Ottawa International Jazz Festival - Day Eleven, July 3, 2005
With the number of truly outstanding performances at this year's Ottawa International Jazz Festival, it's hard to imagine how the organizers could schedule a final day to act as climax and fitting conclusion. This year the festival has seen Terence Blanchard, the Moutin Reunion Quartet, Evan Parker and Dave Young raise the bar on what festival goers can expect to see in future. But the evening's double bill of saxophonists David Sanchez and Joshua Redman did just that, as did vibraphonist Matthias Lupri's cerebral performance at the afternoon Connoisseur Series.
As remarkable as the festival has been, mention needs to be made of the 450 volunteers and the small, but dedicated, full-time staffincluding Executive Director Catherine O'Grady, Programming Manager Jacques Emond, Media/Marketing Representative Sui-Ling Leung and Media Representative Scott Ledinghamwho made sure that everything ran smoothly. There were challenges, as always, but some of this year's have to be considered amongst the greatest, specifically Harry Connick Jr.'s stringent needs that included demanding the festival bring in a new stage to meet his very specific requirements, and helping facilitate a last-minute save of the Trio! performance, featuring Béla Fleck, Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke, by local bassist John Geggie and drummer Nick Fraser when circumstances prevented Clarke from being admitted into the country. Randall Ware, of Library and Archives Canada, also deserves mention for ensuring that the Connoisseur Seriesat the Library's 386-seat theatrecontinues to be the most consistent series of the festival.
Performing material culled primarily from his most recent disc Transition Sonic, vibraphonist Matthias Lupri joined the other members of his quintetguitarist Nate Radley, bassist Evan Gregor, drummer Jordan Perlson and, notably, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, whose trio performance earlier in the year with John Geggie and Montreal drummer Jim Doxas was a highlight of Geggie's ongoing series at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage. They delivered a set that combined heady intellectualism with spirited soloing over Lupri's often challenging forms.
Like his primary influence and teacher Gary Burton, Matthias Lupri's approach is more chordal and pianistic, utilizing four mallets as opposed to the two-mallet horn-like approach of Milt Jackson-informed artists like Joe Locke and Stefon Harris. Still, he's able to deliver linear lines in addition to the rich harmonies that infuse his compositions. Seeing him liveand in a context where he and his group can stretch outit was clear that while he came relatively recently to the instrument, he's evolving at a rapid pace. While he utilizes some sound processing, running his vibraphone through an amplifier in addition to sending an acoustic feed to the PA, the colourations are extremely subtle, more about broadening and warming up the sound rather than anything more direct. His technical facility may be growing in leaps and bounds, but Lupri's playing is as much about texture and colour as it is about melody.
While his performance on Transition Sonic was certainly strong enough, Radley's playing in concert definitely confirmed that he's an emerging player to watch. While he has his own approach, it's equally clear that he's spent time studying with Boston legend Mick Goodrick. Not so much in what he plays, but how he plays. Goodrick, who was also a strong influence on Pat Metheny in his younger days, has a very specific yet completely open approach to both the use of voicings and developing a spontaneously-composed approach to soloing. Goodrick is also about mindset rather than specific technical concerns, and so small motifs would become the foundation on which Radley built his solos, with careful consideration to gradual development, rather than immediate and short-lived intensity.
Donny McCaslin, on the other hand, combined a greater sense of power with an equally strong narrative sense. Watching McCaslin play is like peering into an open window into his mind; you can see him reaching and taking risks that almost always pay off; and on the rare occasion when they don't, it's really incidental. His constant search lent his solos weight and his unerring ability to dramatically build them from the simplest beginnings to a fever pitch garnered the audience's most vocal response.