August 2007

Jazz by Genre Summerfest 2007 day 1 – Contemporary/Jazz House

Quintessential Boys Kush Grüvoria Four80East

August 9, 2007 The Docks Toronto
Jazz by Genre Creates Waves at the Docks
Report and photos by Laila Boulos
The Jazz by Genre Summerfest 2007, founded by Graham Reid, programmed four days of mouthwatering smorgasbords to satiate one's thirst for the many moods of jazz including live bands, djs, and throwing in some interesting spoken word artists just to mix things up. On the first night of this extravaganza, which took place at the Docks, the theme was Contemporary/Jazz House.

To say that the first act, Quintessential Boys, 'played well together' might create images of sandboxes and touch football as the members of this group, including their guest vocalist, required them to have chaperones as they were too young to be unaccompanied in the bar.

Once onstage, if there were any doubting looks in the audience, they quickly disappeared as the lightning cracks of the drum confidently announcing the beginning of "Watermelon Man" were overtaken by the precise and distinctive work on the keys. Later, as the saxophone and bass worked their way into the mix, equally as inspired, jaws dropped and hips grooved.

Their set included covers, a few envy-inducing originals, and some unabashedly reworked and jazzified songs, such as their version of India Arie's "Video". This piece by Arie, creatively refashioned, included a lengthy staccato 'debate' between Rob Christian on sax and Quincy Bullen on keys that was one of the mind-blowing high points of their set.

And, once vocalist Declan Santillan joined them on stage for "Got A Thing For You", this group had the room in rapture. Declan's surging and seemingly effortless baritone vocals would make Barry White jealous. At this point, mothers were running to lock up their swooning daughters as these extremely talented young players commanded the stage!

Their original piece "Chillin' Out", a breezy jazz number, showcased a fabulous drum solo by Omar Gittens and some pretty exciting bass work by Lucian Gray. Throughout, it was heartwarming to see the relatives of the band members giving proud and emotional standing ovations (for which the playing was totally worthy!) after each piece.

Both Rob and Quincy, who shared hosting duties, were extremely skillful players that jazz lovers will surely avidly keep their eyes and ears on in the future. Quintessential Boys, as a whole were extremely talented and refreshing in their stage presence and confident without being immature due to their youth or cocky in their musical mastery.

Next up was the 'now you see them, now you don't' line up that is Kush. Kush is the creative brainstorm of Etric Lyons who sets a foundation of samples and loops as the framework for each piece and then draws in and directs the other musicians while adding his own talents on bass. The whole process is improvised. As a result, depending on the musicians he works with (and that changes as regularly and as frequently as the samples and loops he provides) each performance is a unique meeting of minds, talents and energies.

This evening, on one piece, the workings of the horn were so hauntingly reminiscent of Miles' final live version of "Time After Time" goose bumps were making their appearance around the club. On another piece the brass section, comprised of the sax and horn, combined to create a powerful percussive-like effect.

Quintessential Boys

Definitely one for spontaneity, Etric invited Rob Christian from Quintessential Boys to join them on stage as an impromptu addition to this evening's performers. Obviously one to recognize upcoming talent, this choice added another interesting layer to Kush's improvised sounds.

As expected, the ever eccentric and theatrical Etric with his mad professor persona was as entertaining to watch as the band was to listen to. Again, Kush provided a mesmerizing trip in which both the players and audience had no idea where the musical journey would lead but are never disappointed and always awed.

That powerhouse, Grüvoria, was next to pummel the stage. During their performance, Grüvoria channeled many ghosts and spirits from John Coltrane to Mike Oldfield sending their audience into an Alice In Wonderland spin of intoxication.

Some of the influences Grüvoria's audience is treated to are acid jazz, funk, fusion and Latin. Wondering about subtle nuances of sound? As if? Everything this band did that night and on previous occasions is 100% full on power leaving 0% for banter, equaling rock your world musical blasts.

In that vein, there were many timpanic-membrane exploding moments this evening including numerous occasions where Eric Boucher was performing what looked like a ritualistic sacrifice of the keyboards that surprisingly left them unscathed when all eyes were expecting both boards to come crashing to the floor, or deeper. All the while, Boucher was extricating intricate melodies from the aforementioned boards. There was also fabulous interplay between the keys and both saxophones on many pieces and percussion to die for.

Grüvoria is composed of: Marcus Ali (tenor sax), Eric Boucher (keys), Ruben Esquerra (percussion), Ashot Grigorian (alto sax), Ross MacIntyre (bass), Vladimir Mladenovic (drums) and Blair Purdy (guitar).

Eric Boucher
Founder Blair Purdy has created an intense and cohesive group of musicians who consistently churn out the music with precision and enthusiasm always immersed and visibly having a blast!

Four80East, the darlings of the smooth jazz genre, were next to arrive on stage. Although they have taken the smooth jazz world by storm, classifying them in the 'smooth' category is definitely a misnomer as their repertoire is edgier, riskier and more imaginative than typical wine spritzer smooth jazz. Their use of samples, driving beats and creative percussion place them unequivocally in a league of their own.

Producers, Rob DeBoer and Tony Grace, who are the founders of Four80East, have just released their fourth album, En Route. Although their usual line up includes the fabulous Rich Brown on bass and the equally fabulous Andy Scott on guitar, the group tonight was cohesive and awe-inspiring with their stand-ins.

Highlights from this evening's performance included "Easy Come, Easy Go" which began with a sultry and seductive groove moving into some driving beats (yes, driving!) compliments of Giampaolo Scatozza on drums. This was seamlessly followed by wailing guitar riffs (yes, wailing!) by Emile d'Eon on his gorgeous Huber guitar and ended with almost imperceptibly subtle sax stylings.

There were many surprises such as "Bumper to Bumper" which began smoothly (as smooth as Four80East gets) and just as people began to think 'Ah, yes, smooth jazz.' off they went calling in that driving beat while Tony pulled percussive twists out of his hat. Some pieces, such as "TKO" drew the crowd to the dance floor to groove. And, once again, the saxophone of Jon Stewart (who also did amazing work on the flute) became the star pilot on "Last Flight to L.A." soaring above the clouds carrying his first class passengers along. On other pieces, such as "En Route", the wonderful bass of Andrew Stewart was powerfully mesmerizing.

Emile d'Eon
Probably the only truly smooth part of Four80East's performance was Rob's humourous tongue-in-cheek comments combined with Tony's occasional sidekick banter throughout the evening. Especially funny was when Etric attempted to surreptitiously retrieve his equipment from the stage and was spotted by Rob who drew him into his entertaining repertoire.

Four80East defy the laws of smooth jazz with their highly textured and innovative pieces that tug at their audience who defenselessly and willingly get pulled in. Their song titles alone, such as "Round 3", full of moving imagery, rebel against the stereotypes of the smooth jazz genre. Happily, this group has recently begun touring and will hopefully book more gigs in Toronto in the near future.

This first evening of the Jazz by Genre Summerfest 2007 was a musical odyssey that brought together an exciting mix of jazz stalwarts and introduced awe-inspiring new players to Toronto's music scene. This evening went swimmingly despite some minor sound system glitches and raised expectations for the following 3 nights and successive events from the Jazz by Genre crew.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
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