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Guelph Jazz Festival another triumph

The Guelph Jazz Festival ended Sunday not with a bang, nor with a sleep-deprived whimper from the all-night Nuit Blanche that had ended scant hours before. Rather, it ended with a sigh of happiness.

The 19th annual festival’s last show, in Co-operators Hall at the River Run, was billed as “Charles Spearin, The Happiness Project.” Spearin, described as a pillar of  Toronto’s indie rock scene, asked several of his neighbours about their views on happiness. One was a woman born deaf who heard her first sounds at the age of 30 after electrodes were implanted in her brain.

Spearin used the rhythms, pitches and cadences of his neighbours’ recorded voices as the raw material for a project picked for a Juno Award as best jazz album of 2010. Presented at 2 p.m. Sunday with live music performed by him and other musicians and with excerpts of the recorded voices, it was a touching, amusing  and thoroughly engaging concert.

To get a taste of it, simply type Charles Spearin, The Happiness Project into Google.

Spearin’s show was a lovely way to end the festival, which had been graced on Saturday night by a quietly sublime solo piano concert. Abdullah Ibrahim, a jazz legend whose music is described as having been one of the driving forces behind South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, said not a word during his concert. But his fingers on the piano said a great deal.

Regrettably, I lasted only until 1:30 a.m. at the Nuit Blanche – unlike Guelph Jazz Festival artistic director Ajay Heble, who stayed up until 4:30 a.m. He’d said he’d hoped to have a quick nap and then make it to a 6 a.m. concert at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, which put on an all-night tribute to the late American composer John Cage to mark 100 years since his birth. “But I didn’t. I was so tired,” Heble lamented Monday with a chuckle. He was at Spearin’s show, though.

Heble summed things up Monday by calling this year’s festival “overwhelmingly and wildly successful, overall.”

The festival drew people from faraway places like California, Texas and even Europe, he said. This mix of “international afficionados” and local people who’ve developed a taste for the innovative jazz and improvised music served up by the Guelph Jazz Festival are what makes this festival really special, he said.

Now it’s on to planning for the festival’s 20th anniversary. Heble said some plans are in the works, but he’s not talking about them until he’s sure the funding is in place. One thing’s for sure, though. It will be wonderful.

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