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Canada Day on Granville Island 2008

The first day of July started with a plan to ride my motorcycle down to the Canada Day celebrations hosted by Coastal Jazz on Granville Island. This event featured some of Vancouver’s finest jazz talent on three different stages throughout the day, including Chris Gestrin, Jillian LeBeck. Brad Muirhead +Pepe Danza (Koan), Paul Plimley and Tony Wilson. As I was getting ready to go, my phone rang and my daughter requested my help to finish clearing out her godmother’s apartment. The jazz would have to wait, but it didn’t sound like there was that much to do and I would certainly be able to catch some of the shows.

My old van is a 1985 propane-powered Econoline that I hope to put collector plates on in 2010. It has received enough attention over the years that it is very reliable and it started without complaint, even though I had not driven it in at least a month. I was happy to be driving my familiar wheels and I soon arrived in the East-Side area that overlooks the PNE and the Second Narrows bridge.

My daughter, Jhayne, was waiting with our friend Ray, who had been up since dawn driving the godmother to the airport for 8am, then packing, loading and uploading boxes. They both looked tired, so I pitched in and we started to load the vehicle with the larger items remaining. Unfortunately, the queen-size box spring would not fit as I have a double-bed sized van, with a bit of squnching [yes, I invented the word for van loading purposes] and cooperative effort, we did manage to cram in the mattress, followed by assorted boxes and furniture bits. Then we loaded Ray’s vehicle with all the remaining small stuff. There was still a van load left of larger items that Jhayne wanted to keep, plus a variety of large, but useful, furniture that none of us had room for.

The only person I know with a truck is Simon, my motorcycle mechanic, so I phoned to ask if he wanted any of the items. He was busy, but interested and said he’d call me back. Ray and my daughter had already left and I had to put air in a tire that was really low, so by the time I got to her house he had unloaded and gone. Ray is an interesting person and one of the founding members of the Play the Moment Composer’s Collective as electric sitar player.

Time was passing as my daughter and I unloaded the van and I knew the music had already started. After reviewing the options, the only thing that seemed practical was to go back and try to get the rest of the stuff quickly, so off we went. We hadn’t unloaded everything to save time, so the bookcases and other items were piled on the mattress. I had kept updating Simon on our progress and just as we were about to leave, his friend and assistant, Mark, showed up with the pick-up truck. He agreed to take the box-spring for later delivery to Jhayne, and whatever else he thought could be useful; and we left him to lock up when he was finished.

The trip back to Jhayne’s was quick and we only unloaded loose boxes and perishables with her boyfriend David’s welcome help. He had come over after work and had already cleared the lobby of the stuff we had abandoned there in our hurry to get finished so I could go to the shows. As soon as I thought the van was drivable, I headed down to Granville Island. I am used to having a van full of stored stuff parked at my house and I knew they had enough to do already. Time was of the essence as sometimes festival timing can be unpredictable, with shows occurring earlier or later than the listed schedule.

I work on Granville Island almost everyday, so I was completely aware of the potential traffic gridlock and parking scarcity that awaited. I only hoped that most of the families with young children had gone home already as the face painting and children’s activities were already closed. With a great deal of apprehension, I drove on to the island, past the point of no return. There is only one main road — following the one-way street pattern that circles the area and exits via the same causeway I was now entering. I was encouraged by the amount of cars that were leaving, but I knew that in peak periods that could mean they had circled without finding parking and were now abandoning the quest and going to park off-island.

Pedestrians own Granville Island and regular visitors know that vehicles must be extra careful as people will walk out in the road at random, bicycles zip by and weave through creeping traffic and drivers have been observed performing unusual feats of illegal maneuvering to secure a scarce parking space.

I know the route well and was comforted to see Koan delivering their particular blend of Asian influenced, Latin percussion based, popular jazz with Tommy Babin playing bass. I knew Tommy was scheduled to play with Paul, so at least I hadn’t missed that show. I had already circled half the island when I saw a parking space, but it was marked for small cars only. I was cheered by the sight though and another one opened up close by and I was parked. Anyone who has been to Canada Day on Granville Island knows what a miracle this actually was.

I quickly made my way over to catch some of Koan’s set as they had an erhu player that I was not familiar with, Jin Zhang. Joseph “Pepe” Danza has developed an unusual drum-kit formed of Latin percussion and African drums with some conventional kit hardware, snare drum and cymbals. He plays it really well and occasionally switches to shakuhatchi, a Japansese flute that he plays using a circular breathing technique. When I arrived, Zhonxi Wu was playing an instrument that arrived in China through the Silk Road trade route, a strident reed instrument that has a variety of names in different cultures. Later, he played the traditional Chinese sheng, a wind instrument made up of a cluster of pipes that each have their own reed and a finger operated control so chords can be played. Tommy Babin played bass and Brad Muirhead added another tonal dimension with trombone. The final member of the six person group was playing guitar, Jared Burrows. He had an accordion nearby, but I did not hear him play it, a fine guitarist though and worth checking out again.

I wondered if Jillian LeBeck was still playing in the Performance Works, so I left Koan and went over to find out. I was too late, and I was sorry to have missed her set as I have heard several reports that she is a very fine vocalist. Paul Plimley and Gilberto Moreaux, the drummer, were already doing their sound check with Marc L’Esperance, “The Sound Dude”. I sat down with a group of friends, including Lan Tung, and told her I had just seen Tommy, who was scheduled to play in a few minutes with Paul, still playing over in Ron Basford Park with Koan. Lan, who was familiar with Granville Island, quipped that they were using the same bass player for all the groups to save on parking as he would take only one space. All of us laughed as we shared the experience of parking pain.

The time for the set arrived and Tommy had still not arrived, so Paul decided to start with a duo. For many pianists this would be a new challenge, but not for Paul. He has a very strong left hand and commonly uses the piano as a percussion instrument with the concept of pitch a distant second place consideration. This outing was no exception as the cluster chords and poly-rhythmic interchange filled the space.

Half-way through the first piece, Babin arrived on stage and was immediately plugged in and joined the work in progress. He provided a bridge between rhythm and piano that allowed Paul to become more melodic and concentrate his efforts on developing the compositional aspects of the piece. The ensemble played with fierce joy and were pushing the limits of their music-making abilities. Video and audio footage of the group were recorded so I will write in-depth when I have some of this material. It is one of Mr. Plimley’s best performances in recent years and introduced Cuban drummer, Gilberto Moreaux to Vancouver Jazz audiences and musicians. I am sure that he will become a regular feature at the Festival as his power, sensitivity and precision in excecuting multiple layers of poly-rhythmic texture would be a valuable assest in any ensemble.

After the show, I had to compliment Tommy Babin as I feel he is really coming in to his own as a bassist. I saw him several times during the festival and each time he impressed me with his ability to move between various jazz stylings with grace and ease. Earlier on Saturday afternoon, he turned me on to Tim Berne’s Blood Count, who closed the festival at the Ironworks, as being a big influence on him. After Tommy’s recommendation, I had to go for the first set and it was worth it just to hear that bassist and drummer mesh together. The saxophone harmonies moved from driving to ethereal, but it was the rhythm section that maintained the continuity and provided the floor for them to dance on.

In this concert, Tommy’s power was evident as he was matched with a muscular drummer and pounding pianist, but was always audible without being overpowering. His solos were engaging and displayed variety and intimate knowledge of the timbres available in both arco and plucked modes. Many bassists might have faded under the demands of this group after having played a long set with a very different ensemble, but Mr. Babin smiled through both sets as he dug ever deeper into the groove.

Tony Wilson closed the night in a very unexpected way with his Sextet covering works by Classical composer, Benjamin Britten. Tony is a great guitarist, but this was the first time I had ever heard him play arranged classical music. It was really interesting to hear him take off on one of his fiery jazz-fusion lead guitar solos integrated into the stately progressions, but it worked.

This was the real close of the jazz festival, all of the international artists had gone home and it was our own Canadian celebration. The quality of the music speaks for itself as all of these players had performed at a calibre we had come to expect over the 10 days of hearing top international performers. Deeply satisfied, I returned to my loaded van and drove home.

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Categories: Inspiration, VIX at Work
  1. August 17th, 2008 at 11:18 | #1

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

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