2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival - The Best Year Yet
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."