What: The UC Drama Program Director’s shows Where: UC Helen Gardner Playhouse When: Tonight at 9PM, Tomorrow (Sunday) at 4PM Tickets: firstname.lastname@example.org or at the door (come early, it will be a full house), FREE Lauren Gillis’s masterful directorial debut, Alkestis, an adaptation of Euripedes’s play, is at once hilarious, clever, very well acted, and an extremely cohesive piece of work: it’s one of the best directed plays I’ve seen in years, made even more amazing by its novice director. Alkestis is a strange combination of tragedy, comedy, and satire, and Gillis’s production hits each of these notes marvelously and perfectly. The cast is remarkably good and pulls off these myriad moods, perfectly switching seamlessly between them in an instant. Alkestis is the strange story of how Alkestis, the wife of King Admetus, agrees to take his place in Hades so that he can still live, and how Admetus copes with the loss of his wife; somewhere in there Heracles shows up on his mission which provides an immense amount of comedy. But this is …
Chico and Rita is a lovely animated film about two Cuban jazz musicians in the late 1940s and early 1950s: Chico is a talented pianist and Rita is a one-of-a-kind singer. They meet and fall in love but they face many obstacles that separate them, from miscommunications to the schism that occurs after the Cuban revolution which leaves Chico stuck in Cuba, unable to play his music, and Rita in the United States, unable to fulfill her musical potential because she is black.
I saw Achero Mañas’s brilliant film, Noviembre, at TIFF in 2003 and absolutely loved it. It won the audience choice award and for good reason; it was a masterpiece. Eight years later and I still haven’t managed to find a copy of it on DVD and it certainly never received a theatrical release in North America. So when I discovered that Mañas would be bringing his latest film, Anything You Want, to this year’s TIFF, I jumped at the opportunity to see the master at work once more.
Anything You Want is a sad and poignant story of how Leo, a family-law lawyer in Madrid who spends little time with his own family, must cope with taking care of his four-year-old daughter, Dafne, when her mother, his wife, passes away. At first, Leo feels completely incapable of handling the responsibility. We watch him break down into tears in front of his father as he admits his fear and anxiety about taking on the role of both mother and father, when he was so used to having Alicia be the primary caretaker for Dafne. His struggle is exacerbated by Dafne’s grief and alienation from him: Dafne refuses to kiss him or hug him and wants solely to speak to and be comforted by her mother.
Pinoy Sunday is a movie about a red couch. More specifically, it’s a movie about Manuel and Dado, two Filipino migrant factory workers in Taiwan, who dream of luxury and better days, and discover a discarded red couch on a Sunday, their day off. They decide to carry the couch back to the dormitory where they live so that one day they might be able to relax under the stars, drinking beer, stretched out on their couch, after a hard day’s work.
The films of Jean-Luc Godard have rarely been accessible, are often slow, but almost always, even the worst ones, have at least a few moments of sheer brilliance and stunning photography throughout. Film Socialisme, Godard’s newest film, which had its North American premiere at TIFF, is certainly slow and inaccessible. In fact, this was by far the slowest and least accessible Godard film I’ve seen, which means that the 10-minute traffic scene in Weekend and the pain that was Masculin Feminin are a rollicking good fast-paced time by comparison. Unfortunately, Godard’s trademark genius and exquisite photography are also often lacking in this film. He seems unaware of what the strengths of the film are; the few small glimpses of greatness are overshadowed by a long and disconnected mess.
Although the primary language of the film is French, and there is at least some dialogue in Russian and Arabic, the film has no subtitles. Intentionally. I am almost fluent in French and can follow along with all of the dialogue and yet, I did not feel like that helped me much in understanding either what was happening in the film or what the point was. There are no characters. There is no plot. Not only is there no plot, but also there is no story. People appear and talk at each other or at the camera now and then, but these can hardly be described as “characters” since they are in no way emotionally involving and the nonsense they spurt can only be understood by the select few that happen to speak the language.
This year’s Toronto Jazz Festival played host to two legendary groups in two awe-inspiring and sold-out venues: The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Koerner Hall on Tuesday and The Keith Jarrett Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette at The Four Seasons Opera Centre on Wednesday. The Dave Brubeck Quartet gave a solid performance but one that has become somewhat less of a novelty since it was nearly identical to his concert last year and the year before. The Keith Jarrett Trio, on the other hand, gave a concert of sheer ingenuity and brilliance from start to finish, though I’d expect nothing less from this group of masters.
On Monday night, I squeezed into a horribly uncomfortable, plastic seat down at Nathan Phillips Square to enjoy what can only be described as a fabulous evening of jazz music, albeit with lame acoustics. The Dave Young Quartet opened the evening with local jazz piano virtuoso Robi Botos, Botos’s brother Frank on drums, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, and band leader Dave Young on bass. The group played a solid set which included “Me and the Boys” by Coleman Hawkins, “Mean What You Say”, Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing”, and a very beautiful Danish folksong. The band was at its best when Dave Young and Robi Botos took centre stage, either with the melody or their melodious solos. These two are very talented Canadian musicians, staples of the Toronto jazz scene and for good reason.
After intermission, the high energy Stanley Clarke Band featuring Hiromi took the stage by storm with Clarke on electric and acoustic bass, Hiromi on a Yamaha grand piano, Ruslan Sirota on keyboards, and Ronald Bruner Jr on drums. Clarke started out the evening with some electric bass, which proves that if he were a less serious musician he could have been a seriously big-time rock star: he’s cool, he’s assured, and he’s incredibly good. Clarke took good advantage of the portability of the electric bass to move around the stage and play some great call and response music with each of his musicians, standing up close to them, one by one, and jamming.
At the end of the first piece, an audience member shouted out “You’re the king, Stanley” and Clarke responded “I’m just a bass player, that’s all”. But he is the king, not because he can be a rock star, but because of his incredible talent and skill on the bass. He is a one-of-a-kind bass player who can take the melody and have it work, who can play at the top and the bottom of the piece, and who can make melodic music with just a few notes. Of course, his mastery is best show-cased on what is thankfully his preferred instrument, the acoustic bass. After the first piece, much to my surprise and glee, Clarke set aside his electric bass in favour of the acoustic bass, and moved us into some middle ground between jazz and jazz fusion, but far enough away from pure fusion that I was happy. It was especially a treat to hear some pieces from the “Jazz in the Garden” album such as Clarke’s “Paradigm Shift (Election Day)”.
What: James Farm Band (including Joshua Redman) When: June 30th @ 7PM Where: Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront, $40 at the door or order online at Ticketmaster More Information: Check out the James Farm myspace page to hear some great music samples. Joshua Redman is one of the best jazz saxophonists and composers in the jazz scene today, so it was a great honour to interview him for BlogUT last week; he’ll be coming to Toronto on June 30th with his new collaborative project, James Farm. With clear influences ranging from his father, Dewey Redman, to saxophonist Sonny Rollins, Joshua Redman has developed his own unique style. It is a style that is very inventive and innovative, which so often makes you want to tap your feet, dance, and listen very closely. His albums have only gotten better and better. He is a very cerebral musician, articulate both in his performance and in his discussion of music, with a great sense of humour. Luckily for the music world, after completing his undergraduate degree at Harvard University …
What: The Stanley Clarke Band featuring Hiromi When: June 28th @ 8PM Where: Nathan Phillips Square, buy tickets online at Ticketmaster or arrive very early and purchase tickets at the door. More Information: Check out this recent performance video for a taste of the music or go to Stanley Clarke’s website for a sampling of the new Stanley Clarke Band album released on June 15th. On Wednesday, I caught up with the great jazz pianist, Hiromi, for a telephone interview, before her performance in Toronto at the Jazz Festival with Stanley Clarke on June 28th at Nathan Phillips Square. Hiromi recently recorded the wonderful jazz trio album “Jazz in the Garden” with Stanley Clarke, one of the best albums of 2009, and now they are touring together over the summer. When you hear Hiromi playing impressive stride piano, you would never guess that her small hands can only stretch an octave: it certainly doesn’t sound like it! How does she do it? “It requires a lot of practicing to be able to play the right notes …
What: Alex Pangman & Her Alleycats, Free Concert When: Friday, June 25th @ 5PM Where: Nathan Phillips Square, Afterworks Series, TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival On Monday, BlogUT caught up with Canadian jazz singer and composer, Alex Pangman, for a telephone interview, before her performance kicks off the Toronto Jazz Festival at Nathan Phillips Square on June 25th at 5PM with a free concert. Sometimes referred to as “Canada’s Sweetheart of Swing”, Ms Pangman specializes in standards from the 1920s up until about the mid 1940s, and refers to herself as an “anachronism in her time”. As the Toronto Star once wrote, “It’s time-travel magic whenever Alex Pangman breathes into a microphone and evokes the great jazz femmes of the 1920s, 30s and 40s.” I first saw Ms Pangman at the Old Mill in November 2009, picked up her Live in Montreal album, listened to it on loop for weeks, and went back for more at her Reservoir Lounge gig last week. Ms Pangman also plays some country music but, she says, “Jazz is …