevin Brow. Brow’s drumming was the cohesive glue to this band, that featured some fine soprano sax from Rob Mosher.
Next it was over to Victoria Events Centre for Rupa and the April Fishes. The group formed in San Francisco in 2006, a meeting of a plurality of different ethnicities, languages and cultures to create a magical musical stew. All of this multiplicity of musical styles is shared by the group. A quote for their website reveals that “Their music is strictly organic, nuclear-free, post-nation, many-headed and decidedly unclean.” Although I could only stay for their first set, it was a high energy show featuring a mix of tunes from the band’s catalogue and a rollicking version of the Clash’s The Guns of Brixton. Bandleader Rupa sings mostly in French which adds another dimension to the mix of gypsy and Balkan rhythms, Indian ragas, reggae and more.
Earlier in the evening I had been tipped off by some Jazzfest employees that legendary jazz trumpeter and bandleader Wynton Marsalis and some of the members of Jazz @ Lincoln Centre Orchestra might be stopping by the Office for an impromptu jam session with the Damian Graham Trio. I headed south from the Events Centre over to the Office on Yates. Luckily it wasn’t packed yet, and I was allowed easy entry. I spotted Marsalis immediately posing for photos with fans at the bar. The Damian Graham Trio finished their excellent set and Marsalis along with Lincoln Centre bassist and pianist joined Graham for a jam session.Graham played like a man possessed, hitting the kit with his eyes closed for most of the session, clearly in an elevated state of consciousness. Marsalis, clearly enjoying the atmosphere in the informal setting, away from the Royal Theatre, played fabulously as one might expect but also giving the spotlight to other bandmembers and clearly digging Graham’s impeccable grooves. He was truly a class act and may he return to Victoria again soon. Time to catch my breath as Trombone Shorty hits the stage tonight at Centenninal Square.
Many thanks to Ron Sherring at Bulldog Images for these great photos from the Office last night.