By Greg Buium

"The actual ability of the players has never been higher. But now it’s a situation
where you have all these wonderful musicians and they’ve got nowhere to play"

On his admiration for today’s crop of Vancouver musicians..

Rooting out trends in jazz is sometimes easier than making them cohere. The closer you get to an insight, the more it seems to wriggle away. When the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra or pianist Bill Charlap appeared in Vancouver last month, the music might have for a moment felt easier to figure out: it still adores the American popular song, the iconic figures of the past (Duke Ellington, John Coltrane) and a rhythmic engine grounded in swing. Yet Pat Metheny was here month ago too, as were a handful of international improvisers for Time Flies, the annual free jazz summit at the Western Front.

So how do all this fit together? It’s a never-ending conversation and it’s one that’s fed Vancouver’s own jazz community for years. Whatever jazz might mean in 2005 you’ll see it on display this weekend, with two excellent local artists doing very different things across town: Guitarist Oliver Gannon and violinist Jesse Zubot.

Gannon, who’s best known for his longtime association with the late-saxophonist Fraser MacPherson, brings his quartet to the Cellar Friday and Saturday night to celebrate the release of their new CD, That’s What (Cellar Live).

Zubot, who is most famous for his work with guitarist Steve Dawson in the alt-roots group Zubot and Dawson, joins American bassist Joe Fonda and Toronto-based drummer Jean Martin in the debut of a new improvising trio at Vancouver Community College.

While both Gannon and Zubot have won Junos and National Jazz Awards, their profiles rarely collide — although they’re both Prairie boys. Gannon arrived in Vancouver in 1969 from Winnipeg, by way of Boston’s fabled Berklee College of Music, Zubot settled here in 1992, straight off the family farm in Mendham, Sask., via music school in Medicine Hat, Alta. Gannon turned 62 last week; Zubot is 30.

Musically, the differences run deep. Gannon is a classic, mainstream jazzman whose own career extends back to Vancouver’s great jobbing tradition, be it at the CBC or at the Hotel Vancouver’s Panorama Roof. Apart from Pacific Salt, a late-’60s jazz-rock co-operative, he has, for most of his career, been the consummate sideman. The first disc under his name came out just three years ago.

Zubot, on the other hand, is nearly impossible to corner. Roots musician? Absolutely. Singer-songwriter? Not really, although he’s played with many of them. Creative improviser? Sure. He’s collaborated with electronic artists and folkies and rifled through nearly every other musical nook in the city. As a violinist — always the odd duck in contemporary music — he’s tried to carve out his own, idiosyncratic source in New York’s ‘70s jazz underground (think Billy Bang or Leroy Jenkins), yet most of his work this winter has been with local bluesman Jim Byrnes. As a freelance musician, he’s also a pretty sharp operator. Earlier this month, he launched his own label, Drip Audio, an outet for all of the wild corners of his imagination. His models? Chicago’s Thrill Jockey, New York’s Thirsty Ear, imprints that embrace nearly everything progressive, from improv to alt-rock. Zubotta, the first release, a bracing brew of electronics and voice and sampled sounds. This weekend might just be Drip’s coming out. Opening for Zubot, Fonda and Martin are the Inhabitants, four Sugar Refinery alunmi (trumpeter J.P. Carter, guitarist Dave Sikula, bassist Pete Schmitt, drummer Skye Brooks), who seem to admire art rock and Weather Report in equal measure. Their self-titled disc and LaConner (a trio with Zubot, Martin and clarinetist François Houle) fill out Drip’s emerging catalogue.

It’s a long way from the Cave and Isy’s, the city’s top jazz rooms when Gannon first arrived in town, but the guitarist is still filled with admiration for today’s Vancouver musicians, no matter how eclectic they may be.

“The actual ability of the players has never been higher,” he told me recently. “But now it’s a situation where you have all these wonderful musicians and they’ve got nowhere to play.”

Ironically, as Gannon stepped into semi-retirement a few years ago — he cherry-picks about 10 gigs a year — his profile as a leader has never been higher.

That’s What is his second album and his earthy, swinging tone hasn’t sounded better. He’s playing a little harder now, more driving than he might have been with MacPherson, tapping into some of his formative influences, Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel, and treating the guitar more like a horn.

It’s still a treat to hear Gannon leading a band, and that’s just one of the many angles that makes this weekend so promising.

The Vancouver jazz community somehow seems to hold every little stream modern music has produced.

Greg Buium is a Vancouver music writer.

Oliver Gannon’s quartet appears at the Cellar Friday and Saturday. For reservations call (604) 733-1959. Jesse Zubot joins Joe Fonda and Jean Martin in a double bill with the Inhabitants Friday at the Vancouver Community College (King Edward Campus) auditorium. Tickets available at Ticket- master, High Life Records and the Coastal Jazz & Blues Society.

Greg Buium is a Vancouver Music Writer <<