PHAROAH Sanders QUARTET performing as part of the JVC JAZZ FESTIVAL with the ROB CLUTTEN GROUP at Harbourfront Centre's Norigen Stage (235 Queen's Quay West), Friday (June 22) at 8 pm. Free. 416-973-3000 Rating: NNNNN
as the downtown jazz festival makes bold appeals to a more youthful audience and the upstart JVC Jazz Festival expands and diversifies, the conceptual line separating Toronto's competing extravaganzas is getting increasingly blurry.It used to be a safe bet that anyone with a beard or clarinet was at the Downtown Jazz fest, while an electric guitar or turntable would obviously indicate a JVC Jazz affiliation. Not any more.
Since the Downtown folks finally admitted that they're not quite up on what the under-40 crowd is digging, they've wisely hooked up with some of Toronto's top dance club promoters. The festival now boasts breaking Baltimore soul jazz combo Fertile Ground, Montreal turntable terror Martin Tètreault and New York afro-house innovator Osunlade.
Meanwhile, the JVC Jazz Festival, which has been stylistically broad to a fault, appears to be seeking a stronger jazz focus by booking more conventional artists, like happening New York retro diva Jane Monheit and established marquee jazz acts such as Oscar Peterson and local faves like Jane Bunnett.
With the two festivals running almost concurrently, it's going to be a battle.
JVC has made a smart move by staging a free Pharoah Sanders Quartet show by the lake Friday (June 22), while Downtown Jazz is asking $30 to see Dee Dee Bridgewater at Nathan Phillips Square the same night.
As fabulous as Bridgewater is, how can you pass up a chance to hear one of the great saxophone iconoclasts of our time -- John Coltrane's spiritual sparring partner -- gratis?
Like Coltrane, Sanders prefers to let his horn do his talking, but over the course of a brief telephone conversation, he does seem perplexed by the revival trend and the willingness of younger musicians to base a career on mimicking their idols.
"I have no idea why somebody would try to copy what was done before," says Sanders from New York. "Even if they think they sound like John Coltrane or whoever, their lips and jaw are shaped differently, so they'll only ever sound like themselves.
"I guess it's up to the individual, but maybe they need to rethink what they're doing. Once you're spiritually in tune, you just need to listen and go with what you hear inside."
That self-awareness and stubborn determination to follow his internal voice made Sanders, who's capable of squawking overtones and gently caressing lyricism, the soulful counterbalance the searching Coltrane required. According to Sanders, they rarely discussed music on or off the bandstand. Coltrane would only encourage his collaborators to create freely in the moment.
"John would call the tune, and when he'd finish a solo I knew I was up.
"He wouldn't tell me what to play. It was all about doing your own thing. John was a powerful force, and anyone close to him would naturally be drawn in to follow what he was doing. But my role was to provide a contrast, and that's what I did."
Ever since that all-too-brief stint with Coltrane, which began in September 65 and lasted through explosive blasts like Ascension (Impulse) to Coltrane's tragic death two years later, Sanders has sought to maintain that sense of spontaneity in the studio and in performance.
"What I play on a given night depends on the venue and what I get from the audience. I never know in advance what the tunes will be, so the band doesn't know either -- I like to keep it that way.
"I've never rehearsed a band for a recording session or a concert. It's a waste of time. If you've got the right musicians together, they'll know what to play."
JAZZ FEST CRITICS' PICKS
Pharoah Sanders Harbourfront Centre, Friday (June 22)
Gilles Peterson & Earl Zinger Roxy Blu, Friday (June 22)
Bobby Matos Una Mas, Saturday (June 23)
Terrence Blanchard & Cassandra Wilson Nathan Phillips Square, Saturday (June 23)
Rachid Taha & Supergenerous Harbourfront Centre, Sunday (June 24, 2 pm)
Joshua Redman Nathan Phillips Square, Tuesday (June 26)
Fertile Ground Una Mas, Wednesday (June 27)