Vancouver may be known for its scenic splendor and great food, but for jazz fans what seals the deal is the annual 10-day jazz festival leading up to Canada Day. Now in its 22nd year, the TD Canada Trust Vancouver International Jazz Festival deftly balances mainstream marquee acts that pay the bills with a strong improvised music series, including a cross-section of developments from abroad, unusual breakout collaborations, workshops and free outdoor events.
With so much going on simultaneously, it always comes down to choices. Opening night, for example, offered competing shows by Cesária Évora, Tierney Sutton and the Aki Takase/Rudi Mahall duo. But the lure of Sonny Rollins (pictured) was irresistible. Out he came onto the stage of the Orpheum, walking stiff-legged like Redd Foxx, blowing hard and tough with long cascading runs on “Sonny, Please.” As always, he inserted clever quotes into his solos, dropping a snatch of Kurt Weill’s “My Ship” into an expansive “In a Sentimental Mood.” In some ways, Rollins is among the most generous of leaders, giving long solo space to his colleagues Clifton Anderson (trombone), Bobby Broom (guitar) and longtime bassist Bob Cranshaw. But when Rollins stepped up, as he did on his calypso “Duke of Iron,” his joyfully vigorous variations left no doubt he’s still the greatest living saxophonist of his generation.