Mike Malone, Bob Shields, Clark Johnston Open The Steel City Jazz Fest At The Pearl Company

Mike Malone, Bob Shields, Clark Johnston

Thursday, August 21, 2013

Trumpeter/composer Mike Malone and guitarist/composer Bob Shields opened the Steel City Jazz Festival Pearl Company shows tonight. Joining Malone and Shields was bassist/composer Clark Johnston subbing in for jazz tuba master Jay Burr.

We got started a little late, due to the earlier theatre event “Stephen Harper: The Musical.” As the clock ticked, some of the waiting jazz fans considered asking for a prorogation of the play. No problem. We were happy to wait in the beautiful warm summer evening with a cup of coffee. Extra bonus: Pet the neighbourhood cat.

The Pearl Company Upstairs Room: The Best Acoustics

We were in our seats by 10:20 pm, joined by about a dozen others in the well-lit and superbly sounding upstairs room at The Pearl. My last visit here was to see the Jazz Connection Big Band, and I’ve not forgotten how great the room’s acoustics are.

Malone was doing double gigs tonight, having opened the Steel City Jazz Fest with the Jazz Connection Big Band at the Waterfront Stage. Perhaps his chops were tired; he struggled on a couple of occasions to nail obvious melody notes, but as they (facetiously) say, “Once is a mistake, twice is jazz.” No harm done. The setting was very intimate, and the vibe was great.

The trio warmed up with “On The Beach,” composed by bassist Clark Johnston. The mid-tempo bossa is loosely based on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Shields opened up with a tasteful solo, then Malone took the melody. Kudos to Johnston for a lovely tune, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Next was a yet-unnamed melody by Bob Shields. So I’ll call it “The Title Is The Hardest Thing To Get.” Shields has written a gentle and sensitive ballad here. Very nice.

“Close Enough To Love,” a Johnny Mandel tune, was next. The easy medium swing melody switched effortlessly between a two beat and straight four. I could tell this is one of Malone’s favourites, as the solo lines flowed freely and comfortably. Shields and Johnston also treated the changes with style and finesse.

Ultra high definition

As I enjoyed the moment, I realized that there is no higher definition experience that 100% live, sitting a mere ten feet away from the musician! I wondered how many people in The Hammer were missing out on a such a great experience, and who would have liked to have been here.

An easy flowing jazz waltz followed, after which the trio lightened things up with an upbeat version of Blues Bossa. I enjoyed watching Johnson dance over the strings in that magical way that bassists do in trios, where they create as much energy as possible and revel in the space they have when no piano player or drummer is around. The highlight of the evening was hearing Shields’ solo over Johnston’s lines.

All Three Musicians Are Composers In Their Own Right

The final tune, “Spring Song,” by Mike Malone, was one of a set that was commissioned by Malone for the National Youth Jazz Combo. A more upbeat waltz, it had a unique melody that was punctuated by some nice staccato notes mixed with long lines and held notes.

How appropriate to be able to hear some of the area’s top jazz players in what has been described as one of the best jazz rooms in the country! Kudos to organizer Chris Ferguson for stepping out to make the Steel City Jazz Fest a reality. I hope that as the festival continues in the years ahead, we’ll see more people in attendance. Thanks also to the Steel City Jazz Fest Sponsors and to The Pearl Company.

For the full schedule of this weekend’s events, click here.


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