Ottawa Jazz Festival 2008: Days 10-11, June 29-30, 2008
June 30: Richard Galliano
The final show of the 2008 OIJF's Improv Series was also it's best attended. Of course, with a name like Richard Galliano and the project his highly accessible Tangaria Quartet, it's no surprise that the French accordionist drew a larger crowd then more experimental performances like that of Tim Berne's or Iro Haarla, earlier in the festival. Still, while Berne would have been a stretch for some of Galliano's fans, and Haarla would likely have done far better had she not been up against Herbie Hancock in Confederation Park, what Galliano proved is that the Improv Series need not be all about more abstract or jagged music. Like the Flamenco-centric music of bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons at his Connoisseur Series performance, Galliano's Tangaria Quartet was all about passion, playfulness and, at times, instrumental pyrotechnics that, like Garcia-Fons, were never an end in and of themselves but, instead, were constantly in service of the music.
Galliano's seventy-five minute performance drew on material from Live in Marciac 2006 (Milan, 2007) and Luz Negra, and provided plenty of feature opportunities for violinist Alexis Caredenas, percussionist Rafaël Mejias and Jean-Philippe Viret, who did not appear on Galliano's albums but is a renowned French bassist whose longstanding trio has been steadily building a fine discography, including L'Indicible (Minium, 2006), with pianist Edouard Ferlet. Here, with the focus on a curious mix between music reminiscent of the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt (but without the strings), that of tango master Astor Piazzolla, a reinvention of early 20th Century French ballroom dancing form musette and, at times, hints of world music from sources further afield.
Galliano's button accordion was nothing short of remarkable in its breadth of color and range. From piercing high notes to in-the-gut lows, and from warm, soft tones to using the bellows to emulate the sound of the wind, Galliano's reputation as one of the living masters of the instrument was indisputable as he raced across it on the more fiery material, and evoked vocal-like expression on ballads and an interpretation of Erik Satie's "Gnoissienne #3" that turned the classical composer's simple melody into a thing of beauty even Satie himself would not likely have been able to conceive. Cardenas' instrument might have been less texturally expansive, but he was equally impressive, especially on songs like the opening "Tango for Claude," where he doubled Galliano's melodies with such accuracy that the two instruments merged into a single tonality.
Mejias, with an almost constant smile on his face, moved around a small hand percussion array that included the cajón, bongos, maracas, a cymbal and wind chimes, was a remarkably sensitive player who was aware of the dynamic effect of playing little...or, in some cases, not at all. His own solos were equally incisive; during a duet spot with Cardenas where the violinist demonstrated remarkable virtuosity, Mejias managed to do more with two maracas than many drummers do with entire kits. Viret also demonstrated a potent ability to say much with less; his solo spot in duet with Galliano, before the accordionist took the stage on his own for a series of solos that ranged from haunting and melancholic to vibrant and fervent.
l:r" Alexis Cardenas, Rafaël Mejias, Richard Galliano, Jean-Philippe Viret
While this was a context where solos strictly worked within the confines of often very detailed song form, where the arrangements were often so complex that they belied their resonance and inherent approachability. Like Garcia-Fons, it's too easy to dismiss Galliano's music as mere expansion of a number of traditions. But by doing so and, most importantly, opening these traditions up for improvisation, he's been an innovator who may well be looked upon in the history books as every bit as significant as his mentor, Piazzolla. Certainly the sold-out performance, that capped off the third year of a still relatively nascent Improv Series that's been getting more diverse and adventurous each year.
As the 28th TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival draws to a close with Canada Day festivities on July 1, the buzz amongst regular attendees is that it's been one of the best festivals in recent years. High praise, indeed, from a discerning crowd who have been quick, in previous years, to find fault with certain ideas that failed to come together as well as hoped. But OIJF 2008 not only brought a wealth of big name acts to draw large audiencesincluding a record-breaking crowd of 11,500 for the Return to Forever show- -it continued to focus on the smaller acts that give the festival not only its variety, but its credibility.
At a time when other festivals are bringing in a significant number of acts that have absolutely nothing to do with jazz, OIJF remains quietly dedicated to ensuring that it continues to be perceived as a jazz festival.