Ottawa Jazz Festival Day 11: July 1, 2007
June 30 may have been the final day of ticketed/pass performances at the 2007 TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival, but a number of free performances kept a more general, largely non-jazz crowd happily occupied. OIJF has programming at Confederation Park running from 11:15 AM right through to 8:00 PM, when the annual holiday spectacle begins a few blocks away at Parliament Hill, culminating with fireworks at 10:00 PM.
Canada Day aside, it's also an opportunity to reflect on this year's festival. With so many superb shows, it's hard to pick favorites, but there were a handful of special performances that met expectations completely, completely exceeded them, or came as complete surprises.
While 11:15 AM is a tough time for any group to play, it was a rare opportunity for People Project to perform. A collaboration featuring Mexican residents Natalia LaFourcade (bass synth, guitar, melodica, vocals) and Gabriel "Queso" Bronfman (guitar, vocals, ukulele, bass) and a Canadian contingent of Philippe Lafrenière (drums, vocals, guitar), Steven Patterson (tenor saxophone, background vocals, bass, percussion, beatbox) and Marie Amelia Martinez (flute, percussion, background vocals), geographical distance makes working together a special challenge for this group.
It's also a challenging group linguistically, with its original music sung in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, but from the listener's viewpoint understanding the lyrics during it hour-long set came secondary to witnessing the bringing together of Latin rhythms and a distinctly youthful jazz/blues vibe.
Lafrenière's kit was certainly unique: a bass drum, high hat, cymbal, snare drum, conga drum and cowbell. But the strange hybrid worked, allowing him to create thumping, almost techno, four-on-the-floor pulses on the bass drum to which, using one hand, he added conga to give things a more ethnic feel.
Vocal duties were largely split between Lafrenière and Bronfman, although Lafourcade delivered a powerful vocal turn mid-way through the set. Patterson and Maritinez created an unusual front line, flute and tenor sax blending together with surprising cohesion.
The material was drawn largely from the group's 2006 self-titled debut, and was not only an easy-on-the- ears way to work into a day of music and festivities but an appropriate set-up for the Souljazz Orchestra's 12:30 performance, which also featured Patterson and Lafrenière, as well as Bronfman, who sat in as guest guitarist.
Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra gave an exhilarating performance at 12:30 PM on the main stage, succeeding where some bands at the festival have tried and failedto get its audience up on its feet and dancing. After an outdoor show at the Montreal Jazz Festival the night before, an early afternoon performance on Canada Day may have seemed less than ideal, but the group's energy captured the crowd, and no doubt will help to grow its audience locally.
The Souljazz Orchestra
The group's first record, Freedom No Go Die, featured a number of guest vocalists, in addition to its regular memberskeyboardist/guitarist/bassist/vocalist/principle writer Pierre Chrétian, saxophonists Zakari Frantz, Steve Patterson and Ray Murray, and drummer/vocalist Philippe Lafrenière. The music comes from a variety of influences, including Afrobeat, James Brown-style funk and hints of jazz throughout (especially with Patterson, who pushed out righteous Albert Ayler-like wails throughout the show). Lyrically it's a politically driven band, with titles including "Mista President," "The Blind Leading the Blind" and of course the CD's title track, making loud and clear where its members' sentiments lie.
The group, which has received praise from across Canada as well as the UK, also performed a new track from its forthcoming four-song EP, People, People. Adding to the already wide cross-genre mix, Souljazz opened with the New Orleans-inflected "Shoofly," with its relentless but engaging call-and-response.
With music that's as meaty as it is infectiously grooving, Souljazz is the kind of act that can appeal to a younger demographic while still having something to offer to the more established jazz crowd. It was a good idea to book the group for this year's general Canada Day festivities, but as festivals are faced with the challenge of bringing in a younger demographic, Souljazz is a group that could help bridge the gap, and would not be an inappropriate act for the regular ticketed/pass days.
With finished tracks slotted for forthcoming anthologies and tours being lined up, it looks as though The Souljazz Orchestra's star is on the rise, making this small, local performance one that, a few years down the road, may well be looked upon by those in attendance as one of those "I saw them whenâ‚¬¦" memories.