NORTHERN JAZZ LIGHTS: Guelph is a lovely college town, an hour outside Toronto. Two meandering rivers run through it, and there are green spaces galore. In other “outside” news, this is the site of one of North America’s finest and longest-running “avant-garde” jazz festivals. Two weekends back, the 17th annual Guelph Jazz Festival & Colloquium went down, another inspired dose of music from the fringes and under the radar. You won’t hear this music on the radio, unless you tune in to select shows on, say, the almighty KCSB (91.9 FM).
While the Toronto film festival unreeled on a grand scale and hosted caroming celebrities nearby, the Guelph Jazz Festival hosted such underground “celebrities” as Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Grimes, and Marc Ribot. Leaning a bit to the right, we heard Santa Barbara’s own Charles Lloyd, appearing with his flexi-trio Sangam with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland, master drummers from different geo-locales.
Actually, Santa Barbara was representing more than usual this year, between Lloyd, this scribbler-on-the-sidelines, and Rob Wallace, the S.B.-based percussionist who did post-doctoral work in Guelph two years ago. Wallace was in Guelph to conduct a public interview with drum legend Andrew Cyrille (who played that night, freely, with Grimes and bold Toronto reedist Jane Bunnett), and also to play with Vertical Squirrels, also featuring the festival’s founder and intrepid director Ajay Heble.
This year’s festival paid tribute to potent acronyms in jazz—ECM (although logistical snafus kept the anticipated Dino Saluzzi/Anja Lechner duo away) and AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), with Abrams playing the sage, at piano and in a panel discussion. A whole lotta free improvisation went down that weekend, of the inspired sort. Among the free-range taste treats were trios with Cyrille, Grimes, and Bunnett into the wee hours in the cultural sanctuary of St. George’s Church basement, and a set with Canadian pianist Marilyn Lerner, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Lou Grassi. In a morning solo set, dynamo pianist Marilyn Crispell dazzled in inside-outside fashion, alternately introspective and ferocious.
But the high point, and the clear festival highlight, was the epiphanic meeting of some old Chicagoans, Abrams, Mitchell, and the “youngster” Lewis (trombone and laptop), aka The Trio. Gliding through changing sonic and expressive landscapes, without a compass but with years of wisdom and still-youthful fire to draw on, The Trio showed how true improvisation works, at its best, from the ground up to the clouds.
On Sunday morning, Ribot led a fiery fine power trio with Grimes and Chad Taylor (also part of the impressive Chicago Underground Trio, heard 10 hours earlier, the night before). Loosely, they paid tribute to the late, great Albert Ayler (whom Grimes has played with), and Ribot was in his best, feral-smart, break-two-strings fettle.
CHARLES LLOYD ALERT: Sangam handily loops us back to the subject of the Lobero Theatre, where Lloyd’s New Quartet (Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Harland) play on Friday. It was at the Lobero that Sangam (sanskrit for “confluence”) was publicly born, originally in homage to late Lloyd collaborator Billy Higgins, and turned into a live album on ECM (not to be confused with Trygve Seim’s equally excellent ECM album of the same name, in the same year. Confluence, indeed). Dom Camardella engineered the Lobero recording, and was joined by his son Adam in capturing the special, spacious character of Lloyd’s brand new ECM album, Mirror, recorded in downtown Santa Barbara at Sound Design.
FRINGE PRODUCT: After a few years of honing a collective voice, Lloyd’s newest band asserts itself in a cohesive, balanced way on Mirror, dipping into originals, oldies, Coltrane-esqueries, and the songbooks of Monk (the lustrous ballads “Ruby, My Dear” and “Monk’s Mood”) and Brian Wilson, with a beauteous take on “Caroline, No.” To close, Lloyd fesses up to his abiding Vedanta faith, with a Bhagavad Gita-inspired spoken-word piece (as did Tierney Sutton on her last album, expressing her Bahá’í faith, verbally). Lloyd’s low, hypnotic voice resembles Robert Ashley’s, but with spiritual passion attached, as usual.