THE DISTILLERY JAZZ FESTIVAL through June 1. Tickets: free matinees weekends, $20-$25 evenings. Attendance: 25,000. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
What the Distillery jazz festival lacks in a genuine headliner it makes up for in atmosphere.The Downtown Jazz Fest might boast high-profile players like Medeski Martin & Wood and Roy Hargrove, but a garish, logo-stuffed tent in the middle of a concrete square has nothing on a sprawling complex of Victorian industrial architecture.
Shining the spotlight on the local jazz scene, the main artistic thrust of the Distillery Jazz Festival happens on the weeknights. It's hardly a surprise, though, that with a backdrop as spectacular as this, the free weekend gigs were the most enthusiastically attended. Coinciding with the citywide Doors Open walkabout, Saturday's gratis matinee was packed with people as interested in the setting as the music.
Organizers have taken full advantage of the Gooderham & Worts layout by spreading stages around the complex. In Saturday's sunshine, that meant people could check out the funky cabaret jazz/pop of Trish outside while they waited for crepes, settle down for a homegrown pint in the Cointreau Cabaret while Colin Lazzerini and his ensemble swung mightily or take the kids to bounce up and down to the sample-juiced skronk of Richard Underhill's Astrogroove crew.
The only problem with staging a jazz festival in a venue like this is that the music can come second to exploring. The itinerant approach means that audiences at each stage are constantly in flux.
It might have disconcerted those onstage, but as you wandered from room to dusty room, the music seemed to follow, bleeding through walls, lurking around corners and filling courtyards. It's hard to imagine that happening anywhere else.