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Live Reviews

Day 3 - Ottawa International Jazz Festival, June 24, 2006

By Published: June 26, 2006
Sharing the front line with D'Rivera was Argentinean trumpeter Diego Urcola. His latest release, Viva (CamJazz, 2006), is an adventurous record that, like work by other young Latin artists including altoist Miguel Zenón and pianist Edward Simon, demonstrates an intrepid approach, applying a more modernistic bent to his own rich musical heritage. Urcola's style allows for extroverted bursts of energy as well as spare lyricism, but he always focuses on solos with a purpose. It was great to hear his 7/4 minor blues "Tango Azul —which opens Viva—played at last night's show.

Drummer Mark Walker may hail from Chicago, but he has proven himself to be an extremely flexible and adaptable player since emerging on the scene in the early 1990s. His range spans from Afro-Cuban work with D'Rivera and Caribbean Jazz Project to the broader world music inflections of Oregon and the more cerebral work of pianist Jon Weber, whose Simple Complex (Second Century Jazz, 2004) received considerable critical acclaim.

Like Urcola, he's playing much more in the tradition with D'Rivera, but with an authenticity and unerring sense of groove that made the quintet's version of Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango a highlight of the set. Walker may not have the cachet of some of the other, higher-profile drummers of his generation, but one look at his remarkably large discography tells all.

Electric bassist Oscar Stagnaro's command of his six-string instrument was like a Latin version of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones bassist Victor Wooten. While he only took the occasional solo, his remarkable technique was impressive, and his musicality more so. He may have been capable of complex two-handed contrapuntal tapping, but he was just as apt to lay down an unshakable groove, as he did on Urcola's "Tango Azul.

Offering further proof that you don't have to be born to it to play it right, Israeli ex-pat Alon Yavnai's piano work had the perfect combination of modal jazz sensibility and Latin rhythm. He's the least-known member of the quintet, but based on his playing last night, you can expect to hear more from him in the future.

While D'Rivera's show was heavy on Latin rhythms and entertainment—he finally got the audience to sing along with him during the set's final number—it's easy to forget that he also lives in the classical world and is a remarkably broad and accomplished musician. He may be a lithe saxophonist, but his clarinet work is more distinctive and has carved out a unique place for him in the world of Afro-Cuban jazz. In contrast to D'Rivera's surprisingly sharp alto tone, he sounded much warmer on clarinet, and the blend of his clarinet with Urcola's muted trumpet was particularly captivating.

D'Rivera is nothing if not the consummate performer. He ended his balladic tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, "I Remember Dizzy, with a quick and humorous reference to Gillespie's classic "Salt Peanuts. It may have been pure shtick, but it was also great fun. D'Rivera knows how to engage an audience from the first downbeat, and that's what exactly he did last night.

Visit Sonny Fortune, Paquito D'Rivera and the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.

Photo Credit

John Kelman

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