Ten must-see shows at this year’s Jazz Fest

The next two weeks will be jam-packed with shows, including big gigs and smaller club gigs offering an array of music from straight jazz to out of the box experiences – something for everyone.

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There’s nothing quite like the focused, intimate transfer of energy you can find in a small club where serious players take you into the night with personal beats and spontaneous inspiration. Clubs form the nightly base of this year’s jazz festival, with artists from Edmonton trying out special projects or new repertoire and high-powered names from outlying areas coming in to do their thing.

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The next two weeks will be filled with live jazz and out-of-the-box music experiences, but here are Roger Levesque’s top 10 recommended shows.

Explorations Guitar Trio

Bellamy show, June 27

Guitar lover? Multiply that by three once you catch Explorations Guitar Trio, various local string slingers Gus Butcher, Brett Hansen, and George Koufogiannakis. Separately or together, they draw on various aspects of the jazz tradition and wider, exotic international currents.

Anteloper, with free golf clubs

9910, June 27

Jamie Branch (trumpet) and Jason Nazary (drums) bring solid jazz chops while bypassing musical forms with loud improvisation and fried electronics in the acclaimed duo Anteloper. Every once in a while they even throw in a song. The quartet from Edmonton Free Golf Clubs bring two saxophones, guitar and drums to find their own chemistry.

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Al Jacobson’s sliding area

Ice District Stage, June 28

The “slide” refers to that heavy metal tool that makes the trombone an added challenge and a unique and famous part of the jazz band‘s arsenal. The repertoire is wide when horn veteran Jacobson brings together four – count-em, four – trombonists, including girlfriend Audrey Ochoa, plus a rhythm section for this promising company in the lunchtime roof-lift, l one of the many free shows at Ice District starting at 12 noon.

Ghost-Note, with fire!

Starlite Room, June 28

Formed by two members of Snarky Puppy, this seven-piece funk-jazz band draws inspiration from pioneers like Herbie Hancock to draw inspiration from 21st century hip hop and afro-funk influences. I dare you not to move. But the real sleeper of this show might just turn out to be the opening trio Fire!, featuring the fierce saxophone of Swedish free-jazz innovator Mats Gustafsson. Get ready to have your ears cleaned.

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Mboya Nicholson Quartet

Bellamy show, June 29

Pianist Nicholson draws influences from across the jazz tradition, showing a special gift for Ellington, Monk and Peterson, among others. It will be a treat to see him in a quartet with guitarist Jamie Philp, bassist Aretha Tillotson and drummer Jamie Cooper. They also organize the jam afterwards.

Too Much Zooz and Kanye West Re:Jazz

Starlite Room, June 30

It’s a comeback date for New York City subway trio pioneers Too Many Zooz, baritone saxophonist Leo P., trumpet player Matt Doe and a drummer who goes by the name of King of Sludge. They call their multi-faceted grooves and searing horns “brass house.” As well as a fondness for Latin rhythms, it’s really all about the fun of harnessing those elemental ingredients. Also, Kanye West wouldn’t be the most obvious star composer at a jazz festival, but his tunes will be performed and reimagined by the combined forces of two Edmonton quartets, Good Information (guitar, bass, keyboards, drums) and Vertrex, a classical format string quartet.

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Jocelyne Gould Quartet

Yardbird Suite, July 1

It’s no small feat that this Toronto guitar star just won the Jazz Juno for his debut recording Elegant Traveler, but this rising talent shows an understanding of the rich tradition of jazz guitar greats that far exceeds its years with beautiful original content too. Drummer Curtis Nowosad also features in its rhythm accompaniment.

Lina Allemano Four

Yardbird Suite, July 2

Familiarity breeds excellent communication for the quartet led by Edmonton trumpeter Lina Allemano, transplanted to Toronto for over 20 years now. Saxophonist Brodie West, bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser are the longtime kindred spirits who join her to navigate between coherent structures, collective improvisation, melodic adventures and harmonic explorations to surprise each other.

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Andy Milne & Unison

Yardbird Suite, July 3

Few Canadians sport the credentials that pianist Andy Milne accumulated over decades in Toronto and then New York, drawing on his early training with Oscar Peterson to work with Steve Coleman, Ralph Alessi and others as he formed his own groups. His band even won the Juno for jazz in 2019, but new trio Unison is something else entirely, with Milne backed by pundits bassist John Hebert and drummer Clarence Penn. Progressive, melodious, exciting, rich in nuance and cleverly original are just a few taste notes of Milne’s sound.

jam sessions

Bellamy’s Lounge, from June 28 to July 3

The funny thing about jazz musicians is that they get fired up and they don’t always want to stop. Hence the late-night stage at Bellamy’s, in the festival’s host hotel, Chateau Lacombe, the scene of many surprise encounters over the years, usually starting after 11 p.m.

Find a full schedule, ticket information and details about edmontonjazz.com.


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Ada J. Kenney