Kenny Garrett Presents / John Scofield and the Piety Street Band
Ralph Towner and Paolo Fresu / Medeski, Martin and Wood
John Geggie and Friends / Youn Sun Nah / Manu Katché
TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
June 27-29, 2010
As the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival continues to grow, with new series and more choices than ever before, that very growth creates one problem, though it's not exactly a bad one: so many great shows, so little time. Life could be worse than having so much great music to choose from that it's impossible to catch it all. Still, it meant hearing only a portion of Israeli-born, New York-resident clarinetist Anat Cohenat the National Library and Archives of Canada theatre on the afternoon of June 27. Cohen brought almost the same group to Ottawa that she did the 2009 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, with the exception of drummer Daniel Freedman. Sitting in for Freedman was Obed Calvaire, who wowed trumpeter Etienne Charles' audience at the same venue only two days prior and is clearly a player to watch. Of special note was guitarist Gilad Heckselman, who was impressive in Montreal, but has come a long way in a year, burning through his first solo of the set in Ottawa and providing firm but constantly imaginative support.
Cohen was, as ever, a fountain of ideas as she tore through a combination of originals by herself and Heckselman, as well as some well-known standards. It was a shame to have to leave early, but better to have caught even a few songs rather than none at all. Meanwhile, after a strong opening set at the 6:00 PM Great Canadian Jazz Series by Montreal-based pianist Min Ranger, the stage was cleared and the audience grew for a night of soulful, funky jazz.
The 'hood came to Ottawa on June 27, as saxophonist Kenny Garretthit the stage, encouraging the audience, "Yo, come on," as his crack quartet laid into some serious funk, driven by bassist Kona Khasu and drummer Nathan Webb. Khasu and Webb locked in tightly for the entire 75-minute setno surprise given the two have also been working together with the Jtr3, a new group that, combining jazz, R&B and hip hop, will be honing its sound at some US dates this summer, including New York's Iridium in July and Philadelphia's Chris' Jazz Café in Septemberand whose first release, Love Passion Correspondence (Self Produced, 2009), makes clear why Garrett chose this rhythm section for a group so heavy on groove. Garrett's Ottawa performance was the only one for this group in Junehe'll be on the road with pianist Chick Corea"s Freedom Band for most of July and part of Augustbut Kenny Garrett Presents was on the road for most of May, and they'd lost none of the simpatico built during the course of a week at the Iridium and 11 days across Europe.
Garrett tends to alternate between more funk-driven projects and straighter jazz efforts, although his most recent release, Sketches of MD: Live at the Iridium (Mack Avenue, 2008) did marry the two more than albums like Standard of Language (Warner Bros., 2003) and Beyond the Wall (Nonesuch, 2007), projects that leaned far more heavily on a kind of burning, modal traditionalism.
Regardless of the context, however, Garrett can always be counted on for a kick-ass band that brings whatever's on the table with serious attitude and plenty of intent. Few saxophonists can milk a note for everything it's worth as well as Garrettwhose Ottawa show a few years back nearly blew the roof off the Library and Archives Canada theateror whip his band or a crowd into a frenzy as well as the saxophonist, who played alto, his main axe, for most of the set, with the kind of lithe dexterity and screaming physicality he's become known for since his days with trumpet icon Miles Davisin the 1980s.
Despite laying down some serious, booty-shaking groove for most of the setthough there were moments of surprisingly ethereal atmospherics at one pointhe had his work cut out for him with an appreciative but overly sedate audience at OIJF's main stage in Confederation Park. Still, while his early attempts at getting the crowd involved were met with relatively deaf ears, by the time he closed the set, asking if the crowd was "Happy People"the only song to make a return appearance from his last Ottawa performancehe did manage to get people clapping, and some of them up on their feet doing what this music was meant to for.
following with his gospel/New Orleans-informed Piety Street Band coming up afterwards, it was a pretty good bet that OIJF had programmed Garrett before him because the two sets would dovetail nicely. And dovetail they did, with Garrett warming up the audience so that, by the time Scofield took the stage, they were good and ready.
Keyboardist Johnny Mercier, another relative unknown who ought to be on the radar, provided gospel-tinged support throughout the set, taking the audience to church during an organ solo near the end of the set, laying into a stop-start repetition that mirrored Garrett. But while the grooves ranged from relaxed and chilled to fiery and funky, Garrett's entire group brought it to an Ottawa crowd that had no idea what to expect (there was no advance notice of his lineup, or what kind of show it was going to be. With guitarist John Scofield
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