2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival - The Best Year Yet
“ For eleven days in late June, the normally conservative government city of Ottawa, Canada became a place where risk was de rigeur and chances were liberally taken. ”
eleven days in late June, the traditionally conservative government capital of Ottawa, Canada became a place where risk was de rigeur and chances were liberally taken. With arguably the best line-up in their twenty-four year history, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival delivered a wide range of music. From the West African fusion of Roswell Rudd's MALIcool to the intimate duo of pianist Marilyn Crispell and Ottawa bassist John Geggie; from the fiery intensity of Kenny Garrett to the more post-modern, but no less passionate work of Kurt Rosenwinkel; from the abstract impressionism of Herbie Hancock with Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade to the equally cerebral but more grounded work of Fred Hersch and his trio; Ottawa was transformed into a place where nothing was assured except a sense of adventure and discovery.
Along with ticketed performances at three venues, there were a variety of free shows by local artists scattered throughout the downtown core. In addition, John Geggie once again led a trio at the late-night jam sessions that also featured pianist Nancy Walker. Over the course of the festival a variety of artists, including reedman Jeff Coffin from Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, pianist Bill Mays and Kenny Garrett's rhythm section showed up to lend their support to the many local artists who also performed, creating a warm after-hours ambience for those with the stamina to handle music into the wee hours of the morning.
While not all-inclusive, the following report details the wide variety of styles and sounds heard at this year's festival.
- Fred Hersch Trio
- Bob Brough Quartet
- DFW Trio
- Michel Donato/Billy Robinson
- Dave Turner Quartet
- Larry Coryell Trio
- Thom Gossage/Other Voices
- Bill Mays Trio
- Effendi Jazz Lab
- Latin Jazz All-Stars
- Jean Beaudet Trio
- Wayne Eagles Quartet
- Marilyn Crispell/John Geggie
- Mike Murley/David Braid Quartet
- William Parker Quartet
- Marilyn Lerner/Sonny Greenwich
- Kurt Rosenwinkel
- Stahl's Bla
- Kenny Garrett Quartet
- Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
- Marian McPartland
- Dapp Theory
- Bob Brough Quartet
Opening the indoor Connoisseur series at Library and Archives Canada and, indeed, the festival, Hersch and his trio set the standard for which all other shows would be measured. With a set that mixed Monk, Shorter and Coleman tunes with Hersch originals, the trio demonstrated a simpatico that can only come from playing together for a long period of time. One of the things that was to become a signature of this year's festival was the number of remarkable drummers to come through town, and Waits was no exception, with an ability to hang onto every note, every nuance, and push them ever further. A highlight of the set was Hersch's tune, "A Lark," dedicated to Kenny Wheeler and demonstrating the same melancholy and implied swing. The medley of Shorter tunes, "Miyako" and "Black Nile," demonstrated the group's strong time sense, with rhythm often more implied than explicit.
Canadian tenor player Bob Brough delivered a pleasant straight-ahead set that, while capable, when compared to Hersch's performance was like the difference between eating off stoneware and fine china; both are functional, but there is a difference. Still, Fomin's compositions consisted of clever themes that led into more straightforward swinging solo sections, where Brough played with a dry tone that was somewhat reminiscent of Shorter, but less cerebral. With material largely drawn from Brough's A Decade of Favourites , the group played well, but lacked the inspirational spark. Brow was the weak point with accents and punctuations that seemed, after Waits' sense of empathy with Hersch, to be somewhat arbitrary.
Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter/Dave Holland/Brian Blade: Confederation Park, June 24, 2004 8:30PM
Herbie Hancock (piano), Wayne Shorter (tenor and soprano saxophones), Dave Holland (double-bass), Brian Blade (drums)
The threat of rain became an unfortunate reality as Hancock, Shorter, Holland and Blade took the stage, but a remarkable eight thousand people braved the weather to hear one of the more abstract and adventurous sets of the festival. This being their first performance of the tour, things began somewhat tentatively, with Shorter seeming uncertain as to which horn he wanted to use. The performance had the uncanny feel, despite the inclement weather, of sitting in a living room and watching while the group searched and explored, looking for common ground and finally, after about thirty minutes, finding it.
By no means the "greatest hits" band that some might have expected, even known tunes were twisted and turned in ways that made them barely recognizable. "Footprints" was only clear from Holland's insistent 6/8 figure, as Blade was a veritable maelstrom on the kit, Hancock layered impressionistic harmonies and Shorter flitted in and around the theme, barely settling on it before heading off into uncharted territory. As the set progressed the group seemed to coalesce, at one point building into an ostinato figure with a sharp double stop that kept building in intensity, drawing strong applause from the crowd.
The only moderately conventional piece in the set was their encore of Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island," but Hancock and Shorter still played loose and free with it, taking time to get to the familiar theme with elliptical figures that seemed to ebb and flow. Overall the group played in a completely unexpected way, but along with Hersch's performance, was an exciting and challenging way to kick off the festival.
As part of a series highlighting local artists, the DFW trio, with bassist Peter Newsom filling in for Mark Fraser, who was absent due to emergency surgery, kicked things off with a set that featured material from their strong début CD, Passing Note. With a sound that bridges the gap between Wes Montgomery and the ECM cool of early John Abercrombie, the trio's material is defined by a strong melodic sense and song sensibility. While Duschene's reverb-heavy sound was somewhat swallowed up by the hollow characteristic of the room, Wittet's playing was clear and crisp. Newsom did a fine job sitting in on short notice, solidly anchoring the material. The tunes were engaging and the performance confident and assured.\
Billy Robinson is something of a local legend, with a background that saw him work with a variety of known musicians before settling into a more academic life in Ottawa. He possesses a bold, rough tone that is distinctive for its unusual rapid vibrato and acerbic tone. Donato is one of Canada's most well-known bassists, and has played with artists including Bill Evans for a short spell. His playing is characterized by a resonant tone similar to Dave Holland's, but combines it with a darker tone reminiscent of Ron Carter and Ray Brown.
The performance was freer than expected, and only marginally successful. At times the duo seemed to be at odds with each other, as Donato tried to catch onto what Robinson was putting forth. But they occasionally blended together, creating moments of sheer excitement and proof that, while it may not always succeed, the risk inherent in the best jazz is what makes it worth checking out.
Dave Turner, more commonly seen on alto and other horns, restricted himself to baritone for his latest quartet project, which fashioned itself after the '60s Blue Note soul and groove music, but with a distinctively bottom-heavy sound that combined baritone and trombone in the front line. The surprise of the set was Rodrigues, who is clearly a talent to watch. With the melodicism and excitement of Shirley Scott, she played with a maturity that was all the more remarkable given her young age. She built solos to a fever pitch, yet always had her ears open to what was happening with the rest of the group. She seemed especially well-tuned to McCaslin who, while capable of much more, always put the groove first, knowing exactly when to lay back with a simple backbeat. Grott was a competent player, but lacked any real panache; Turner demonstrated, however, that regardless of the horn he was capable of confident playing in a relatively straight-ahead context.
Roswell Rudd's MALIcool: Confederation Park, June 25, 2004 8:30PM
Roswell Rudd (trombone), Mamadou Diabate (kora), Jorge Amarim (drums), Fode Bangoura (djembe, percussion), Jay Hoggard (marimba), Mawuena Kodjovi (guitar), Henry Schroy (bass)
Appearing in full African gear, Rudd took complete command of the stage as he wandered around, encouraging his fine entourage of international players. Now nearly seventy years old, credit is due to Rudd for continuing to stretch himself and explore different musical avenues in a career that has spanned styles from Dixieland to the Avante Garde. MALIcool is about fusing western styles with West African rhythms and harmonies, and while the entire ensemble was strong, special mention must be made of Mamadou Diabate, whose remarkable speed and precision on the unusual-looking twenty-one stringed Kora, was a sight to see and a sound to hear.
Why this project hasn't reached a broader audience is curious, as it succeeds on so many levels. It is engaging music that, while centred on structured forms, allows plenty of room for risk and exploration; it is eminently danceable music, with infectious rhythms that had the audience on its feet; and it is completely accessible. While the combination of instruments may seem a little peculiar, they ultimately work together. Rudd's trombone was capable of true emotion, from tender and poignant to brash and bold. Kodjovi was a fine guitarist who usually scatted along with his solos while Hoggard's marimba work was invigorating. All in all a fine performance that will hopefully spark some CD sales and see this project continue.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Larry Coryell has operated just below the radar in a forty-year career that has seen some clear highlights. Like many of his peers, his career has been characterized by a restlessness that has translated into projects in many contexts. In recent years he has been working in a trio setting, and the surprise of this show was that Paul Wertico, his normal drummer, was not on the bill, replaced instead by veteran Canadian drummer Terry Clarke.
Any cause for concern, given Clarke's reputation as a more subtle and understated player, was blown away by the time the first tune was over. While Clarke has always been a fine player and long time first call drummer for Jim Hall, the fire and energy that he demonstrated playing behind Coryell was completely unexpected. Coryell kept looking over, part in bemusement, part in complete surprise, as Clarke raised the temperature several degrees in a programme that combined Coryell originals with a couple of standards.
Coryell himself was also a revelation. As well as he does on recording, the audience was completely unprepared for the level of technical excellence and sheer musicality that he demonstrated throughout the short one-hour set. From dazzling chord passages to frightening harmonic runs, Coryell is a player who clearly warrants a wider audience, and hopefully performances like this one will help raise his visibility to a more deserved place.
Thom Gossage/Other Voices: NAC Studio, June 26, 2004 10:30PM
R#233'i Bolduc (alto saxophone), Frank Lozano (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet), Miles Perkin (bass), Gary Schwartz (guitar), Thom Gossage (drums, percussion, autoharp)
With the first stop on their Canadian tour, Gossage and his ensemble played material primarily from a newly recorded album that has yet to be released. Combining a variety of musical elements, including free music, M-Base, minimalism and more, one of the signatures of the group was a snaking counterpoint between the saxophone players and guitar. Unfortunately, the group's approach was perhaps a bit too cerebral; guitarist Schwartz, in particular, had an overly considered style that was certainly unique, but not particularly compelling.
Gossage has also been involved in new music works, and there was a clear chamber-like approach to some of the compositions, which would shift from one duet to anotherbass clarinet/guitar to bass clarinet/kalimba, for example, and then to a trio with guitar, arco bass and percussion. But as academically interesting as some of Gossage's compositions were, they never quite connected with the audience.
Another day, another show with the ubiquitous Terry Clarke, this time in the more straight-ahead and straightforward context that he is best known for. Mays is a solid performer in the Bill Evans tradition, and his set, as traditional as it was, demonstrated the same kind of group interplay that Evans helped to move forward.
Seeing Clarke in such a different context simply highlighted how broad his reach is. Less about fire and passion this time, and more about grace and elegance, he connected well with Mays, the two of them often seeming to share a wry musical joke. Swainson was as dependable as always, maintaining an even sense of swing and contributing lyrical solos with a warm and robust tone. And Mays's arrangements, mixing standards and originals, seemed to shimmer. While he is not as overtly adventurous as Hersch, there are clearly some shared roots.
Effendi Jazz Lab: Confederation Park, June 27, 2004 6:30PM
Alain Bedard (bass), Steve Amirault (piano), Martin Auguste (drums), Christine Jensen (alto and soprano saxophone), Alexandre Coté (tenor and soprano saxophone), Aaron Doyle (trumpet), Kelsey Grant (trombone), Francois Theberge (baritone saxophone)
The Effendi Jazz Lab is a bit of a supergroup, collecting a group of leaders who record for the Montreal-based Effendi label. Together they create an engaging blend of post bop materialgreat charts that may not rattle any cages but give each player the opportunity to demonstrate their considerable abilities. Jensen and Coté stood out, in particular, with Jensen delivering inspired solos throughout.
Latin Jazz All-Stars: Confederation Park, June 27, 2004 8:30PM
Steve Turr&233; (trombone), Ray Vega (trumpet), Hilton Ruiz (piano), Steve Berrios (drums), Yunior Caberra (bass), Ritchie Flores (percussion)
While the Cuban influence in the music was clear, the Latin Jazz All-Stars played more closely to the jazz side of things, which was a little surprising for an audience expecting more of a party atmosphere, but the performance was nothing less than riveting. Turré, looking the same as he has for the past twenty years, demonstrated that he is clearly one of the young masters of the trombone, and will be one of the artists to carry the tradition forward when older artists like Roswell Rudd are no longer around. Vega's technique was impeccable, thankfully favouring a warmer mid-register sound than the piercing tone so many Latin players aim for. Ruiz was as fluent as always, with strong roots in McCoy Tyner; his "The New Arrival" combined a modal solo section with a traditional clavé ostinato for the percussion solo.
The band's choice of material was perfect, even covering Wayne Shorter's "El Gaucho" in a way that showed exactly how genre boundaries can be blurred while remaining completely faithful to all sources.
Sometimes, in fact most times, less is more, a lesson that Montreal pianist Jean Beaudet would be well-advised to consider. While clearly in possession of formidable technique, he literally tired out the audience with an unrelenting barrage of intensity. Informed by Paul Bley and Bill Evans, Beaudet is a more rhythmic player than both, and while he was able to construct solos with good form, they would have ultimately been more successful had he just let the notes breathe a bit.
Bastien and Lalonde were a sympathetic rhythm section, albeit a little "inside the box." But what started out as an impressive concept ultimately became less satisfying as everything, even a tender ballad, was overshadowed with flurries of notes; it almost seemed that Beaudet was possessed with simply too many ideas and felt compelled to get them all out. And this is unfortunate, as he clearly possess a great deal of talent and a personal concept.
The concept was "Hendrix goes jazz," with Eagles and his quartet navigating their way through a variety of stylistic approaches, from the hip-hop-informed version of "Burning of the Midnight Lamp" to the more free-style of "1983." With Sims turning in an inspired vocal performance, the group demonstrated that a loose and relaxed approach to the music paid strong dividends. Eagles' tone was rooted more in fusion and less directly in Hendrix, but his understanding of the material was clear.
Sitting through the sound check shed a whole new light on Crispell who, upon learning that the piano she was playing was Glen Gould's instrument, tore into some high octane Bach. One sometimes forgets, when hearing her pursue her own free style, that she must have spent a lot of time studying to achieve her current level of ability.
Meanwhile, her performance with Geggie, a second visit to Ottawa for Crispell following her duet with Geggie at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage in late '03, demonstrated the kind of in the moment performance and spontaneous composition that makes such pairings a complete delight. Whether it was surrounding composed material like "Amaryllis," which originally stemmed from a collective improvisation and ultimately became a composed piece, Geggie's own beautiful "Across the Sky," or more freely improvised music, the operative word for this duo was responsiveness. For all the obvious abilities of both players, the music was less about technique and more about a sense of immediacy, with each instrument sometimes leading, other times following. That Crispell and Geggie could shift from completely free work to form with often no more than the slightest nod of the head is a testament to both players' capacity to listen and react.
Crispell has, in recent years, recorded in trios with either Mark Helias or Gary Peacock on bass. Geggie sits somewhere in the middle, with the more adventurous nature of Peacock somewhat tempered by a more inward-looking style. Geggie is a local treasurea world-class performer who needs to be heard outside his own locale. Perhaps the success of his work with artists as diverse as Crispell, Icelandic ex-pat Sunna Gunnlaugs, Mike Murley and others will encourage him to finally release the album under his own name that has been long overdue.
Murley and Froman are known to Canadian audiences as one-half of the Juno-award winning fusion group, Metalwood, but this quartet found them in a completely acoustic context and, while Metalwood is a fine group, they both clearly excel in the more natural environment. Froman, in particular, an Ottawa artist who relocated to the US years ago and now makes his home in New York City, plays with complete self-assurance, and a style that combines the fire, elegance and musicality of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and Jon Christensen. He is unquestionably the finest drummer of his generation to come out of this country, second only to Terry Clarke in his ability to breathe life into a chart.
Musically, some of this contemporary post-bop music occupied the same space as the Jean Beaudet Trio of a couple of nights previous, but this music breathed; the group didn't forget that what wasn't played was just as important as what was. With original material courtesy of Murley and Braid, these were tough chartsnavigating multiple time signatures that shifted rhythmic emphasis while always feeling natural and swinging, what was all the more remarkable was that prior to this show they had a single one-hour rehearsal and one night's performance the day before. Without overstating the obvious, the quartet demonstrated a remarkably cohesive sound that will hopefully be recorded and released at some point.
Reconvening the quartet that recorded '00's outstanding O'Neal's Porch , William Parker brought arguably his most accessible and straight-forward group to Ottawa. But while the music was more structured than some of his other work, there was still plenty of room for loose experimentation, with a concept that could only have come from the post-Ornette Coleman school, with basic structures used to define the road ahead, but improvisations that could lead anywhere.
Drake was yet another fine drummer to show up at this year's festival; in fact, while there was not a single one who led the bill, this year's Ottawa International Jazz Festival may well be remembered for the number of exceptional drummers that supported and pushed their groups forward. It's interesting to see how a musician's body language helps define the way they play, and Drake's was loose and relaxed. A long-time collaborator with Parker, the rapport they shared was not just something you heard and saw, but something you felt.
Parker, seated in the back with a Pork Pie hat looking uncannily like a more people-friendly Mingus, anchored the proceedings, but took plenty of solo room himself, including an arco solo with an unusual two-bow contraption that allowed him to bow on both sides of the bridge, creating unusual harmonics. Brown and Barnes were creative soloists, working well off each other to create attractive unison lines, as well as open and closed voicings.
Amongst a collection of "real deal" performances, expectations were high for this duet set. After all, Lerner was an accomplished player who has dabbled in everything from jazz to classical to Jewish music; Greenwich, of course, established his reputation by working with Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter more than thirty years ago.
Sadly, while the audience seemed to enjoy the show, it did not live up to expectation. Lerner was a technically proficient player who, somehow, seemed to miss the truth of the music. She played the notes but they didn't seem to have any meaning. Greenwich hasn't really changed or evolved over the years. His style revolved around relatively simple scales, tremolos, trills and hammer-ons that he resorted to incessantly. The feeling was that once you'd heard one Greenwich solo you'd heard them all.
The duo played music mostly written by Greenwich and, while there was some communication happening between the two, it was of the most obvious kind. Overall the show was lightweight, a demonstration that there is a difference between playing the notes and playing the notes.
Rosenwinkel's performance was one of the most highly anticipated shows of the festival, and he did not disappoint. One sign of a true artist is their ability to identify themselves with but a single note. In the sound check Rosenwinkel plugged in his guitar, and from the first note, even with your eyes closed, you knew who you were listening to.
This was the final date of a tour with his working quartet before he headed into a larger summer tour with Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, Larry Grenadier and Ali Jackson, who will be recording Rosenwinkel's next album in August. But while, with the exception of drummer Hoenig, the names were unknown, this was unquestionably a fine group, with Goldberg a unique stylist and Martin a rock solid anchor.
For those who feel that jazz is a dead end, all you have to do is hear this group and, especially, Rosenwinkel's compositions and playing to know that it is alive and well and moving forward. Rosenwinkel proved, yet again, that he is the next generation's Scofield, Abercrombie, Metheny and Frisell. His is a unique harmonic vision that includes blinding arpeggios peppered with chord shots, broad intervallic leaps and a certain rapid staccato concept and way of playing out of time while still in time that kept the audience on the edge of their seat for the entire performance. He developed his solos gradually, building into an intensity that approached the cliff but never quite made the leap, creating a terrific sense of tension.
Harmonically advanced yet completely engaging because of its unique but strong melodic context, Rosenwinkel was clearly a highlight of a fine festival, and rumour has it that he has already been booked for a main stage performance at next year's festival.
Mattias Stahl is a young Swedish vibraphonist last seen in Canada, with bassist Filip Augustson, in fellow countryman Fredrik Nordstrom's Quintet, and it was that fine performance that set the stage for this return performance with his own quartet, which also featured percussionist Thomas Stronen, known for his work in Iain Ballamy's Anglo/Norwegian free band, Food. While different in emphasis, the performance was no less engaging than Nordstrom's, this time being a showcase for Stahl's fine compositions and playing.
There was some lineage between Stahl's work and Nordstrom's, specifically with both groups coming from a clear love of Ornette Coleman's work. But unlike the relatively simple themes that Coleman would use as a jumping off point for more extended improvisation, Stahl's Bla's motifs were denser, more complex. What was remarkable about the group was how, out of apparent freedom, the group would almost magically coalesce around structured constructs. There were times when what they were doing appeared to be free, but then the group would stop on a dime and shift gears into a new passage that would imply more definition than one might think. Clearly there is more to this music than meets the eye.
All players were excellent, but Stronen stood out in the way that, while establishing a regular groove appeared secondary, he still did much to establish essential rhythms, occasionally even swinging. But clearly this music is more about European abstraction than it is about any allegiance to the American tradition.
Pangaea is a local band, formed by bassist Adrian Cho, to explore music from Miles Davis' first quintet, as well as transitional periods like Seven Steps To Heaven. While the line-up featured guitar as the chordal instrument rather than piano, they created an ambience that was reverential without being completely imitative, and demonstrated a comfort that, from the beginning, gave the band a clear identity.
Trudel was a fine trumpet player, but his best work was on flugelhorn, where he demonstrated a warm rich tone. On trumpet he seemed a little more Woody Shaw than Miles Davis, but that was fine as it took away from this being a direct homage. The surprise of the set was tenor saxophonist Brian Magner, who works more with R&B bands in the city, but was a fine soloist with a robust tone, comfortably navigating the sometimes challenging changes. Cho provided solid support and was a lyrical soloist, while drummer Aston was a light player in the Jimmy Cobb tradition.
Like Rosenwinkel the day before, Garrett has a sound that is instantly recognizable. Opening with a modal burner from Standard of Language Garrett took no time to establish what this band was about: intensity, pure joy in playing, and a frightening chemistry. The tune ultimately broke down into a duet between Garrett and drummer Bruner, who was another outstanding drummer with a fountain of ideas that seemed bursting to get out, and clear roots in Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Tony Williams. At one point Garrett just kept nailing a single note while Bruner created a rhythmic maelstrom around him.
Everyone in Garrett's group deserves wider recognition. McKinney was a powerful pianist in the Tyner/Hancock vein, which suited the modality of the majority of the pieces performed. His duet of Oriental folk songs with Garrett was a welcome respite from the sheer energy of the rest of the performance. Funn, using a borrowed bass and amplifier, proved that a strong player's personality comes through, regardless of the instrument he is playing.
In comparison to Jean Beaudet's performance of a few days prior, the difference between his unrelenting intensity and Garrett's is the use of space; as capable as Garrett was of sheets of sound, he was equally capable of letting notes sing, ideas breathe, clearly something he gained from his years with Miles Davis.
Garrett's albums simply don't prepare for the extent of improvisation he and his band are capable of. The first two pieces took up close to thirty minutes, and his extended closer, "Happy People," had the crowd clapping along, even as Garrett moved it from hip hop into modal territory, showing more overt soul than the rest of the performance. The audience wouldn't let him go without an encore, a brief and burning version of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee."
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones: Confederation Park, July 2, 2004 8:30PM
Béla Fleck (banjos, guitar), Jeff Coffin (saxophones, clarinet, flute, synthesizer), Victor Wooten (basses), Future Man (Synthaxe Drumitar, percussion)
Drawing the largest crowd of the festival, partly due to an increase in the youth faction, little can be said about a group of four virtuosi who, for close to two and-a-half hours kept the audience riveted with playing that combined incredible technical skill with musicality and humour. Equally remarkable was the clear sense that, while three of them had been on the road almost continuously, living in each other's pockets, for the past fifteen years, they still enjoyed being on stage with each other and, even more to the point, could still create moments of surprise.
While Coffin is the youngest member of the bandhe's only been with them for eight yearshe is now fully integrated, and obviously shares the same sense of adventure and communication. More than the rest he brings a direct sense of jazz tradition to the band.
What is also uncanny about the band is how they integrate increasing amounts of cutting-edge technology seamlessly, without losing site of the essence of the materialstrong writing, outstanding playing and telepathic communication. Wooten, in particular, performed a bass solo, building up a series of loops that seemed just on the verge of getting out of control; but of course that never happened as he handled them all with complete confidence.
While the last three Flecktone records have featured a variety of musical guests, this performance proved that they are really at their best when they pare things down to their core quartet. There is more room to be playful, to explore, and to just plain relax and have fun.
Diminutive and humble she may be, but Hiromi Uehara is possessed of a prodigious talent, a technical ability and almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the traditions that came before. With a virtuosity that includes elements of classical and jazz backgrounds, she and her trio delivered a performance that had the audience on the edge of its seat. With engaging songs that verged on, but never quite crossed the line into, smooth jazz territory, as well as energetic funk and an almost fusion sensibility, Hiromi and her trio of Berklee-trained musicians were never less than committed.
When Grey's bass amplifier experienced technical problems, Hiromi played a solo that demonstrated that her roots reach far back in the tradition, to artists including Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.
Still, with all the technical ability on display the performance sometimes ran the risk of losing focus, becoming simply a vehicle for staggering ability. Perhaps indicative of the boldness of her youth, Hiromi was sometimes guilty of overplaying. Still, she is clearly an artist with promise, but needs more time to develop and mature. Undoubtedly she and her group of fine players will be heard from in the future.
She may have taken her time getting to the piano, but 86-year old Marian McPartland proved she could still play with the elegance, dignity and grace that have characterized her long career. Not content to fall into predictable patterns, she was still able to surprise with her more modern approach to harmony, and a choice of material that, while mostly straight-ahead standards, managed to surprise with the inclusion of Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin.'"
Thompson and Elmes were the perfect rhythm section for her; sensitive and capable, playful without ever getting in the way.
McPartland, from years of experience on the radio with her series, "Piano Jazz," was clearly comfortable talking to the few thousand people who came to hear her. Engaging, witty and charming, her introductions to the songs were almost as entertaining as her playing.
There are many piano trios interpreting the Great American Songbook, but when you hear McPartland play you know you're hearing a legend, someone who not only adheres to the tradition, but helped to define it.
Dapp Theory: NAC Studio, July 3, 2004 10:30PM
Andy Milne (piano, keyboards, vocals), Loren Stillman (alto and soprano saxophones), John Moon (vocals), Anthony Tidd (bass), Sean Rickman (drums, vocals)
Keyboardist Milne originally played with Steve Coleman, and the M-Base influence can still be felt in his music, which combines the complex funk and elliptical motifs of that style with a more song-structured hip hop influence. Drummer Rickman is another find of the festival, with a clear footing in the Dennis Chambers school in terms of dexterity, but with a powerful yet finessed ability to displace the rhythm while maintaining a firm pulse that is all his own.
The arrangements were complex with a unique harmonic language, yet the whole performance was easy to listen to, with tunes that covered the spectrum from light to dark, yet always maintained the groove. All about counterpoint, each instrument created its own rhythmic space that, on its own, defined only one piece of the puzzle, but together created a compelling polyrhythmic blend.
Moon's raps were nicely integrated. Less hip hop-meets-jazz, his work represented yet another rhythmic part of the polyrhythmic whole. Even when playing in straight time, the variety of conflicting rhythms seemed to work in an odd yet attractive way.