March 2007

Alex Dean Quintet
March 23, 2007 Live@Courthouse Toronto
A New Beginning, Historic Events
by Paul J. Youngman with photos by Mike Colyer
Jazz impresario Patrick Taylor and Liberty Entertainment Group president Nick Di Donato have joined forces to open Toronto’s newest jazz club, Live@Courthouse.

Located at 57 Adelaide Street East, the York County Court House was designed and built in 1852 by Cumberland and Ridout, who also built St. James' Cathedral and many other Toronto buildings. This Greek Revival Courthouse was the third to serve the city of Toronto and has seen many historic events of both local and national significance including the formation of the Group of Seven.

The Arts & Letters Club of Toronto took over the Courthouse as a meeting place in 1909. As the home of the Arts & Letters Club, it saw many cultural events of note such as concerts by Pablo Casals and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Among the Club's patrons were Tom Thomson, Lawren Harris, Frederick Varley, Arthur Lismer, A.Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frank Johnston.

This night the Alex Dean Quintet held court, the program under review, The Blue Note Era. The tenor saxophone playing of Mr. Dean is very reminiscent of famed Blue Note artist Stanley Turrentine. Dean produces a big warm sound with lyrical phrasing, putting plenty of heart and soul into the melody making. The band played three sets of which I caught the first two.

The room is magnificent, a true listening jazz club, with excellent sight lines. The sound was impressive, crystal clear and clean with highs, mids and most low notes under control. The drummer this evening, the only guy available according to Alex Dean, (one of his many light-hearted jabs at his associates) was Barry Elmes, whose playing for the most part was very light. At times, his accents and bass drum attack would echo brightly in certain parts of the room. A little tweaking of the room by the acoustics experts will bring that under control; audiophile acoustics will reign and live CDs will be recorded at Live@Courthouse.

The rhythm section of Brian Dickinson on piano and Steve Wallace on acoustic bass, along with the drumming of Elmes propelled the hard bop band superlatively. Wallace and Elmes swing like crazy and Dickinson is a motivator, displaying ample amounts of flash and brilliance, interspersed amongst the melody he so lyrically interprets.

Alex Dean

Steve Wallace
“Funk & Deep Freeze” a Hank Mobley tune, warmed the room considerably as the band caught fire and burned through the selection. Mr. Dean took the first break and created a tenor giant billowing sound that was followed by Mr. O’Kane — who let loose a volley of rapid fire, clean and fluid trumpet runs.

The trumpet magnificence carried on into the next tune, “Short Story”, a Kenny Dorham composition, that found O’Kane digging deep to blast out some more magic, bending both knees deeply and laying back, he would blow fantastic ascending runs that had his power casting a red glow upon the stage. As his body recovered from this layback and a quick breath brought a normal colour back to his face, he would fire off another rapid, staccato run.

I have never seen Alex Dean as a leader, only as a sideman in big bands, The Boss Brass, for one. He has a witty stage personality. Take his statement upon closing the first set; “I feel like an oil painting, we’re going to take a break and with copious amounts of alcohol, hopefully things will change.” He introduced the band for a second time and again introduced bassist Steve Wallace as “Our bass player from the East End Chapter, Steve Wallache.” An inside joke perhaps, these two go back a ways and perhaps this is a reference to the trio DEW East, Dean, Elmes & Wallace, the trio producing a couple of highly acclaimed CDs in the earlier part of this century.

The intermission allowed for a closer inspection of the club — impressive, a main room with four fire places, a twenty five foot ceiling with a huge chandelier in the centre, a second floor balcony with comfortable seating, a main floor lounge with its own bar and a huge skylight, a very cozy area.

Big Apple take notice, we now have a club to rival The Blue Note, Village Vanguard or Iridium, a welcome and much needed addition to our Toronto club scene.

The second set began with a high energy, volatile tune, followed by the blues based “Soulful Days”, and another highlight song, a Lee Morgan composition, “Hocus Pocus” with strong playing by Brian O’Kane.

Barry Elmes

The quintet played with energy, passion and joy, surely copious amounts of joy, as the Alex Dean Quintet has now become a part of history, the second featured act to play the premier Toronto jazz club — Live@Courthouse. Bravo.

> more selected photos from the gig <
We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
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Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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