2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival - The Best Year Yet
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.