Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music
Christian McBride and Tip City
Review by Jeff Mitchell
Toronto ON May 13th 2017
James Gelfand of the James Gelfand Trio
The Royal Conservatory of Music completed its 5-concert TD Jazz: The Art of the Trio series Saturday night, May 13th at Koerner Hall, sponsored by TD Bank Group and Tom’s Place, with media partners NOW and JazzFM91. In keeping with the format of this series, the Canadian content on this night was provided by the James Gelfand Trio, while the international flavour was served up by American bassist Christian McBride and Tip City.
Acclaimed Montreal-based and Juno-award winning pianist James Gelfand kicked things off with his trio, consisting of bassist Morgan Moore and drummer Jim Doxas. A highlight of their set was a “kind of journey to lots of places”, as Gelfand put it, whereby the standard Round Midnight was given a new twist with a Pachelbel Canon feel, which saw the piece evolve into something new that he called Ground Midnight. This then morphed into the standard Autumn Leaves, which in turn evolved into an original called I’m Leaving. Throughout this journey it was wonderful to hear an artist reimagining standard repertoire and allowing the listener to comprehend the improvisational creativity of the journey. Gelfand’s fingers can fly, but the thematic and rhythmic structure is never lost. At various points you could hear him evoking Chick Corea, Don Thompson and Fats Waller. Bassist Moore and drummer Doxas were fantastic in both complementary and supportive roles.
Gelfand concluded his set with an original number called Dozen Matter, but not before first thanking his old friend, Mervyn Mehta for inviting him to play at such a “marvellous hall”. In his quaintly professorial manner, Gelfand explained that the closing piece was a revamped blues based on a 12-tone row, where none of the tones in the row can repeat, giving the composition a modernist, atonal feel. It was an exquisite, rollicking performance, and it brought the audience to its feet spontaneously when it was over. Based on that response, it is clear that Gelfand needs to get out of the studio and play live more often - the audience loved him.
Philadelphia-based McBride recently completed a residency at Humber College’s Lakeshore campus, and based on the enthusiastic reception for McBride, he has built himself a loyal following in our city. In Tip City, McBride is joined by other-worldly pianist Emmet Cohen and silky smooth guitar veteran Rodney Jones. McBride explained that Harry “Sweets” Edison used to say that when a tune is swinging hard, it’s “tippin”, and when a whole set is swinging hard, that’s “Tip City”. Indeed, from the opening Blues by Sonny Rollins to the final Oscar Peterson tribute, Christian McBride and Tip City performed a swinging set that would have made Oscar proud. It was all the more fitting that Oscar’s wife and daughter were in the audience to hear it. No one these days plays a walking bass like McBride, who made a point of acknowledging the influence of his mentor and idol, the late, great Ray Brown. To these ears, McBride has become the Wynton Marsalis of the bass, taking the instrument to another level with incredible technical virtuosity, imaginative ideas and rhythmically driving solo work. However, as great as McBride is, he was upstaged by the “young buck”, pianist Emmet Cohen, who may not be as well known in Canada as he is in the States, but he is simply the most stunning jazz pianist to have emerged on the scene in the past 10 years. He certainly is the rival of the great Robi Botos as the heir apparent to Oscar Peterson. Again, it was fitting that Botos, himself, was in the audience, given that Botos had headlined the first concert in this series six months ago.
The beauty of both trios featured tonight was the intimacy and connection between the musicians. That, combined with the accessible but dynamic jazz performed by both trios was appreciated by the audience and made for a wonderful conclusion to this Art of the Trio series.
Tickets are now on sale at www.performance.rcmusic.ca for Koerner Hall's 2017-2018 Jazz Season which will include Miles Electric Band, Danilo Pérez Trio and Alfredo Rodriguez Trio, the Dianne Reeves Quintet, Gerald Clayton and Friends, The Hot Sardines, and Hugh Masekela with Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya: A Tribute to the Jazz Epistles.
TD Jazz Trio Series Wraps Up at Koerner Hall in Spectacular Fashion!