July 2008

The Thing Is
July 14, 2008 The Rex Toronto
Toronto’s New Generation of Global Jazz
by Sebastian Cook with photo by Roger Humbert
I first met The Thing Is bandleader Tova Kardonne at Kinko’s in the Annex in the summer of 2006, the conversation naturally turning to music over cutting and trimming of promotional materials; and remembering being curious as to what her music would be like. Having been suitably impressed by her writing and depth of knowledge in various Live Music Reports heightened the curiosity all the more. Finally, on a steamy and somewhat surprisingly busy summer night at the Rex, I had my chance to see her 8-piece jazz-fusion crew The Thing Is.
Stunningly attired in a tight fitting, leaf-pattern adorned black-and-white dress; Kardonne looked the part of a contemporary diva in the making. She has a warm and engaging yet take-charge presence as a leader, introducing her band mates with a streetwise confidence yet also rawly emotional in terms of her reaction to their performance. Kardonne's voice is dynamic and full of range, from gentle alto jazz and cabaret crooning to high-octave falsetto scat. Yet what shines brightest from The Thing Is is a remarkably mature songwriting and arrangement sensibility for such a young group of artists; and an equally rich palette of musical influences from late 19th century Eastern European orchestral music to hard bop to contemporary fusion. No less a seasoned veteran than flautist Bill McBirnie commented on the challenge of stepping up to Kardonne’s music on this night as a substitute for flautist Amy Medvick.
Tova Kardonne
“Last Sunday’s Tango” was a Balkanized tango number with a shorter than usual form that stretched out to the Scofieldesque guitar of Graham Campbell, a soaring flute volley from McBirnie and rhythmic clapping from Kardonne and crew. The Campbell composition “Liquid Geometry of Passion” featured an acid-rock segue into gorgeously operatic vocalizing. On the tune “Something Snide”, Kardonne’s voice took on a hip-hop meter and cadence. The wildly-packed and funk-infused, if slightly choppily delivered, “Moving On” closed out the first set.

The second set featured more of a global jazz cabaret vibe. Leading off was “The Seeds That Remain”, in which saxophonist Alison Au's tone and power belied her slight stature. “Three-Wheeler” was a nod to the great Kenny Wheeler, appropriately featuring a variety of timing changes. “Todash Chimes” started with a haunting trombone drone from Christian Overton, unexpectedly yet smoothly sailing into a lounge-cabaret groove. The closing number, “Spending Time”, opened with a similarly brassy salvo, with an appealing Latin-style montuno from Thomas Hammerton.

The Thing Is has indeed begun to establish itself as a band to watch on the Toronto jazz scene, with important potential to turn new audiences on to the art form; something further borne out by the range of venues they play from the Rex to the Concord Café. They are certainly a reflection of the diversity all around them, with big Things ahead as they continue to evolve as musicians and songwriters — led by Kardonne who at the end of the night had me reflecting fondly on a similarly charismatic and chameleon-like vocalist Rita di Ghent.

The Musicians
Tova Kardonne – vocals, composition & arrangements
Alison Au – alto sax
Christian Overton – trombone
Bill McBirnie – flute
Graham Campbell – guitar
Thomas Hammerton – piano
Christopher Virtue – bass
Josh Park – drums


We welcome your comments and feedback
Sebastian Cook
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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