25th Ottawa International Jazz Festival - Day One, June 23, 2005
While the NAC Orchestra did a fine job in supporting Connick, there were times when one could have easily imagined the performance stripped down to just Connick and his group. He quickly established a strong rapport with the Orchestra members, joking with Concertmaster Walter Prystawski and Musical Director/Conductor Jack Everly.
Some people balk at the idea of jazz as entertainment, demanding that it be more serious, more "artful." But the truth is that there's nothing wrong with making the music approachable, as long as it's well-conceived and well-played, as it was here. Connick certainly doesn't rattle any musical cages, but in our time of Michael Bublé and Jamie Cullum, Connick stands out as a distinctive vocalist and masterful interpreter who takes his incontestable skills and (at least when he's wearing his pianist/vocalist hat) uses them to create something that dispels the myth, to a larger demographic, that jazz has to be inherently difficult to approach.
Opening the 10:30 pm National Arts Centre Studio Series, Swedish tenor saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar and his quartet delivered a 75-minute performance that had its flaws, but ultimately its strengths outweighed its weaknesses. Kullhammar's writing served more as a vehicle for extended soloing, light on changes and heavily reliant on a modal post-bop approach. Yet it was also characterized at times with a taste of folkloric naiveté most notably the balladic "4X." His quartet, also featuring pianist Torbjorn Gulz, bassist Torbjorn Zetterberg, and drummer Jonas Halgersson, clearly comes from a European impressionist space, but they are equally capable of more intense swing, as evidenced by the opening piece, "Snake City East," and the unannounced set closer.
Kullhammar's tone has nothing of the icy Nordic cool of Jan Garbarek, but he demonstrated a similar attention to detail with respect to tone and the nuance of each note. Still, while Garbarek has moved farther and farther away from any kind of traditional jazz aesthetic over the course of the past 35 years, Kullhammar is clearly working within that arena. Lithe and capable of gradually building excitement in his solos, he received the strongest response from the audience.
Halgersson may not have received a lot of solo space throughout the set, but his loose polyrhythmic approach brought to mind Elvin Jones at timesin particular on the new piece that Kullhammar, a closet comedian if ever there was one, called "I Wish I Was Born in Ottawa." Able to keep things moving ahead with strong forward motion, Halgersson managed to inject all kinds of musical thrusts, never resorting to blatant non-sequitur.
Gulz is a capable pianist, but relative to Connick's performance earlier in the evening, he lacked a certain assurance. Still, his close-voiced harmonic approach and clearly considered ideas made for solos that, while feeling somehow lacking of full commitment, had their charms as well.
Zetterberg was clearly the weak link in the group. As a rhythm section member he was adequate enough, but while Halgersson seemed to be actively listening and responding to what was going on around him, Zetterberg felt strangely disconnected at times. His solos often lacked focus, rarely telling any kind of story. Still, despite its shortcomings, Kullhammar's quartet managed to engage the audience. Derivative perhaps, but this is a young group, and it has plenty of time to evolve.
Tomorrow: Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis duet; Bitches Brew Tribute Band; Michael Rud Quartet; Hugh Fraser and the Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation; and the Andrew Scott Sextet.
Visit Harry Connick, Jr., Jonas Kullhammar, and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.