The night started off with the incomparable Molly Johnson on the stage. When the
average person thinks of jazz, Molly’s brand of simple grooving vocals and
instrumentation is what comes to mind. Johnson’s haunting smoky voice is from another
world and the lyrics come alive on her tongue and effortlessly flow over her audience. She
mesmerizes us with smoky butterscotch tones on Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain, sweet yet
a little dark and sad. In yellow chiffon with flowers in her hair, she channeled Billie
Holiday, but she is definitely her own woman on stage and not afraid to let us know it.
A proud Canadian and Torontonian, Molly Johnson entertains us with her slightly caustic
banter between songs. “I’m a Canadian we don’t have staff. I’m a jazz musician, I pick up
my own dog shit!” She’s like the funny friend at the dinner party, not quite standup
comedy, but she keeps you on your toes. Her place is definitely on the stage, but a part of
you wishes you were hanging out together in an old jazz club. All that’s missing are stale
pretzels, a dirty martini and a smoky haze.
Next, Molly’s grade school chum, Jane Bunnett took the stage with her husband, trumpet
player Larry Cramer and longtime collaborator Hilario Duran on piano, alongside some
fantastic musicians from Bunnett’s all female sextet, Maqueque. Bunnett is celebrating
the 25th anniversary of her groundbreaking album Spirits of Havana which showcased
Cuba’s dynamic contributions to world music.
As easy as it is to listen to Molly Johnson’s crooning, Bunnett requires us to step outside
what we know of jazz and of latin beats and really listen to what is happening on stage.
There is a chaos in the unrelenting afrocuban percussion mixed with the improvisational
jazz riffs of the soprano sax, flute and piano, often reminiscent of Thelonius Monk’s style.
It takes effort to listen and to process, but the rewards are immense when you can find
Sadly, aside from a few souls in the wings that couldn’t help but dance, the audience last
night was pretty staid and seemingly unmoved by the driving beats. They enjoyed the
show in their own way, but I can’t help but think that if everyone had gotten on their feet
and really felt the rhythms, the energy under that tent would have exploded.
We enjoyed a lot of Toronto talent on the stage last night and on this day when we
celebrate our country, we have many more reasons to feel pride in being Canadian.