The jazz festival is on…

The jazz festival is on…

Every year at this time, Jamie Howison takes the liberty of posting a few recommendations of shows worth seeing at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival. Here’s a few for this year’s edition.

In his article “Heaven in a Nightclub,” the theologian and jazz musician William Edgar writes of “how jazz evolved from the praise house into the nightclub,” and of how his own work as a musician is offered as a “constant reminder of God’s hand in the lives of the oppressed, which resulted in a musical form that has brought joy to people around the world.” It is good to be reminded of the gospel roots of jazz music, and even better to experience that connection through hearing some live music. One of my top recommendations for this year’s Winnipeg Jazz Festival is a show by the pianist Mike Janzen.

While he has been based in Toronto for several years, Janzen originally hails from Steinbach. Maybe best recognized in some circles as Steve Bell’s first call pianist—and the arranger for those remarkable symphony sessions—he is dazzling jazz player with a bit of a taste for new arrangements of everything from “If I only had a Brain” from the Wizard of Oz and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” to the old hymn, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” his version of which you can see by clicking here. Janzen is a member of Toronto’s Little Trinity Anglican Church, where he is involved in music leadership.

Accompanied by bassist Gilles Fournier, Janzen will be appearing at Juss Jazz, 240 Portage Avenue, on Wednesday June 20. Advance tickets are a mere $15, and can be purchased through the Winnipeg Jazz Festival office.

I also highly (highly, highly!) recommend the Vijay Iyer Trio, playing on Saturday June 23 at 8:30 and 10:30pm. Though this one was originally scheduled for Aqua Books, it has now been moved to the Park Theatre on Osborne Street south, which is a good room for music. I actually posted a short video documentary on Iyer a month or two back, which you can see by clicking here. It is hard to find a more inventive pianist currently at work on the jazz scene, and his trio is simply fabulous. We’re talking a world-class trio, in a small theatre, for a mere $25… the only question here is why wouldn’t you go?

Small rooms are really the best places to experience live jazz, and given that reality I think the only act that could tempt you to venture into a larger theatre (in this case, the Burton Cummings Theatre) is the June 22 appearance of the legendary pianist Ramsey Lewis. The only thing that is holding me back from this one (aside from the fact that it is in a bigger room, that is…) is that for this one Lewis is reprising his electric approach from the 1970s, which for me is one of the least appealing phases of jazz music. Still, the guy is pretty brilliant.

It might be better to opt for the very affordable $12 gig by The Lucas Sader Project, as they offer up a tribute to the Miles Davis Quintet at 9pm that same night at the Exchange Community Church (200-75 Albert Street). This is a young band of local players, augmented by the trumpet of Derrick Gardner (a world class trumpet player, currently on the Jazz Studies faculty at the University of Manitoba), and I’m thinking this could be one of the best deals of the whole week.

And I’d be remiss to not mention the set by The Mariachi Ghost, with saint ben’s guy Adam Kroeker on bass. I recently heard them described as a Mexican/jazz hybrid, but I’m not sure that entirely covers it… you can get a sample of what they do by clicking here. It is a video of a performance filmed last year on the roof of the Winnipeg Art Gallery during Nuit Blanc. Never thought I’d see Adam wearing spooky face paint… but it is a pretty cool sound. They’re playing at Times Change(d) on June 23 at 11pm… I’ll be heading over after the early set by Vijay Iyer.

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