The Globe and Mail: Mix of Sonny spells and Arturo artistry 06/27/2005 09:58 AM


Mix of Sonny spells and Arturo artistry



Sonny Rollins and Arturo Sandoval

At Downtown Jazz in Toronto

on Friday and Saturday

You have to admire Sonny Rollins's candour. The legendary American tenor saxophonist was talkingrecently about the prospect of having a "successful stay" in Canada, with reference to his concerts at jazzfestivals in Toronto on Friday, Ottawa last night and Montreal next week. "You know," he admitted, in aninterview with The Globe and Mail, "jazz being what it is -- improvisational music -- we can't guaranteea successful show, but I can guarantee we'll be trying."

By some measure, specifically a full house and three standing ovations, he had a very successful showindeed at Massey Hall on the opening night of Downtown Jazz in Toronto. This, however, was not aconcert for the ages -- if such a thing should even be expected of a musician just two months shy of 75.

True to his word, though, Rollins tried -- and tried hard -- in face of a couple of hurdles. One was theMassey Hall sound system, which lost its initial bass-boominess soon enough but never quite separatedRollins from the pack to the extent that his stentorian voice as a soloist requires. The other was the packitself, five musicians with whom the saxophonist rather too generously shared the spotlight -- trombonistClifton Anderson, guitarist Bobby Broom, bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummer Steve Jordan andpercussionist Kimati Dinizulu.

This was an evening of lost momentum as, time and again, Rollins would hand off a tune -- whether awaltz, a calypso or his encore of Tenor Madness -- just at the point where he seemed ready to take itsomeplace interesting himself. And when, once, he truly hit his stride with They Say That Falling in Love Is Wonderful, he staked out a chorus or two of classic Rollins then cut his solo short, apparently savinghimself for an industrious but uneventful improvisation on the banal You Oughta Be in Pictures that followed.

Still, Rollins is Rollins -- a fascinating study in contradictions, between his gruff tone and his sentimentalmelodies, his broadly dramatic gestures and his funny little asides, his authority and his self-effacement,and his sense of great dignity and, equally, his willingness to honk to the peanut gallery from the veryfront edge of the stage. Legends rarely seem so human.

There were no such apparent contradictions to Arturo Sandoval, the entertaining Cuban-American multi-instrumentalist who served Downtown Jazz as its headline artist at its Nathan Phillips Square marquee onSaturday night. (The festival, which continues through July 3, encompasses more than 30 local clubs,halls and outdoor stages.)

What you hear from Sandoval is what you get, and you get plenty. He's a showman from first note to last,a remarkable musician -- superhuman, even -- who has mastered the trumpet to the point of extremevirtuosity and also boasts an impressive command of timbales, keyboards and the art of scat vocalese. His Page 1 of 2

The Globe and Mail: Mix of Sonny spells and Arturo artistry 06/27/2005 09:58 AM

tunes -- there were a half-dozen the other night -- are real production numbers in their knock-'em-deadtiming and dynamics.

Sandoval is not the original that Rollins is, of course, and originality stands as the ultimate achievement injazz. Versatility is not a bad fallback position, though, and Sandoval demonstrated his balance by tacklingbop, rap, salsa, romantic piano balladry and still more bop in irrepressible, unerring and occasionallyhilarious succession.

No loss of momentum here. When Sandoval did hand off a tune to someone else in his fine supportingquintet, particularly to tenor saxophonist Ed Calle, faltering was simply out of the question. AndSandoval's own trumpet work mixed novelty and flash with considerable substance -- altogether a lot ofbravado surely, but scarcely a note of it empty.

Rather bizarrely, his performance was prefaced by a short set of sad little pop songs in French andEnglish from one Keren Ann, whose relevance to anything anywhere remotely near a jazz festival restedsolely on the presence of trumpeter Avishai Cohen at her side. It wasn't enough.

A more appropriate choice might have been the Franco-American quartet led on the same stage earlierSaturday afternoon by the Mouton brothers, bassist François and drummer Louis. The Moutons shared afew things in common with Sandoval: an ability to play at high levels of both energy and control, afeverish tenor saxophonist (New Yorker Rick Margitza) who (like Ed Calle) has been influencedprimarily by Michael Brecker, and a love for the music of Charlie Parker, whose tune Donna Lee turned up in passing during both concerts.

On the Canadian festival circuit: Arturo Sandoval appears in Saskatoon today, Victoria on Wednesdayand Vancouver on Thursday; Sonny Rollins performs in Montreal on July 6.

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