Ottawa Jazz Festival 2009: Days 4-6, June 28-30, 2009
, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade, Burton's dedicated crowd remained largely faithful, putting up umbrellas, throwing on hooded coats and, in some cases, just plain sitting there and getting wet.
As the skies darkened during opening act of Dave McMurdo's set, it was clear that there was going to be no avoiding a weather storm for vibraphonist Gary Burton's much anticipated set with Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow and Antonio Sanchez, revisiting material from the late-'60s and '70s. But a torrential downpour that began virtually moments after the quartet took the stage and lasted 30 minutes into the group's two-hour set before finally abating tested the dedication of an audience there to hear music that, while it may not have been played for 30 years or more, remains fresh today. But just as in 2003, when a similar downpour kept up for the entire set by Herbie Hancock
l:r: Pat Metheny, Gary Burton, Antonio Sanchez, Steve Swallow
The reward was a set that began with the four opening tunes from Quartet Live (Concord, 2009), but soon deviated to include a broader selection of material, including a lovely duet spot for Burton and Metheny in the second half of the performancefirst, with Metheny on his unwieldy (for anyone but him) 42-string Pikasso guitar, and then on baritone acoustic guitar for a driving version of the George Gershwin
's dark ballad, "Olhos de Gato," featured some of Metheny's most lyrical playing of the set, and an early indicator that he was going beyond some of his trademarks into new territory. Swallow's own classic, "Falling Grace," remains an elegant yet gently swinging inspiration that featured the bassist's own unadorned approach to soloing. No slapping, popping or tapping pyrotechnics here; just wonderful melodies, played with a perfect sense of time and placement. "Syndrome," another Bley classic that's been covered a number of times over the years by Burton, featured a barnstorming duet feature for the vibraphonist and Sanchezwho may be the only non-original member of the quartet (as Burton pointed out, he wasn't even born when some of the material they played was written) but plays with the same attention to detail, interplay and energy as the rest of his band mates.
Highlights were many. Carla Bley
As for Burton, he was nothing less than his usual impeccable self. A soloist of near-perfection, he made it clear from the first tune, longtime musical partner Chick Corea's "Sea Journey," that Metheny may have a larger nameand attract audiences coming from as far away as Edmonton, Alberta and farther abroadbut he was and remains a relentless innovator and encourager of young new talent, including guitarist Julian Lage, who will be opening for Maria Schneider's Orchestra the following night. Sanchez's position has yet to be determinedthough he's been off to a terrific start, since emerging with Pat Metheny Group on Speaking of Now (Warner Bros., 2002)but Burton, Swallow and Metheny are all important musicians in their own right. Their respective popular profiles may differ, but their contributions and significance are of comparable quality.
The set's second-to-last song, Metheny's "Unquity Road," was another high point in the group's performance, a fiery and change-heavy tune that challenged all the soloists. Metheny's solo was especially compelling, showing how far he's come in over 30 years while, at the same time, making a brief reference to the solo he played in the original version on Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976), his debut as a leader. The set may have lasted two hours, but despite the rain it seemed over almost as quickly as it began, leaving a dedicated audience wet, but more than happy.
and French saxophonist Jean-Christoph Beney, he's been hosting the jam sessions at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. His work with saxophonist Chet Doxas on Sidewalk Etiquette (Justin Time, 2006) demonstrates his ability to play in more modernistic electric contexts, while his own disc, Rate of Change (Effendi, 2006) is a more introspective affair that might easily have found its way to ECM Records, had the German label been accepting unsolicited material.
June 29: John Roney Silverbirch Project
Canadian pianist John Roney has been making a name for himself, first in Toronto and now in Montreal, over the past few years. In addition to playing with artists including Canadian monster bassist Alain Caron
Roney's performance at the afternoon Connoisseur Series with his latest project, Silverbirch, finds the intrepid pianist collaborating with Silverbirch String Quartet first violinist Christopher Robinson, looking for new ways to integrate their shared interests in classical music and jazz. Documented on Silverbirch (Effendi, 2008), it features a combination of original material by Roney and imaginative covers of everything from John Coltrane's well-heeled "Giant Steps" to the inspiration for the string quartet's name, the traditional "Land of the Silverbirch," which featured a particularly moving solo feature for violist Jane Russel (subbing for regular Silverbirch member Jamie Arrowsmith).
Continuing the streak of largely virtuosic performers at the Connoisseur Series, Roney's command of the piano is impressive. He possesses an uncanny ability to merge various vernaculars into a seamless whole, including clear references to American composers like Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, tango, folk and country sourceseven turning in, at one point, a solo piano version of John Denver's enduring "Take Me Home, Country Roads" that was a nuanced tour-de-force of passion and grace. Roney also demonstrated an unmistakable command of the jazz language that turned the lengthy and complex arrangement of "Giant Steps," with the group elaborating on the tune's relatively simple theme over completely reharmonized but equally complex changes, before heading into a more jazz-centric solo segment for Roney, capably supported by cellist Alexandra Lee's walking pizzicato.
l:r: John Roney, Christopher Robinson, Jeff McCauslin, Alexandra Lee, Jane Russel
A democratic leader, Roney, who was featured as an unaccompanied soloist on "Take Me Home, Country Roads," saw the Silverbirch String Quartet go it alone on his "American GSus," an at times haunting, elsewhere strangely hopeful, composition for the survivors of the 9/11 disaster. Ranging from curious moments of stasis to more fervent motion, by focusing exclusively on Roney the composer, the work created an even more impressive view of this rising young pianist. Still, his playing throughout the set was consistently moving, as he played with effortless precision, unequivocal virtuosity and refined elegance, qualities that could easily be applied to Silverbirch String quartetwho operate out of Sudbury, Canada.
All-in-all a stunning performance that, by completely avoiding the potential for saccharine often inherent in "jazz meets classical" ventures, suggests new possibilities for merging the two genres with greater success.