Blues and jazz on parade

Todd
Todd MacLean
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Even though the streets of Charlottetown have been much quieter this week (aside from the fabulous jazz through the artist in residence program being presented on Victoria Row all this week), I think the echoes of last week's glory are still strongly reverberating.

From Monday through to Sunday of last week, the annual P.E.I. Jazz & Blues Festival caressed Charlottetown's ears amid nine different venues and featuring a total of 33 stellar performances.

Now, if you were like me in this action-packed time of the year (being rocked by the summer like a headless chicken, perhaps?), you found it impossible to take it all in and instead had to settle for catching just a handful of acts from the array of spectacular music the festival had to offer.

And in this way, it ended up being a combination of "wishing that you could have seen more, yet being supremely delighted by the music you were able to take the time to enjoy ..." - well, that is, at least, how it was for me.

Acts like Alain Caron, Coco Love Alcorn with Ian Sherwood, Ross Neilson and Laila Biali were all on my wish list. But when all was said and done, it was really just the week's grand finale that I could focus my columnist's sights on — thankfully with some additional Victoria Row bonuses thrown into the mix as well.

For example, getting out and about early on Saturday evening, I was happy to catch The Rev Hank Trio on the Victoria Row Free Stage, as they swung the outdoor crowd to the sounds of ukulele jazzy bliss. Featuring Mike Diabo on lead uke, with Frank den Haan on percussion and Andrew Beazley on ukulele bass (yes, there is such a thing — Chas Guay actually plays one all through Come All Ye, and it is a glorious instrument), they were just a joy to listen to as it felt for a time that downtown Charlottetown became Honolulu.

Later that evening on Victoria Row, I was also glad to take in simply one of the pinnacle jazz ensembles of P.E.I. musicians that I have ever heard. The Island Jazz Messengers (the name is a dedication to Art Blakey's famous quintet) is a new hard-bop sextet featuring Dan Rowswell on alto sax, Barrie Sorensen on tenor sax, trombonist Grahame Rhodes, guitarist Ian Toms, bassist Alan Mackie and drummer Alan Dowling.

This was a performance debut for the Messengers, but like most, I'm sure, who took in their tightly digging-in grooves and igniting improv, I hope that there are many, many more to come in the future.

This past Sunday night's grand finale at Confederation Centre was naturally my main reviewing focus for the festival, where the Island was blessed with a performance by two Canadian jazz icons: Oliver Jones and Ranee Lee.

"Every night seems to be a new adventure," said Jones from the Homburg Theatre stage that night, after introducing the concert with two wonderfully-executed tunes with stellar accompanists Jim Doxas on drums and bassist Eric Lagacé, who played the P.E.I. Jazz & Blues Festival last year as well.

"But I think the most enjoyable is coming back to places that you really enjoy. And all the last year, we've been talking about getting back to P.E.I."

The four-time Juno award-winner/10-time Juno nominee with 20 albums to his credit is now 78 years old and was spot-on at every twist and turn — displaying such a command of the grand piano's keyboard — a tender touch when needed, with many a flamboyant flourish of decoration.

Joined by the heart-striking, husky and rich vocals of Lee, along with her virtuoso guitarist husband, Richard Ring, the ensemble wowed the crowd with songs like Both Sides Now, Beautiful Love, Undone and James Taylor's Fire and Rain.

With this kind of entertainment value in these few performances out of the grand total, all I hope is that for next year's P.E.I. Jazz & Blues Festival, I'll be able to take in even more.

Next week: The first annual Island Fringe Festival.

Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at tmaclean@theguardian.pe.ca or at 626-1242. But he won't be offended if you don't.

See Page 2 for Todd's Picks

Organizations: Homburg Theatre, Confederation Centre, Legion Clover Club Peters Courthouse Theatre Northside Concert Series

Geographic location: Charlottetown, P.E.I., North Lakes Mount Stewart Atlantic Canada Summerside Airport Mary

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