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July 9, 2009

Happy July - right into the thick of summer and so far, not too horrible.  BBQs, pools, weekends away.  Doesn't get much better than this!

I know that we've been inundated with news and updates on
Michael Jackson.  If you watched the memorial, you know how moving and emotional it was for those participating, those attending and those watching.  I would say that this is a global obsession at this point.  We will be hearing lots of reports and allegations and denials over the next few months ... I encourage you to question most as many will just be trying to sell publications and pawn Michael's demise as 'newsworthy'.  Believe, don't believe - do what you've got to do but please try to let this man rest in peace.

I've tried to choose stories here that are more about the memory of Michael and his affect on the future of music, rather than the fabrications.  The first story has lots of pictures from the memorial under SCOOP.

Now, check out all the exciting news so please take a walk into your weekly entertainment news! 



Stirring Performances, Tributes For Jackson

Source: www.thestar.com - Jesse Washington,
The Associated Press

(July 07, 2009) LOS ANGELES – Michael Jackson was eulogized in words and song today by an all-star list of musicians, athletes and other celebrities during a mournful ceremony in downtown Los Angeles, with the most poignant moment delivered by his sobbing 11-year-old daughter.

"I just want to say ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him so much," Paris-Michael Jackson said before almost collapsing in the arms of her aunt Janet Jackson.

Watched by millions around the world, the memorial struck a tone more spiritual than spectacular, opening with a church choir serenading his golden casket and continuing with sombre speeches and gospel-infused musical performances.

The Rev. Lucious W. Smith of the Friendship Baptist Church in Pasadena gave the greeting on the same stage where Jackson had been rehearsing for a concert series in the days before his June 25 death at age 50. Then Mariah Carey sang the opening performance with a sweet rendition of the Jackson 5 ballad "I'll Be There," a duet with Trey Lorenz.

"We come together and we remember the time," said Smith, riffing on one of Jackson's lyrics. "As long as we remember him, he will always be there to comfort us."

Millions of fans around the world gathered at odd hours to watch the ceremony, which was broadcast by the major TV networks and cable channels from Tokyo to Paris to New York and streamed everywhere online in one of the biggest celebrity send-offs ever seen.

Among those who saluted Jackson were Motown music mogul Berry Gordy Jr., Brooke Shields, the Rev. Al Sharpton and basketball greats Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Jennifer Hudson sang Jackson's hit "Will You Be There" and John Mayer played guitar on a whisper-light rendition of "Human Nature."

"This is a moment that I wished I didn't live to see," Stevie Wonder said before his performance. Usher broke down in tears after singing "Gone Too Soon."

Although the event was billed as a celebration, some speakers took the occasion to come to the defence of Jackson, whose life was marked as much by criticism and scorn as scintillating talent.

Gordy said that despite what he called "some sad times and maybe some questionable decisions on his part," the title King of Pop wasn't good enough for Jackson. "I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived," Gordy said.

Emotions rose when Sharpton delivered a fiery eulogy highlighting all the barriers Jackson broke and the troubles he faced. "Every time he got knocked down, he got back up," Sharpton said, and the applauding crowd jumped to its feet.

Sharpton rode the moment, building to a crescendo. "There wasn't nothing strange about your daddy," he said later, addressing Jackson's three children in the front row. "It was strange what your daddy had to deal with!" After he left the stage, chants of ``Mi-chael! Mi-chael!" filled the arena.

The ceremony wrapped up with group performances of "We Are the World" and "Heal the World" sung by Lionel Richie, Hudson and Jackson family members – including his children – before a backdrop of symbols of religions from around the world. They were joined onstage by children in white and several other people who had participated in the ceremony. Then members of Jackson's family took the stage to thank the crowd and share their own thoughts, barely able to hide their emotion as they hugged in the ceremony's final moments.

An estimated 20,000 people were in the Staples Center as Jackson's flower-draped casket was brought to the venue in a motorcade under law enforcement escort. Those who gathered constituted a visual representation of Jackson's life: black, white and everything in between, wearing fedoras and African headdresses, sequins and surgical masks.

Fans with a ticket wore gold wristbands and picked up a metallic gold program guide on their way in. Acting as pallbearers, Jackson's brothers each wore a gold necktie and, in a touch borrowed from their brother, a single spangly white glove and sunglasses.

Brother Jermaine Jackson took the stage and sang the standard ``Smile" as he fought back tears.

Jackson's hearse had been part of a motorcade that smoothly whisked his body 16 kilometres across closed freeways from a private service at a Hollywood Hills cemetery to his public memorial and awaiting fans.

The traffic snarls and logistical nightmares that had been feared by police and city officials did not materialize. Traffic was actually considered by police to be lighter than normal.

"I think people got the message to stay home," said California Highway Patrol Officer Miguel Luevano.

Deputy Police Chief Sergio Diaz, operations chief for the event, said authorities had expected a crowd of 250,000. Besides reporters and those with tickets to the memorial service, the crowd around the Staples Center perimeter numbered only about 1,000, he said.

Outside the Staples Center, Claudia Hernandez, 29, said she loved Jackson's music as a girl growing up in Mexico. Now a daycare teaching assistant in Los Angeles, Hernandez said she cried watching TV coverage of his death.

"I'm trying to hold in my emotions," said Hernandez, wearing a wristband to allow her admittance to the service and holding a framed photograph of Jackson. "I know right now he's teaching the angels to dance."

More than 1.6 million people registered for the lottery free tickets to Jackson's memorial. A total of 8,750 were chosen to receive two tickets each.

"There are certain people in our popular culture that just capture people's imaginations. And in death, they become even larger," President Barack Obama told CBS while in Moscow. "Now, I have to admit that it's also fed by a 24/7 media that is insatiable."

The city of Los Angeles set up a website Tuesday to allow fans to contribute money to help the city pay for his Staples Center memorial service. Mayoral spokesman Matt Szabo estimated the service will cost $1.5 million to $4 million (U.S.).

It was not clear what will happen to Jackson's body. The Forest Lawn Memorial Park Hollywood Hills cemetery is the final resting place for such stars as Bette Davis, Andy Gibb, Freddie Prinze, Liberace and recently deceased David Carradine and Ed McMahon.

Jermaine Jackson has expressed a desire to have him buried someday at Neverland, his estate in Southern California.

Midway during the memorial service, police Officer April Harding told the media gathered at the gates of Forest Lawn to disperse. Asked if Jackson's body was going to be returned to the cemetery after the memorial, she replied: "His body is not going to be returned here." She did not say where it would be taken.

From Showman Precision To Dreadful Accusation, Always A Star

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner,
Pop Music Critic

(July 08, 2009) AUG. 29, 1958: Michael Jackson is born in Gary, Ind., the seventh of nine children.

1969: He releases his first hit single, "I Want You Back," with his brothers Jermaine, Tito, Jackie and Marlon, as The Jackson 5.

1972: Has first solo No. 1 hit, "Ben," a song from a sentimental film about a pet rat.

1978: Makes big-screen debut as a scarecrow in The Wiz.

1979: Releases first solo album, Off The Wall.

DECEMBER 1982: His album Thriller breaks music-world records. It is No. 1 in the U.S. for 37 weeks straight, with hits including "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and "Thriller." The album eventually sells 26 million copies.

1984: Jackson's hair catches fire while filming a commercial for Pepsi, and he is seriously injured. Undergoes surgery for burns and is rumoured to have plastic surgery. Says his increasingly fair complexion is due to vitiligo, a skin disease.

1985: Writes "We Are the World" with Lionel Richie. The song is produced and conducted by Quincy Jones and recorded by a supergroup of popular musicians, billed as USA for Africa, during and after the American Music Awards. It is recorded as a benefit single for victims of famine in Africa, raising more than $60 million (U.S.), which was distributed to Ethiopia, Sudan and other impoverished countries.

SEPT. 6, 1985: Jackson buys the ATV Music catalogue, which includes the publishing rights to about 250 Beatles songs, for a reported $47 million – outbidding ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. In 1995, he sells the rights to ATV to Sony Corp. for $95 million.

SEPTEMBER 1986: National Enquirer publishes a photo of Jackson in what appears to be a hyperbaric chamber or oxygen tent. He claims it is part of a program to extend his life beyond its natural span.

1987: Jackson reportedly offers $1 million for Elephant Man John Merrick's skeleton. Also that year, he releases the album Bad, which becomes another international hit, selling more than 8 million copies.

1990: First reported wearing of surgical masks in public. He discontinues the practice of distributing Jehovah's Witnesses literature to Los Angeles homes in a fat suit, wig, beard and glasses.

1991: Releases a third successful album, Dangerous, and sells more than 7 million copies. Also that year, cruises the Caribbean with child actor Macaulay Culkin, then 11 years old; years later, Culkin says they slept in the same bed.

OCT. 6, 1991: Elizabeth Taylor marries Larry Fortensky at Jackson's Neverland Ranch (her eighth marriage). Jackson gives the bride away.

1993: Jackson is accused of child molestation in the U.S; subsequently pays a multi-million-dollar out-of-court settlement to the 13-year-old alleged victim. In the same year, he tells Oprah Winfrey, in his first interview in 14 years, that he was abused by his dad, Joseph, and refutes the Elephant Man skeleton story.

MAY 1994: Secretly ties the knot with Elvis Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. At MTV Video Music Awards that year, shares an awkward kiss onstage with Presley.

1995: Releases double album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1, which includes a 15-track greatest-hits disc and a disc of new material. The first single is "Scream," a duet with his youngest sister, Janet. The video shows Michael and Janet angrily retaliating against the media for misrepresenting them to the public. The acclaimed video is shot primarily in black and white at a cost of $7 million. HIStory becomes the bestselling multiple-disc album of all time, with 20 million copies (40 million units) sold worldwide.

1996: Presley files for divorce. Jackson marries nurse Debbie Rowe.

1997: Rowe gives birth to son Prince Michael.

1997: Inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Jackson 5.

1998: Rowe gives birth to daughter Paris Michael Katherine.

1999: Rowe divorces Jackson.

2001: Inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.

OCTOBER 2001: The album Invincible, which reportedly cost $30 million to produce, flops, selling only 2.1 million copies.

FEBRUARY 2002: Jackson's third child, Prince Michael II (whom he calls "Blanket"), is born to a surrogate "mystery mother."

JULY 2002: Jackson calls then-Sony Music president Tommy Mottola "devilish" and "racist," claiming that the "system" deliberately sabotaged his successful career.

NOV. 19, 2002: He dangles baby Prince Michael II over a fourth-floor balcony at a Berlin hotel, shocking a crowd of fans in the street below.

FEBRUARY 2003: The controversial Martin Bashir documentary Living With Michael Jackson runs on American and British television. Jackson reveals that he has shared his bed with children who were not related to him. He explains, "When you say bed, you're thinking sexual. It's not sexual, we're going to sleep. I tuck them in? It's very charming. It's very sweet."

NOVEMBER 2003: Police armed with a search warrant raid Jackson's Neverland Ranch. A warrant is issued for Jackson's arrest on charges of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy. Jackson surrenders himself to police in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he is arrested and handcuffed.

JAN. 16, 2004: Pleads not guilty to child molestation charges at his first court appearance since being charged.

APRIL 30, 2004: Charged with 10 counts, including child molestation, extortion, child abduction, false imprisonment and giving an intoxicating agent to a minor.

JAN. 31, 2005: Trial opens with jury selection.

FEB. 28, 2005: Prosecution opens its case, accusing Jackson of using wine and pornography to lower the inhibitions of a 13-year-old boy. Defence counters that authorities investigating the allegations of child molestation found no DNA from his accuser when they searched Jackson's bedroom.

MARCH 10, 2005: Judge issues an arrest warrant and threatens to revoke Jackson's $3 million bail when he fails to appear in court on time. Judge holds off on executing the order for an hour as Jackson's lawyer tracks down his client, who was in hospital with back problems. He arrives in court and the trial resumes.

JUNE 14, 2005: Jury finds Jackson not guilty on all charges. After the trial, he travels to Bahrain, where he has ties with the royal family, and then on to Dubai, to "relax."

NOV. 16, 2006: Appears onstage for the first time since being acquitted of child-abuse charges, at the World Music Awards ceremony in London. But disappoints fans by singing just a few lines of "We Are the World."

FEB. 12, 2008: The 25th anniversary edition of Thriller is released and sells 166,000 copies in the first week. But sales drop in the second week, when just 55,000 copies are sold.

FEB. 27, 2008: Authorities announce that his beloved home, the 1,200-hectare Neverland Ranch, is to be auctioned off in public, with all his possessions in it.

NOV. 17, 2008: Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalif, the son of an Arab monarch, takes Jackson to court, charging that Michael Jackson took $7 million as an advance on an album and an autobiography that he never produced.

MARCH 5, 2009: In a rare public appearance, Jackson announces he will perform 10 concerts in London this summer. Forty more shows are added later, but Jackson postpones the "This is It" run's opening four dates.

APRIL 14, 2009: Jackson's representatives say they have reached an agreement with Julien's Auctions in Los Angeles to cancel a planned auction of more than 1,000 items belonging to Jackson.

JUNE 15, 2009: Media report that Lou Ferrigno, who starred as TV's The Incredible Hulk, is paying secret visits to Jackson's Los Angeles home to help him prepare for his London shows. A source tells Britain's The Sun newspaper: "Lou has been visiting Michael to build him up so he can perform his dance routines. ... But Michael refuses to lift weights. He doesn't want to bulk up." Other media report that Jackson weighs 126 pounds, eats just one meal a day, is battling skin cancer and is terrified that gaining weight will damage his chances of beating the disease.

Compiled by Astrid Lange/Toronto Star Library

Sources: USA Today, New York Post, Los Angeles Times, BBC, CBC, MTV.com

Michael Jackson Fans Snap Up Music

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(July 03, 2009) First there was Elvis Presley. Then there was John Lennon.

But long-time record store employees can't recall the death of any other entertainer sparking a buying frenzy like the run on
Michael Jackson's music.

"We've never had anything like this," said Ken Kirkwood, HMV Canada's director of purchasing.

And it's not just people who grew up listing to Jackson's music who have been flocking to stores and downloading the singer's tunes since he died unexpectedly last Thursday at age 50.

"There's also been a lot of young people," said Lucas Dell'abate, a Sunrise Records manager. "I've seen kids come moonwalking through the door, seriously."

Dell'abate adds, "What I find interesting is that in some ways, because he died, it's almost as if people think it's okay to celebrate the music. His life had become a sideshow, and now people are able to look back and concentrate on the music."

Michael Jackson displays are front and centre in music stores on Yonge St. On Amazon.ca yesterday, the singer accounted for eight of the top 10 bestselling albums.

And 2.3 million digital tracks by Jackson have been downloaded in the U.S. since his death. Nielsen SoundScan noted that in the five years it has tracked downloads, no artist has sold more than a million tracks in one week.

"There's a high demand for the albums and posters, really anything MJ," said Dell'abate. "In some ways, I'm a little surprised, because he is one of those artists that everyone has a copy (of) somewhere, but people are coming in saying they had the vinyl. Or they lost the CD or gave it away. But they definitely wanted to hear Michael Jackson last weekend."

It probably doesn't hurt that the store is spitting distance from Yonge-Dundas Square, where crowds have gathered for impromptu tributes in the past week. But reports from retailers around the world, including iTunes, confirm Jackson's music has surged to the top of many charts.

HMV's shelves are fully stocked once again with Jackson albums. The 129 outlets across the country were stripped of the pop icon's products within 24 hours of his death, even though they'd had key items on hand for a contest to send the winner to see Jackson perform in London this month.

CDs trickled in from local distributors early in the week – Sony Music for the bulk of Jackson's solo discs, Universal Music for the Motown years – but ramped up yesterday with a full complement of Jackson's most popular albums.

"We've got a good selection now," said Kirkwood, "but I don't know how long it will last."

He said the most sought-after recordings have been 2003's Number Ones, last year's 25th-anniversary edition of Thriller and The Essential Michael Jackson. DVDs are also being scooped up, he said.

Number Ones, which knocked the Jonas Brothers' Lines, Vines and Trying Times from No. 1 on Toronto's CD charts, according to SoundScan, also tops iTunes Canada's album chart. The Essential Michael Jackson and Thriller are ranked No. 7 and 9 on that list.

As Jackson's catalogue dominates record charts, his first posthumous collection is being released today. Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection, apparently completed well before his sudden demise, will be sold online through Hip-O Select, Universal Music's reissue imprint.

It's a three-disc set of all Jackson's solo recordings from 1971 to 1975, including the Motown albums Got to Be There, Ben, Music and Me and Forever, Michael, as well as songs the company issued from its vaults between 1979 and 1986, following Jackson's departure to Epic. It comes with a 48-page package that includes rare photos and reproductions of the LP jackets.

When fans tire of the familiar music, they can expect to hear numerous unreleased recordings Jackson is believed to have stashed in vaults.

With files from Raju Mudhar and Star wire services

King Of Pop Left `Dozens And Dozens' Of New Songs, Including Recent Recordings With Akon, Will.I.Am

Source: www.thestar.com - Anthony McCartney, Jake Coyle,
Associated Press

(July 02, 2009) LOS ANGELES–A plan to bury Michael Jackson at his sprawling Neverland ranch fizzled yesterday, leaving details about his funeral undecided as another mystery was solved: his newly unveiled will says his mother should raise his children, or failing her, Diana Ross.

And there was some good news for fans amid the gloom of their idol's death: Jackson had a mountain of unreleased recordings in the vault when he died, music that is almost certain to be packaged and repackaged in the years to come.

The material includes unused tracks from studio sessions of some of Jackson's best albums, as well as more recently recorded songs made with Senegalese R&B singer and producer Akon and Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am.

"There are dozens and dozens of songs that did not end up on his albums," said Tommy Mottola, who from 1998 to 2003 was chairman and CEO of Sony Music, which owns the distribution rights to Jackson's music. "People will be hearing a lot of that unreleased material for the first time ever. There's just some genius and brilliance in there." The releases, Mottola said, "could go on for years and years – even more than Elvis.''

Since Jackson's death Thursday, there has been an enormous, almost unprecedented demand for the King of Pop's music.

Nielsen SoundScan said yesterday that three of his records – Number Ones, Essential Michael Jackson and Thriller – were the bestselling albums of the week, and 2.3 million tracks of his have been downloaded in the U.S. alone.

The Jackson family has not publicly discussed plans for Jackson's catalogue. In a 2002 will filed in court yesterday, the pop star left his entire estate to a family trust, with his mother and his children named as beneficiaries.

Katherine Jackson, 79, was appointed their guardian, with entertainer Diana Ross, a long-time friend of Michael Jackson, named successor guardian if something happens to his mother.

A judge ruled yesterday that Katherine Jackson will retain limited control of 2,000 items from Neverland until another hearing Monday.

Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff also called for a speedy compromise between lawyers for Katherine Jackson and the two coexecutors of Michael Jackson's will, lawyer John Branca and John McClain, a music executive and a family friend.

On Monday, Beckloff granted Katherine Jackson "slim" authority to take control of the items that had been slated for auction earlier this year. The sale was stopped after Jackson sued.

Branca and McClain moved quickly to try to overturn her authority, saying it was granted on the mistaken assumption that Jackson died without a valid will.

Meanwhile, Jackson family spokesman Ken Sunshine said a public memorial was in the works for Jackson but wouldn't be held at Neverland. It appeared more likely that a funeral and burial would take place in Los Angeles, a person familiar with the situation told the Associated Press.

The person said billionaire Thomas Barrack, who owns Neverland in a joint venture with Jackson, sought an exemption to bury the singer at the ranch.

But the person says it's a complicated process and it couldn't be done for a burial this week.


Toronto DJ Martin Streek Dead At 45

Source:  www.cbc.ca

(July 7, 2009) According to media reports,
Streek took his own life. He was 45.

He had been let go from Toronto popular music station The Edge (102.1 FM) two months ago in a round of downsizing.

He worked for the station for 20 years, hosting Thursday 30 Countdown, the Sunday night Spirit of Radio show and live-to-air nights from Toronto club the Phoenix.

Friends said he had been optimistic about finding other work, but Streek left a note on his Facebook page Monday.

"So … I guess that's it … thanks everyone … I'm sorry to those I should be sorry to, I love you to those that I love, and I will see you all again soon (not too soon though) … Let the stories begin," the note said.

A Facebook page in his memory has been launched and has drawn thousands of messages from Toronto fans.

Streek had worked for The Edge since he was in high school, according to his website. He started as an intern working with the import music director and was hired to visit high schools, colleges and universities all over Southern Ontario with the CFNY Video Roadshow.

Initially untrained at the mike, Streek's outgoing and opinionated approach to music made him a popular on-air personality.

Streek did voice work for Powerade, Rogers Wireless, Oh Henry, Acura Dealers, The Toronto Sun and Scotiabank. He also tried his hand at stand-up comedy at an event at Betty's.

 DJ's Death Stuns Fans

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner,
Pop Music Critic

(July 08, 2009) A city's worth of rock fans grappled with the loss of one of Toronto radio's signature voices while friends and colleagues reeled in utter disbelief as word spread yesterday that much-loved DJ Martin Streek had apparently ended his own life.

Streek's body was found at his apartment Monday night, two months after he was let go from his 17-year gig at FM 102.1 The Edge and mere hours after he'd updated his Facebook status with a cryptic and foreboding message: "So ... I guess that's it ... thanks everyone ... I'm sorry to those I should be sorry to, I love you to those that I love, and I will see you all again soon (not too soon though) ... Let the stories begin."

Details are murky, but long-time friend David Marsden – who ran the Edge back in its CFNY "Spirit of Radio" heyday – posted news of Streek's death on his website shortly after the body was discovered.

"Martin Streek put on his wings earlier today, to the shock of most everyone," wrote Marsden. "Good night, Martin. We don't know what forced you to take this step but we do wish you a wonderful and peaceful rest."

Streek's baritone and enthusiastic boosterism of bands such as Tool and Nine Inch Nails had been evening fixtures on The Edge since he took over Chris Sheppard's slot in 1992, most notably as the host of The Thursday 30 and the convenor of numerous live-to-air club nights at the Phoenix, the Velvet Underground, Whiskey Saigon and Burlington's Kingdom.

His tenure with 102.1 The Edge ended suddenly in May, however, when he was let go because of corporate restructuring.

"Sombre doesn't begin to describe" the mood at the station, said former Edge programming director Alan Cross.

"Nobody saw this coming," said Cross, noting Streek had been pursuing several other projects since parting ways with The Edge.

"I saw him at the Nine Inch Nails/Jane's Addiction show. We sat together. He looked healthy, he looked fine. ... He was on his way to California to do some white-water rafting with a friend.

"He said, `I've got some things planned' and we just left it at that because he seemed to be okay."

Paul Smith, Streek's agent for the past 15 years, said his friend was in good spirits before he left for California. He hadn't seemed terribly down about losing his job, either.

"You know, we had a talk about it the day of and he was completely okay with it," said Smith. "He was looking forward to doing some other things. It didn't seem to hit him hard at all. That's the shocking thing ... It was completely out of the blue for me."

As online tributes poured in yesterday, one theme was repeated: This was an immensely well-liked man, on air and off, and an unlikely candidate for suicide.

"He was so happy and vibrant and comedic and jovial and full of life and laughing and smiling that this is the last thing in the world I would expect Martin Streek to do ..." said fellow Edge announcer Darrin Pfeiffer. "That's why I'm so shocked. If he got hit by a bus, we'd still be sad, but it'd be like: 'Well, that happens. People get hit by buses.' But for him to take his own life, it's now sadness mixed with frustration mixed with a sprinkling of anger."

Canada Live With Host Andrew Craig

Source:  CBC Radio 2

5 nights a week from 7 to 8,
CBC Radio 2 listeners will be transported to concert halls, music clubs and festival stages across the country for live performances from the best Canadian artists. Host Andrew Craig is on the move, bringing you concerts from well-known artists and up and comers. Canada Live presents a broad range of music: singer songwriter, roots, blues, jazz, pop, world and everything in between.

Andrew Craig is a Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer, director, composer, broadcaster and impresario, working in multiple musical genres, and collaborating with artists in other disciplines. He has worked with a diverse range of musical artists, including Molly Johnson, Jackie Richardson, Measha Bruggergosman, Ashley MacIsaac and Wynton Marsalis, award-winning playwrights Djanet Sears and Marion Caffey, and dance ensembles such as Dance Immersion.

Andrew Musical Directed Harbourfront's tribute to Quincy Jones, and has twice performed for Nelson Mandela. He was nominated in the category of "Pianist/Keyboardist of the Year" in both the 2006 and 2007 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards.

Andrew also works as a host and producer with CBC. For 2 1/2 years, Andrew hosted CBC Radio Two's "In Performance", the network's flagship Classical concerts program. He is now the Toronto Region Host and Associate Producer for the successor to "In Performance", called "Canada Live".

In the area of television, Andrew hosted both the 2006 and 2007 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame galas, which aired on CBC Television and Radio, and which honoured Canadian greats Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Jean-Pierre Ferland and Gilles Vigneault, among others. In 2007, CBC Television aired Season One of "Triple Sensation", a reality series that searches for Canada's finest young actor who can sing and dance. "Triple Sensation" received critical and public acclaim, and Andrew served as the show's inaugural host.

Andrew created, Musical Directed and co-produced "A Gospel Christmas Celebration" for CBC Radio and Television in December 2006. Both programs were re-broadcast the following year, and the television version received both a Gemini nomination, and a Bronze World Medal at the New York Festivals (one of the world's most prestigious media competitions).

He also produced the CD version of the special, called "The Gospel Christmas Project", for CBC Records.

Andrew recently made his orchestral conducting debut, performing "The Gospel Christmas Project - LIVE!" with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa. The show minus orchestra had its premiere performance at Massey Hall in December 2007. Both performances had the press and audiences raving.

As an impresario, Andrew has twice presented a full-scale tribute to Earth, Wind and Fire. He also created and produced a highly-successful Valentine's show in 2004 and 2008, called "Celebrate Love". Andrew has been commissioned to compose the soundtrack to the upcoming documentary on the life of former Ontario Lieutenant-General Lincoln Alexander, produced for OMNI Television. The documentary will have its premiere in 2008.

Andrew Craig is the former Co-Chair of the Music Committee of the Toronto Arts Council, and is currently a member of the Advisory Council for the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, and the Programming Committee of Toronto's Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Maxwell Better As A Lover Than A Fighter

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Amy Verner

BLACKsummers' Night
Three stars

(July 07, 2009) There are some people who won't even notice that
Maxwell is missing his signature afro, even if this gorgeous, unmovable mess of hair contributed to his image as a late-nineties sex symbol. But after a seven-year hiatus from the music biz, the songwriter who helped define the genre of neo-soul has returned with an album that closely parallels his new cropped cut. Which is to say: smooth and sleek, but less seductive.

The good news is that BLACKsummers' Night is Auto-Tune free. As the first of a trilogy to be released over the next two years, this collection of nine songs still showcases Maxwell's ability to jump from a mellow, masculine pitch to a falsetto that defies sonic gravity. His vocal range is indisputably in fine form.

The better news is that at least three tracks deserve top marks for putting listeners in the mood to make out (because really, wasn't that the main reason why so many of us gravitated towards Embrya and Urban Hang Suite , two of his strongest albums).

As the breakout single, a video for Pretty Wings is already working its charms online. The repetition of the title's two words has the effect of a lullaby rather than a romantic gesture; a kiss on the forehead instead of the lips.

With Stop the World , it's as if we're back to the old Maxwell, a crooner who is persuasive enough to make all outside problems melt away. (As if the music isn't soothing enough, he reassures with, “Let the world rage outside, 'cause when I'm here with you / The world stops for me, the world stops for me.”)

In Fistful of Tears , Maxwell tries to calm and condemn his lover's anxiety; the melody, meanwhile, is more enveloping than a duvet covered in cashmere. Check it off as the catchiest track on the album.

Jam sessions are an integral part of Maxwell's shtick; the problem with Phoenix Rise is that it evokes lobby music at a European boutique hotel. Although he tries to expand beyond musical foreplay with Help Somebody – a gritty call to action – and Cold , he's ultimately a better as a lover than a fighter.

Back in 1996 when Maxwell arrived on the scene, his peers could be counted on one hand: D'Angelo, Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott and Angie Stone. Now, the hybrid niche of neo-soul has increasingly become crowded with such eager-to-please artists as John Legend and Robin Thicke to say nothing of chanteuses Corinne Bailey Rae, Adele and Duffy who channel a similar moody-meet-mellow vibe.

This means that Maxwell songs no longer sound like groundbreaking grooves. What's worse, some of the lyrics actually enter turnoff territory. “You come from out of nowhere / Disappear and reappear / Houdini would be proud” from Love You or “Global warming ain't got nothing on this chick” care of Cold .

Maxwell is still a flirt par excellence; but with BLACKsummers' Night , he's missing some of that magic mojo. Personally, I blame the hair.

Full Speed Ahead For Bolt

Source: www.thestar.com -
Bradley S. Klapper, Associated Press

(July 06, 2009) LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Usain Bolt is ready to chase more records.

The triple Olympic champion starts the "serious" part of his season in the 200 metres at the Athletissima meet on Tuesday, and the 22-year-old Jamaican is aiming high.

Bolt says the race will be an early test of his form as he works toward bettering the world records he set in the 100 and 200 last summer at the Beijing Olympics. He also would one day like to take a shot at Michael Johnson's decade-old mark in the 400.

"I definitely will be running to the line this year because it's my first serious race of the season," said Bolt, who last September in Lausanne coasted to victory in the 200 in 19.63 seconds, the fourth fastest time in history. "I'll be going all out because I need to know where I'm at and what I need to do."

Bolt said at a news conference on Monday that he is mostly concerned about technique and strength at this point in the season. He won the 100 in 9.86 seconds and the 200 in 20.25 seconds at the Jamaican national championships last month, and he ran a 100 in 9.77 earlier in the season.

The times were well off his record-setting runs of 9.69 and 19.30 in Beijing. Conceding that he was behind in his preparations for the world championships in Berlin, Bolt still promised to be ready by next month.

"I don't have a world championship gold medal yet, so I'm working on that," he said. "A successful season would be to go to the world championships and repeat what I did in Beijing."

Bolt confirmed that meant aiming for new records.

"Definitely. If that comes, I would really like that, but it's about getting the gold medals first," he said.

As for chasing Johnson's record 400 time of 43.18 seconds, Bolt said it isn't a priority right now.

"If it was up to me I wouldn't do that, but in the future, probably, yes," he said. "If I dominate for years to come, which I want to, then I think my coach will definitely want me to run the 400."

Bolt will line up Tuesday against American Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympic champion and runner-up last year.

Also on the speedy Pontaise track will be Bolt's Jamaica teammate Asafa Powell in the 100. The former record-holder is seen as one of Bolt's main challengers in the sprints this season alongside American Tyson Gay.

Cuba's Dayron Robles, the 110-metre hurdles Olympic champion and record holder, will be in action and could put up a fast time on the same track where China's Liu Xiang set the previous record three years ago.

Olympic pole vault champion Steve Hooker will also start his outdoor season.

On the women's side, Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser heads a strong field in the 100, while gold medallist hurdlers Dawn Harper in the 110 and Melanie Walker in the 400 are also in action.

Canada's Perdita Felicien and Priscilla Lopes-Schleip are scheduled to run in the 110-metre hurdles. Lopes-Schleip won bronze in Beijing but was beaten by Felicien last month at a meet in Toronto.

Also competing for Canada is Nathan Brannen in the men's 1,500 metres.


Detroit, Soul City

Source: www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

(July 7, 2009) "Motown is a magical something that has never been seen before and will never be seen again,” Berry Gordy Jr. told Vanity Fair recently. Far be it for anyone to disagree with the visionary Gordy. He's the dream-maker who in 1959 founded Motown Records, the label that not only earned its boastful slogan – “The Music of Young America” – but became the most celebrated black-owned corporation the world has ever seen. Its stable of stars, songwriters and sidemen produced a radio-rousing 70 Top Ten hits – which is some assembly line, even by Motor City standards.

Fifty years later, the house at 2648 West Grand Blvd. – once the musical home of the Supremes, the Jackson 5, the Four Tops and many others– which is open to the public, has fast become a memorial site after the sudden death of Michael Jackson. A makeshift shrine has sprung up on the steps, and fans have gathered day and night to pay tribute to the King of Pop. A candlelight vigil was held to mourn the star who launched his career there when he recorded as a member of the Jackson 5, and more events are expected – both to honour Jackson and to mark the label's anniversary.

An invitation across the nation
Even without the colourful shrine, it's hard to miss the blue-and-white clapboard house, with its famous, cursive-written “Hitsville U.S.A.” banner dominating the frontage. Entering the house next door – the two conjoined buildings of the Motown Historical Museum (founded in 1985) are all of what is left of an empire that once occupied eight dwellings on the street – you're invited to join a guided tour of a facility filled tambourine-tight with history.

The period-perfect condition of the place is apparent straight away. The reception desk has on it a day calendar from 1972 – the year Motown announced the transfer of its operations from Detroit to Los Angeles. Before she landed a recording contract, Martha Reeves (of Dancing in the Streets , Martha and the Vandellas fame) manned the switchboard here.

Notice the vintage vending machine, stocked with Milk Duds and chocolate bars. The Baby Ruth, Stevie Wonder's favourite 10-cent treat, needed to be placed in the same exact slot whenever it was replenished, so that the blind genius knew he was selecting the right sweet.

Upstairs is the apartment, restored to its 1960 appearance, that served as the living quarters for the young Gordy family and the fledgling label's distribution centre (basically, the dining-room table). The orange vinyl couch was often used by Marvin Gaye – not to “get it on,” but to snooze after marathon recording sessions. Motown, you learn, operated 24/7.

My guide, talkin' 'bout my guide
Part of the tour is led by Kelly, a bright and cheerful narrator with all sorts of fun facts at her disposal. For instance, those dazzling gowns you see, once donned by the Supremes, weigh something like 35 pounds each. No wonder you “can't hurry love” – those gals were seriously slowed down by cumbersome costumes.

The gallery's centrepiece, though, is the sequined glove and fedora worn by Michael Jackson for his Beat It video. After we witness this stellar attraction, a new guide takes over.

Standing in the shadows
Studio A is the cozy 20-by-15-foot basement room where most of the label's chart-topping music was recorded. Gladys Knight called the unventilated room the “snake pit” – not in any affectionate way. It ain't pretty, but it's a kick being in the same room where the Jackson 5, Mary Wells, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the backbeating studio band the Funk Brothers did business.

The songwriting and production team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland worked songcrafting magic here. The well-used Steinway in the corner was used by Gaye to compose classic cuts. When Diana Ross cooed Baby Love , she did so on these microphones first. The splintered hole in the control-room floor, apparently, was created by studio producers digging the peppy rhythm and stomping to the beat. And that archaic three-track console was used to record early hits Please Mr. Postman , Do You Love Me , and an infectious 1961 hit by the Miracles.

Better shop around
The tour ends as most such sightseeing does, at the gift shop. Gordy founded Motown with $800; now, that amount covers the costs of a black-and-white photograph of Tammi Terrell ($5), a rhinestone dog tag ($9.99), a set of refrigerator magnets ($18), four T-shirts ($22 each), two Studio A sweatshirts ($30 each), a Smokey Robinson biography ($50), the 10-CD Motown: The Complete #1's set ($170) and a framed ticket ($400) from one of the legendary revue shows held during the label's heyday at Detroit's Fox Theatre.

What's going on?
Next Saturday, a local radio station will broadcast Motown tunes from the lawn outside the museum, from 2 to 4 p.m. The public is invited to bring lawn chairs and relax to a set list likely devoted to Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. That night, legendary Detroit soul singer Aretha Franklin performs at the fabulous Fox Theatre in the downtown entertainment district (www.olympiaentertainment.com/venues/foxtheatre.jsp; 313-471-6611).

* * *

Easy as 1-2-3

What to do
Motown Historical Museum 2648 West Grand Blvd., Detroit, 313-875-2264; www.motownmuseum.com. Admission $8 to $10.

Where to stay
The Inn on Ferry Street 84 East Ferry St., Detroit; 313-871-6000; innonferrystreet.com. Rates $115 to $324. A boutique hotel housed in four restored Victorian mansions and two carriage houses. Complimentary shuttle to the Motown museum.

* * *

Songs to put you in the Motown mood

Uptight (Everything's Alright)
Stevie Wonder (1965)
When Stevie sings this remedy song, everything really is alright.

Ain't Too Proud to Beg
The Temptations (1966)
Darn irresistible.

Out of My System
Jamie Lidell (2008)
The British soul singer lets off some steam with an infectious beat and dandy vibraphones.

What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
Jimmy Ruffin (1966)
What becomes of them? They spend hours listening to this tear-jerker on repeat.

Tears of a Clown
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (1967)
A pop masterpiece, simply.

100 Yard Dash
Raphael Saadiq (2008)
The lithe, ultrahip Saadiq gives Smokey a run for his money.

You Keep Me Hangin' On
The Supremes (1966)
If a case is to be made for Diana Ross as the greatest ever pop singer, this is exhibit A.

Alice Russell (2008)
There's a reason everyone covers Gnarls Barkley's psycho-analyzing mega-hit.

Reach Out I'll Be There
Four Tops (1966)
A giant-sized promise of compassion, written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland.

Dancing in the Street
Martha and the Vandellas (1964)
A “brand-new beat,” indeed.

Brad Wheeler

Editor's note: The original version of this article listed Aretha Franklin as a Motown recording artist. This version has been corrected.


Drake Addresses BET Awards Debacle, Performance

: www.singersroom.com

(July 2, 2009) "Every Girl" singer/artist Drake has just become the first person to come forward and speak of Sunday's controversial performance with Lil Wayne at the BET Awards 09'.

The performance, put together prior to the shocking death and subsequent tribute to Michael Jackson, became a subject of much scrutiny -- mainly aimed at BET earlier this week.

The scrutiny, due to the fact that Lil Wayne's daughter and other teenage girls were on stage while the rapper was using immense profanity and sexually tinged lyrics, has now been addressed in Drake's fresh interview with Complex Magazine.

In his sit down with Complex, Drake takes on the backlash, stating: "That, actually—to be honest—was a terrible idea that I’ll never do to myself again. But I was being pressed from different areas to perform, and I think what really happened at the BET Awards is with the passing of Mike, the climate really changed, as far as the award show goes. I don’t think it called for us to perform “Every Girl” and “Always Strapped,” and I think it was an award show filled with tributes and music and these genuine heartfelt speeches. And to sort of climax out of a very tongue-in-cheek point, and then people misconstruing Wayne’s daughters and her friends coming out on stage."

While addressing the BET performance, Drake also confirms that he did indeed injure himself and was thus sitting on the stool for that reason alone. But it is Drake's response to a question that involves BET's planning (Watching it at home, the BET Awards seemed to be a mess. Did it seem that way in person?) that is most interesting:

"Well, I can only speak for my portion of it. I had asked for something very specific for my performance and none of those were met, as far as production value, so… I understood my situation, as far as sitting in one place, and figured there was a way to make it interesting. But when I looked around and noticed that none of that was going on, I kind of just realized that it was going to be a loss for me. But at the end of the day, it is what it is."

For any parents and other viewers offended by the performance, Drake says "To anyone who was offended, my personal apologies, it wasn’t intended to offend anybody."

In related news, Drake has signed to Lil Wayne's Young Money and will release his anticipated debut later this year.

Lil Wayne has not issued a statement in relation to the BET Awards show but has cancelled a multi-city/country European tour planned for this summer,  click here for more on that story.

Drake joins Omarion at Young Money.

The Best And Worst Of The 2009 BET Awards

Source: www.craveonline.com -
by Johnny Firecloud

(Jun 30, 2009) This year's BET Awards ceremony was reformatted at almost literally the last minute, when planners decided to turn the event into a nearly four-hour Michael Jackson tribute. 
The award presentations themselves were only footnotes on a night that was entirely consumed with honoring Michael, and rightfully so - nobody's going to remember who won a BET award 20 years from now, but our grandchildren will know Michael Jackson's music. They'll dance and hit high falsettos just like we try to do to this day. Just this morning I saw two kids trying to moonwalk at Starbucks. So what if they hit the display rack and dozens of shitty CDs scattered across the floor? They were honoring the man.
Here's our collection of the best - and worst - moments from this year's BET Awards. 

Good: Jamie Foxx hosted the ceremony this year, but he was also a nominee and a performer - his jokes were reserved but funny ("I loved the old nose and the new nose"), and his live performance of the hit “Blame It On the Alcohol” was a well-placed moment of levity in the night. Jamie's moonwalk attempt wasn't half bad, despite tripping over himself at one point. Disagree? I'd like to see you do better.
Good: New Edition took things back to the ‘70s, which Jackson thrived in with his brothers as a child star. Rather than a medley of all Jackson's career hits, the closest we came were Jackson 5 hits such as this. Bobby Brown was looking a bit on the chunkalicious side, but it was good to see him hitting his cues and not cracking out on Whitney. 
Bad: The same can't be said for Jay-Z's "surprise" performance his new single “D.O.A.,” presumably off his upcoming Blueprint 3 album, due out later this year. The performance was said to have been a replacement for a possible planned Chris Brown-led tribute to the fallen icon. BET execs reportedly felt that Brown's presence would be a distraction, so they replaced him with Hova, who did a fine job with a mediocre song (let's face it) but a self-promoting song about murdering anything seemed largely out of place in a night devoted to honoring a deceased legend.
Good & Bad: Beyonce's presentation and performance was as overblown and lavish as the hype surrounding her (you've heard the "successor to the throne" talk, haven't you?), with a tiara and a wedding dress supplemented by a wind machine. Fortunately, her medley of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" and the classic "Ave Maria" were tear-jerkingly beautiful renditions.
Bad: The Young Money performance was, to put it mildly, a bloody disaster. Lil Wayne and newcomer/ apparent golden child Drake took the stage for the song "Every Girl," a track that essentially documents Lil Wayne's sexual escapades with girls around the world. They ended the performance with a gathering of dancers that looked to have a combined age of 19 - including Weezy's pre-teen daughter

Good: The fake movie trailer “Skank Robbers,” which found Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence revisit their famed female alter-egos Wanda and Sha Nay Nay turning out a performance that looks better than half the movies we're supposed to be getting excited about this summer.
Good & Bad: The endless Don Cornelius rant. “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius appeared on stage to present an honorary award to the O’Jays, but managed to shift the conversation his own way and stretch his introduction out to great lengths. “Wow, Don, that was very short!,” The O’Jays said when accepting the award. “He’s always been that slow." But then again, "Soul Train" broke half the acts sitting in the room that night, so he's got a right to talk for an hour straight if he wants to.

Good & Bad: The performances weren't lip-synched, a clear siren call for respectability and authenticity in the industry. As a result, however, almost every singer or performer was slightly flat or off-key. Best New Artist winner Keri Hilson was the sole exception, tearing off a searing medley of "Turnin' Me On" and "Knock You Down".
Bad: The running time. The Oscar-length running time of this year’s BET Awards was 3 hours, 45 minutes. Sure, it was a heartfelt tribute, but by the third hour of the show I was ready to give Michael a break and change the channel. 

Good: Janet Jackson made a brief appearance at the end of the show, addressing the audience as a representative of the entire Jackson family: "To you, Michael is an icon. To us, Michael was family, and he will live forever in our hearts....thank you. Thank you." Then Jamie Foxx and Ne-Yo performed a spot-on, tear-jerking duet of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.” It was a beautiful finish to an off-balance but well-intentioned broadcast that will be remembered as a successful tribute to the fallen King Of Pop.
The winners:
• Male R&B Artist: Ne-Yo.
• Female R&B Artist: Beyonce.
• Group: Day 26.
• Collaboration: “Blame It,” Jamie Foxx featuring T-Pain.
• Male Hip Hop Artist: Lil Wayne.
• Female Hip Hop Artist: M.I.A.
• New Artist: Keri Hilson.
• Gospel Artist: Mary Mary.
• Video of the Year: “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” Beyonce.
• Video Director of the Year: Benny Boom.
• Actor: Will Smith.
• Actress: Taraji P. Henson.
• Female Athlete: Serena Williams.
• Male Athlete: LeBron James.
• Centric Award: Jazmine Sullivan.
• Viewer’s Choice Award: “Live Your Life,” T.I.
• Humanitarians of the Year: Alicia Keys and Wyclef Jean.
• Lifetime Achievement Award: O’Jays

Old School Pales When The Best Of Hip Hop Has Gone Global

www.globeandmail.com - Joshua Ostroff

Rock the Bells
at Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto on Sunday

(July 07, 2009) Not surprisingly for a tour named after a 1985 LL Cool J track, Rock the Bells is an annual celebration of hip-hop history and this year's event not only demonstrated where the genre began, but also where it went.

The line-up is always loaded with old-school icons like host KRS-One, who got so lost in nostalgia he blurted out, “Remember rotary phones?” KRS freestyled, brought out pioneering Toronto rapper
Michie Mee and rapped a timeline tune explaining what happened when: “1977. That's when the word hip hop came out of heaven.”

Despite KRS's claims, this year's line-up didn't have quite the juice to earn its own historical entry. Though OutKast's Big Boi and Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA both boasted hits-filled sets, they couldn't help but ring a little hollow representing their beloved groups all by themselves.

On the other hand, there were several reunions. Talib Kweli rejoined DJ Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal, performing from their 2000 debut and their not-yet-released follow-up Revolutions Per Minute . But the biggest response came from Kweli's two Kanye West collaborations, Get By and Get 'Em High , and he later reunited with ex-Black Star partner Mos Def for a couple of show-stopping duets. Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith also reteamed as EPMD, though the Long Island duo's 21-year-old songs didn't hold up much better than their lacklustre new ones.

Hip hop may have started out on KRS-One's home borough, the Bronx, but it's long since gone global and Rock the Bells' best sets boasted international flavour. Somali-Canadian rapper
K'naan killed with his live band, musical flow, thoughtful lyrics and memorable songs. T.I.A. (This Is Africa) , ABCs and Wavin' Flag combined African rhythms with boom-bap beats and clever rhymes about “learning the English language just to share these observations.” Though admittedly overdoing the a cappellas, K'naan refreshingly never feels the need to act tough since he comes from a land of warlords and pirates.

Mos Def, a last-minute addition after Common cancelled, applied a Jamaican dub sheen to his performance, from his epic take on 1999's Umi Says to cuts off his acclaimed new record The Ecstatic .

Then came co-headliners Nas and Damian Marley. Their styles seem as far apart as their hair (close-crop versus knee-length dreads) and their 'hoods (New York versus Kingston). But Jamaican immigrants created hip hop, which was later reincorporated into reggae to produce dancehall –and these charismatic performers gelled similarly well.

They made room for one another's anthems (Nas's If I Ruled The World , Marley's Welcome to JamRock ) and even rocked a jaw-dropping transition from Nas's One Love to Marley's father Bob's same-named classic.

They also performed joint jams from their upcoming album Distant Relatives , most notably Afrobeat on which Nas rhymed, “My man'll speak Patois, and I can speak rap star.” But really Nas, Marley, K'naan, KRS and everyone else on the day-long bill were all speaking the same language: hip hop.

The Rock the Bells Festival will be at Vancouver's Deer Lake Park Aug. 1 and Calgary's Shaw Millennium Park Aug. 2.

Rhythm, Music - Who Could Ask For Anything More?

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry, Pop & Jazz Critic

(July 05, 2009) A pair of first-class small ensembles commanded the Nathan Phillips Square main stage at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival Friday night.

The Dave Holland Quintet kicked off the double bill with "Last Minute Man," bassist Holland's composition from Overtime (2005). Led by Steve Nelson on vibes, with Nate Smith on drums, they eased in tentatively before unleashing the burning, relentless interaction that characterizes groups commanded by British virtuoso Holland, who came to the fore with Miles Davis in the late '60s.

Even when saxophonist Chris Potter or trombonist Robin Eubanks took off on intricate, mesmerizing solos, the rhythm section maintained the free-wheeling tension, with Holland steering firmly with his plump tone and harmonic suggestions.

The capacity crowd was particularly appreciative of Potter, welcoming the Chicago native like a hometown hero, and cheering his boundlessly electrifying choruses.

The Branford Marsalis Quartet took the stage 90 minutes later with the jocular leader commending the "beautiful, crisp" night; he dubbed the city's weather "springtime in July."

The ensemble began with "The Return of the Jitney Man" from the group's current disc Metamorphosen. The hard-bop outing, followed by Miles Davis's "Teo," showcased Marsalis's aggressive, physical tenor sound and the higher, faster, stronger hijinks of his accompanists. Justin Faulkner, 18, who recently replaced longtime Marsalis drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, proved a worthy addition, driving the frenetic pace, but also knowing when to lay out.

For all the fireworks, it was the ballads that really impressed, with Marsalis's lyricism and the band's intuitive communication. On pianist Joey Calderazzo's touching "The Blossom of Parting," Marsalis's tender soprano evoked loss and yearning. The song, dedicated to "a friend from Mississauga," demonstrated how attuned Calderazzo was to Marsalis, repeating the boss's phrases verbatim before putting his stamp on them.

The audience was delighted when Eubanks and Potter joined the Marsalis band for their encore.


The Toronto Jazz Festival wraps up today. Some must-see events:

• Known for wacky costumes and stage antics, Vancouver's 11-piece afro-funk orchestra Five Alarm Funk makes its Ontario debut. Billed as an "unstoppable dance party" courtesy of intense horn lines and percolating afrobeat guitar combined with the interplay of four percussionists. 5 p.m. Free. Nathan Philips Square.

• The festival's 23rd edition closes with its best deal: a $35 killer triple bill of Japanese sax master Sadao Watanabe, Montreal's bassist Alain Caron's electric quartet and Detroit saxist Kenny Garrett, who will be showcasing his current disc Sketches of MD, a tribute to Miles Davis with whom he worked in the '80s. 8 p.m., Nathan Phillips Square.

– Ashante Infantry

Visit tojazz.com for more information.

Academy Award Winning Jamie Foxx Embarks On A 50 City Tour

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Eunice Moseley

(July 02, 2009) *“I have to go on the road to solidify my music career,” Jamie told me during an interview about his “Intuition Tour” which kicks off Friday July 3, 2009  in Anaheim, CA at The Grove.

Academy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and NAACP Image Award winning comedian/actor, now platinum selling artist - thanks to the success of his first single off his “Intuition” CD, “Blame It” featuring T-Pain -  is riding high on his sophomore projects' success and believes he has to ride the wave as long as he can. The “Intuition Tour” will be riding all the way to October when it ends in Las Vegas.

Jamie said he will never have another opportunity like this. He hopes he will, but he says the odds say maybe not. I think, however, his talent is so touched by God that all things are possible. His single “Blame it” has already broken a record as spending the longest weeks at number one  on Urban Mainstream Charts (12 consecutive weeks), topping TLC's “No Scrubs,” which rode the number one slot for 11 weeks. “Blame it” also received the 2009 BET Award (which he hosted while honouring the life of Michael Jackson) for the Best Collaboration.

 “We didn't want people to know it was me,” Jamie said when I told him that I didn't know it was him when I first heard the single. “We wanted to stay away from R&B. It's what I came out here to do...what I want to do.”

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at his career, Jamie entered into the entertainment business as a comedian/actor. I believe it was his Academy Award winning role as Ray Charles that introduced us to his unbelievable musical talents.

“I learned how to sing by teaching people,” Jamie replied when asked when did he know he had such an amazing voice. “Music was my passion. I didn't know I had a voice. I was minister of music (at his grandmother's church) for the choir. I would teach people parts (alto, tenor, soprano, etc...).”

During the interview it is evident that Jamie is a very spiritual person who knows where his blessings are coming. His personal goal is to stay humble and funny, “most of all funny.”

This is Jamie's second tour produced by Bay Area Productions and Another Planet Entertainment.  His first tour, the “Unpredictable Tour,” in 2007 introduced him as a recording artist, I believe this one will solidify, as he said, his position as a singer.

“Ray Charles,”  the film, solidified him as an actor (not to forget his current starring role with Robert Downey, Jr. in  the film, “The Soloist” and his starring roles in “Collateral,” “Redemption,” “”Dreamgirls,” “Miami Vice,” “Jarhead” and “The Kingdom,”) even though before that he starred in his own sitcom “The Jamie Foxx Show” for years.

Aside from his singing and acting, Jamie is also a radio personality, thanks to his widely popular “The Foxxhole” radio show on Sirius XM, and is a television producer for co-producing the MTV reality show “From G's to Gents”

For more information on the tour or Jamie log onto www.tour.jamiefoxx.com or www.jamiefoxx.com.

Mary Mary ‘Sounds’ Off With New CD

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Kenya M. Yarbrough

(July 6, 2009) *Urban gospel stars Mary Mary have certainly made a name for themselves. In 2000 they broke on the scene with their debut disc and first single “Shackles (Praise You).”

The sister duo of Erica and Tina Campbell has now proclaimed their sound with their latest disc “The Sound.”

The two-time Grammy award winners released this, their fifth album, late last year and it's still maintaining traction on urban radio thanks to the hits “Get Up” and “The God in Me” featuring gospel fave Kierra Sheard.

The sisters have also won Stellar, Dove, and America Music Awards, not to mention the love of legions of fans in reshaping the definition of gospel music, but the two say it’s easy to stay grounded.

“We stay grounded knowing who I serve; knowing who I am,” Erica told EUR’s Gerald Radford. “I’m aware of what I can and what I cannot do. I’m aware of what prayer does and what hard work does and the difference between the two. No matter what God blesses us with, it doesn’t blow my head up because I’m realistic to where we are and who God is in this whole thing and I just give him all the glory.”

They explained that their foolproof plan of giving God all the glory means they rarely toot their own horn and that’s what keeps them humble, but Erica continued that at the same time, the duo is not surprised at their success.

“I’m not surprised because we’ve worked like crazy,” she said matter-of-factly. “If all this happened and I was just sitting at home, then I would be surprised. We have definitely put the work in and on top of the work that we’ve put in, God has been who is always who he is to us and that’s allowing our music to reach far and do what it does in blessing people and touching lives.”

    Get MORE of this story HERE: www.eurweb.com/story/eur54471.cfm

Tracy Chapman To Spend Summer On Tour

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(July 01, 2009) *Tracy Chapman has unveiled an extensive slate of summer concert dates, her first full-scale North American itinerary in over three years, according to her label Elektra.   The tour -- which celebrates the four-time Grammy-winner's 2008 release, "Our Bright Future" -- will hit the road on July 31st at Boston's House of Blues. From there, Chapman will cross the continent, wrapping up with an eagerly awaited show at The Fillmore in her adopted hometown of San Francisco (see below itinerary). The North American dates will be preceded by a major trek across Europe, with multiple performances set for Ireland, England, France, Denmark, Poland, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, and The Netherlands.  Below are dates for Tracy Chapman's North American Tour 2009

31           Boston, MA         House of Blues


1              Northampton, MA              Calvin Theatre
3              Philadelphia, PA                Keswick Theatre
5              Edmonton, AB    Edmonton Folk Music Festival
7              New York, NY     Hammerstein Ballroom
8              Washington, DC                 9:30 Club
9              Baltimore, MD    Ram's Head Live
11           Ann Arbor, MI      Michigan Theatre
12           Chicago, IL          Park West
14           Milwaukee, WI    Pabst Theatre
15           Minneapolis, MN                O'Shaughnessy
18           San Diego, CA    Humphrey's
19           Los Angeles, CA                Wiltern Theatre
21           San Francisco, CA            The Fillmore

Hip-Hopping Their Way To Fame

www.globeandmail.com - Carla Wintersgill

(July 03, 2009) The country's best undiscovered urban artists converge in Toronto Saturday for a showcase that marks the end of a nationwide talent search and could launch the career of Canada's next big thing.

The Urban Music Association of Canada (
UMAC) and Nettwerk Music Group have teamed up to put on Urban X-Posure, an artists' conference and competition, with the winner receiving a cross-country concert tour in the fall and a digital singles deal with Nettwerk.

For UMAC, it's not just about the competition. The organization wants to see Canadian urban music (hip hop, soul, R&B) get the international acclaim they think it deserves.

“It's important to get Canadian urban artists out there. The vehicles are there, but what's lacking is an education on how to navigate the new-music landscape,” says Will Strickland, president of UMAC, who sees the conference component of Urban X-Posure as just as important as the competition.

Although Canada has produced great musical talents, one might be hard-pressed to add an urban artist to the list of Canadian stars with an international profile – something UMAC would like to see change.

Artists need be taught how to promote themselves, says Strickland, and will get a chance today. More than 300 people are expected at a panel discussion before the evening show covering topics such as how to apply for music grants, how to expand online in the digital era and how to navigate in a post-major-record-deal world.

“Just making a cute MySpace page and putting a Paypal button on it doesn't guarantee results,” Strickland says.

Although this is Urban X-Posure's third year, it's the first time a prize is being offered to the winner. The first two years were more of a celebration of black music and dance, as well as a test of whether Urban X-Posure would succeed – a test Strickland considers the event has now passed. Two of the three finalists in 2007 were MC Isis, who is now one half of the electronic music duo, Thunderheist, that has found moderate success south of the border; and Drake, a.k.a. Aubrey Graham, the former Degrassi: The Next Generation star turned rapper who was recently the subject of a major-label bidding war. (Drake just announced this week that he has signed with Lil Wayne's label, Young Money, and also sealed a distribution deal with Universal Republic.)

“The stats don't lie,” says Strickland, pointing out that American actor/singer Jamie Foxx referred to Drake as “rookie of the year” when the Canadian performed at the BET Awards last week.

Finalists such as Daniel Daley, who has, “been doing music forever, playing piano since I was 8, and singing since I came out [of the womb],” know winning could be a big boost.

Now 23, the Scarborough native has released two singles independently and has had radio play in Toronto, but, “In Canada, there's not that many outlets for urban music,” says Daley.

“The opportunity that comes with the digital deal and the cross-country tour, people would kill for an opportunity like that.”

More than 150 artists from as far away as the Yukon submitted demos to Urban X-Posure. The submissions were then narrowed down to 20 acts who performed for the judges last week. Those unable to attend in person sent in video performances.

Typically, only the top three acts perform at the showcase. But Strickland says the judges were so impressed with the quality of submissions, they invited 10 acts to strut their stuff today.

While UMAC is funding the winning artist's tour, Vancouver-based Nettwerk, seeing an opportunity to expand its base on the eve of the label's 25th anniversary, has gotten involved with the competition this year to distribute the winner's single.

“Nettwerk's always supported every genre of music, and it's never been a forefront urban music label – everyone knows that,” says Nettwerk's Lex Llaguno, who is one of the judges.

“We want to take it up a notch and make it a larger event,” he says about Urban X-Posure. “We want to make it a Canadian Idol , but in an urban sense.”

Urban X-Posure will be held at the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front St. W, in Toronto today. Doors open at 4 p.m. Admission is $5.

It's Time Hiromi Uehara Became A Household Name

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
J.D. Considine

Toronto Jazz Festival
At various locations in Toronto on Monday and Tuesday

(July 02, 2009) Forget what they say about nobody liking a show-off. Sometimes a bit of razzle-dazzle is just the thing to get an audience's attention – particularly if it involves a stunning display of technical agility.

Just ask anyone who caught pianist
Hiromi Uehara's show at the Toronto Jazz Festival Monday evening. Although she has performed at the festival before, with her fusion group Hiromi's Sonic Bloom, Monday's recital at the Fleck Dance Theatre marked her first solo piano performance in Canada, and she was clearly trying to make a good impression.

She opened with a boisterous I Got Rhythm that left the audience slack-jawed in amazement. Uehara played the tune stride style, meaning her left hand maintained a steady oompah pattern of bass notes and chords. That she could simultaneously spin impossibly intricate melodic figures with her right hand was impressive; that she did so while maintaining a tempo even bebop players would have found brisk was downright flabbergasting.

Having set the tone, Uehara spent the rest of the evening making us wonder why she isn't already a household name in jazz circles. In addition to prodigious technique, she has strong melodic instincts and charm to spare – and she can toss off runs that make Flight of the Bumblebee seem like a five-finger exercise. But she also feels the music deeply, and whether she was smiling in pleasure as she toyed with Pachelbel's Canon or conveying her sadness at the loss of Oscar Peterson with Somewhere , it was hard not to be moved.

Some great ensemble moments

As Hiromi was finishing her Canadian solo debut, the Gary Burton Quartet Revisited was making its final appearance at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. “It started out as just a one-night thing,” said vibraphonist Burton of the group, which also included guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Three years later, they called it quits with a show that had some great ensemble moments – the playing on Metheny's Missouri Uncompromised was particularly fine – as well as some striking guitar-vibraphone duets (including an amazing, cliché-free Summertime ).

Where Burton's quartet was assembled to recreate earlier musical partnerships, Chris Potter's Underground, which played the Pilot Monday and Tuesday night, was assembled to reanimate the sound and groove of 1970s fusion. Although the group – Potter, Craig Taborn on Rhodes piano, Adam Rogers on guitar and Nate Smith on drum – has more than its share of virtuosos, what made the music so compelling was the quartet's almost supernatural rapport. As they worked through their second set Monday, Taborn and Smith traded accents as if they could read each other's mind, while Potter had the uncanny ability to head out on just the right tangents to pull the music together. Seldom has the past sounded so much like the future.

Pop meets jazz

Jamie Cullum is not a big fellow – when he stands at the piano, he doesn't have to lean much to reach the keys – but he's a huge draw, and his show Tuesday at Nathan Philips Square had by far the largest crowd of the festival so far. Nor should that be a surprise, as few performers manage to blend pop and jazz instincts as effectively as he does.

What's his secret? Personal charm, a charismatic stage presence, and the confidence of youth (he's 29) all play a part, but Cullum's biggest advantage is that he's a genuine hybrid, combining a pop vocal style with jazz piano chops. So when he covers a pop tune, such as Rihanna's Please Don't Stop the Music or Michael Jackson's Thriller , he doesn't do a “jazz version,” but something far closer to the original. And while his approach to standards is more Bublé than Bennett, he still swung hard enough on Just One of Those Things to suggest that he's more than just another jazzy pop star.

Besides, there's nothing new about jazz singer/pianists co-opting pop styles. Mose Allison did it with electric blues in the 1950s and inspired a host of imitators, the Yardbirds and the Who among them.

Allison still has plenty of blues feel, but at 81 his singing is a bit ragged, and there wasn't a lot of rhythmic snap to his Tuesday evening performance at the Fleck. Still, despite the under-rehearsed rhythm section, the charm and wit of Allison's originals, from Your Molecular Structure to Certified Senior Citizen, was undiminished.

The Toronto Jazz Festival runs through Sunday (www.tojazz.com).

Rock Pioneer Aims For `Eclectic Sound'

Source: www.thestar.com - Nelson Wyatt,
The Canadian Press

(July 07, 2009) MONTREAL–Jeff Beck is a guitar god to some of his fans. He sees his hard-driving style somewhat differently.

"It's a form of musical Tourette's," he told a news conference at the Montreal International Jazz Festival yesterday. "It's involuntary spasm. I think it's probably a form of insanity, to be quite honest with you. I think most people who play are quite nuts. You become obsessed about sounds and positioning and notation and chords and we just get drawn into it. I try not to be boring and that's all it is."

A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Beck has always been known as an innovator. He even made his own guitar out of cigar boxes and pieces of wood when he was a child.

He acknowledges that sometimes he makes a mistake despite his fans' insistence on greatness.

"If it's a great mistake, I put it in there and then expand it," he said, tapping his skull.

Beck was honoured at the jazz festival for a standout career that includes pioneering work using distortion, feedback and the fuzz-box and destroying rock's boundaries to explore jazz fusion.

One of his most notable career moves was joining the Yardbirds in 1965, teaming up with Jimmy Page. He also later had his own group, with Rod Stewart on vocals.

"It's hard to put the finger exactly where my present style comes from," the 65-year-old said of his current output, which has been described as a mix of guitar rock and electronica.

"It's just years of listening to people that I was drawn to, from rockabilly to the '60s – you know, Hendrix, and even Ravi Shankar, who twisted everything around for me."

He's also been influenced by music from Arab countries, he added.

"I don't care about politics or anything like that. If the song sounds good, I'll play it and try to embroider what's there and embellish it and try to make it my own."

Beck, whose concert at the festival sold out as quickly as his fingers race along his guitar, said he and his band will start in earnest on a new album at the beginning of August, but he wasn't giving many clues about what will be on it.

"We're dreaming up ideas of how to modify existing songs," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to put some original stuff in as far as the `up' stuff, the danceable stuff, the stuff with groove.

"There is a dilemma about whether to make it a double album with the tear-jerky stuff one side and the rock 'n' roll on the other, but all will be revealed by the end of August or maybe September."

He did say the album will go for an "eclectic sound" and getting that means he'll use a variety of musicians in the disc's production.

But Beck says he is definitely sticking with his current band.

"They're great," he said. "You build up a camaraderie and I think anybody'll tell you that a band is better than pickup players any day of the week.

"You become a soap opera, you become a family, really, and you share travel griefs and misery and all the rest of it. We've been together for almost 18 months now. It would be a shame to spoil that."

For all his accolades, Beck says he never thinks of himself as a legend.

"It's very nice at this stage in my life to be listened to."

Al Di Meola : Return to Forever? 'Never'

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(July 02, 2009) Nearly a decade after their last visit, eminent guitarist Al Di Meola is back with his World Sinfonia to perform at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival tonight. The acoustic fusion ensemble combines Latin, African and tango rhythms with Middle Eastern scales and jazz harmonies.

Di Meola has passed through town in other bands, most recently on last summer's 30-year reunion tour with Chick Corea, Lenny White and Stanley Clarke in the jazz fusion group Return to Forever.

The Toronto Star spoke with the 54-year-old performer from his New Jersey offices.

Q: Have you realized your goals for establishing World Sinfonia in 1990?

A: In a big way, because this music accomplished something that a lot of fusion music does not. The music of the past, especially when it was electric-oriented, didn't seem to appeal to women. It was a male-dominated head-banger kind of music that rarely touched the heart. When I switched my gears toward music that was more acoustic-oriented, it connected to a wider audience.

It was also the ingredients of the music. I was heavily influenced by the seductive nature of tango music that was introduced to me in the music of Astor Piazzolla. I really took to it in a big way and the elements that I found in that music were the ones that were very emotional, but it was never at the expense of the music being sappy. It was always very intricate and deep and challenging to play. This discovery has been amazing, because now when I go out to sign CDs after shows, you feel like you're really appealing to both sexes.

Q: Do any of the other players compose for the band?

A: None of the other members contribute, but I will always include some of Piazzolla's music, because it's so much a part of me and the sound of World Sinfonia, along with my own compositions. But, if someone brings in something that appeals to me and fits the sentiment of what we're trying to achieve, I'm open-minded.

Q: Wasn't there some talk of a new Return to Forever studio album after last summer's concerts?

A: There was talk of it, but Chick had a change of heart in the middle of the whole tour.

The plan that we were all very hopeful for was that we were going to do at least two or three more tours and a studio record. He decided instead to go out as a jazz trio with Stanley and Lenny this year.

Q: Were you disappointed?

A: I was amazed at why he would do such a thing after something so appreciated and loved by so many people. It looks strange on them to do it. I wasn't so miffed with that, but there were some business things that Chick had done ... and it resulted in a major lawsuit, which I won out of court right away.

Q: Sounds like a power struggle.

A: I still respect Chick tremendously – as a musician, that is – but I don't think he's ever heard one of my 30 records, not anything that I've done. Coming back after all these years, there was that underlying current coming from him that I'm still that 19-year-old kid. He failed to understand that, coming back, he had a supergroup. The fees are what they are because all of us are back together. That would not be that price if it's one guy or two guys; now they're finding out even three guys cuts it to not even half of what it was.

Q: So no more RTF reunions?

A: I never say never, never– but it's close to being never. I think it's never. I'm tired of groups where you have musicians who are very rigid in their ways and are kinda stars in their own light. In my own band, I have guys who don't have these giant egos that become problems.

Q: How do you ensure equity in World Sinfonia?

A: I'm clearly the leader and there is no ego problem with that, because there isn't one guy in the band that has a gold record, or some kind of recent unbelievable success that I have to deal with their level being way up there. They're real happy to be there and it sounds great, because the attitudes are great.

Just the facts

WHO: Al Di Meola World Sinfonia '09, plus Amanda Martinez

WHEN: Tonight, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Nathan Phillips Square mainstage

TICKETS: $40 at Ticketmaster

Israel Houghton Flexes His Power'

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Kenya M. Yarbrough

(July 8, 2009)
*Two-time Grammy winner Israel Houghton knows how to be a success. The “cross-cultural,” “multiethnic” gospel singer puts God first, makes sure his family is strong, and puts a little bit of everything in his music.

It’s no wonder he’s become one of the genre’s favourite sons. Known for fusing gospel, rock, and jazz into the stylings of Christian music, Houghton, alongside his group New Breed, has scored music awards for both traditional and contemporary.

Though he’s made a very successful career of blurring the lines of gospel music, Houghton stays humble, is grateful, and remains thankful.

“You determine what’s the most important thing first, and take it from there,” Houghton told EUR’s Gerald Radford. “For me, it really is my family. I make sure the home life is strong and solid, prioritized and looked after – then and only then can I choose to do these other things in my heart.”

Houghton said that his family life is extremely important. As a child, he grew up the son of a minister. The gospel and gospel music was always a part of his life. His life, however, almost didn’t happen.

“I was nearly aborted and…, well, God is good, that’s all I can say,” Houghton said. “My mother became a Christian when she was pregnant with me and chose to keep me, thank God. Shortly after that, she married my step-dad when I was 1 year old and they went into full-time ministry almost immediately. So, I’ve been in church my whole life; and a pastor’s kid at that. There was a lot of good spiritual heritage there.”

Houghton has served as worship leader for ministries such as the Promise Keepers and Champions for Christ, and also serves as a worship leader at Lakewood Church in Houston, TX, pastored by the very popular Joel Osteen. However, this singer admitted that while he is in the service of the Lord, he was originally frightened into knowing God.

“I realized at a young age, like most church kids, I was scared into the Kingdom of God,” he admitted. “The fear of hell and the fear of the rapture were the things that brought me into the fold. But going into my sophomore year in high school, I remember having a real moment and realizing this is what I wanted to do. I want to serve God all the days of my life.”

     Houghton continued that after genuinely becoming a follower, he found his talent in music on accident.

“It was from growing up in church, finding a need and filling it,” he said. “It was like, ‘We need a drummer today,’ so you just step up and do what you’ve got to do. But I’ve always had a love of music, well, a love of making noise.”

 Critics and fans have considered Houghton’s sound as a transcendence of traditional gospel in part because of his perspective on secular music.

“A lot of it has to do with the music I grew up listening to and loving; everything from Andre Crouch to all the Motown stuff, Michael Jackson’s stuff, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life,’ to Earth Wind & Fire – that kind of big production certainly resonated with me. Folks like the Beatles, Sly & the Family Stone, and other musical genres, they always had big, bold productions and that just shaped the way I’ve approached productions.”

For his latest disc, “The Power of One,” Houghton has gone “solo” to some degree from his credit as Israel & New Breed.

“The thing about my solo outing that’s really funny is that it’s not been a solo outing at all,” he said. “It’s been a solo outing in branding, but it’s still my New Breed team. It’s our team going in the studio and trying different things. If anything, we were just trying to make a larger statement with our platform.”

“It all started with this song,” he continued of the disc and its title track. “I wrote the song with a friend of mine and we were actually commissioned to write it for a mainstream artist. I played it for my wife and she said, ‘I think you need to hold on to that.’ The song had the ability to embody so much more, so we decided to build a whole record around that song.  Then other songs followed suit with that. I wanted to make sure I was doing songs that still could work in a church setting and also do some songs that just felt good to do.”

With a number of awards and a grand following, Houghton doesn’t let accolades go to his head.

“There is a fine line between expectation and entitlement,” he said, explaining that he is no stranger to the hard work it takes to be a successful artist. “Anything we’ve been able to see happen, we worked hard at, but there is also something to be said for the favour of God. We made the statement that we want to be a part of shaping the cross-cultural expression in the church.”

Even more, Houghton said that it’s not difficult for him to remain modest.

“That’s the beauty of being a worship leader; it’s not about you. It’s not about how many people can I get to notice what I’m doing. It’s about how many people can I get to notice what God is doing,” he explained. “When you can point the way to God and become a lens that is looked through rather than looked at, you can make a whole lot more impact.”

For more on Israel Houghton and his new album, “The Power of One,” check out www.israelhoughton.net and www.newbreedmusic.com.

When Rufus Does Opera, Size Matters

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Julia Belluz

(July 08, 2009) London —Rufus Wainwright fell in love with opera more than 20 years ago, when a family friend gave him front-row tickets for the Montreal production of Verdi's Luisa Miller . In the middle of the opera, after the first act, the “extremely fat and ugly” tenor lost his voice, and was replaced by a handsome young tenor. “From that moment, I loved the art form,” says the 35-year-old pop crooner. He would recreate operas at home, and frequent productions in Montreal and New York, sometimes with his mother, legendary folk singer Kate McGarrigle, sometimes alone. Eventually, he proclaimed “opera is my religion,” saying that some of the highs of his life were experienced while watching the art form unfold on a stage. He longed to write his own.

Today, opera is not only Wainwright's religion, but his life. In a house he is renting near the English city of Manchester, with his mother by his side, the Canadian-American singer talks about the debut of Prima Donna , the show he spent the past several years writing – “a real, bona-fide grand opera,” he says, which was chosen to open the avant-garde Manchester International Festival tomorrow night.

Prima Donna , which will have its North American debut at the 2010 Luminato Festival in Toronto, is arguably the most talked-about part of the Manchester festival. The opera tells the story of Montrealer Régine Saint Laurent, an aging soprano living in Paris in the 1970s who is attempting a comeback, while confronting the demons of her past. Most of the two-hour production is set in Saint Laurent's apartment; most of the drama is set in her mind. Part of his inspiration came from Lord Harewood's 1970s interview with Maria Callas. “It suddenly occurred to me that there's no opera about an opera singer,” he says. “It doesn't exist in the repertoire.”

After toiling away in New York, London, Berlin and Montreal, he finished the four-character opera, which is influenced by the late-19th-century romantics, such as Massenet and Verdi (“the soul of drama for opera”). The orchestration was most challenging, and he struggled to adapt to the opera world.

“It was a stern and tough lesson I learned going into opera and realizing how kind of rigid and disciplined everyone is, and how sometimes, you know, that doesn't leave enough room for creativity.”

At times, Wainwright's life has been filled with as many dramas as a libretto.

There's the torment over his sexuality; a rape at age 14 after picking up an older man in a bar – something he has spoken about publicly; and a near fatal addiction to crystal meth, for which he almost lost his vision. He says he wanted to give up, but also found solace in the art form. “It was a tremendous relief to be able to totally focus on music and forget about, you know, whatever, publicity, radio, and get out of that kind of pop machine.”

Of the final product, he says, “There's a huge orchestra, 70 people, for which I wrote all the parts. There's massive sets. Big set changes, you know. The vocal lines are very, very challenging for the singers as well as, you know, enjoyable.”

The “massive” sets are some nine metres tall, and change at least seven times during the performance. In the last scene, every set element crashes on the stage at once, representing the chaos in the prima donna's mind.

But these larger-than-life ambitions may also be the opera's downfall. Daniel Kramer, the American director who has been working on Prima Donna for almost a year, says the scale of the orchestra is “almost unheard of these days and will be very impractical for the future life of the opera because everyone will have to double their orchestra size.”

Kramer also has reservations about the plot, which he says is thin. “It's [Wainwright's] first time writing a massive story. Opera is always about huge stories.… Here, the story is much more of a chamber piece, much more intimate, in a woman's apartment. I hope next time he is able to reconcile that scale.”

This echoes the rumblings among opera critics that the master of melody may be overreaching, and questions whether his musical gifts in short pop songs will translate to the opera format. One-off comments by Wainwright about opera being “hijacked by intellectual elements” were also fodder for sceptics.

“I think Rufus is, like me, a bit of a size queen at times and he likes to be over the top,” says Kramer. “The question will be has over the top served him well or not?”

Alex Poots, head of the Manchester festival who co-commissioned Wainwright's opera with Luminato and the Melbourne International Arts Festival after his deal with the Metropolitan Opera in New York fell through, says, “[Wainwright] has not lost himself at all in this commission. He is not trying to ape Ligeti or John Adams or Verdi.”

Poots has followed Wainwright's career for about a decade. “He is an emotional animal, Rufus Wainwright, and it's pouring out of him in this opera,” he says. “The pop form, he was bursting out of it so it was no surprise when I heard he was composing an opera.”

Now, Poots says Wainwright, the son of Loudon Wainwright III and brother to musical siblings Martha and Lucy, has found an emotional match for his musical talents. Opera can take his soaring melodies. The arias, says Poots, are “spine-chilling” and can move an audience to tears.

If Wainwright, the boy who failed out of conservatory, pulls it off, he may be able to move opera from a museum art form into more mainstream territory. “My goal with this opera,” says Wainwright, “is to bring back the music and that everyone walks out humming the tunes.”

In his prima donna, Wainwright sees himself. Both he and Saint Laurent have a tempestuous relationship with the press (at the centre of the opera is the soprano's dalliance with a journalist). Both have made a life of singing.

“Trying to figure out if it's a physical feeling or a spiritual feeling, and getting confused between both,” Wainwright says. “What your body is doing and what your soul is doing.”

As Saint Laurent sings in an aria reflecting on her lifelong dedication to her craft, “ l a musique décidera ” (“music will decide”).

Prima Donna was co-commissioned by Luminato, the Manchester International Festival, and the Melbourne International Arts Festival. It debuts at the Manchester International Festival, July 10-19.

Rob McConnell's Swan Song

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(July 02, 2009) Capacity crowds greeted the past and future of jazz at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival's mainstage in recent days.

Last night, seated in his typical quartet setting, California pianist
Dave Brubeck turned in an exquisite set that opened with a medley of his "favourite composer," Duke Ellington. The 88-year-old Californian, who is etched in the lexicon and history of the genre, drew constant cheers for his combination of zest and expertise.

Earlier in the day, award-winning trombonist/composer/bandleader
Rob McConnell capped the 40-year run of his 22-piece Boss Brass ensemble with a concert on the same stage. The stellar cast of players ripped through an exciting set that included "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Embraceable You" and "All Things You Are," and closed, fittingly, with "O Canada."

"I've done it long enough," said McConnell, 74, of the group's swan song. "I still love music and I'll still play, but it's too many people to organize and not too many places left to play."

There are fewer and fewer jazz purists like Brubeck and McConnell who can still draw a big crowd; and let's face it, the Boss Brass show was free – on Canada Day – and Brubeck's reputation is based on more than a half-century of work.

Meanwhile, younger, highly acclaimed jazzers like Chucho Valdes, Maria Schneider and Hiromi play the festival's smaller Harbourfront theatres, attracting enthusiastic, but under capacity crowds.

That wasn't a problem for hip jazzer Jamie Cullum, who is currently tied with Brubeck as the only other jazz act to fill the 1,200-capacity Nathan Phillips Square tent this year.

Serving up tunes from the two discs that made him Britain's top-selling jazz artist ever, the exuberant mop-haired singer-pianist, 29, pulled tricks from the pop playbook without obliterating his jazz roots: he stripped down from tie and blazer to T-shirt and tight denims; danced on the piano, yes, but also crawled beneath it to tap out a rhythm on the underside; delivered a languid reading of Michael Jackson's "Thriller"; used electronics effects on his voice; wandered into the crowd; led the audience in the singalong of a Charles Mingus riff; waxed comic; and kept one hand on the piano while reaching for a beer on the floor behind him.

It earned him two encores.

Sunny, Sunny, Sunny Adé Is Back

www.globeandmail.com - Guy Dixon

(July 03, 2009) In Nigeria, when musicians play well, and especially when they throw in a lyric of praise for a guest of honour or a patron sponsoring the performance, guests in the audience shower the musicians with money. Paper naira bills get tucked into shirt collars, fall between guitar strings and are plastered on moist foreheads.

King Sunny Adé, at 62 possibly Nigeria's most famous living performer, knows this practice well. It's called spraying. And like the hugely popular juju music he plays, it's a tradition still little known to the West.

 “ It's an old music that has never been heard in the Western side of the world. It's a traditional music of Africa, a music for parties, a happy music you listen to, to just keep on dancing and enjoy yourself. ”

“Sometimes in parts of Nigeria, when you are having a party or a marriage ceremony … people will shower money and you will be dancing on it. That's [something] I don't like. We have to respect the naira. In my case, when they put it on my forehead or throw it at me, I pick it up. I don't dance on it,” Adé says over the phone. In fact, the tradition is so prevalent that even criticism by the former governor of Nigeria's central bank to quit showering precious currency on people and on the floor hasn't stopped the practice, Adé explains. “It's a tradition.”

And that seems analogous to the cultural divide that has made it difficult for the music industry in the West to come to grips with juju music and its chief ambassador, Adé. Tradition is central to the music, with its talking drums, call-and-response rhythms, and especially long, multi-instrumental jams which would put the Grateful Dead or Phish to shame. And yet, it is thoroughly modern and has spawned everything from World Beat to Afropop. It has also propelled Adé to his long-held status as a leading artist in the catch-all, world-music category.

Some could trace the emergence of the world-music market in the West to such releases as EMI's definitive 1967 classical Indian album Call Of The Valley (back when sitars were of course the rage in rock) or Bob Marley and the Wailers' 1973 major label debut Catch A Fire on Island Records. Marley was undoubtedly world music's Elvis and the Beatles rolled into one. After his death, Adé, who had by that time been long established in Nigeria's music scene, was a potential successor. So, in 1982, Island sub-label Mango Records released his international breakthrough album, titled simply Juju Music.

Mango and Island had high hopes for Adé. But the pseudo-World Beat of Peter Gabriel and David Byrne in the 1980s seemed enough to satisfy the majority of Western record buyers. And Adé wouldn't or couldn't anglicize his music in the same way that Island's Chris Blackwell could tailor Marley for rock tastes. More than two and a half decades later, Adé is still talking in terms of Western audiences finally coming around to juju music.

“It's an old music that has never been heard in the Western side of the world. It's a traditional music of Africa, a music for parties, a happy music you listen to, to just keep on dancing and enjoy yourself. It has nothing to do with religion or politics. It's just for entertainment and education, sometimes it has lessons for the kids,” Adé says. He also notes how it crosses ethnic distinctions within Nigeria, and so isn't tied solely to the country's Yoruba group from which many of its drumming traditions derive. This helps give the music its breadth and inclusiveness.

And Adé says he's happy to still be seen as the music's ambassador after all these years, even if he has thought often about retiring. “There was a time I said in a press conference that I only wanted to record, do shows on television and only occasionally play, and you see the people making posters all over the place, telling me ‘Why do that?'

“So eventually I had to say to them, ‘I never said I wouldn't play. I said I want [a slower schedule].'

“And they said, ‘No. You are not sick. You are not disabled. We need you.' And little kids would come and say, ‘Please, I want you to play at my wedding.'” Adé recounts all of this with a kind of grandfatherly mix of amusement and resignation. So, even if he doesn't getting sprayed with naira on his current North American tour, it's guaranteed to be the fate that forever awaits him in Nigeria.

King Sunny Adé performs Saturday night at 6 at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre (www.harbourfrontcentre.com or 416-973-4000).

Singers Give Voice To Toronto Jazz Festival

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(July 06, 2009) Master crooner Tony Bennett fittingly capped a TD Canada Trust Jazz Festival that was defined by singers. Whether dishing out funk and soul like Sharon Jones, or putting their own spin on traditional jazz at the piano, like Jamie Cullum, Melody Gardot and Eliane Elias, the singers soared.

Accompanied by a quartet, Bennett, 83, gave a vigorous performance at the Canon Theatre last night, though he flubbed the words to a couple of songs. So loud and powerful was his voice that it was a relief when he decided to sing most of the second half off mic. He littered the 110-minute set with anecdotes about old pals, such as Bob Hope, Rosemary Clooney and Pearl Bailey, did a charming two-step and spins, all while blowing kisses and saluting the audience.

With the demise of major U.S. festivals this year, the city's largest music fest appears to be holding the line in budget, sponsors, funding and attendance of about 500,000. And it delivered an eclectic program that allowed jazz fans to cross several must-sees off their list: Dave Brubeck playing "Time Out," Sonny Rollins blowing a calypso, Bennett singing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Here are a few tidbits from the 10-day event:

In Memoriam: Jones and Cullum performed Michael Jackson tunes. Hiromi dedicated a song to Oscar Peterson, with his widow and daughter in the audience. Jackie Richardson remembered Washington Savage and Retired Major (Peggy) Downes, the highest-ranking black officer in Canada, who died last month.

But the most palpable loss went unmentioned. The Star has learned that the evening before his Canada Day concert, pianist Brubeck's eldest son died of an apparent heart attack. Not only did the 88-year-old father of six stay on to do the show without any hint of his grief onstage, he played 45 minutes longer than scheduled. Cellist son Matt Brubeck flew back from Victoria to play with dad's quartet.

Top Sellers: Brubeck, Branford Marsalis, Cullum, Jones and Medeski Martin & Wood sold out the 1,100-seat mainstage. With line-ups down the stairs, Chris Potter and Charlie Hunter turned people away from their jam-packed Pilot Tavern shows. Cullum, Marsalis and Dave Holland moved the most product at the HMV tent where, after their post-show CD signings, Holland and Marsalis snapped up the last two copies of the Charles Mingus: Live in '64 DVD.

Fruit Fix: Along with the usual wine and snacks, Eliane Elias's rider called for four papayas. But days after they were purchased at Kensington Market, the fruit still wasn't ripe, so fest staff sat them in the sun for five hours on Saturday. Elias pronounced them "perfect."

Best Dressed: Kool & the Gang were coolly clad in jeans and tailored white shirts. Curtis Stigers wore a sleek blue Versace suit paired with red tie and white shirt in honour of American Independence Day. New mom Amanda Martinez shimmered in a strapless fuchsia dress. Honourable mentions: Melody Gardot's fedora, Hiromi's silver loafers.

Overheard 1: "Why do they keep calling them jazz festivals, then?" groused suave crooner Freddy Cole, sitting backstage at the raucous Sharon Jones gig and considering all the pop and soul acts at the "jazz festivals" he plays.

D-I-V-A: A tie: Kool & the Gang's vehicle caravan from the NPS tent to their Chestnut St. hotel (two-minute walk); Al DiMeola's last-minute change to a swank Yorkville hotel while his band remained at the Sheraton.

M.I.A.: Swedish indie folk singer José González was the only act to cancel this year, calling off his entire tour due to a "very severe" family emergency.

Best Newcomers: Fiery Philly drummer Justin Faulkner, 18, who was discovered by Branford Marsalis in a high school master class two years ago. He joined the saxist's quartet in March after longtime drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts decamped amicably to work on his career. His name wasn't even on the program, but New York-based trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, 25, a Cullum opening act and Wynton Marsalis protégé, earned two encores with a soft, warm sound.

Overheard 2: "How can anyone jump off a piano?" pondered a fellow tunesmith in disgust after witnessing Cullum's stage antics.

Celeb Sightings: Ron Sexsmith at the Curtis Stiger show. Director Ron Mann at Medeski Martin & Wood. Kids in the Hall's Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald at Sharon Jones.

Reunited: In Toronto for a non-festival gig, Benny Golson, 80, heard Sonny Rollins, 78, was in town and expressed the desire to speak to him. A wily jazz fest volunteer got word to Rollins, who passed on his cell number. The sax vets ended up having a four-hour chat.

Best Anecdote: Composer Maria Schneider recalling her response at discovering that her parents' song was "Hernando's Hideaway" instead of "As Time Goes By" as she'd always assumed: "God, tell me I wasn't conceived to that."

Overheard 3: "Is somebody going to make an announcement? I'll do it!" volunteered an impatient Branford Marsalis, ready to play his first headlining show here in 20 years, as Jazz.FM91's Walter Venafro scrambled to the mic to introduce the band.

So Sweet: Wearing sexy four-inch stilettos, Elias strolled hand-in-hand with bassist husband Marc Johnson from their hotel to Nathan Phillips Square. Also, the gentle embrace Brubeck received from his bandmates when he arrived at the venue for their show.


Q-Tip's 'New' Album Due In September


(July 03, 2009) *After an eight-year delay, Q-Tip is finally releasing his long-awaited album "Kamaal the Abstract" this fall, reports Billboard.   Due Sept. 15 from Battery Records, the set features nine tracks that the former A Tribe Called Quest member produced entirely on his own.   "Q-Tip is a true visionary and ahead of his time," Neil Levine, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Battery Records, said in a prepared statement. "These songs are more contemporary now than when they were first recorded."   The forthcoming album, which never received an official release due to disagreements between the artist and then-label Arista Records, includes special guests Kenny Garrett and Gary Thomas, who play saxophone on the songs "Abstractionisms" and "Do U Dig U," respectively.

CD review: Branford Marsalis quartet 'Metamorphosen'

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry, Pop & Jazz Critic

BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET Metamorphosen (Marsalis Music)

(June 27, 2009)  This album begins as if the band had been captured in midsong, fitting for a group that's considered one of the hardest driving in contemporary jazz. Accompanied by his long-time accompanists – pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts (who will be replaced by Justin Faulkner for the Toronto Jazz Festival show) – saxophonist Branford Marsalis displays unrelenting muscularity and ingenuity, alternating mostly on tenor and alto. The tunes, contributed by all members, and dedicated to jazzers who have died in recent years (Anita O'Day, Alice Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, etc.), showcase the band's intuitive dialogue and technical command. The highlights include the swinging Marsalis composition "Jabberwocky" and an intriguing, funky take on Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning." A cross between the ensemble's last two albums, 2006 burner Braggtown and 2004's reverent Requiem, and equally outstanding. Top Track: Marsalis shows off his sweet side, playing soprano on gypsy-sounding elegy "The Blossom of Parting."

Richie, Commodores Reunite At Essence Fest

Source: www.eurweb.com

(July 7, 2009) *The closing day of the
Essence Music Festival in New Orleans featured Lionel Richie reuniting with the Commodores to perform some of their biggest hits, including "Brick House" and "Just to be Close to You."  The band had everyone on their feet for a nearly two-hour set that wrapped with Richie's encore of his solo smash "All Night Long," according to the Associated Press. The final night of the festival stretched well into early Monday at the Superdome, with performances by Richie, En Vogue, Teena Marie, Al Green and – as always – traditional final act Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly. Mayor Ray Nagin presented the city's crystal star award to Beverly, who has closed out the event each of the past 15 years.  En Vogue, currently celebrating their 20th year, took the stage with all four original members — Cindy Herron-Bragg, Terry Ellis, Dawn Robinson and Maxine Jones. "It was amazing," Herron-Bragg told AP of the audience reaction and participation. "I'm just glad we were able to connect with them." "We're just excited to be together again," Robinson said. "It's like we never missed a beat. It feels normal again." Sunday's events started with gospel at the Morial Convention Center, along with honours for Bishop T.D. Jakes. A sermon by Bishop Eddie Long of Atlanta and other performances by CeCe Winans, Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary highlighted the tribute. Wilson and Shari Addison, a finalist of BET's gospel talent search show "Sunday Best," both performed in the festival's marketplace and signed autographs for fans. Related Story: ESSENCE FESTIVAL 2009 REVIEWED


More TIFF Fans To Get Access To Movie Stars

Source: www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard,
Movies Editor

(July 07, 2009) The red carpet is moving and growing, giving Toronto stargazers a better view of their favourites when the Toronto International Film Festival opens Sept. 10.

The regal walkway will move from the front of Roy Thomson Hall to Metro Hall Square, a block west. That will give "more of a red carpet buzz," TIFF communications director Andrea Grau Clunie says.

RTH is the site of the star-studded galas that are a hallmark of the 10-day fest, where cast and crew from movies have always exited limos to cheers from spectators and walked a short L-shaped red carpet into the hall's Simcoe St. entrance to present their films. Lucky fans along barricades facing the venue often got autographs and photos.

This year, limos will drive into the Metro Centre complex's main square at John St. at King St. W. From there, stars will walk a lengthy red carpet into RTH through the artists' entrance at the back.

Details are still being worked out, but Clunie says the longer red carpet will give spectators better opportunities to see their favourite celebrities.

In addition to changes on the carpet, movie lovers will find an expanded free program at Yonge-Dundas Square, Clunie says.

Last year, TIFF took over the downtown spot for the first time, offering live, free concerts and performances showcasing movies at the fest.

Among the highlights was a concert by Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour for the documentary Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love and an invitational slam-dunk competition with NBA star LeBron James to highlight the doc More Than a Game.

This year's expanded Yonge-Dundas Square slate will be announced after TIFF releases its complete list of films next month. A major announcement is expected July 14, including details on the opening night gala.

Earlier this month, TIFF announced a new festival program called City to City that will focus on the urban experience. Tel Aviv is in the spotlight this year.

In addition, TIFF released the titles of 24 films coming from other festivals, including four Palme d'Or competition films from May's Cannes Film Festival: Alain Resnais' Les Herbes Folles (Wild Grass), Tsai Ming-liang's Face, Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank and Elia Suleiman's The Time That Remains.

The festival runs Sept. 10-19. Ticket packages are on sale now to Visa cardholders and available to the general public next Monday.

For details on tickets go to tiff.net or call 416-968-FILM (toll-free at 1-877-968-FILM).

A Visual And Cerebral Appetizer For Caribana

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Jennie Punter

(July 02, 2009) The diverse cultures of the Caribbean are well represented in Toronto, yet many of us are only familiar with their musical, dance and culinary expressions – thanks in part to Caribana, which kicks off July 14. Over the past few years, Caribbean Tales film festival has been rounding out that picture, evolving into a cerebral warm-up to the annual carnival with an impressive program of shorts, docs and features.

This year's festival screens films by directors and producers from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, Curacao, Bahamas, South Africa, Britain, the United States and Canada, and focuses on cinema as a tool for education and social change. Not surprisingly, non-fiction work figures prominently in the line-up.

One of the freshest docs is Drummit2summiT , named after an event held to highlight the issues Trinidad activists felt were being ignored by the Fifth Summit of the Americas, which happened on the same day, across town. Christopher Laird, an influential filmmaker who pioneered the use of regional TV for community engagement, crafted the doc using footage captured during the activist event – including the arrival of riot police – which was originally aired nationally as a live TV feed in April.

Jamaica For Sale (2008) is another wake-up call. Directed by activist filmmaker Esther Figueroa and Jamaica Environmental Trust founder Diana McCaulay, the lively feature doc takes a comprehensive look at the hidden economic, environmental and social costs of tourism, particularly the construction of mega-hotels that increasingly pen in the locals, who are denied a voice in the process that sees their country being developed for the enjoyment of foreigners.

As a break from hard-hitting issues, there's Carmen and Geoffrey , a beautiful portrait of the 54-year love affair and creative partnership of modern dancers Carmen de Lavallade and Trinidad-born and raised Geoffrey Holder, who is also a Tony-winning director, costume designer and painter (and, for trivia buffs, the voice of the famous 7Up “un-cola” commercial).

Female filmmakers are well represented at Caribbean Tales, so it's fitting the festival will honour Martinique-born Euzhan Palcy, whose debut feature, Sugar Cane Alley (1983), won the Venice Festival's Silver Lion and several international prizes. Palcy was the first filmmaker from Martinique and the first woman of African descent to direct and write a Hollywood movie – A Dry White Season – which screens at the festival, along with her 1998 film Ruby Bridges . Palcy will attend her screenings and participate in several fest events.

Rain , the debut feature from Maria Govan, and one of the first indigenous features produced in the Bahamas, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall and gets its return engagement here. The film follows the story of a teenage girl who has been raised by her grandmother and, after her death, must go to live with her estranged mother in an AIDS-ravaged neighbourhood.

And for those looking for a Caribana appetizer, Caribbean Tales has programmed a four-minute music video called Bachanal (2009), which captures the excitement of J'ouvert, the opening-day ritual of Trinidad Carnival.

Caribbean Tales film festival runs July 9-12 at the William Doo Auditorium (45 Willcocks St., University of Toronto). Many films screen twice during the fest. For times, film, panel and ticket info visit www.caribbeantales.ca .

Special to The Globe and Mail

EUR Film Review: Public Enemies

Source: www.eurweb.com -
By Kam Williams

(July 6, 2009) *In 1996, Theresa Russell starred in a picture called Public Enemies, a mob saga glorifying Ma Barker’s reign of terror as the matriarch of a crew of bank robbers comprised of her own sons. So, it’s hard to fathom why director Michael Mann would now opt to resurrect the same name for a similarly-themed film also glamorizing the exploits of a Thirties crime boss, i.e., John Herbert Dillinger (1903-1934). But that recycled title is the least of the problems of this derivative head-scratcher. Its biggest flaw rests with its failure to engage the audience emotionally in either Dillinger’s (Johnny Depp) bloody crime spree or his wooing of a gullible hat-check girl (Marion Cotillard). For in lieu of character development, Mann has ostensibly opted to focus on crafting a grisly splatter flick featuring more Tommy Gun muzzle flashes per minute than we’ve witnessed since such gangland-era classics as The Untouchables (1987) and Dillinger (1973). While fairly faithfully following the latter’s plotline, Public Enemies squanders the services of a couple of consummate thespians in Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. With Bale playing legendary lawman Melvin Purvis one would think that his dogged pursuit of Depp as Dellinger would make for some really riveting movie magic. Think again.

The chase in this case is about as compelling as any nondescript action sequence you can find by accident while channel surfing with a TV remote. Equally-wasted is the rest of a stellar, A-list cast, starting with Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (for La Vie en Rose) who unsuccessfully tests out a variety of unrecognizable accents as Dillinger’s devoted gun moll, Billie Frenchette. Then we have Billy Crudup who fails to do J. Edgar Hoover justice in an uncharismatic interpretation of the feared FBI founder, and Stephen Graham who comes off as a cartoonish clown impersonating trigger-happy Baby Face Nelson. And why was an accomplished actress like Leelee Sobieski signed on as an extra? Simply to look pretty strolling briefly down the street on the arm of the ill-fated protagonist? The same must be asked about rising star Channing Tatum, who makes a blink-and-you-missed-it cameo as Pretty Boy Floyd. Ditto for Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Dorff and a host of other gifted character actors. The list of disappointing performances is endless. Accentuating the positive for a moment, what Public Enemies does have to offer is an old-fashioned shoot ‘em up for filmgoers who enjoy that sort of mindless mayhem. More cerebral cineastes might find themselves offended by the way in which the production goes out of its way to paint Dillinger as an easy to root for folk hero with a code of honour and a lover that he remained faithful to. This, unfortunately, conveniently flies in the face of common sense. Truth be told, in real life he was a worthless cop killer and a womanizer who had abandoned his wife for a bunch of floozies. Funny how Hollywood portraits of him have become increasingly empathetic over the years since 1945 when he was originally introduced as a cold-blooded murderer. Hyper-romanticized revisionist history reflecting America’s ongoing love affair with gangsters. Fair (1.5 stars) Rated R for profanity and gangland-style slayings. Running time: 140 minutes Studio: Universal Pictures To see a trailer for Public Enemies, visit HERE:

Rogers Must Air 100 Hours Of Canadian Film: CRTC

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Gayle MacDonald

(July 08, 2009) The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has slapped down a request from Rogers Broadcasting that its CITY-TV stations in Toronto and Vancouver no longer be mandated to air 100 hours of Canadian films a year in prime time.

The decision was greeted enthusiastically yesterday by the country's distributors, who were spitting mad over Rogers's appeal to the federal regulator this spring. They argued the controversial change of licence would snuff out the sale of English-Canadian features to television stations.

“We're thrilled the CRTC has rejected Rogers' request to have the condition of licence to support Canadian films dropped,” said Ted East, president of the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters. “CITY has been a critical partner in financing Canadian films and reaching audiences, and the loss of this support is having a devastating effect on Canadian film.”

East added that sales of Canadian features have ground to a halt since Rogers purchased a total of five CITY-TV stations from CTVglobemedia two years ago. (Sales to television stations represent roughly 40 per cent of the overall TV market for Canadian feature films.)

Susan Wheeler, Rogers Media's vice-president regulatory affairs, said yesterday the company was not surprised that the CRTC insisted on maintaining the status quo, adding, “It's not necessarily decisions that affect only the movie condition licence, [the CRTC] has indicated they have no appetite to change any licence rules for the one year before they will extensively review all specialty and conventional licences in April, 2010.”

The news was overshadowed by another CRTC decision on Monday that gave conventional broadcasters such as Global and CTV a foot in the door in their quest to get cable companies to pay for their signals.

The federal regulator also launched a public proceeding – which will start Sept. 29 in Gatineau, Que. – to develop a new regulatory framework that will give broadcasters greater flexibility to cope with the rapid evolution of the communications industry.

In exchange for that “greater flexibility,” however, East pointed out that the CRTC made clear that it will not be letting the conventional broadcasters ease up on their commitment to making, acquiring and broadcasting high-quality Canadian programming.

“The CRTC told broadcasters it will expect them to make ‘meaningful commitments' to Canadian content,” said East, “and going into the September meetings we are encouraged by that.”


Ontario Boosts Film And TV Tax Credits

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Gayle MacDonald

(Jul. 01, 2009) To maintain its competitive edge, Ontario followed Quebec's lead in boosting its film and television tax credits from 25 per cent of labour expenses to 25 per cent of the overall budget of films and TV shows shot in the region, it was announced late Monday.

In a bid to lure more foreign service productions to Quebec, the provincial government beefed up its tax credits two weeks ago, and further sweetened the pot by offering an additional 5 per cent for films that require digital animation and/or special effects. So far, Ontario has not matched Quebec's 5-per-cent bonus for animation.

Karen Thorne-Stone, president and chief executive of the Ontario Media Development Corp., welcomed the news yesterday saying it will help Ontario stay an industry leader, by including all costs such as equipment rentals, studios, caterers, hotel accommodations, and suppliers. “We have the benefit of a very strong and diverse industry in Ontario, with both strong domestic and foreign service sectors that feed off one another.”

The changes effectively double the tax credit, since labour typically accounts for roughly half of the budget for most television and film productions.

There is no word, yet, on whether British Columbia – one of the top film markets in Canada along with Ontario and Montreal – will also move from labour to all-spend credits.

“Scouting levels have been way up so far this year, so hopefully this announcement will help us secure a number of those projects,” added Thorne-Stone.


Paula Abdul Headed To Lifetime


(July 03, 2009) *Paula Abdul scored herself a guest starring role in Lifetime’s new original series "Drop Dead Diva," a dramedy about a shallow model who, after death, finds her soul inside the body of a smart plus-sized attorney named Jane.   “I am very excited to guest star on 'Drop Dead Diva,'” Abdul says. “All of the people are extremely talented and it’s a charming, wonderfully written new show.”   Broadway star Brooke Elliott plays the lawyer lead. In a September episode, Jane will go before Judge Nina Hodge, played by Abdul, in a case about a store that refuses to carry plus-sized clothing.   Abdul joins a big roster of guest stars for the show, which premieres July 12, including Liza Minnelli, Nia Vardalos, Rosie O’Donnell, Tim Gunn, Sharon Lawrence, Elliott Gould, Delta Burke, Marla Sokoloff, Gregory Harrison, Kathy Najimy, Mark Moses, Chuck Woolery and Deidrich Bader. 


Tempest With A Twist

Source: www.thestar.com - Robert Crew,
Special To The Star

The Tempest
(out of 4)
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Sue Miner. Until Sept. 6 near Grenadier Café in High Park. Pay what you can at gate. 416-367-1652

(July 06, 2009) One of the undoubted attractions of this year's Dream in High Park is the chance to see one of Canada's finer actresses,
Karen Robinson, tackle one of those major Shakespearean roles that are usually strictly reserved for men.

The play is Shakespeare's The Tempest and the role is that of Prospero, herein renamed Prospera. (Director Sue Miner has done some other gender bending, involving the usurping Milanese ruler formerly known as Antonio and the garrulous counsellor Gonzalo.)

Such changes certainly don't throw the story out of joint in any way. The tale becomes that of the exiled Duchess of Milan and her daughter Miranda, whose duchy is now a small island inhabited by strange creatures such as the spirit Ariel and the man-beast Caliban.

The play opens with a shipwreck – Miner's little ocean liner that's paraded around the set and through the audience is a nice touch, linking the audience to the play from the get-go – as survivors stumble around the island.

One group is made up of Alonso, King of Naples, his brother Sebastian, Gonzala and Antonia; another consists of the inebriated butler Stephano and his friend Trinculo. Then there's the king's son Ferdinard, who is immediately smitten with Miranda. And thanks to her magical powers, Prospera now controls all their destinies.

Miner has cut the play to about one hour, 40 minutes and concentrates on Prospera's journey from raging thoughts of vengeance to compassion and forgiveness. It's a difficult arc at the best of times, and open-air productions are rarely known for subtle explorations of character and themes.

Understandably, this is not a Prospera for the ages, although Robinson, whose voice is not suited to park-and-bark Shakespeare, fares rather better in the second part of her journey than the first.

Elsewhere, the relationship between the Ferdinand of Patrick Kwok-Choon and Taylor Trowbridge's Miranda is a delight: innocent, playful and affectionate. Both are young actors to watch. Audrey Dwyer's freedom-seeking Ariel, meanwhile, is filled with sunny energy.

Having the scheming Antonia played by a woman (Tracey Ferencz) adds a steamy new dimension to the play; the villainous alliance between her and Sebastian (Karl Ang) clearly becomes one that involves sex as well as politics.

Broad acting styles flourish in the open air and Mark Crawford's Trinculo and Jason Gray's Stephano are drunken crowd-pleasers. Ron Kennell's leaping lizard of a Caliban lacks a little menace although Kennell handles his big, unexpectedly poetical speech – "Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises ..." – with finesse.

It's a neat, thoughtful and often entertaining production and a pleasant way to fill a summer evening.


The Family Ties That Keep Fathers And Sons Apart

Source:  www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara,
Entertainment Reporter

Of the Fields, Lately
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of 4)
Written by David French. Starring
Kenneth Welsh, Eric Peterson, Diane
D'Aquila, Jeff Lillico. Directed by Ted Dykstra. Until July 30 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill St.

(July 02, 2009) "It takes many incidents to build a wall between two men, brick by brick," young narrator Ben tells us in the opening moments of
Of The Fields, Lately.

Written by Newfoundland playwright David French as a sequel to his acclaimed Leaving Home (and part of the larger Mercer family series of plays), it's a story about the ties that bind a family yet keep a father and son almost irrevocably separate from each other.

Ben tells us that growing up, he was ashamed of his father, Jacob, and embarrassed by his working-class job, his dress and his down-home Newfoundland accent.

After two years away, Ben has come home unexpectedly for the funeral of his aunt Dot. His mother, Mary, while fiercely protective of her husband and fearful of his declining health, hopes father and son can forge a bond that has eluded them throughout their lives.

It's a beautiful work – it won the Chalmers Award in 1974 – filled with homespun dialogue, rich with humour and characters that feel warm and real.

It helps immensely to have actors of such consummate skill as Kenneth Welsh – at times volcanic with rage but with moments of great tenderness – and Diane D'Aquila – sharp-tongued but always loving – reprising their roles from French's Leaving Home. Veteran actor Eric Peterson is letter-perfect as Uncle Wiff, who, despite losing his wife, tries to help mend the fractured Mercer clan.

The weak link is Jeff Lillico as Ben (possibly a matter of opening-night jitters) who has some difficulty channelling the energy palpable below the surface. He's often a bit querulous when he really just needs to be simmering and intense.

The other distraction, a relatively minor one, is the space used by Soulpepper Theatre Company to mount the production, the Michael Young Theatre within the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

A more traditional stage with curtain and wings would have better suited this work, which is a memory play after all. Scene changes require the actors to stop what they're doing on a dimmed stage; when the lights come back up, they've changed costumes and the action continues. It's a distraction that mars the flow of the story, but far from fatally.

If only Canadian theatre was always this poignant, stirring and compelling.

Summer Theatre Rises From The Ashes

Source:  www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara,
Entertainment Reporter

(July 02, 2009) "The show must go on" was an apt motto for the Red Barn Theatre at Jackson's Point in the Town of Georgina this year.

The company, celebrating its 60th anniversary (making it older than Stratford's), suffered a major setback when its main theatre space burned to the ground on April 18.

But two months later, the Red Barn opened at Keswick's Stephen Leacock Theatre, its temporary home, with a production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie (which premiered 60 years ago in the company's first season), with acclaimed theatre/television actress Fiona Reid playing Amanda and Jonathan Crombie as Tom. Norm Foster's comedy The Melville Boys fills the space next week.

"It was pretty devastating because ... both shows were designed for the space," said artistic director Jordan Merkur.

"It's a testament to the resourcefulness of people in theatre and to the interest in the community because I have to say it wouldn't have happened without the Town of Georgina," Merkur said.

The vigour of theatre in Ontario's smaller communities, and its tenacious focus on Canadian dramas and musicals, may surprise stage buffs who rarely venture beyond Toronto.

But ASTRO (the Association of Summer Theatres `Round Ontario), now celebrating its 25th season, has 22 companies from Cornwall to Windsor, Niagara Falls to Penetanguishene.

It includes venerable companies such as the Shaw and Stratford festivals, as well as smaller newcomers such as the Festival Players of Prince Edward County. Every year it lures a number of top performers and playwrights. The province's countryside charm is an added bonus.

ASTRO acts as a sort of a collective marketing tool for big and small companies, producing brochures and maintaining an updated website of coming shows.

Coordinator Tim Chapman said the association helps to carry on "an old Ontario tradition" of bringing theatre to the people.

A personal favourite of Chapman's is the Blyth Festival, in its 35th season, in the small eponymous town in southwestern Ontario.

"I've been in theatres around the world and ... to this day, (Blyth) is the only theatre I've been in where you see farmers sitting in the theatre with their tanned necks and arms and bulging biceps," Chapman said.

Sarah Phillips, artistic director of the Festival Players of Prince Edward County, said the three-year-old company has three Canadian plays this season, all in "unique settings," including an old converted church, a heritage park and a refurbished barn.

"Being out of the city, driving the country roads to get there, all adds to the experience. I like to think you get a little more for your money ... than `Oh, that was a good show.' It's idyllic," Phillips said.

Working with local tourism people, packages include overnight stays at bed and breakfasts and picnic lunches combined with bicycle rentals and a matinee show, she added.

Attracting professional-quality actors, directors and stage crew from places like Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto has not been difficult.

Since shows only run from Wednesday to Saturday, "they've got Sunday, Monday, Tuesday to go to the beach, visit farms, pick strawberries and have a country vacation for the other half of the time. It's a pretty sweet deal," Phillips said.

To explore Ontario theatre's summer offerings, visit summertheatre.ca


Grand Slam Tennis Sets The Bar For Sports Games

Source:  www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara,
Entertainment Reporter

EA Grand Slam Tennis
Rated E
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of four)

(June 27, 2009) Base line: Grand Slam Tennis is one of the first games to use the Wii's new MotionPlus accessory, which is meant to provide fully synchronized control (although it's not necessary and doesn't come with the game. Purchased separately for $25, it also comes packaged with four Wii games). In a way, Grand Slam is also an update of the tennis game in Wii Sports, which was incredibly popular and showed the world just how motion-control tennis could work. Grand Slam adds more controls (and different control schemes) and playable characters – including the exclusive use of John "You Cannot Be Serious!" McEnroe – or you can also create your own.

Love: The cartoon-y graphics look pretty great on the Wii, and Grand Slam features all four Slam venues, with a few extra courts in addition to the main-event courts fans are familiar with. I didn't have the MotionPlus at first, so I played with a regular Wiimote and enjoyed the game. The addition of the new controller does add something – playing with friends, and taking wide, somewhat authentic swings can actually feel like a real tennis warm-up.

One area that both games excel at is the mannerisms and grunts coming out of the players. Grand Slam even has McEnroe piping up with a priceless "shut your mouth" occasionally.

Faults: There are a few game-play kinks: sometimes, when pressing the "A" button for a lob, my player would completely miss the ball on the baseline. As well, the various control schemes, and Motionplus, do take some getting used to. The latter, for example, needs to be recalibrated at times.

Final: Grand Slam signals one of the first games EA has made for the Wii, and helps set the bar for sports games on the console. There is a definite learning curve with some aspects of the control schemes, but with a little practice, this is a game that anyone who plays Tennis on Wii Sports – but wants something more – should really think about picking up.

Canadian Gamers Can Only Yearn For Some Of Japan's Weirder Wiiware Offerings

Source: www.thestar.com -
Matthew Braga, Special To The Star

(July 04, 2009)
In much the same way that anime has proved popular with overseas audiences, North American gamers have long gravitated toward Japanese video games. Considering this is the culture responsible for a certain mushroom-wielding plumber, it's not hard to see why the island nation has developed a reputation for creating some of the most captivating – and decidedly quirky – series in all of gaming.

Of course, a large number of Japanese games never make it to the North American market. Translation troubles, licensing fees and even vastly different gaming cultures often prevent such titles from ever seeing a global release. The Nintendo Wii – and its downloadable game service, WiiWare – are no exception.

Today, we take a look at a few of the more peculiar offerings on
Japan's WiiWare channel that are not yet available here, with the hope that, for some at least, a North American release is not far behind:

Pole's Big Adventure (Sega; Feb. 3): This is quite easily one of the greatest WiiWare titles to be released in recent memory; it will be a huge shame if this one doesn't make it to worldwide audiences sometime soon.

Designed in the spirit of 8-bit sidescrollers from a console generation past, Pole's Big Adventure takes great pleasure in parodying the gaming conventions we've come to expect from releases like Super Mario Bros.

The game has a plethora of power-ups, yet not all function as you might expect – one mushroom in particular makes main character Pole grow so large that he dies. Avoid the "warp pipes," too.

Kudos to Sega, particularly for the nostalgic humour and witty design.

Muscle March (by Namco Bandai; released May 26): Players assume the role of one of seven thong-clad bodybuilders bent on recovering their stolen protein supplements from a host of villains.

The muscular mayhem takes players through the buildings of Japan and beyond in a very literal fashion, as the bodybuilders break through walls with poses that must be matched with both the Wiimote and nunchuck.

The concept is entirely whimsical and incredibly fun, especially when one experiences the inexplicable ability to play as a Norwegian-born polar bear. It even wears tight underwear, too. Let's Hitchhike!!!!!!!!! (Nippon Ichi Software; March 31): You would think a game with nine exclamation marks at the end of its name (seriously) would all but ensure a good time, but not even an abundance of punctuation can save this game. Players assume the role of a hitchhiker looking for a ride in such convenient locales as rural farms and prehistoric jungles, using the Wiimote to emulate supposedly wacky gestures from the hitchhiker's handbook.

Yet, this otherwise intriguing idea is marred by near-impossible motion controls, repetitive game play and a maddening board-game element. Also confusing is the ability to request rides from cows and dinosaurs, which then make disconcerting vehicle noises. Melee! Pokémon Scramble (Nintendo, Ambrella; June 16): As one of Nintendo's most recognizable brands, it may just be a matter of time before Scramble is unleashed on a global scale. Until then, Japan is the only place to find this latest Pokémon WiiWare release, which ditches the classic, turn-based attack strategy of previous titles in the series for a decidedly different approach. Players can fight on their own, or with a friend, as they travel through a number of Pokémon-inhabited locales, gaining new playable characters in what is essentially a free-for-all, beat-'em-up style of play. While the game may devolve at times into a display of repetitive attack-button mashing, it's an interesting take on a popular franchise that could easily have a market here as well. WarioWare: Asobu Made in Ore (Nintendo; April 29): Despite a slightly misleading title, the latest in the WarioWare series has very little to do with mining.

Instead, it references the game's ability to play and share user-created microgames with the Nintendo DS title WarioWare D.I.Y. (already available in Japan, but announced for North American release at this year's E3 gaming convention last month).

Microgames created on the Nintendo portable can be tested and shared with other Wii users, while new, Nintendo-made content can be downloaded as well. There is even a new set of briefly amusing microgames already included, in which players must point and click their way through the mundane and maddening challenges of Wario and friends. Here's hoping your reaction time is up to par.


Intrepid gamers can import Japanese-region Wii consoles from a number of online retailers, such as Play-Asia and Renchi, but often at a slight cost premium over their North American counterparts. Meanwhile, those with the technical chops can find a number of resources online that, through a series of software hacks, can actually aid players in transforming a vanilla Wii into the Japanese variety. But be warned: Besides voiding your warranty, this particular method can be potentially dangerous to your gaming investment.

Blow things up! Your way! On Mars!

Source:  www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko,
Special To The Star

Red Faction: Guerrilla
PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Rated M
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of four)

(June 27, 2009) There's something very satisfying in experiencing a work in which the intent is clear, and that intention is achieved – that is, when something delivers on everything it promises on the box. That warm feeling has filled nearly every minute of my time playing
Red Faction: Guerrilla ... and what it promises is the anarchic thrill of bombing, smashing, rocket-launcher-ing or otherwise blowing everything in sight to smithereens. Not the most sophisticated of promises, but boy does it ever come through with the goods.

The setup is conducive to explosive chaos, starting with the player character, a certified demolition engineer. Newly arrived on the mining colony of Mars (it's the year 2120, by the way), Alec Mason is quickly (like, right off the space-boat) swept up into the activities of the Red Faction, a militant labour group whose goal is the liberation of Mars from under the thumb of the repressive, abusive corporate police state administered by the Earth Defence Force (EDF), and whose methods are those of insurgents/terrorists/freedom fighters throughout history: bombing, monkey-wrenching, kidnapping, hijacking, jail-breaking and all the timeless tactics of guerrilla warfare.

Honestly, though? It's mostly bombing.

Alec's state-smashing endeavours are simulated via "GeoMod 2.0," an update of the terrain-deforming technology that debuted in 2001 with the first Red Faction game on the PlayStation 2. The software models structures right down to their architectural elements – support beams, lightweight interior walls, exterior buttresses etc. – and makes Alec's job one of planning and precision as much as daring execution; under heavy fire, he has to plant his charges as quickly and strategically as possible, relying on the laws of physics and materials science to topple towers and breach bunkers. Or, you know, he can alternately just stand up on a ridge and destabilize structures using the matter-dissolving Nano Rifle, or an old-fashioned rocket launcher.

Then again, maybe it'd be best to load a Martian dump truck up with mines, ram it right into the facility, run like hell and detonate the mines from a safe distance. Or if he's feeling particularly daring and hands-on, he could get right in there and knock out struts the John Henry way, swinging his kick-ass sledgehammer. Choices, choices!

This freedom extends into the game world, an open sort of Grand Theft Auto-on-Mars. Key objectives, EDF targets, side missions and sundry challenges appear all over the map, to be taken up as the player wishes – just hijack any of the many wicked Martian vehicles, from heavy trucks, tanks and robot walkers (!) to futuristic sports coupes and runabouts, and cruise the canyons to whatever adventure strikes your fancy.

And Red Faction: Guerrilla does reward players for taking their time to roam about; salvage is the underground currency of the realm, and the scrap you gather through side missions and freeform demolition will go a long way toward beefing up your arsenal of destruction (not to mention your chops as a player) in preparation for the increasingly hairy action of the main storyline. Plus, tooling around in these crazy future-buggies is just plain fun.

All this is tied together with solid game design, which, like I said, knows its priorities and delivers on them.

The Us-vs.-Them storyline is just enough to set up the action and keep it moving without getting bogged down in endless talky cut-scenes or the half-baked "moral choice" decision-making that is the current industry standard in action-adventure games, keeping the experience tightly focused on the blow-up-real-good gameplay.

The learning curve is gentle and transparent, with "tutorial" content integrated unobtrusively into the flow of the game – you learn to blow stuff up by blowing stuff up.

The whole game is informed by hundreds of little design choices that add up to more or less non-stop fun and a high degree of challenge that rarely descends to frustration.

In short, it's a game that does what it set out to do.

Take Out The Trash, Toronto

Source: www.thestar.com - Darren Zenko,
Special To The Star

Trash Panic
PlayStation3 (download)
Rated E

(July 04, 2009)  Video games are largely about fantasy-fulfillment with push-button ease –getting your chance to be an elite soldier, rock god or karate man without having to join the army, practice guitar or endure years of arduous training in the dojo.

Well, here's a fantasy for you Toronto: How'd you like the chance, from the comfort of your home, eliminate all those piles of strike-stranded garbage, rubbish and refuse? How'd you like that experience to come delivered reminiscent of everybody's favourite game, Tetris? Well, then get thee to a PS3 – for just $5
Trash Panic can make that fantasy come to life.

The concept is straightforward enough: Fill up your virtual trash can with incoming detritus without letting it overflow. But unlike most throw-junk-down-a-well puzzle games, clearing levels in Trash Panic takes more than snuggling burger wrappers next to other burger wrappers and watching them neatly disappear into a cloud of delicious points; you've got to tamp that garbage down.

The material properties of the junk in Trash Panic are semirealistically modelled using the Havok physics engine more commonly seen in first-person shooters – drop a defunct microwave oven on a bunch of light bulbs and the fragile material shatters and compacts; toss half-eaten pieces of cake at a wooden shelving unit ... yeah, not so much. The trick is coming up with a garbage-tossing strategy to maximize compression and density.

And tricky it is, too. Again unlike most puzzle games, Trash Panic's gameplay cannot be described as "casual." This is a tough game. Each level requires near-total trashmastery; one wrong move, the wrong junk stacked in the wrong order, and there's no way you're going to get it all clear before your can overflows.

And it's not just a matter of physically compacting the rubble. There are flaming objects that require carefully constructed stacks of flammables; exploding items that require hot enough flames; "decomposition" that will rot away garbage, but only if it's exposed to water; "boss" trash that needs to be broken down within a certain time limit to avoid triggering a rain of fresh junk; precious items that need to be protected rather than destroyed. There's a lot of trial and error involved.

Unfortunately, too much of this trial and error isn't about figuring out how to work your way through a certain level, but in figuring out how to actually play the game. Trash Panic drops you into the chaos after explaining only a single button. Learning how to hold pieces of trash in reserve, how to put the lid on the can (and what that's good for), how to shake the can to settle the junk a bit, how fire and bombs and water and stuff works ... that's all "part of the fun of discovery."

Still, annoyed as I was, I did hang in there for those four hours, was kept interested and amused by the tight challenge, the satisfying crunch, crumble and burn of the physics model, and the Katamari-esque escalation of scale. Just the thing to take you away into fantasyland to escape the ripe aromas wafting from curbside.

Virtua Tennis 2009 A Slick Classic Arcade-Style Game

Source:  www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara,
Entertainment Reporter

Virtua Tennis 2009
PlayStation 3
Rated E
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_halfstar.gif(out of four)

(June 27, 2009) Base line: Virtua Tennis 2009 is a classic arcade-style tennis game, which means hitting buttons for the various shots and using joysticks to run around the court. It's pretty slick, with an emphasis on shot placement and footwork. It's also the first update of the Virtua franchise – the granddaddy of tennis simulation titles – in almost a decade. You can play as most of the famous current pros, or create your own customizable player and go on tour.

Love: It's a pretty complete package, and the graphics are awesome. There are more than 40 tournaments and play settings in the game: Set on "easy," playing against the computer is deceptively simple, but as you progress, or boost the settings, it becomes increasingly difficult to put down the controller. It also has some fun – although quite simple – mini games. I got minorly fascinated with "Pot Pool," in which your player acts as a virtual snooker cue by serving into a game of nine-ball.

Faults: Virtua Tennis is an update – after a decade, no less – and my main complaint is that there isn't much added, in terms of gameplay, from the last version. As well, the players can look more like CGI Zombie versions of famous stars, as opposed to realistic likenesses.

Finals: Virtua Tennis is a next-gen version of what is considered the video-game tennis experience. It's for fans of the franchise who want an update, with online play being the only real addition.


Michael Jackson: The King of Pop - Book Review

Source: Kam Williams

Michael Jackson: The King of Pop
by Jel D. Lewis Jones
Amber Books
Paperback, $29.85
320 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-9749779-0-4

“I have admired and adored
Michael Jackson from the first time I heard his name and listened to his music. I have never been more fascinated by an entertainer before or since…

As a huge Michael Jackson fan and as a writer, I wanted to do something and give back to the entertainer for all the good feelings he has given to me and so many fans across this country and others. My gift to Michael is this positive book about his life and his music career.

The thought to write this book came to me out of the blue when I was reading a [positive] article about him [which] left me with good feelings, compared to the sick feelings I get when I listen to the television and radio and hear all the negative press about him. So, I decided to [do] my small part by putting out some positive information about the Superstar!”

n      Excerpted from the Introduction (page xvii)

In the wake of Michael Jackson’s untimely passing, I’m sure his legions of devoted fans are looking for a way to keep his spirit alive. They would do well to consider picking up a copy of Michael Jackson: The King of Pop, a comprehensive anthology comprised of interviews, song lyrics, dozens of color and b&w photographs, and more.

The literary equivalent of a bound fanzine, the book offers an uncritical peek at Jackson both from his own, self-serving perspective and that of the admittedly-adoring author. Despite her gushing, syrupy sweet tone, the tome is still fairly fascinating primarily because Michael comes off as a very sympathetic figure who clearly became bizarre because he never had a normal childhood. It’s sort of like how a dog or a cat is worthless as a pet if it’s weaned from its mother at too young an age.

Consider Jackson ’s response when asked by a reporter from USA Today in 2001 whether he’s “resentful that stardom stole his childhood. “Yeah, it’s not anger, it’s pain,” he admitted. “People see me at an amusement park or with other kids having fun, and they don’t stop and think, ‘He never had that chance when he was little.’ I never had the chance to do the fun things kids do: sleepovers, parties, trick-or-treat. There was no Christmas, no holiday celebrating. So now you try to compensate for some of that loss.”

In another article, Michael takes on the paparazzi, saying “The tabloid press are bastards, and you’ve got to have rhinoceros skin to deal with that ignorant mentality… They simply make it up… I’m nothing like the way the tabloids have painted me out to be, nothing… They’re the ones who are crazy.”       

He even sounds very convincing when he explains that his trademark crotch-grabbing dancing “isn’t sexual at all.” 

A coffee table keepsake which makes a convincing argument that while Michael Jackson might have been the consummate performer onstage, as soon as the music stopped he always turned back into the naïve innocent who had never grown up and couldn’t hurt a fly.

To purchase a copy of Michael Jackson: The King of Pop, visit HERE:

Canadian Comedy Award Nominations Announced

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(July 06, 2009) A sexually-charged film with a provocative title is up for a leading eight Canadian Comedy Awards.

Young People F---ing, about the bedroom adventures of five couples, was recognized in acting, writing and directing categories Monday as the nominations for the 10th annual show were announced online.

The film's stars – Josh Dean, Ennis Esmer, Peter Oldring, Kristin Booth, Natalie Lisinska and Carly Pope – all received nominations for their roles.

Martin Gero was nominated for directing the romantic comedy and shares a second nomination for writing the screenplay with Aaron Abrams.

Ottawa native Jeremy Hotz, who wrote for The Jon Stewart Show in the 1990s, has three nominations.

He's up for best male standup and has two nods in the category of best taped, live TV performance: One for his Just for Laughs Gala and another for What a Miserable Show This Is.

Other best male standup nominees include Scott Faulconbridge, Glen Foster, David Pryde and Sugar Sammy.

Debra DiGiovanni of Toronto has two nominations – one for best taped, live TV performance for her Halifax Comedy Festival special and another for best female standup.

Also nominated for best female standup is Kate Davis, Shelley Marshall, Allyson Smith and Kristeen Von Hagen.

The Canadian Comedy Awards were founded in 1999 as a non-profit organization to recognize homegrown achievements in comedy at home and abroad.

This year's awards show, presented by The Comedy Network, is set for Oct. 2 at the Imperial Theatre in Saint John, N.B. The show will be taped for a broadcast at a later date.


Serena Beats Venus In Wimbledon Final

Source: www.eurweb.com

(July 6, 2009) *Serena Williams stopped her sister Venus's hopes of earning a sixth Wimbledon title and avenged her defeat last year by winning the ladies final 7-6, 6-2.

After a tight first set the younger of the Williams sisters used her huge serve to full effect as she dominated her sibling in the second to take the title in straight sets.

The win brings Serena to 11 Grand Slam titles and the current title holder of the three Grand Slam titles - Wimbledon, Australian and US Open. It was the eighth time in the last 10 years that one of the sisters has won Wimbledon.

To prepare for the match, Serena says she kept telling herself she was facing just another foe on Saturday. "I didn't think about Venus at all today. I just saw her as an opponent," said the athlete, who also beat her sister in the 2002 and 2003 finals at the All England Club. "At one point, after the first set, I looked on the side of the court at the stats, and it was like 'Williams,' 'Williams.' I couldn't figure out which was which."

Today's new rankings will have Serena at No. 2, and Venus No. 3 — behind No. 1 Dinara Safina, a 6-1, 6-0 loser to the elder Williams in the semifinals — but it is clear to Serena who the best woman in the world is at the moment.

"If you hold three Grand Slam titles, maybe you should be No. 1, but not on the WTA Tour, obviously," Serena said. Then, alluding sarcastically to two less-than-major events won by Safina, Serena doubled over in laughter after saying: "I see myself as No. 2. That's where I am. I think Dinara did a great job to get to No. 1. She won Rome and Madrid."

Asked if it's easier or harder losing to a sibling, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus said: "There's no 'easy' to losing, especially when it's so close to the crown."

She was the two-time defending champion and had won 20 matches in a row at Wimbledon, the last 17 in straight sets. But Venus — at 29, she's 15 months older than Serena — appeared a step slow, perhaps bothered by the left knee that's been heavily bandaged since the second round, although she refused to place blame there.

"She played so well, really lifted her game," Venus said. "I had an error here and there. Today, I couldn't make errors."

Later Saturday, the sisters won their fourth Wimbledon doubles title beating Rennae Stubbs and Samantha Stosur of Australia 7-6 (4), 6-4.

"One out of two's not bad," Venus said. "I really wanted to win the singles, but they're two separate events. If I won the singles and not the doubles, it's still not the same."


Comeback Win Puts Nestor In Wimbledon Final

Source:  www.thestar.com - Damien Cox,
Sports Columnist

(July 02, 2009) LONDON–Daniel Nestor's reign as a Wimbledon champion isn't over yet.  It sure looked like it was in the early part of a gorgeous London evening today when the Canadian left-hander and his doubles partner, Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia, fell behind two sets to none in their semifinal match against Americans James Blake and Mardy Fish. But slowly, Nestor and Zimonjic climbed back into the match, using their experience as one of the top doubles teams in the world against two opponents known more for their singles play. In the end, with the clock having passed 9 p.m. and light dwindling, Fish cracked a forehand into the net and the Canadian-Serbian combo won 5-7, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4), 10-8 to advance to the Wimbledon final for the second straight year. They won it all last year, making Nestor the first Canadian ever to step in the Royal Box to accept a winner's trophy. This year, they'll face the No. 1 seeded Bryan brothers, Mike and Bob, in what should be a stirring final tomorrow.

Federer Back On Top Of ATP Rankings

Source: www.thestar.com -
Associated Press

(July 06, 2009) WIMBLEDON, England – Roger Federer is back at No. 1. Federer has returned to the top of the ATP rankings Monday, a day after winning Wimbledon by edging Andy Roddick 16-14 in the longest fifth set in Grand Slam final history. Federer moves up from No. 2, switching places with former No. 1 Rafael Nadal. A year ago at Wimbledon, Nadal beat Federer in the final and overtook him atop the rankings in August. That ended Federer's record stay of 237 consecutive weeks at No. 1. Nadal did not defend his Wimbledon title, citing sore knees. Sunday's title was Federer's sixth at Wimbledon and record-breaking 15th major overall. The rest of the top 10 was mostly unchanged, with Roddick remaining at No. 6.