Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Videos

I'm laying low for Christmas and New Year celebrations and taking a much-deserved break.
Here are some new recordings of my sextet on my
Youtube channel.  The video is kind of primitive, but the guys played amazingly well and Lawrence Wu did a great job recording things as usual. Hope you enjoy.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The More the Merrier

With Geoff and Emma (photo by Vincent Lim)
My friend Dave Branter (a great saxophonist and teacher) mentioned in an email how he likes being 'the old guy' in Colin MacDonald's Pocket Orchestra.  I'm not as old as Dave, but I do know how he feels. One of the best things about being a music educator is watching students mature technically and artistically into wonderful musicians with whom I get to perform.  That seems to be happening a lot in the past little while and I have really enjoyed it. Stefan Thordarson (violin) was on the Colin MacDonald Pocket Orchestra gig with me last Friday and I've also been playing with him Lyle Hopkins (bass) Trio.  The week before that I played the music of Jimmy Giuffre at the Tangent Cafe in a trio with Emma Postl (voice) and Geoff Claridge (clarinet).   Two weeks ago Luis Melgar was playing second trombone with the Hard Rubber Orchestra and I see that Jeff Gammon (bass) is playing with Steve Kaldestad at the Cellar this coming week a.  In a few weeks I'll be playing in Bill Clark's band with John Paton (sax).  We've been featuring Capilano U students at Presentation House each week since September and I've heard some really good music from students.  This past week at the BCMEA conference I ran into a whole bunch of my students who have gone on to be really successful school music teachers and players. It just feels good to see people continuing the tradition of bringing beauty into the world.
Stefan with CMPO between two other talented
young players, Elyse Jacobsen and Doug Gorkoff.
CMPO w. Dave, me Stefan and great
 musicians of various generations.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fraser MacPherson Scholarship Rides Again!

Some of you who read this blog may recall that a year or so ago I made a somewhat panicked call for volunteers for the Fraser MacPherson Scholarship Fund board.  Some members of the old board had retired and my friend and board member, Jeremy Hepner, tragically passed away.  At the time of that call for volunteers, I had very little response or enthusiasm and even as recently as August of this year, it seemed the organization would cease to exist.  Those of you who knew me 'back in the day' know that Fraser MacPherson is one of the main reasons I play music today and I didn't want to see this great memorial to his life and music fade away.  Fred Stride and I decided we'd make one more attempt to keep it going.  

It brings me great pleasure to announce that after taking a year off for restructuring and renewal, the Fraser MacPherson Scholarship Fund is back.   It is great to have so many new people on board who are willing to help including Cory Weeds, James Danderfer, Guy MacPherson, Fred Stride, Dennis Esson, Dave Robbins, Alan Matheson and others. There are lots of exciting plans on the horizon.  In addition to the scholarship, we will be offering a series of free workshops and masterclasses for student musicians. the first of these will happen on Dec. 7, 2013 and will feature legendary drummer, Louis Hayes.  Check out the new website for details on application deadlines, application forms etc. and come back frequently for updates.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

ZAP! CD Release gig Sept 6

Hello Everyone and Happy New Year to my Jewish friends.

I'm back on the blog after a much-needed summer break.  There are lots of new things going on in my life right now, but the most interesting one this week is the release of the Dave Robbins Electric Band CD, "ZAP!", on the Cellar Live label.
I'm really proud of what we have done on this recording and truly feel honoured to be in the company of such fine musicians. The CD release gig is at the Cellar Jazz Club on Sept. 6 - a great way to end your Rosh Hashanah holiday!
To reserve a table at the club, call 604-738-1959

You can order the CD or purchase a digital download here:

If you can't make it to this one, we'll be at Pat's Pub on Sept 14 and Presentation House Studio on Sept. 25.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Good Friends and Good Music

Last night was my 40th Birthday Concert.  It was really great to have so many friends there to play music and to listen, to eat and to talk.  I am so grateful to have such loyal, generous, and talented friends and family that fill my life with music, joy, and meaning.

The band: Al, Evan Stan, Lorne, Brad, Curtis, Dennis, Len, Me, Clyde
The music was a real variety show including my Quartet with Len and curtis as guests, the Quartet with Dennis and Brad in various trombone duels, a duo with Stan, quintet with Evan, Stan, Clyde and Brad, and a rousing version of "Footprints" to end the night.  The feeling in the room was truly uplifting and beautiful all evening.  Thanks everyone!

Next up is Pat's Pub on Saturday with Dave Robbins Electric, opening for Scofield on Tuesday with that same band, then Len Aruliah Sextet at Place Des Arts on the 29th, my sextet at Granville Island on Canada Day, then on to the South Delta jazz festival from July 2-6 and, finally, a gig with len's sextet at El Barrio on July 11.

I'm really looking forward to this intense period of music making.
Please come out to the gigs and say hello!

Here's a short except from the final tune of the concert:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

June and July Gigs

Hi All

June and July are looking amazing with a lot of fun gigs to play.  I'll be celebrating my 40th birthday, then Vancouver Jazz Fest time will be upon us, followed immediately by South Delta Jazz Festival, my musical BFFs, Len Aruliah  and Rob Kohler will be in town....I'm positively buzzing with excitement about every one of these events.  Life is good!  Hope to see some of you blog readers out at these shows.

  • June 6 Lyle Hopkins String Trio. Propohouse Café, 8-10pm
  • June 8 Lyle Hopkins String Trio.  X-Cite Grill (El Barrio) 9:30- late
  • June 19 Jared’s 40th Birthday Party – Jared Burrows Quartet plus many guest musicians.  Presentation House Studio 8:00-10:30pm. $10 at the door.
  • June 22 Dave Robbins’ Electric Band.  Pat’s Pub. 3-7pm.
  • June 25 Dave Robbins Electric Band. (opening for John Scofield!!!) Vancouver Jazz Fest event at Vogue Theatre.  See for details
  • June 29 Len Aruliah Sextet at Place Des Arts, Coquitlam. 7pm.
  • July 1 Jared Burrows SextetVancouver Jazz Fest. Event at  Ron Basford Park  at Granville Island. 5:30pm  See for details
  • July 2-5 South Delta Jazz Festival – performances at noon every day with various bands.  Ladner Community Centre. See for details
  • July 5 Jazz Workshop Faculty Octet. St. John's Anglican Church, Ladner. 8pm. See for details
  • July 11 Len Aruliah Sextet at X-Cite Grill (El Barrio) 9:30- late

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Simulacrum: My Blog Post About a Blog

I spent the long weekend on holiday away from telephones and internet.  Mostly I paddled a canoe, chopped wood, and sat by a campfire. Coming back to 'civilization' was especially difficult this time for some reason.

In post-modern cultural theory, the term simulacrum refers to a copy of a copy where the relationship to the authentic and original has been lost or disconnected.   The distorted, disconnected copy becomes its own reality.  Is the internet the great simulacrum?  Are we living in it? It seems so to me at times, especially when I spend so much time updating websites, blogs, youtube channels, facebook etc.  It seems so much energy is poured into the virtual world that we often have little left for the real world, whatever that is.  What would Jean Baudrillard say if he were here?

Of course, all this talk is just an excuse to draw you deeper into the simulacrum of the blogosphere and invite you to visit the new Capilano U Jazz Studies Blog.  In my new gig as co-ordinator of the Jazz Studies Dept. at Capilano U, I am making an attempt to toot our horn (pun intended!) a little louder on social media and spread the word about the cool people who study and work at our school and the amazing (and very real and authentic) things they do.

And, in the event that you have not spent enough time in the simulacrum today, you can also visit our Cap Jazz youtube channel  or our facebook group.   Baudrillard does have a page on facebook and I did invite him to join, but he hasn't responded yet.  Don't worry, I hear facebook is working on a way to get status updates from the Great Beyond so I expect to hear from him any day now.

Meanwhile, I will hold on to what is left of my real life by drawing the line at tweeting or owning a cell phone.........

Friday, May 3, 2013


In early 2005 I got a phone call from Hari Pal, a tabla player who had just moved to town.  He asked if I was interested in playing music in an Indian classical style.  I was immediately interested as I had always been intrigued by Indian classical music, though I had no understanding of how it worked.  We had a short try-out session at SFU where I was a PhD student in Education at the time.  We played for about 30 minutes and Hari said, "You are very strong in rhythm.  This will work."  Very shortly after that, Hari contacted me to say he had found a sarode player by the name of Ken Wells and that we should try to make some music.  We hit it off very well and both Ken and Hari started showing me the rudiments of raga and tala - just enough to get me into real trouble!

Hari is a real go-getter and soon after that one rehearsal he set up a concert for us.  I have always been wont to jump in at the deep end. We quickly put together some traditional tunes by Ali Akbar Khan (Ken's guru), and I wrote a couple of original things.  The concert went extremely well and luckily someone had a video camera and some kind of audio recorder.  This video has been languishing in an outmoded file format on a broken DVD-R disc until today when I figured out how to extract the data and put the old video together with the audio from another source.  There are a few glitches in the video which have been filled in with still images, but the music is pretty good.  I must say that I am surprised listening to this eight years later at the fact that I did so well on my first time out. 

This show was the start of a long and very fruitful relationship with Hari and Ken in the band Ta Ki Ta and also the beginning (and I'm still just at the beginning 8 years later) of my study of Indian classical music and further collaborations with other musicians from the Hindustani and Karnatic traditions.

More video from this concert to follow if I can salvage it....

New Video - Lyle Hopkins String Trio

One of the really great things about teaching in the Jazz Studies Department at Capilano University is that I get to meet young students with outrageous amounts of talent and musicality.  Lyle Hopkins (bass) and Stefan Thordarson (violin) are two of those wonderful musicians.  Lyle graduated from our program last year and Stefan should graduate next year.  I have watched them develop from quite raw beginnings into mature players with a lot of depth, confidence, and vision.  While teaching Lyle in an ensemble class a few years ago, I had the pleasure of introducing him to the music of the Jimmy Giuffre Trio and showing him some notational ideas I had developed for structuring improvisations.  Based on his interest in the Giuffre material, Lyle wrote some new music and invited me to join his trio.

Fortunately, I was able to record the performance at Presentation House Studio last Wednesday with video and audio.  Unfortunately, a helicopter kept hovering over the venue and spoiling the might hear a bit of that at the end of this clip.  At any rate, it was a fun gig and so much fun to play with these fine fellows.  Here we are playing Stef's tune, "You're Wearing My Shirt".

I am finally learning to edit video a little better these days. I am doing this because young people seem to be more interested in accessing music through youtube than by buying CDs.  That used to distress me to some degree, but I think I am getting used to it.  The video is just fine as is, but I do wish you could hear the sound as it was recorded in 24bit 96khz resolution. Here is Lyle's tune, "Little Bit".

Thursday, April 25, 2013

South Delta Jazz Workshop 10th Anniversary Edition

The South Delta Jazz Festival and Jazz Workshop celebrates its 10th anniversary this year!  This year's event runs July 2-6.

The Workshop is a summer music program focused on jazz improvisation and small ensemble playing. The Festival provides a variety of jazz concerts and events centred around and easily accessible to the community that supports us. Students learn to play jazz through intensive small ensemble rehearsals, daily faculty concerts, masterclasses, ear training and improvisation classes in a fun and friendly environment that nurtures our student’s unique talents and abilities. Both audience members and students get a chance to develop relationships with our amazing group of teachers and performers from Vancouver, the US and the UK. The teaching component of SDJW and many of our concert events take place in and around the very relaxed riverside community of Ladner Village.
The Workshop is open to players of any instrument and singers age 12 and up, but jazz camp isn’t just for kids! Adults are very welcome at SDJW and we always have a strong contingent of mature and semi-pro players around. For many of our students, SDJW is a great opportunity to take a week off from their regular jobs and just focus on music. Musicians of all levels from beginner through college and university are welcome. We provide a fun and friendly environment that nurtures each student’s unique talents and abilities. 
Registration is open now and early-bird discounts are available no until May 30.
In addition to our usual amazing international faculty, this year we will have percussionist Curtis Andrews as a special guest faculty member.  Curtis will be teaching us West African music on a daily basis and we will incorporate what we learn into our jazz playing.  I'm really looking forward to playing with and learning from Curtis.
I must say that there were many times when I never thought we'd never get here.  It has been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. The best thing about staying around for 10 years is the community of friends, students, faculty, and audience that has developed.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Performance with Daniela Elza, April 24

I'm playing this week with members of the Vancouver Improvisers Orchestra and acclaimed poet, Daniela Elza.  Musicians will be Clyde Reed (bass), Emma Postl (voice), Duncan Maunders (alto sax), Stephen Robb (clarinet), Rory Hislop (trumpet) and me (guitar).

Clyde Reed and I have collaborated with Daniela and other poets on several occasions and I really enjoy it.  We don't usually read the poetry beforehand, but focus on reacting musically to what we are hearing. To get an idea of how this works, have a look at the clip below from the 2012 Words and Music series at the Prophouse Cafe.

Hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, April 24
Presentation House Studio
333 Chesterfield, North Vancouver
$10 at the door
Free tea and cookies

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Concert Review: Dave Liebman at Capilano University

Last night at Capilano University our students had the wonderful opportunity to perform with saxophone legend, Dave Liebman.  Liebman performed with Capilano's top large ensembles, the A Band jazz orchestra and the vocal jazz ensemble, Nitecap.  I had the pleasure of playing some tunes with Liebman and his band  (with Phil Markowitz and Jamey Haddad) when I was a graduate student in Oregon many years ago and his playing and personality made quite an impression on me.  Indeed many of the things I learned in that short but intense exchange have stayed with me as central aspects of my playing and approach to music.  He is one of the true masters of the music today and a living link to the great musicians he has worked with including Elvin Jones and Miles Davis.

Of peripheral interest to last night's show was the fact that Liebman had been stuck in Chicago for more than 24 hours waiting for a flight to Vancouver and was unable to make the scheduled rehearsal times with the student ensembles the day before the show.  In fact, our Capilano ensembles had only an hour or so each to rehearse a concert of very challenging music - and all of this in the middle of exam week!  I was so impressed by the level of musicianship that our students displayed in taking on this huge musical task.  Also part of the back-story to this gig is that Liebman's horn was broken when he arrived and he was rushed over to the fine fellows at Massulo Music  to have it repaired just before he concert.  I'm surprised he had the time to eat and change his clothes - there was certainly no time for sleep or rest of any kind after grueling days stuck in an airport.

None of these trials seemed to have affected Liebman's playing.  He is obviously a true road-warrior of the old school.  His complete mastery of the soprano saxophone and the power of his unique improvisational language were truly awe-inspiring. I can't remember having seen or heard anyone play any instrument like that for several years.  He certainly didn't hold back because he was playing with student ensembles and the students responded by pushing themselves to the utmost.   His compositions were equally impressive in scope and originality.  The A Band portion of the show featured excellent arrangements of his music by Jim McNeely and Vince Mendoza and the band was ably directed by my friend, Brad Turner.  I know Brad is a big fan of Liebman's music and seemed just as excited as the students to be sharing the stage with the great man.   Brad's incredible talents as a player give him a unique insight and intuition as a director that is a pleasure to see and hear.  All the students played really well and managed to navigate some very tricky charts with great energy and creativity.

For the Nitecap portion of the show, Réjean Marois, the ensemble's director, had arranged Liebman's music for SATB choir and rhythm section.  In my opinion, Réjean is the finest vocal arranger anywhere and his work for this show proved that to be true once again.   As much as I enjoyed the big band music, I must say that I thought his arrangements were a much more interesting setting for the soprano saxophone.   Liebman made special mention of the fact that he had never performed his music with a vocal ensemble before and it was a wonderful textural and timbral experience to hear his horn (and penny whistle on a couple of occasions!) blend with the high soprano voices.  Indeed, this setting seemed to emphasize the liquid, vocal quality of Liebman's playing and sound. His compositions take a comprehensive view of 20th century harmonic practices, incorporating the richness of both jazz and classical traditions. The singers did an amazing job with some of these very challenging harmonies and the rhythm section players were pushed to their limits to match the surprising twists and turns of Liebman's wild melodic inventions. I think the audiences at Cap are used to hearing Nitecap perform all this 'impossible' music so they don't really understand how unique and beautiful it is that our program supports such an amazing community of vocalists. Réjean has worked so hard to develop our Jazz Studies program over the years and has put in so much effort behind the scenes to make concerts like this happen.  It is nice to see him in situations like this, reaping the rewards of creating a tradition of hard work and high standards among the students.

I feel very lucky to be working with such dedicated and talented colleagues and students and I'm inspired by their excellence!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gig with Rich Halley TONIGHT

I'm playing tonight at presentation House Studio with the great tenor player, Rich Halley.  Rich is based in Portland and is one of the great lights of the West Coast scene.  Bill Milkowski of the Jazz Times says, "A free rider from the Left Coast, tenor saxophonist-composer Rich Halley is a powerful player with one foot in the Coleman Hawkins-Don Byas camp and the other confidently striding into the edgier realms of such ferocious players as David S. Ware and, at his most intense, Peter Brötzmann or Albert Ayler... In New York, he’d be a star on the avant-garde scene; but for now, you have to fly to Portland to see this tenor titan perform."  Well tonight you don't even have to go to Portland because he is here playing with me, Clyde Reed (bass) and Joe Poole (drums).
Our rehearsal yesterday promises some very exciting music this evening.  Rich has an amazing sound and energy.  Above all, I would say he is a truly authentic player that plays with a lot of honesty and emotional intensity.  No canned licks, no showing off, no pretense -  just playing from the heart.  I'm really excited about this one. Clyde and Joe will be their usual wonderfully creative selves, swinging like mad and instigating all kinds of musical twists and turns. We'll do some of my tunes and some of Rich's.
Come on out and hear for yourself!

Wednesday, April 17
333 Chesterfield, North Vancouver
$10 at the door
Free tea and cookies

Monday, April 1, 2013

Gigs This Week

On Wednesday, April 3, I will be playing at Presentation House Studio with Bill Clark (trumpet), Clyde Reed (bass) and Joe Poole (drums).  This is our third gig together and I think the band is playing very well.  We have been using the music of Ornette Coleman as a springboard for group improvisation which tend to travel far afield. A few of my original tunes will make their way in this time as well.  Clyde has worked with Bill for more than 30 years and I have known and played with him since my musical infancy.  There is something magical about the level of musical trust that can only develop through this kind of long association and collaboration. The Joe/Clyde connection is relatively recent in comparison but I think they make one of the most buoyant and flexible rhythm sections ever, with a sound quite reminiscent of the Charlie Haden/Billy Higgins unit of the mid 1960s.  I'm very excite to play with these guys again and very pleased that we will be making audio and video recordings of the event.  As usual, the show starts at 8pm, 333 Chesterfield St, North Vancouver, $10 at the door gets you free tea and cookies, a great evening of music, and a wonderful social time with the jazz community that has developed around this venue.

The following night, April 4, I will be at the Kozmik Zoo with Brad Muirhead's band.  I have been playing Brad's music for many years, but this quartet is a relatively recent phenomenon with Lyle Hopkins (bass) and Bernie Arai (drums).  Brad's music is not always easy for musicians to play.  There are some tricky technical bits, but mostly it is challenging for new players in the band to understand the concepts that Brad has developed around the relationship of freedom and structure, composition and improvisation. He truly has a unique way of making music. I think Bernie and Lyle has done an amazing job of figuring that out and this is probably the most successful and musically satisfying version of the quartet that I have ever played with. Poster below has the details.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rob Kohler Concerts and Residency

LA bass player, Rob Kohler, will soon be arriving for some performances and a residency at Capilano University Jazz Studies Dept.  Rob has been one of my best friends and most frequent collaborators since we met in Oregon in 1997. He is one of the best musicians and music educators I know and among the finest, kindest, and most genuine men on the planet.

Click HERE to find some audio and video of Rob and I playing together in the Delta Quartet.

In addition to working with my students at Capilano U, Rob will be playing some concerts as listed below.
Hope to see some of you blog readers at one of the shows!

March 26, 11:30am
Rob Kohler Quartet
Capilano University
Room Fir 113, Free admission
Rob Kohler  plus Hugh Fraser (piano), Dave Robbins (drums), Jared Burrows (guitar)

March 27, 8pm
Vancouver Improvisers Orchestra featuring Rob Kohler
Presentation House Studio
333 Chesterfield St, North Vancouver
$10 at the door

March 28, 7:30pm
Rob Kohler Quartet
Delta Community Music School
4705 Arthur Drive, Ladner, BC
Rob Kohler plus Brad Turner (piano/trumpet), Dave Robbins (drums), Jared Burrows (guitar)
Tickets here:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Videos from Chad Makela Group Gig

Here are some videos from a recent gig on February 13 with Chad Makela's group.  Chad is a marvelous musician and is the 'first call' baritone sax player in Vancouver, but surprised me by coming with his alto for this gig...and what a pleasant surprise it was.  I love his sound on this horn and his unique linear concept. The tunes were also a lot of fun to play. This was the first appearance for this particular band and I was sight-reading the music, but I think it worked out very well.  It was an exciting night and a really enthusiastic and intensely listening crowd.

I am very fortunate to play with Dave Robbins (drums) a lot.  Look for an exciting announcement about the Dave Robbins Electric Band CD and a very big gig in the near future. He sounds great on these videos and brings his usual high levels of energy and enthusiasm.  Darren Radtke and I were students in college together 20 years ago and used to play together all the time but for some reason have only played a handful of times since then.  We both felt that Something of our old connection came though on this gig. He is such a beautifully melodic bass player.

This was also my first attempt at video recording and editing.  This is pretty simple at this point as I am just recording single-camera video and 2-track stereo audio on separate devices and syncing them up with Adobe Premiere.  I learned a lot on this one so the next videos should be better.  My friend Lawrence Wu has been doing some multi-camera video at some of the other shows at Presentation House Studio and I may try my hand at those soon.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sangati Concert video on Youtube

The "Sangati" concert mentioned in my last blog entry worked out very well.  What makes it even better is the fact the we were able to document it with high quality audio, video and photographs.

Here is a video excerpt from one of the tunes.  More to come soon!

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Hi All,

I am really excited about some upcoming gigs.  

I have been collaborating with the wonderful percussionist, Curtis Andrews, for about three years now.  He is a Newfoundlander with global musical interests, having studied the music of Africa and South India extensively through long stays in those parts of the world.  He has the marvelous ability not only to play masterfully in those styles of music, but to blend them seamlessly with his knowledge of rock, jazz, funk, or whatever other music reaches his ears and hands.  Of peripheral interest to our story is the fact that the Andrews family hails from Port de Grave, Newfoundland.  Many of my ancestors by the name of French and Mercer have also lived in Port de Grave and in the neighbouring settlements of French's Cove and Bareneed since the mid-1600's, as did some of my wife's ancestors.  Though you'd never think it from looking at pictures of Curtis and I, we may well be distantly related in some way as these little fishing and sealing ports were very isolated.  

On February 16 at 8pm at the Western Front, I will be performing with Curtis in a concert of music from and inspired by South India.  Sangati (coming together) is the name of the concert and it really will be a coming together of a variety of different musical styles under the tent of Karnatic (South Indian) music,  Curtis will play the mridangam, Colin Maskell will play flute and we will be joined by some real masters of Karnatic music including Vidyasagar Vankayala (voice), Prabha Sivaratnam (violin), and Karthiga Parmaswaran (veena).  Many of you know that I have worked with Hindustani (North Indian) classical musicians for several years now in my band Ta Ki Ta.  Karnatic  music is related, but very different in some ways and I am incredibly excited to be working on this music and to have the very rare opportunity to play with a group like this. As always, learning Curtis' compositions is a challenge which is stretching my musical abilities.  The ligaments in my legs are also stretching as playing the music requires sitting cross-legged on the ground for long periods!

The Presentation House Studio series continues to be a very cool place for me to collaborate with other musicians.  I am playing there a lot more than usual this season and it may seem to some like I am just booking myself in week after week, but really it is only because people are asking me to work with them in various groups.  For this I am very grateful and excited.

This week, February 6, will see Clyde Reed (bass) and I working with three great musicians from the States.  Unfortunately I can't tell you their names here as they don't want to be hassled by the border people. If you want the full line-up and details, please email me privately and I'll get you on our mailing list.

The following week at Presentation House, February 13, I will be playing with the amazing baritone saxophonist, Chad Makela.  Joining us on this gig will be Dave Robbins (drums) and Darren Radke (bass).  We'll play standards and some tunes of Chad's.  I have known Chad since 1990 when we were just fresh out of high school.  He played bari in my East Van Jazz Orchestra project while it was happening, but other than that we haven't played much together over the years.  Likewise, Darren Radke and I have been friends since college days but haven't played as often as we should have.  I am glad to be changing both those situations, especially since I work at Capilano U with both of them and see them nearly every day.  Chad is an incredible player with a completely unique voice on the instrument and has few equals in musical intensity and technical mastery of the horn.

Hope to see some of you at the shows!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Concert review - The Baroque Saxophone

Happy New Year everyone!
It has been a long time since I blogged here, but I needed a break from everything non-essential and, as much fun as it can be,  I'm afraid my blogging falls into that category.  No matter, I am turning over a new leaf and resolve to do this just a little bit more this year.

I started my new year off right by attending "The Baroque Saxophone" concert at Douglas College on January 3rd. When we got to the hall, my daughter looked at the program and said, "Dad, I didn't think they had saxophones in the 17th century." She was quite right of course, but Colin MacDonald proved convincingly that the instrument is right at home in baroque music.  Indeed, as you can see from the picture here, his cavalier-style moustache and gorgeous curling locks make it seem as though he himself would be very much at home in this era. This is Colin's everyday appearance. Yes, he always looks this good and yes, I am jealous of all that hair. Now on to the important stuff....

On this concert he was joined by cellist, Stefan Hintersteininger and Christina Hutten at the harpsichord. The program comprised 3 works of Vivaldi: Concerto in F Major (RV 455), Sonata for Cello (RV 46), and Concerto in E Minor (484), Handel's Trio  Sonata in G minor (HWW 387), and a new work by Colin, Folie à Deux.

The concert featured both soprano and baritone saxophones. I have heard a number of players tackle baroque repertoire on the soprano before. In the world of classical saxophone, it is a relatively straightforward and not uncommon leap to adapt oboe and flute repertoire to the instrument. The baritone sax, however, is another animal entirely. In MacDonald's hands, the instrument sounds like a giant bassoon; it is beautifully warm and rich and fluid with none of the edge and grit that one might expect from the jazz heritage of the horn. As both a solo voice and in the continuo role, the sound of the bari sax seemed to blend effortlessly with the ensemble, especially with the harpsichord in the largo section of Sonata IV and in playing harmonized melodies in duet with the cello in the Handel Trio Sonata.  The effortlessness was, of course, a beautiful illusion made possible by a level of virtuosity that was deeply impressive to this musician.

Having heard Stefan Hintersteininger's playing only in the context of 'new music' (we both play in Colin's Pocket Orchestra) I was very much impressed with his baroque playing, probably because his interpretation is just the way I like to hear music of this period: rhythmically driving and not too much in the way of romantic vibrato. In the continuo role, Stefan was very much the engine of the trio. He manages a spritely and light, reedy articulation very much reminiscent of a period instrument performance. Ms. Hutten's playing was completely new to me and equally enjoyable.  She has a wonderful sense of the decorative aspects of continuo playing and played a delicate and detailed foil to Stefan's relentless drive, sometimes pushing for a little space and interpretive stretching of phrase.  Best of all, she had meticulously tuned the harpsichord.  The frigid winds that swirl about the concert hall at Douglas College must have made that a tricky task! Something like tuning may sound trivial, but in fact this is a notoriously difficult thing to do well and, to my ear, often lacking in some other baroque performances I have seen recently.

For me, the real highlight of the concert was the premier of Colin's new work, Folie à Deux, a piece loosely based on the renaissance melody, La Folia. His style as a composer is very much in the tradition of minimalist and post-minimalist composers such as Nyman, Adams, and Glass, but Colin builds effectively on this tradition adding a welcome measure of melodicism, emotional expansiveness, and a more rapid development and transformation of repeated material.  The middle section of the work featured the timbral revelation of pizzicato cello, harpsichord and slap-tongued soprano saxophone.  I have heard and played a lot of music, but this was a completely new and delicious treat for my ears.  The texture and dance-like rhythms evoked the spirit of the baroque, but with completely fresh accents of odd meters and jazz-like harmonies. As someone who has worked a lot on music that attempts to blend traditions, I can testify that a true fusion of this sort is not easily achieved.  Once again Colin's meticulous musicianship and virtuosity as a player and composer made this potentially difficult mixture sound absolutely effortless and natural.

Colin is one of those musicians that really make me feel happy and privileged to live and make music in Vancouver. If you haven't heard his playing or composing yet you can read all about him and listen to his music here at his website.