Published since 2004
With the realization that there will always be more music coming at him than he can keep up with, John wonders why anyone would think that jazz is dead or dying.
Renaud Garcia-Fons / Corkestra / Lee Konitz
Mimi Fox / Amir Amiri / Berne, Anker, Speed
TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
June 23-25, 2008
When you run an outdoor festival you're at the mercy of the weather, but one thunderstorm aside, the first three days of the 2008 Ottawa International Jazz Festival (OIJF) managed to beat the poor weather forecast. And while there was some heavy rain on June 24, it cleared up in time for an evening in the park with singer Madeleine Peyroux.
But the inclement weather had no effect on the indoor shows, and festival-goers were treated to a number of outstanding concerts, most notably bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons' evocative afternoon performance at Library and Archives Canada.
It's too easy to simply call Paris-based bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons a virtuoso. Virtuosity, all too often, can mean impeccable technique but a sacrifice of style over substance and skill over emotion. Not so for Garcia-Fons who, with his custom-built five-string double-bass and an equally impressive trio featuring flamenco guitarist Kiko Ruiz and percussionist Pascal Rollando, put on what may be the hottest show at this year's Connoisseur Series. The notes may have been flying fast and furious on occasion, but Garcia-Fons' music is deeply resonant, evocative and emotive. A recent review criticized the bassist for lacking emotional content, but if he heard what the OIJF audience heard, it's more likely that the problem was with him. The trio demonstrated sweeping dynamics, unbridled passion combined with haunting melancholy, and the ability to build tension to a fever pitch, only to let it drop again with such force that members of the audience could be seen literally falling back in their seats.
Performing music from releases including Arcoluz (Enja, 2005) and the captivating Entremundo (Enja, 2004)an album that set the precedent for an artist who works on many levels, enduring from the get-go but profound enough to reveal more with each listenthe only challenge of the set was, indeed, catching everything that was going on, since there'd be no opportunity to revisit it again. That's the beauty and the demand of any live performance, and while there was, indeed, a lot of information, the lasting impression was one of fervent energy juxtaposed with lyrical beauty and subtle interaction between Garcia-Fons, Ruiz and Rollando.
In the right hands virtuosity is a means to a very musical end, and Garcia-Fons, with a trio approach that more often than not placed his bass front-and-center, changing the conventional and expected complexion of guitar supported by bass and percussion to a trio where a complete whole is created largely without orthodoxy in the delivery. Garcia-Fons did, at times, provide a greater anchor when Ruiz soloed, but roles often reversed, with Ruiz keeping the pulse and harmonic motion moving forward while Garcia-Fons delivered a series of stunning solos that, high energy or low, were always driven by melody and thematic development.
As unconventional an evolution as Garcia-Fons' approach to the bass is, Rollando's percussion set-up was equally unorthodox. Sitting on a large wooden box that acted as his primary instrumenthitting it with hands and brushesinstead of a bass drum he had a large clay pot that was hit with a large, soft floor pedal. A shaker, normally used by hand, was also hooked up to a foot pedal so he could an additional layer without having to sacrifice either of his hands. He rarely soloedonly once, in fact, during the ninety-minute set closerbut when he did it was as well constructed as those of his band matesimpressive, to be sure, but always linked to the core of Garcia-Fons' music.
l:r Kiko Ruiz, Renaud Garcia-Fons, Pascal Rollando
Ruiz's solos were in the flamenco tradition, but Garcia-Fons' music stretched the boundaries beyond breaking point to include melodies from the Middle East, Africa and India (at one point triggering a sample of a tanpura-like drone), encouraging Ruiz to search beyond the tradition. A powerful rhythmic player, his fluid flow of ideas and strong empathy with Garcia-Fonsthey've played together for many years nowcreated yet another rich layer to absorb.
Garcia-Fons played with the kind of effortless mastery that made everything look easy, even as his remarkable control over the instrument made it possible to extend the potential of his bass, at times, beyond recognition. Occasional but tasteful employment of sound processing made clear that Garcia-Fons, like so many European artists, is keeping up with a modern aesthetic that looks for seamless integration of technology. His arco, in particular, was stunning as he created long, serpentine lines and, at time, evoked the sound of an oud by hitting the strings with his bow rather than tapping them.
While the capacity crowd spoke to popularity that might have seen Garcia-Fons a contender for an outdoor stage headliner at Confederation Park, the intimacy of the 400-seat theater at Library and Archives Canada was a far more suitable venue where, without any outside distractions, it was possible to become completely absorbed in the music of Garcia-Fons and his trio. This was his first appearance in Ottawa; hopefully it won't be his last.
Dutch pianist Cor Fuhler's Corkestra put on an enthralling performance at the 2007 FIMAV festival in Victoriaville, Quebec, but the version that came to Ottawa for the 2008 OIJF was an augmented version. In addition to the usualand unusualline-up of clarinetist Xavier Charles (also seen at Norway's Punkt Festival 2007 with the nascent group Dans Les Arbres, whose first album is already out on ECM in Europe) replacing Ab Baars; saxophonist/clarinetist Tobias Delius; flautist Anne LaBarge; cimbalom (hammered dulcimer) player Nora Mulder; and percussionists Tony Buck and Michael Vatcher, Fuhler added guitarist Andy Moor.
Unfortunately, Moor's contributions were minimal. While AAJ photographer John Fowler commented, during the performance, that "you have to learn the rules before you can break them"an astute observation about most of Corkestra's players, who all made it clear that, despite their often exaggerated and outr? playing, were well-versed in jazz and classical traditionsMoor was the only player who didn't demonstrate any particular roots in either. Instead, favoring unusual and occasionally provocative soundsdetuning his strings significantly, pulling popping and scratching themwhen the nonet began to approach recognizable jazz territory, his contributions felt out of place, insignificant and, at times, distracting.
Still, like the FIMAV performance, there were trademarks of experimentation in the two sets of music all composed by Fuhler. Breaking the group down into subsets at time, most notably for the show's finalea trio for flute and two clarinets that, in its micro tonality and intensity, maintained the FIMAV review's description of "Ligeti on steroids"there were plenty of stylistic markers but, as is a part of this Dutch movement that also includes groups like Joost Buis' Astronotes, who delivered a stellar performance at OIJF 2006, virtually all of them were twisted on their sides and filtered through a very odd prism.
Vatcher was a particular treat to watch, at times bowing a large saw, other times playing a set of wine glasses filled with water. A sense of absurdity that's at the core of this Dutch movement was pervasive during much of the performance, with Charles evoking completely foreign sounds from his clarinet, Delius ranging from warm clarinet tones to Ayler-like tenor wails, and LaBarge navigating her series of flutes with remarkable consistency and sonic innovation. De Joode is always a pleasure to hear in any context, capable of surprisingly muscular playing, aggressive strumming and unshakable grooves when (rarely, of course; this is Corkestra after all). required.
Fuhler's compositions follow the lines of directed improvisationcued arranged segments that act as signposts for free and collective improvisation. Rarely soloing himself, he seemed content to direct the group, pull unusual sounds from the piano through use of a variety of preparatory devices, and interact with Mulder on many occasions.
Perhaps the most abstruse piece was "Wine Cellar," late in the second set. Clearly scoredwith Fuhler experimenting inside the piano he attached the chart to the piano coverit appeared to be a random series of notes and sounds, with little to make it coalesce. With no real resolution, it was a piece that challenged the sizable audience to consider alternate possibilities for what music can beand, as was the case for most of Corkestra's performancehave fun in the process.
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