After an amazing opening weekend, the 2010 TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival continued on throughout the week and closing weekend with a series of concerts from great performers and, generally, just a lot of fun! And while I unfortunately had to miss a couple days of the festival while zipping off to Saskatoon to see a decidedly NON-jazz concert (Iron Maiden and Dream Theater), I still got to see a lot of great jazz, funk, hip-hop, and overall solid music descend on our little Canadian burgh.
The week started off with what is considered one of the greatest live acts around, the Roots. For those who aren't familiar, the Roots basically revolutionized hip-hop by not just introducing live instrumentation to the genre, but by doing it so freakin' well. The band, who can be seen every weeknight on NBC as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, includes some of the best musicians on earth, and incorporate all sorts of styles and genres into their live show -- hip-hop, rock, funk, and of course jazz.
I had been wanting to see them since I first discovered their music years ago, and it was absolutely amazing to be able to see them perform. Their set included some of their past and current tracks, along with long improvised sections featuring each of the band's members -- drummer Questlove and vocalist Black Thought (both founding members), guitarist Captain Kirk, bassist Owen Biddle, sousaphonist Tuba Gooding Jr., percussionist F Knuckles, and keyboardist Kamal Gray. While each player was given time to shine, the highlights were a percussion break-down with Questlove and F Knuckles, and a ripping section where Kirk played and sang a series of tunes ranging from jazz to rock and metal (including some "Sweet Child of Mine").
The crowd was dancing, cheering, and generally in awe of their musicianship for the entire 2-hour set, which was opened up by Magnum K.I., a rising group that espouses a lot of the same musicianship and live skills as the Roots, making them a perfect introduction to the legendary Roots Crew.
Following the Roots show at Pantages, Questlove put on his DJ hat and hosted a jam-packed set at the Pyramid, which he referred to as a lesson -- and he was dead on. There's no question why DJ Questlove has sold out venues around the world just for his spinning, and to experience his greatness live was quite fun to see.
While I didn't make it back on Wednesday in time to check out any of the shows I wanted to (Terence Blanchard with the WJO, the Keith Price Trio, and Cedric Burnside/Lightnin' Malcolm. However, I did hear amazing things from ShowbizMonkeys.com contributor Jeff Anseeuw about Cedric Burnside & Lightnin' Malcolm. Burnside, considered one of the top drummers in the world, was joined by guitarist Malcolm for a killer 2-man show that proved exciting enough at the Old Market Square lunchtime show on Wednesday that he had to check them out again at King's Head Pub on Wednesday night.
Thursday night, after a great Canada Day filled with BBQs, swimming, and fireworks, I made it down to The Pyramid for what was probably the most high-octane show of the entire fest -- and that's saying something, given that the last week had featured some of the best singers, musicians, and bands around. Featuring Canadian Kid Koala and American Dynomite D on 6 turntables, as well as the ex-rhythm section of Wolfmother (drummer Myles Heskett and guitarist/keyboardist Chris Ross), the music is hard to describe, but it has both groove and energy. The former Wolfmother members are used to playing stadiums, so they have more than enough power to get a club crowd going. Add in the crazy beats, spinning, and scratching of Kid Koala and Dynomite D, and you've got yourselves a phenomenal hour and a bit of great live entertainment.
The final weekend of every Winnipeg Jazz Festival always features live music every night at Old Market Square, and this year was no different. While the rest of the fest may feature top-notch international performers, none of those events have the party-style atmosphere of the outdoor latin-jazz and funk-infused dance fests. Even high temperatures and crazy humidity the whole weekend, plus rain on Saturday night, couldn't hinder the enthusiasm of the crowd all 3 nights.
Friday night was latin-themed, with Amanda Martinez (who I had also seen Friday afternoon at the lunch show) and Papa Mambo closing out the night. Saturday night featured Winnipeg's own Retro Rhythm Review, who played classic tunes of the 60s and 70s (including a killer show-closing rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody") and the New Zealand group fusing soul, jazz, and hip-hop, Opensouls. And for the 8th straight year, the Winnipeg Jazz Fest ended with a performance Sunday night of Winnipeg's Moses Mayes, who combine a DJ with guitar, bass, keys, percussion, and 2 horn players -- which funked up the packed Old Market Square until midnight.
As with many jazz festivals around Canada and the rest of the world, the Winnipeg Jazz Festival does a great job of featuring performers of different genres to diversify the music and thus the audience. But I think, more than most, they also definitely stay true to their jazz roots, which is important. While bands like the Roots, Buck 65, and the Slew brought out enthusiastic crowds that might normally avoid a jazz fest, it still remains jazz-centric, bringing in the likes of Roy Hargrove and Sonny Rollins. Even 16-year-old star Nikki "I Believe" Yanofsky, who closed out the theatre series Sunday night at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre, has her roots (and has done her strongest work) in jazz performance.
At the end of the day, the important thing is that it was a wonderful 10 days (+1 preview day) of great music -- and that's all that really matters. It's what music festivals are about, and it's what makes the Winnipeg Jazz Festival one of the top festivals in North America.
Paul Little is the founder and Managing Editor of ShowbizMonkeys.com. When not interviewing his favourite musicians and comedians, he can also be found at The Purple Room in Winnipeg, where he is Artistic Director. (@comedygeek)