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The Vancouver International

Jazz Festival

In Vancouver on Sunday

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and Monday

'We want to thank you for making it a special night," Elvis Costello told a capacity crowd at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre Monday night.

"It's good to be home."

Vancouver counts as home for Costello thanks to his wife, jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall, and part of the reason the evening was special -- apart from the tumultuous response the audience gave his marathon, 32-song set -- was the news that Costello and Krall were expecting their first child in December.

"Does that make me a Canadian now?" he joked, to yelled congratulations.

That Costello felt at home in Vancouver wasn't a surprise; that he felt at home as part of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival might be.

Despite touring with pianist and producer Allen Toussaint, as well as a horn section that occasionally soloed, nothing in his two-hour, 45-minute performance could be considered jazz.

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But then, jazz is hardly the only type of music on tap at jazz festivals these days. Rock, blues, hip hop, Afro-pop -- all sorts of sounds turn up, some with no jazz connection at all.

Being married to a jazz musician gives Costello better bona fides than most.

Although emphasizing Costello's current album, a collaboration with Toussaint called The River in Reverse, the performance drew deeply from both artist's catalogues. Costello unearthed such chestnuts as Watching the Detectives, Clubland and a version of Alison that included an interpolation of Smokey Robinson's The Tracks of My Tears, while the Toussaint selections ranged from a solo piano Tipitina and Me to full-band versions of Brickyard Blues and Yes We Can Can.

Thanks to the horn arrangements (mostly by Toussaint), Costello's songs took on a mild R&B flavour, and his singing was unusually supple and expressive -- though not quite as slyly soulful as Toussaint's. Still, it was more than enough to get much of the crowd on its feet and dancing for the last third of the show.

Dancing audiences may not be frequent at the Vancouver jazz fest, but they're not entirely anomalous, either.

The Commodore Ballroom pretty much invites dancing, and Sunday's performance by Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Maal did not disappoint in that regard. Backed by two singers, a seven-piece band and a pair of dancers, Maal covered quite a lot of ground in his 90-minute set, offering everything from loping 6/4 grooves to upbeat numbers with a slight ska flavour, and even though few in the crowd understood enough Wolof to follow his lyrics, the audience hung on his every note.

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The small crowd gathered at an outdoor stage in Gastown earlier that day for Norway's Zanussi Five was equally appreciative, despite being almost entirely sedentary.

Fronted by bassist Per Zanussi, the quintet delivered a heady mix of free jazz exuberance and mainstream drive, a balancing act that depended heavily on the chemistry between its three saxophonists. Alto and sopranino saxophonist Rolf Erik Nystrom was a particularly effective soloist, thanks to his fluid lines and sweet tone, but the group's impact owed as much to the writing and arranging as to the playing.

Writing and arranging was also central to bassist Michael Bates's Outside Sources.

This quartet, which recorded two sets at the CBC's Studio One Monday, evokes the intimacy and interplay of a chamber ensemble, with deft arrangements that find the instruments slipping almost imperceptibly between written and improvised playing.

Saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff was a perfect foil for Bates's quietly lyrical writing, but it was the understated virtuosity of trumpeter Russ Johnson that ultimately lifted the music to the stratosphere.

Baaba Maal performs at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 1, Costello and Toussaint on July 3.

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