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Emma's Festival Blog: Sketches at Jubilee Swing Orchestra with Ben Caplan and Carmen Townsend | Swingology

Emma FitzGerald was at the closing night of the festival to see Swingology and the Jubilee Swing Orchestra with Ben Caplan and Carmen Townsend. She captured these lovely sketches of the final night and shared them with us. Thanks for a wonderful festival and see you in the summer of 2015! 

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Ariane's Festival Blog: Jubilee Swing Orchestra with Ben Caplan and Carmen Townsend

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 10.42.47 AM.pngIts not often you see a dance floor shared by such a wide range of ages. But at this years closing show, everyone from college kids to seniors jumped, jived and wailed to close out this year's festival. 

The unconventional pairing of retro swing music with the gritty vocals of modern folk song yielded one hell of a party. But that shouldnt really come as a surprise. The Jubilee Swing Orchestra are experts in getting people out of their seats, sweeping even those who will sheepishly tell you I dont danceinto at least bopping appreciatively to the rhythm despite themselves. Layer the growling voice of Ben Caplan on top, and you get an edgy crooner vibe that lends a modern tone to the whole show. 

And lets not forget the fiery Carmen Townsend, whose voice captures all of the heat and expression inherent in old-time jazz lyrics. A more traditional choice to accompany the JSO, her duets with Caplan were all the more touching for their chemistry and contrast. 

Caplan and Townsend had such genuine interaction on stage that it felt like we were hearing spontaneous renditions, despite the fact that this music was all written nearly one hundred years ago. In spite of all the 1930s slang in the lyrics, the crowd was able to share in the stories and the jokes thanks to the teasing tone between the two; Townsend crooning her parts with unmatchable smoothness, slyly addressing Caplanwho sportingly played the fool with his enormous coiffed beard bursting untamed from a tuxedo. 

Hopefully this won't be the last collaboration between these artists. And if Caplan ever needs another job, he can always become a nightclub singer. 

Jonathan's Festival Blog: Allen Toussaint | Cyndi Cain

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 1.14.58 PM_0.pngHalifax's soul singer Cyndi Cain played TD Halifax Jazz Festival last night, fresh off opening for the legendary Aretha Franklin. While this may look good in her artist bio, the reason people should talk about Cain is because of how confident a performer she is with an impressive stage presence. 
 
"We're going to do some serious chair dancing," Cain said to the audience who was told if they wanted to dance they'd have to do it outside the main tent for safety reasons. 
 
Cain, raised as a Baptist, said growing up she had church Wednesday to Friday. All that church has produced one soulful singer. She played hymns, the title track “Soul Food” from her latest album, a song written for her friend's wedding and more. By the end of her set, she had undergone a costume change after trading a black dress for a dazzling gold sparkling dress. It didn't take much encouragement from her to get people dancing outside the tent. 
 
Allen Toussaint made his first trip to Halifax and seemed to be loving the beautiful Halifax night on the waterfront. “I’ve been everywhere in the world. This is where I like to be right now,” he said while rocking a fantastic bluish purple suit. 
 
It was a treat to have such an iconic piece of the New Orleans R&B and jazz scene in Halifax. From the way he tickled the ivories to the way he spoke with such charm and elegance, it was clear that the 76 year-old Toussaint has been a performer for a long time and isn’t slowing down any time soon. He was joined on stage by Herman LeBeaux on drums and vocals, Roland Guerin on bass and vocals, Renard Poche on guitar and vocals, Amadee Castenell on tenor saxophone and Joe Fox on trumpet. When the group first took to the stage, they jammed on their instruments for a few moments before launching into “There’s a Party Going On.” At this point, most people were seated, enjoying the music. By the end of the show, everybody was on their feet clapping, dancing and cheering him on after a fantastic set.
 
Sometimes when an artist comes through town from away, you can’t really tell where they’re from. With Toussaint he made his Southern roots very clear. From playing “It’s A New Orleans Thing” to opening a grab bag of goodies from Mardi Gras and throwing them into the crowd, he brought a piece of New Orleans to Halifax. While geographically New Orleans and Nova Scotia are far apart, Toussaint was able to tie them together when he performed his classic song “Working In A Coal Mine”. Coal was a big deal in Nova Scotia just a few decades ago, and that legacy has lived on in the province through museums, art and music. When Toussaint played it on the keys and sang it with joy, it felt relatable. Also, the song has been covered by Devo, appears in an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, was in the Muppets Most Wanted movie and was adapted for a Walmart commercial. The song was performed as part of a medley mixed with “Certain Girl”, “Mother-In-Law” and “Fortune Teller”. 
 
Now for a quick personal story of what I saw in the audience that illustrates what a great performer Toussaint is. The festival tent is full of chairs. Outside the tent on the right and left sides there are giant screens and more chairs. The audience was asked to dance outside if they wanted to dance. Some people seated watching the screens were annoyed that people were dancing and obstructing their view. One gentleman decided to yell at a few people joyfully dancing along. It came across as being quite rude. But when Toussaint played his last song, his signature tune “Southern Nights”, the friend of the guy who was yelling ran in front of the screen and danced his joyful heart out. At this point the friend who earlier was upset could do nothing but smile and clap along while watching his friends get lost in the music. That little moment sums up why Toussaint’s music is so beautiful and important. It melts away pretentiousness and creates moments of pure joy. 

Jonathan's Festival Blog: Bill Frisell-GUITAR IN THE SPACE AGE! | Julian Priester's "Love, Love" with Jerry Granelli

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 1.14.58 PM.pngBefore starting the last two movements of Julian Priester’s Love, Love, drummer Jerry Granelli shared a quote Priester told an audience once before a performance.

“Forget everything you know about music and enjoy yourself.”

For some one who didn’t grow up listening to much jazz, or any music until junior high for that matter, it was the moment that stuck out to me the most in the show. It was an invitation to enjoy the show without being intimidated by the complicated music unfolding.

It would be easy to be intimated at this show, featuring two legendary musicians. Julien Priester played with Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley in his teens. Later on in life he played in Sun Ra’s band. He’s played a long side Duke Ellington. The list goes on. Headlining the show was Bill Frisell, the innovative and legendary jazz guitarist with an impressive catalogue of over 30 records.

With such a loaded lineup, it would be easy to get caught up in what both musicians have done in the past, or what music should or shouldn’t sound like. But after hearing Granelli share Priester’s quote it was easy to sit back, relax and let the music do its work.

Priester was joined by J. Anthony Granelli on bass, Christian Kogel on guitar, Dani Oore on saxophone, Tim Crofts on keys and Jerry Granelli on drums. As they played Priester’s 1973 solo album Love, Love in it’s entirety, it was easy to get lost in the music. Each movement took time to build, making slight turns in different directions as repetitive notes slowly changed. At one point, Jerry Granelli was just playing a string of bells and it felt like time had stopped.

While the music at the TD Halifax Jazz Festival tent certainly was dreamlike, the surrounding environment was also breathtakingly beautiful. The full moon was visible over top the condos behind the tent, providing a spotlight in the sky while the sun was setting and the sky was ignited by bright pink clouds. For the moment, I forgot I was in Halifax.

And then came Bill Frisell’s Guitar In The Space Age show. By this point the sun had set and it was time to focus on Frisell’s music. It was an observational exercise as the audience gathered sat in chairs, bobbing heads along and clapping hands here and there as they witnessed mind- blowing guitar playing. Frisell was joined Greg Leisz on guitar, Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. You could sense the elite musicianship of all the players. It was particularly delightful watching Leisz on the pedal steel exchange guitar licks with Frisell. At times, the sounds of guitar sounded like intimate lovers, finishing off each other’s thoughts in perfect harmony. They were off in their own little world. It felt like if they looked out at the crowd or spoke, their concentration would be broken and everything would fall into chaos.

The setlist featured songs from legendary artists including The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Byrds and The Tornados. Of course Frisell played each song in his own special way, taking elements of the originals but expanding and adding to them, making the songs exciting in a new way.

But I tried to not compare the songs to the originals or have expectations of what a live performance should look like. Rather, I forgot everything I knew about music and enjoyed myself. 

 

Emma's Festival Blog: Sketches at Lemon Bucket Orkestra

Emma FitzGerald was at the Lemon Bucket Orkestra show last night and captured the experience through wonderful sketches. Catch more of Emma's art throughout the festival! 

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Allison's Festival Blog: Guy Davis

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 3.28.53 PM.pngIf Guy Davis tells you to bark like a dog, you're going to bark like a dog. And if he asks you to howl, you better believe you'll do that too. The commanding Brooklyn bluesman had the capacity crowd doing both these things last night on The Company House's late night stage, but for most of his two sets he had us wooed to a captivated silence.

Davis is the type of performer who doesn't need a big backing band to get your attention. He, on his own, is enough. Switching between six- and 12-string guitars, quick-picking and sliding his way through original songs and long-loved classic blues tracks, Davis delivered each word smoothly with his deep, gravelly but incredibly animated voice. But that wasn't the only way he owned the room. Every song had a story, an interesting, funny or historically relevant one that he took the time to pull each audience member into, making the great songs all the better with context. Whether he was recounting a trip to Edinburgh in a full (and may I say flawless) Scottish accent, sharing a memory of when he stood at Blind Willie McTell's grave or poking fun at the Rolling Stones, Davis kept the momentum of the show rolling at all times. 

His strong connection to the past, and understanding of the real, early blues—the genre that basically created modern music—was authentic and sincere. This man is a true storyteller. Because of this, the show felt truly intimate despite the packed bar, so much so that audience members even tried to banter with him---which he corrected with a hilariously delivered, "Let me do the dialogue." 

After set two, the room erupted into a raucous standing O, prompting one last tune, which once again brought the crowd, who probably would have listened all night long, to their feet.

Jonathan's Festival Blog: Lemon Bucket Orkestra | Gypsophilia

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 1.47.54 PM.png“We can’t be drunk on a Halifax pier without singing this song,” said Mark Marczyk, violinist and vocalist of the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, apologizing if everybody was sick of “Barrett's Privateers” already. He said this to a group of sixty or so people sitting down on the Halifax boardwalk near the HMCS Sackville, approximately 300 meters away from the TD Halifax Jazz Fest main stage.

It was unusual to see this many people gathered on the waterfront just before midnight. But Lemon Bucket Orkestra aren’t exactly a usual band. First of all, the band is huge, featuring everything but the kitchen sink, although you probably could do the dishes in the sousaphone played by Rob Teehan. Guitars, violins, brass, percussion, woodwind instruments and dancers are all featured in the band. I counted 14 members on stage, but there may have been more to that, it was hard to tell with everybody on stage dancing and moving.

The self-described “balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk” band took the dancing audience of all ages through a whirlwind tour of music from Eastern Europe. Stops on the sonic tour included Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and oddly enough, New Orleans. Songs about selling everything you own and dancing in the streets and old Russian prison ballads were included in the setlist, even though Lemon Bucket Orkestra never have a setlist for shows. Instead they opt to go with the flow, feeding off the crowds energy and letting that determine what songs they select.

My favourite part of the concert experience was seeing everyone, from young children to those young at heart but a higher numerical value assigned as their age, dancing their joyful hearts out.

For the encore, the band was joined by Halifax band Gypsophilia who opened the show. By this point there were at least twenty-two people on stage. (Once again, with all the dancing it was hard to get an exact count. I felt like I was counting members of the McCallister family before heading off on vacation in Home Alone.) The houselights came on, and it looked like the show was over, but that was not the case. The two bands hopped into the crowd and played another song. After this, they paraded out of the tent, off the festival grounds, down the waterfront all the way to the HMCS Sackville, playing songs and singing the entire time. They played a few more high energy songs on the wharf before asking everybody to sit down.

Lead vocalist and violinist Marczyk talked about the crisis in Ukraine and how he was over there during some of the violence. The group then sang a song a cappella, dedicated to the protesters in Ukraine who were killed. The somber mood was quite different from the party atmosphere of before, but it was a bare-bones look at why this type of music is so important. The music Lemon Bucket Orkestra play brings comfort to those mourning and excuse to dance and be filled with joy and escape the sometimes harsh realities of the world.

With everybody still sitting down, the group sang all of Stan Roger’s East Coast classic song “Barrett's Privateers”. At this point it wasn’t a wild drinking song. It was a song that brought everyone together on a pier, nearly 45 minutes after they left the stage. 

 

Ariane's Festival Blog: Old Dreams, New Dreams: Creative Music Workshop

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 12.48.18 PM.pngThe audience was completely taken by surprise, sitting for a moment in stunned silence after Nocholas Dourado finished playing. Then the silence ruptured into applause as people began to realize what theyd just heard.

Theres more than one way to play a saxophone. Thats what the Creative Music Workshop proved with these totally unexpected student performances. 

Opening the show was Dourado, who played an improvised saxophone solo. Youve heard of guitarists slapping the body of their instrument to add rhythm, but have you ever seen it done on a saxophone? Didnt think so. Dourado showed the audience that this wind instrument can also create some interesting percussive effects.

Not only that, but he produced some astonishing effects even when playing in the traditional sense. It was hard to conceive that the same instrument was producing sounds that varied from bell-tolls, to sharp clattering, to a raspy whistlingin addition to the fluid tones youd expect. Combine his creative handling of a saxophone with a piercing scream in the middle of the piece, and his show is one that people are not likely to forget.

Afterwards came a bass and saxophone duet that was accompanied by three dancers. This marks another foray by CMW into the incorporation of dance to their program, which is a new experiment for them. The performance was expressive, though the whole time I was afraid that the dancers would accidentally kick an audience member or one of the musicians in the tiny Hollis Street space.

The final presentation was a three-way improvisation between the CMW saxophone students, with some help from their mentor Dani Oore. Again, they impressed with the range of sounds, rhythms, and musical tricks they could perform on the fly.

Not to be left out of the fun, senior CMW members Jerry Granelli (drums), Anthony Granelli (electric bass) and Christian Kögel (guitar) couldnt help doing a quick set to wrap up the night. The guys played a few crowd-pleasing, foot stomping, whooping-filled classic rock inspired numbers before everybody dispersed, wondering what the CMW will have to offer next round. 

Emma's Festival Blog: Sketches at St. Vincent | The Heavy Blinkers

Emma Fitzgerald was at the St. Vincent | Heavy Blinkers show last night at the Festival Tent and captured these wonderful moments. You can check out more of her art on the blog throughout the festival this week! 

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Allison's Festival Blog: St. Vincent | The Heavy Blinkers

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 12.44.37 PM.pngWe have a lot in common you know, Halifax. For example, our favourite word is orgiastic. When we were little we made hot air balloons from a bed sheet. Our hip-hop name is Little Scosh. And we, the lucky ones at least, saw the best show of the year (quite possibly many years) last night. It was perfect really, a masterpiece.

The whimsical ways of local dreamboats The Heavy Blinkers warmed the stage with beautiful arrangements and the angelic voices of Melanie Stone and Stewart Legere, kicking off the night blissfully. This band is so very deserving of sharing a bill with someone of St. Vincent calibre, it was an awesome thing to see.

After waiting through a suspense-building drone, blocking the fire aisles, clearing the fire aisles, and more droney waiting St. Vincent transcended all of the hype and touched down before a jam-packed Festival Tent, mesmerizing from the moment she stepped on stage. A computery voice politely asked us to not capture the performance digitally, but glowing phone screens lit up the air because when will we see superhuman talent like this again in Halifax? 

It's hard to put St. Vincent's show into words, not only because really you should have been there to see it/hear it/feel it for yourself, but because some feelings can't be summed up in a blog post. Audience tweets and overheard debriefs from strangers described her as magical, a goddess, a wizard, an alien, as casting a spell on us—and it's true, her presence was nothing short of otherworldly. Considering what a choreographed spectacular Annie Clark and her uber-talented bandmates put on—from robotic dance moves to graceful guitar shredding, transfixing banter and her stare, which locked eyes with everyone and no one— it didn’t feel contrived, I still completely connected to the set. 

It was a beautiful piece of performance art, yes, but that doesn't discount the mind-boggling musicianship—shredding guitar solos from Clark and Toko Yasuda, ethereal vocals, staccato keyboard grooves and dual synth layers captured the the complex intricacies of her records flawlessly. So not just visually, but sonically this show was a stunner. Picking favourite moments from the set would be like picking the MVP of an all-star team, every moment seemed to best the last one, but seeing her sing "Cheerleader" and "Prince Johnny" back-to-back, looking over the crowd from her statuesque black-box-perch near the back of the stage was something I wish I could replay over and over and over.

I left the tent feeling over-stimulated in the best way possible, extremely lucky and empowered. It’s amazing how someone else’s awesomeness can be so inspiring. Today I feel like I should be weirder, be better, try harder, create more and, with any luck, see more St. Vincent shows.