Great City, a Great City's Music

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival

by Will Layman

3 September 2009

Photos: Will Layman 

But Beyond the Mainstream Too

Taylor Ho Bynum

Taylor Ho Bynum

But Beyond the Mainstream Too

These evenings of straight-ahead pleasure would make for a fine jazz festival, but it would be a festival disinterested in bending the music forward. Vancouver’s festival, however, takes seriously the notion that it can contributes directly to the future health of jazz.

The progressive cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum was in residence at the festival, working with students and performing in various bands through the ten days. His trio with Toma Fujiwara on drums and Mary Holverson on guitar brought every element of the music forward—swing, classical counterpoint, avant shrieking, rock backbeat, tight unisons. Playing in the hip Roundhouse performance space, this trio did allot of exploring. Some of it meandered, but the mission was clear.

Before Ho Bynum, another free trio got out on the edge. Canadian pianist Chris Gestrin set up with Simon Fisk on bass and Jerry Granelli on drums. Gestrin looks like a young mountain-man at the keyboard, like he just split some wood. But his is playing is often impressionistic and cool, using silence as much as energy. Granelli, dressed like your crazy hippie uncle, plays with abandon even when he’s quiet. The concert was a lesson in listening closely, as the themes and connections were subtle and developed out of the blue.

Chris Gestrin

Chris Gestrin

There were also literal lessons being taught. Trombonist Ray Anderson was one of many musicians who not only played but also taught a workshop, demonstrating his craft and discussing his career with Anthony Braxton and on his own. I asked him about the economics of playing “creative music” in 2009, and he replied, “Oh, why’d you have to ask that?”  He said, “It’s hard,” and explained that jazz musicians no longer make money selling records and mostly do it themselves in this environment. On the other hand, he explained, “there is as much interest—or more—among people around the world than before. People come out to hear this music, and there is more interest and access to this music in colleges.”  Anderson teaches at Stoneybrook.

Late night lessons, of a sort, were being held at the Ironworks, a very cool gallery and performance bar—formerly a warehouse—at the edge of the “Gastown” neighborhood. I caught Vancouver resident Gordon Grdina, who plays an amplified acoustic guitar and oud, with his trio and guest Mats Gustafsson. Gustafsson guarantees that the date will be hardcore, and he was wearing a Cramps T-shirt over his lean frame to prove it, his tenor and baritone saxophones at the ready. What we got was pure energy music, and a good part of the audience was thrilled, whooping along with the intricate unisons between bari and guitar. The overblown multiphonics were enough to cause little waves in your Granville Island Brewery I.P.A.

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