5 Edmonton cats to dig at the jazz fest

Beyond the avant-garde atonal adventures of The Bad Plus, or the emotionally powerful pianowork of Fred Hersch or The Rolling Stones’ favourite background singer Lisa Fischer, the Edmonton International Jazz Festival is loaded with local ringers.

Accomplished musicians to a fault, Edmonton’s jazz cats largely lurk in the shadows of the festival schedule, but they are no less worthy of the attention of serious jazz fans. We’re not New York, see, but we do have the world class MacEwan University music program, from whence a number of said heavy cats have honed their chops. Here are five, give or take a few horns:

Mars Hill Trio GigCity Edmonton1. Mars Hill Trio with Chris Andrew

Friday, June 19, 6:30 pm, Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre (OSPAC) – The new fusion kids on the block have teamed up with keyboard master Chris Andrew (also a MacEwan piano instructor) for this Emerging Artist Showcase that promises to be heavy on groove and light on mood. The group’s debut EP Bombadillo reveals a deep love of funk with jazz style atop. They are also not afraid of “rocking out” on electric guitars. Admission is FREE. Stick around because at 8 pm commences the all-out klezmermania rave-up of Halifax’s aptly-named Gypsophilia (tickets). Chris Andrew, meanwhile, also plays with his quartet on Saturday, June 20 at 11 pm at OSPAC (tickets).

The Fusionauts GigCity Edmonton2. The Fusionauts

Saturday, June 20, 8:30 pm, Blue Chair Café – Led by MacEwan-trained pianist Paul Richey, this group lives up to its silly name, combining, or “fusing,” different musical styles, in this case jazz mixed with funk and Latin, using pleasant ah-inducing chord progressions and tasty melodies that evoke everything from Vince Guaraldi to Chick Corea. The group at times comes dangerously close to falling into the bottomless pit of “happy jazz,” which to name is to know, but there’s a place for everything. $15 cover.

3. The Edmonton Jazz Orchestra with Hilario Duran and Ignacio Berroa

Sunday, June 21, 2 pm and 7 pm, Yardbird Suite – Two heavy Cuban cats need a good horn section for a proper rendering of a show billed “Afro Cuban Jazz and Beyond,” and there are few better than the 12-piece Edmonton Jazz Orchestra, featuring the best horn blowers in town. Each show $30, two for $50, buy tickets.

Mallory Chipman GigCity Edmonton4. Mallory Chipman

Saturday, June 27, 8:30 pm, Blue Chair Café – You guessed it, here’s another MacEwan alumna. Showcasing a rich, expressive voice – half Joni, half Ella (just to pull a random famous female jazz singer from yore) and half her own, which somehow makes three halves – her recordings include a radical rereading of My Funny Valentine, along with originals. She also toured as a back-up vocalist for Heart and performed in a Leonard Cohen tribute in Dublin, Ireland. One to watch, for sure. $15 cover at the door.

Jim Head GigCity Edmonton5. Jim Head Quartet

Saturday, June 27, 11 pm, OSPAC – Here’s more “late night” jazz from one of Edmonton’s newest jazz Juno award nominees (he didn’t win), who also happens to be the guitar program head at MacEwan. His new recording, Zoetrope, is rich in John Abercrombien alternate tonality rendered in the traditional clean jazz guitar style to which Head has applied himself his entire career, more than 30 years. He’s become rather good at it. Tickets to the show are $10 (buy).