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JazzFest essentials

Local talent and a night of music unlike anything you’ll ever see—our insiders’ guide to Halifax’s biggest musical celebration

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Ghettosocks (left) and Uncle Fester from The Extremities. Photo: Scott Munn

Ghettosocks (left) and Uncle Fester from The Extremities. Photo: Scott Munn

Uncle Fester is pumped for JazzFest. The terrible news is he’s only in Halifax for one night and will miss most of the shows he really wants to see. To counter his disappointment, he’s inviting half of the festival to join him and Fresh Kils as The Extremities on stage.

Tim Crofts will play keys. Maya Killtron will deliver soul through vocals and DJing. Three Sheet will leap in with beat boxing and rhyming. Ghettosocks, Ambition and Cam Smith—Uncle Fester’s numbers one, two and three East Coast MCs—will hijack the show. “We’ll be the house band. It’ll be a big party.”

Arrive early and settle into those comfy seats by the Company House window (July 5 at 11 p.m.). The Extremities will start without any extremities, rolling out an instrumental level and adding guests into an increasingly extravagant sonic production.

Early songs will return to be altered by guests as the night progresses. “The foundation of our set is always there,” Uncle Fester says. “There’s a lot of non-improv improv. There’s defined sections, but we necessarily haven’t done them together before.”

He recommends seeing what Crofts will bring to the free-styling keys. “Tim always brings a big measure of colouring outside the lines to our set. He is super funky and in the pocket and he can go way out and do things that still make a lot of sense to what we’re doing.”

He promises an unpredictable show. “When we’re doing hip hop beats, there is a real on-the-rails feeling to that, but we try to pull back from that a little, so I’m doing lots of free rhythmic stuff on the turn tables and [Fresh Kils] is drumming freely,” Fester adds. “There’s a big mix of on-the-rails buildings blocks and moments where we hop off the tracks and do a dance, and then come back on.”

This is JazzFest, so the beat-heavy dance groove of a regular Extremities hip-hop show will yield to a less aggressive, settled down, genre-expanding vibe. “If we had the money to bring horns and keys and this set up with us at all times, this would be our ultimate goal to have a big show. It represents the songwriting the two of us do,” he says. “It allows us to bring more of our complete vision to the stage.”

Jazzfest-photo

Photo: Scott Munn

Also, The Extremities are releasing their new album that night. What’s it called? “It’s horrible. That’s the elephant in the room right now. We don’t have a name,” Uncle Fester sighs. “[Fresh Kils] is horrible at naming things. This is publically acknowledged. He’s the worst namer of all time.” So Uncle Fester digs through his brain for a name that holds it all. Please Tweet him suggestions (@TheExtremities).

Erin Costelo is approaching the Halifax Jazz Festival slowly from Hunts Point near Liverpool. “I’m on a self-imposed writing retreat,” she says in a momentary break from the solitude of just her and Mason the dog. Aside from exploratory trips to the beautiful Carters Beach, she’s been working on her new album. “Maybe it’ll be a country album. We’ll see when I finally finish a song,” the soul star says, only half joking.

After a crazy year of at least 100 shows across Canada, she’s zenning down before the festival. Costelo is heading the Nova Scotia Super Soul Review (July 9 at 8 p.m. in the Festival Tent) with several of her former NSCC students: North Preston’s Reemy Smith, Moncton’s Jessie Brown, Dartmouth’s Samm Splash, East Preston’s Kirsten Olivia and U.K. import Giverny “Roxy” Mercier. “Knowing the singers, they’re pretty mind-blowingly great, so I’m excited,” Costelo says.

Each up-and-coming singer will deliver one classic cover and one original with the same band. Costelo will do likewise. “Everyone will have a chance to step out,” she says. The sound runs from 1960s pop soul to Motown funk to Janis Joplin to neo-soul.

Costelo is also leading a Creative Music Workshop for vocals. As a fan, she’s excited to see Bettye LaVette, who’s closing the super soul review, and Mos Def, AKA Yasiin Bey.

Lulu Healy, artistic director of the festival, points to a new Dartmouth angle this year, with a high-end jazz show featuring Susie Arioli and Daniel Matto at the Alderney Theatre (July 11 at 8 p.m.).

The main stage on the waterfront will host most of the music and they’ve doubled the number of youth programs on Theodore Tugboat, where kids take free workshops learning basic rhythms and how to sing. Afternoon free shows from noon to 5 p.m. are on the main stage to get a sound of the experience. “It’s more accessible,” she says.

Healy flags big shows from Shai Maestro Trio, David Virelles Continuum, Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet and Bill Frisell. “The concerts at the music room are 100 per cent don’t miss them if you’re jazz fans,” she says.

The week runs the musical range from world, Middle Eastern and big band jazz to R&B, soul and blues. All the musicians have deep jazz influence.

Healy names four more local rising stars to check out.

Since first appearing live a couple years back, The Chronos Band (July 11 at 11 p.m.) has been refining its brand of instrumental music, which is influenced by the afrobeat and soul traditions. More recently the seven-piece band has opened for John Scofield’s Uberjam Band at the Halifax Jazz Festival, won the Galaxie Rising Star Award, and released the ECMA-nominated debut Boots the Cat. The album is a collection of eight original tracks recorded live off the floor over two rainy nights at The Shed with Tim-Jim Baker.

Cyndi Cain (July 11 at 8 p.m.) is the East Coast’s most formidable figure in original soul music. Her powerful voice, unforgettable stage charisma, and timeless compositions have made her a rising star in Nova Scotia’s vibrant music scene. Fronting a band that features six of Halifax’s best musicians, Cyndi draws musical roots from her early childhood singing gospel music in church. Her music evokes the classic soul and R&B sounds of Sharon Jones, Aretha Franklin and Bettye LaVette. Cyndi is rapidly gaining recognition as a force in Canada’s music community, and she is not slowing down.

Seen from one angle, The WAYO (July 4 at 10:30 p.m.) is a four-piece band that met at college. Look again and The WAYO becomes a quantum musical equation. Four musicians merging, forming a swelling, rolling, genre-busting musical wave. The result is the debut EP Wanderings, recorded in a whirlwind weekend session last fall in Toronto, combining soul, jazz, hip hop, R&B and funk. After Rowan and Kingston lay down the foundational elements, Fong seasons it with guitar synthesis before Wilson ices the track with sax licks and lyrics. For The WAYO it’s not just what you hear, it’s what you feel.

Daniel Matto (July 11 at 8 p.m.) has a charming, energetic style that makes his performances a desired treat. His music skillfully blends jazz standards, fresh twists on some rock classics and original compositions. Audiences respond well to his selections of great songs and to the less is more treatment of melodies and phrasing.

The Halifax Jazz Festival runs July 4 to 12 at venues around the city. Daily matinees and nightly main stage shows at the Festival Tent on Lower Water Street. Go to @HFXJazzFest or Halifaxjazzfestival.ca for details.

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