A Look Back at

Joyce Corbett
Top Ten Concerts For 2008

There are a few others I could just as easily have chosen (Luis Mario Ochoa, Sofia Koutsovitis with Lionel Louecke, Alexis Baro). A year is many concerts long. Nevertheless, these are as good as anything gets.

Barry Romberg’s Random Access Large Ensemble @ Constitution Hall, Toronto (Jan. 12)
at the 35th Annual IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) Conference
There were many magical moments during the IAJE. Kid in a candy store? Woman in a sea of chocolate? To choose a favourite is near impossible, but listening to this 15-piece version of Romberg’s 7-piece band Random Access was absolute pleasure. “Exciting, powerful, subtle, complex, creative, completely modern and yet Access-ible, they had it all. Never a dull micro-second. You never knew what to expect next but when you heard it, you got it, whether in “Big Giant Head” or “Accidental Beef” (did I mention the humour?).”
> LMR report

Roberto Linares Brown Orchestra @ Lula Lounge, Toronto (Feb. 22)
CD release
This Cuban-Canadian powerhouse was in my top ten concerts last year, but this concert was their best yet. Cuban singer-flautist Jesus “El niño” Alejandro, now based in Montreal, was brought in for the occasion, adding to the celebratory mood. The music generated an ecstasy usurping all else.

The concert is available for listening on CBC’s Concerts on demand. The ten-minute version of “Son sencillo” features an extended piano-keyboard solo and “Open de door” is even more fun than on the Roberto Linares Brown Orchestra CD (Que no se pierda la esencia). If Cuban rap is your cup of coffee listen to “Vez”. www.cbc.ca/radio2/cod/concerts/

The CD made it into the Editor’s picks for 2008 on descarga.com which is quite a feat for Latin music from Canada. Unfortunately, Roberto Linares Brown moved to Germany shortly after this concert took place but I certainly expect to hear more from him.

“Pupy” Pedroso y los que son son @ Opera House, Toronto (May 24)
My expectations were high for this one and they were more than met by the intense, richly textured and layered musica bailable (danceable music). A highlight was “Pupy’s” piano solo (now those are chops!) during which dancers “Pupy” Felix Insua and Maribel Vasquez moved ever so fluidly in an impromptu performance. www.youtube.com/

It was to be a tour to promote their new CD Tranquilo Que Yo Controlo. Unfortunately, the CD was not ready in time for the tour but has since been released. “Báilalo Hasta Fuerza (La Machucadera)” from that CD was one of the songs heard everywhere in Santiago (de Cuba) during my stay there this summer. A huge success.

Roy Hargrove Quintet @ Toronto Star Stage (Jun. 26)
Tribute to Jazz at the Philharmonic – at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival
Hargrove and the boys weren’t the only ones on this impressive bill, but for me, they stole the show. I never tire of this man and his music. A giant.

Arturo Sandoval @ Toronto Star Stage (Jun. 28)
at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival
A little more funk, a little more playfulness in Sandoval’s intense musical vortex this time than in previous shows I have seen. And chops? Just when you think he’s reached the highest pitch, he nails the note above it — and so on.

Burnt Sugar: The Arkestra Chamber @ Guelph Jazz Festival (Sep. 6)
Serious groove. A little black dog ran in circles through the tent, around and around, under the stage, into the audience, even jumping over my legs; escaping the security personnel trying to capture it. The music was so absorbing, even that did not seriously distract me. Along with the reference to Sun Ra contained in their name, the influences and sources behind their sound are numerous. Miles Davis, afrobeat, funk, it’s in there somewhere somehow and it’s great. Burnt Sugar is unique, creative and original. Here’s a quote from their website: “One foot in the prehistoric, the other in the post human. In this journey, you're the journal and we're the journalists.” How can I describe them?

Billy Bang and Trouble @ Trane Studio, Toronto (Sep. 27)
Everyone kept telling me I had to hear jazz violinist Billy Bang next time he came to town. They were right. Bang is progressive, edgy, funky, bluesy, hard-edged and subtle. Also notable was pianist Robi Botos, part of “Trouble” on this night, making his Trane début as a drummer — watch out brother Frank! — when he wasn’t on the keys.

Michael Occhipinti Quartet featuring Don Byron @ Trane Studio, Toronto (Oct. 8)
Pop, funk, jazz and Sicilian folk songs. Incongruous, engaging, interesting and fun. Hey, we expected the ball would occasionally drop on this one, but it bounced right along like the light-hearted pop-classic earworm of the 60s, ”Windy”, lighter than air. Never thought I would hear that on clarinet. There was no singing on that one, a good thing no doubt, but there was some haunted, soulful singing from Dominic Mancuso on the Sicilian song, “Cantu ri li schuggial”. Add in a little virtuosic wailing electric guitar and you get the right picture – ECLECTIC with more than just a capital E. Is it jazz? Sure, it’s still in the family.

Hilario Duran Trio with Changuito @ The Rex Hotel, Toronto (Nov. 6)
Changuito at Toronto’s Lula Lounge with an all-star Cuban band on the previous Saturday had been a tremendous experience, but the night he played with the Hilario Duran Trio at The Rex was the best for me. Highlights? A percussive exchange between Hilario on piano and Changuito on timbales. And, a timbale solo by Changuito displaying tremendous independence as he played an unwavering clave all the way through, no matter what else he was doing.

Kurt Elling @ Diesel Playhouse, Toronto (Dec. 4)
I had the great pleasure of hearing Kurt Elling three times this year. At the IAJE in January he sang with a big band, ever Kurt Elling but in a Frank Sinatra vein — big, bold, exciting, taking on the world, “A” number 1 on the top of the hill. In February at Humber College, on the kind of thickly-snowing night that can paralyze a city, Elling mesmerized us with his unique, personal style, casting moods as deep as the drifts. The walk home was magic, the snow and the night maintaining the spell, insulation from the pinprick of the mundane. December the 4th was bitterly cold and the hipster jazz-cat of the night people had a cold. He started the evening a cappela but the effects of the virus were undetectable. Choosing a favourite between the Humber College and the Diesel Playhouse shows was not easy, but, I spun the bottle and it stopped at the Diesel Playhouse. Perhaps it was the weight of his own band that pulled the neck around to the Diesel and the heavyweight pianist and musical director Laurence Hobgood who brought it to rest.

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Joyce Corbett
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