2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival - The Best Year Yet
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.