Jazz is certainly not everyone’s up of tea, I’m willing to admit that. It can be challenging and complex music that isn’t always approachable or easy to listen to. With that said, however, plenty of jazz musicians are pushing the genre into new and exciting places that are worth exploring and go well beyond the sound of traditional jazz.

The Wreckhouse International Jazz & Blues Festival provides an opportunity to hear some great jazz music right in our own backyard. Here are three acts performing at this year’s festival that both new listeners and long-time jazz fans alike should check out and enjoy.

Jeff Johnston Trio

Making a return to the island for this year’s festival, Newfoundland natives Jeff Johnston Trio are sure to be one can’t-miss act. Now based in central Canada, pianist Jeff Johnston, bassist Jim Vivian, and drummer Michael Billard have been playing together for some thirty years and are a brilliant example of how a modern acoustic piano trio ought to sound.

Drawing influence from the distinct and influential modern sound pioneered by pianist Keith Jarrett and others on the ECM Records label throughout the 1970s and 80s, the trio’s great sense of texture and dynamics bring their sound to a different level. Now about to release their fifth record together, the vast experience Johnston, Vivian, and Billard have shared gives their music a connected sense of interplay like few other groups.

Jeff Johnston Trio, joined by John Nugent and Patrick Boyle, will be performing as part of the Wreckhouse Jazz & Blues Festival at 4pm on Sunday, September 27th at the LSPU Hall.

Parc X Trio

Taking their name from Montreal’s culturally diverse Parc Extension neighbourhood, Parc X Trio’s music is just about as diverse as the place they call home. Combining rock, world music, hip hop, and drum & bass in to their instrumental jazz sound, keyboardist Gabriel Vinuela-Pelletier, bassist Alex Lefaivre, and drummer Alain Bourgeois explore some very interesting musical territory.

The group groove together exceptionally well, employing intricate rhythmic patterns and complex harmonic language as a basis for their compositions and improvisations. Not unlike their Toronto brethren BADBADNOTGOOD, Park X Trio are pushing the modern electric piano trio sound to new and interesting places.

On Saturday, September 26th, Parc X Trio will perform at the Masonic Temple, beginning at 10pm.

Elizabeth Shepherd

Longlisted for this year’s Polaris Music Prize, vocalist and pianist Elizabeth Shepherd weaves a creative blend of jazz, pop, and world music that’s as fun and groovy as it is diverse. Comfortable working with both noted jazz players and electronic producers, Shepherd’s velvety voice channels jazz singers of an earlier time pared with lush and eclectic instrumentals.

On her latest record The Signal, Shepherd employs a fairly traditional jazz instrumentation, while adding inventive and modern textures with a smart pop sensibility. The album’s tracks range from groovy soul-jazz to more experimental electronic-influenced moments, yet Shepherd’s vocals brilliantly guide the record at every turn.

Elizabeth Shepherd will grace the Wreckhouse stage on Thursday, September 24th, 10pm at Dusk Ultralounge.

Honourable Mention – The Shuffle Demons

Spadina Bus. ‘Nuff said.