The Distillery Jazz Festival (Review)

Wednesday night I was down to the Distillery Jazz Festival, in the Distillery Historic District, in downtown Toronto. This area is such an excellent venue for this type of event, with restaurants, galleries and all kinds of great event space. I went specifically to see two performances, the Love Orchestra, of whom I have spoken, and what was billed as Love Mechaniques. Both performances were excellent — I may be a little biased, they’re friends of mine, but the responses I heard from others were equally complimentary.

The first performance I saw was the Love Orchestra in an innovative performance which incorporated the modern dance of the lovely Ming Hon (aka Aqua-Fuschia Citrus). Ming began the performance with a pantomime of opening a gift, which turned out to be a small electronic saxophone player. Ming started the sax man and began to imitate his movements. Once the sax man stopped, Ming shrugged her shoulders and the band began.

The Love Orchestra is comprised of Joel Joseph (sax/keys), Mark Cashion (bass), Rob Ritchie (guitar/effects) and Tim Shia (percussion) — Shia is pronounced more like Shaw than like Shee-a. They performed at their standard level of excellence, providing perfect accompaniment to Ming’s dance. Ming took a break for a moment, allowing the band to perform a couple of numbers on their own, one of which being the original composition Crowy or Glowy.

Ming returned with an experimental, improvisational number where the band members were blindfolded in an attempt to isolate their performance from Ming’s. The blindfolds were comical glasses, the big, bug-eye, the Groucho Marx eyebrows/nose/moustache, the “nerd” Coke-bottle bottoms, and the ever-popular eyeballs-on-springs. She removed the blindfolds from the band members one at a time, allowing their performance then to be influenced by her movements. The effect was quite compelling, even though I did not get the impression that the blindfolds altered the performance.

The next two groups I saw were less than sensational. Again, I was biased towards my friends’ performances. The first was by accident, the Love Orchestra were moving their equipment into Tankhouse 9 for their 2nd performance and I tagged along. The group that was in Tankhouse 9 at the time was Mr. Something Something (really, that’s their name). The program described them as: “World-funk dance contraption oriented with socially conscious lyrics and a positive message…” Well, I could hear the “world” and “funk” influences, but unfortunately I didn’t quite catch the lyrics or message. They sounded good and had some good energy, the alto sax was a little too prominent, but good nonetheless.

The other group was Indus Mingus. They sounded good and as far as I could tell were playing original material. They were billed as “Original hard-hitting jazz compositions with a South-East Asian twist”. I listened hard and then conferred with my well-jazz-educated friends and the conclusion was that the “South-East Asian twist” was the sax player, who may have been Asian. The rest of the group was white like vanilla pudding. Again, the band was good and had good energy, and they had a well-balanced sound.

Whew, this is getting long, but we’ve come to the last, and definitely not least, performance, the Love Mechaniques. The line-up was sufficiently different from the Love Orchestra to merit a different name, replacing Mark Cashion with Gordon Mowat on bass (definitely not due to talent, perhaps simple acoustics or esthetics) and adding Greg DeDenus on piano. The opening number was an original by guitarist Rob Ritchie (I didn’t catch the name of the tune), and was followed by the highlight of my evening, Howie Shia’s collection of short films, Sometimes Things Go Wrong At The Lounge Supreme.

What a fantastic show. The score was performed live by the Love Mechaniques (and written by drummer Tim Shia) and blended so perfecty into the story that the band disappeared and the music remained. The short films fit so excellently together that I really didn’t realize that I was watching five different stories, but just one multi-faceted story. And, I’ll be honest, I can only mention 4 and I know Howie will be upset with me for not remembering or being sufficiently moved to remember the fifth. We have the heroine of the story who is poisoned, dies and returns to life after an after-death vision; the man so consumed by his cyclical problem of falling into holes that he leaves his wife; the 2 girls with the superbly original, innovative and supremely fascinating storytelling; and, finally, the love triangle resulting in a fight resulting in an unexpected ending. Again, sorry, Howwie, I don’t remember the fifth story. The imagery and storytelling within the films is spectacular, and the animation is exquisitely detailed yet abstract and unique. Most of the performers in the films were in the audience and happily congratulated Howie on the finished product.

I will finish by saying that those of you who haven’t gotten out to some live jazz performances, you really should. And keep an open mind all the time, I know you may not get what you expect, but you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.