Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bringing in the Shepherd

This month's Exclaim features Michael Barclay's excellent piece on Torontopia, which has set off yet another firestorm of "Toronto's great! Toronto sux!" banter and related commentary.

It was interesting how the Jamaica to Toronto (Jatdot for short) concert - Harbourfront's most populous event so far this year - was listed off the top of being an element of Barclay's Torontopia. It certainly has been part of my Torontopia this year, too. It was one of the most profoundly indie events of the year: these guys were "outside of music" (as they say in jazz) for decades, then hooked up with a small but hardworking label and managed to create a huge, long-overdue splash. But despite a well-written and thought provoking article on the promise and perils of participating a "scene", it was beyond the article's scope to analyze what "indie culture" could represent along the lines of (and beyond) the success of Jatdot. I know Jonny Dovercourt - quoted extensively in the article, he is a founder of Wavelength and current mainstay of the Music Gallery - has similar questions on his mind.

Jatdot's success as a one-off event was commented upon by another feature in Exclaim during in previous issue, where Ryan Patrick observed the state of soul music in Canada - which, perhaps predictably, flew under too many pundits' radar. This article, with themes applicable to any 'speciality' music in Canada, details how Canada's solid soul audience of the 60s was fairly quickly supplanted by rock and roll once Canadian Content requirements were established in the early 1970s. This exploration of hard-won successes and more frequently lost battles of homegrown soul artists ends with "The measure of success might well be if artists can avoid ending up on a Jamaica To Toronto type of “lost recordings” compilation 20 years from now."
Maybe I'm gearing up to write Torontopia: The Sequel sometime soon, because the optimism inherent in the term reflects how I feel about a great deal of Torontonian music.

I wouldn't call Elizabeth Shepherd a soul artist, but soul permeates her record "Start To Move". Released by the Do Right label, who will undoubtedly use their connections in worldwide nu-jazz media and venues generated by their excellent Ready or Not comps of CBC jazz archives. This label traces its spirtual lineage to another indie diaspora in Toronto originating from the Twilight Zone house/groove/after hours scene of the late 80s into long running jazz/afro/groove/hip hop parties such as Bump and Hustle and Movement (captained by the Do Right founders, Aki and John Kong). Toronto has always been very strong in funky, jazzy dance music for at least 10 years. Shepherd's music is in a jazz piano trio configuration, but her work on keys has a sense of pocket that speaks to house music.

The record captures a lot of what I like about the Torontopian concept - a singer/instrumentalist with good chops and good tunes, a smart indie label behind it, and an original presentation of something that in lesser hands could have become a very generic vocal jazz recording with predictable standards and aspirations to jazz-industry terms of success.

Read the article here.


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