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JAZZ FESTIVAL: From mild to wild

Jazz festival lineup features crowd-pleasing favourites and envelope-pushing innovators

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From legendary jazz/R&B guitarist George Benson to Rudresh Mahanthappa's exciting saxophone to Patricia Barber's unique vocals to British saxophonist Courtney Pine to the roots of New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band to the hip-hop of The Roots, this year's jazz festival offers a strong mainstage lineup.

Jazz singer Jane Monheit and blues/soul singer Betty LaVette round out the theatre series shows at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, which runs June 13-23 at various venues.

The festival's schedule and nearly 100 performers were announced Friday by Jazz Winnipeg.

"I really feel there's something for everyone this year," executive producer Paul Nolin says in announcing the lineup. "We've been able to strike a balance between cutting edge and familiar favourites. I try to program for all audiences.

"Some years are easier than others for programming, but I worked really hard to get this lineup locked into place," he says.

Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak (June 17, West End Cultural Centre) falls on the cutting-edge side and promises to be one of the fest's most exciting, energetic shows.

Alto saxophonist Mahanthappa mixes western jazz with traditional Indian music and his band includes vibrant guitarist David (Fuze) Fiuczynski, bassist Rich Brown and drummer Dan Weiss.

There is no one in jazz quite like pianist-singer Barber: no one matches her lyrics, the melodies she writes to match those lyrics, or her musical inventiveness.

Her June 18 WECC performance will be a musical and linguistic adventure.

Courtney Pine (June 22, WECC) -- who plays saxophone, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and keyboards -- has pushed the boundaries of jazz in the U.K. during his decades-long career.

"Courtney is one of the first jazz CDs I ever bought (as a teenager)," Nolin says, and he is glad to be able to book him.

George Benson (June 23, Burton Cummings) has faced criticism from jazz police for turning from his early jazz chops to a more popular R&B-fused sound, but he plays the guitar brilliantly and puts on a great show, almost a revue.

"Benson will be a crowd-pleaser, no matter what," Nolin says.

During her 10-year recording career, Jane Monheit (June 21, Burton Cummings Theatre) has made a name for herself interpreting the great songs of jazz. Bettye LaVette (June 19, Burton Cummings Theatre) has performed for five decades, and has been on a roll since a 2004 comeback.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (June 20, Burton Cummings) takes its name from the venerable French Quarter building and maintains the spirit of early N'Awlins music.

The Roots (June 22, Centennial Concert Hall), known as the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on top of a successful recording and performing career, were a hit at their 2010 festival show.

In booking performers such as Barber and Mahanthappa into the WECC, Nolin says, "We've found a rhythm." The smaller venue carries less risk and allows the fest to book acts that fall outside the mainstream.

The Burton Cummings Theatre worked well last year, he says, and "it feels good with 600 people, but I can get up to 1,600 if tickets sales warrant it."

The festival opens Thursday, June 13 with the annual free opening weekend in Old Market Square with bands performing until midnight or 1 a.m. The theatre (mainstage) series runs June 17-23 with shows at the WECC, Burton Cummings Theatre and Centennial Concert Hall.

The club series runs June 17-22 at seven venues, five of which Nolin calls the new jazz district. The Free Press News Café, The King's Head, Rachel Browne Theatre, Cinematheque and The Cube Lounge are within two blocks of Old Market Square, making it easier for fans to club-hop, Nolin adds.

"We made an effort to tighten things up near Old Market Square (as) we were spread out geographically before," Nolin adds. The jazz district makes it easier to push the festival atmosphere.

Club shows also are at the Pyramid Cabaret and Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club.

Festival-goers can buy a new super pass, a club pass and one-day wristbands; details are available at jazzwinnipeg.com.

Tickets for the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival go on sale Thursday, April 18, at 10 a.m. at jazzwinnipeg.com, 204-989-4656 and at the Jazz Winnipeg office (007-100 Arthur St.). Tickets for Burton Cummings Theatre and Centennial Concert Hall shows are also available at Ticketmaster. Tickets for The Roots show, which was announced earlier, are on sale now.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 G1

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