Perhaps it was the hazy outdoors from the fires up north, or the mid-week holiday that prompted an extra long out of town weekend, but Jazz Festival 2015 seemed to have a bit lower of a profile compared to previous years.
That said, anyone who missed any of it is a grade-A sucker. There were some really amazing shows this year from a lot of impressive names, including Joshua Redman, Dee Dee Bridgewater, New Pornographers, The Roots and Lights to name a few.
Also: Where was the jazzy lemonade? Not too sure what they put in the magic libation but it was missed by more than a few of us. Ah well. Beer’s still pretty good. And free yoga. And, well, jazz, etc.!
The New Pornographers
Our Jazz Fest experience began with a stacked indie show featuring Saskatoon’s Slow Down Molasses and headliners Viet Cong and The New Pornographers.
As Slow Down, Molasses took the stage we overheard people in the audience playing “Marry, F*ck, Kill” between Tyson, Chris and Levi. We didn’t hear the results but damn, that’s a tough one! Later in the evening a man was seen tearing off his wristband in order to put his hair up in a man bun.
Dude, it’s not worth it.
The increasingly intoxicated audience was very receptive to the locals, whose music transitioned well to the large, outdoor stadium.
Calgary’s Viet Cong on the other hand, split the audience between those who loved them and those who were completely confused by them. Their rough vocals and music were likely more appreciated at their headlining show at Amigos later that night.
The New Pornographers are one of those bands that I rarely seek out, but love when their songs randomly pop up in a playlist. The Vancouver band flawlessly cranked out hit after hit and had me grinning like a fool. Totally a festival highlight!
One musician familiar to the festival that you can’t help but enjoy is Michael Franti. While yoga enthusiasts enjoyed a noon hour session in the gardens, his headlining set, featuring a smooth combination of reggae and jazz, is both fun and crowd engaging. It was definitely a high energy night behind the Bess!
Local opener, Parab Poet & the Hip Hop Hippies features a quick-talking MC performing along with a group of talented musicians – bass, violin, mandolin, percussion, drums, electronics. A perfect opener to get the crowd pumped up.
Fanner/Nelson Little Big Band
Some of the most musically inspiring bands at the Jazz Fest have always been the local big bands. Seriously. Watch how much fun these people have playing together. It’s also awesome to see people as young as 20 and as old as 75 making music together. In addition to this, the Fanner/Nelson Little Big Band, had another unique attribute for a few of the audience members.
Besides parents, teachers are typically some of the most influential people in your life. In this case, it had to be Nick Fanner, a music educator who has been at Marion Graham Collegiate for almost two decades. Throughout his tenure there, he has inspired hundreds of youth to play music and even some of those kids to become jazz band geeks. Still to this day, the sweatpants with “band geek” labelled across the back make their way out of my closet.
Outer Bridge Ensemble
The Outer Bridge Ensemble (OBE), a regular favourite of the festival, brings together talented musicians from New York, Calgary and Toronto. Accomplished musicians in their own right, the OBE bring a new take on jazz, far from typical standards.
Along with playing a few shows, the OBE instructs a “Jazz Intensive” workshop throughout the week with young musicians aged 15-25. It’s great to see a new generation of jazz fans and musicians learn and progress.
Hip hop/soul legends, The Roots, headlined one of the fastest sell-out shows the SaskJazz Festival has ever seen on Canada Day. If you haven’t heard of The Roots, you’re definitely living under a rock (the group has been around in various forms since 1987).
If there’s one thing that can be said about The Roots, they can win over a crowd. The majority of the crowd were up dancing and singing. That night, and later in the week, several people commented that it was “the greatest show they’d ever seen!” On the flip side, one friend’s comments on the show were “what the **** was that?” So maybe the rating for this concert is somewhere in the middle?
Having attended almost all the headlining concerts throughout the week, the best (and blusiest) headlining concert of the festival featured Steve Hill, Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer and main act Matt Andersen.
Steve Hill is best described to Saskatoninans as a tame version of Reignwolf (Jordan Cook). Man, can the guy play the guitar. Following his show at The Bess, he played another set at The Bassment which closed with an amazing Hendrix encore that finished with the strings ripped off the neck of his guitar.
No strangers to the Bess Gardens, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer played the middle set of the night. If you’ve never seen them, the duo rocks harmonica, percussion and some nice harmonies. This year, they brought a vocal accompanist along who added to the group perfectly. The group is here often (typically The Bassment) and is always a good time.
New Brunswick bluesman, Matt Andersen has been playing across the country for just over a decade. A soulful, powerful solo voice, Andersen typically plays a solo act. On this night the crowd was treated to a spectacular nine piece. His 2014, album Weightless is a recommended album to listen to around a campfire at the lake; bluesy, poppy greatness.
Hate to say it, but if there was one Jazz Fest musician that I would never admit to listening to on my own time, it would be Lights. That said, her show – a mixture of electro-pop sing-a-longs and swoony dance beats – was total killer. From the moment she stepped on stage, the pop singer had the crowd in the palm of her hand as she led a unexpectedly (for me, anyway) high-energy show that never once dipped in quality. Still probably wouldn’t buy that album though.
Dear Rouge on the other hand started off a little soft. Not too sure what it was, but mid-way through their set, the four-piece suddenly found their groove, whether it was belting out their indie dance originals or a inspired cover of Blondie. That said, their Amigos performance later that evening made a lot more sense. Meanwhile, local openers Close Talker gave a great performance that night, highlighting tunes off of their latest album Flux. A great group with an uncanny ear for harmony, we expect to see this band plenty more in the future.