Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 1-3, June 24-26, 2010
For the first night of the Improv Invitational Series, OIJF brought Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innenen, seen here in 2009 as part Delirium. This time, it was with his own group, Innkvisitio, whose Paa-Da-Pap (TUM, 2007) was a fine debut of music combining Ornette Coleman-inspired freedom with wild electronic textures, powerful improvisational energy and empathy, and a kind of dry humor that, at times, broke out into rich laughter amongst the band members. Serious improvisation needn't be all that serious after all, and if one sign of a good performance is how much the group is enjoying itself, then Innkvisitio's performance was a particularly strong one.
From left: Seppo Kantonen, Mikko Innanen
The group played tracks from Paa-Da-Pap as well as some material from soon-to-be released sophomore disc, but while three-fourths of the album's group was on-hand for its Ottawa showin addition to Innanen, synthesizer player Seppo Kantonen and drummer Joonas Riippaoriginal member Timo Lassy was replaced by Swedish saxophonist/clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist, perhaps the most well-known of the group internationally speaking, as an ongoing member of Atomic, as well as Norwegian percussionist Thomas Strønen's group, Parish, that released its self-titled second album on ECM in 2006.
Whether on alto or baritone, Innanen possessed a seemingly endless stream of ideas, with extended techniques that gave him plenty of flexibility to drive his set of original compositions. Particularly strong on baritone, with the ability to deliver deep, visceral growls and more delicate upper-register phrases, he was especially in tune with Ljungkvist, the two providing cued support during an especially impressive solo from Kantonen late in the set, where the keyboardist's otherworldly tones were matched by angular phrases with odd intervals and displaced time. Riippa was also an impressive engine for the group, rarely soloing but bolstering the performance with everything from a solid backbeat to tumultuous turbulence, all with an clear eye for when the free play had to end and it was time to return to Innanen's knotty themes.
And the compositions were quirky. An early piece began with Kantonen alternating between sharp, loud, chords, matched by Riippa's loud crashes, but quickly dissolving into dark balladic territorybeautiful in a brooding, foreboding fashion. The group didn't deny swing as a component, but it was often a transitional thing, as the music freely moved from one rhythmic feel to another, with the elastic rubato that's a signature from that part of the world, a regular partner to more defined pulse. And as much as Kantonen continued to provide alien soundscapes, he also provided, at times, a clear bass line with his left hand that differentiated this bass-less group from most of its kind, where time and swing are so often implied rather than overtly delivered.
All four were impressive players, but Innanen and Ljungqvist stood out, with the majority of the direct solo space. Alternating between an alto/clarinet frontline and another where Innanen countered on baritone to Ljungkvist's tenor, comparisons could be drawn to some of American reed man Ken Vandermark's projects, but there as an underlying humor n both the writing and the approach to soloing; not only did Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio bring it, but they did so with an infectious sense of play that made it an early favorite for the 2010 OIJF.
Entirely different, but displaying the same collective enthusiasm, Etienne Charles brought his Folklore quintet to the Library and Archives theater, for an afternoon performance that satisfied existing fans and undoubtedly brought the Trinidad-born trumpeter some new ones as well. With his own impressive educational résuméBerklee, Florida State, JuilliardCharles brought along some of his partners in crime from the much-lauded Folklore (Self Produced, 2009), including the multi-cultural Jacques Schwarz-Bart on tenor saxophone, and Obed Calvaire, a particularly exceptional drummer who is already delivering on a wealth of promises with everyone from Dave Liebman and The Clayton Brothers to Barney McAll and David Kikoski. Not on Charles' album, but so familiar with the music that they may as well have been, bassist Ben Williams (Stefon Harris and Blackout) and the relatively unknown but impressive pianist Sullivan Fortner rounded out the group, which had the audience on its feet for a standing ovation by the end of its exhilarating, 90-minute show
Redolent of the Caribbean (closing, as he did, with a calypso) and New Orleans, Charles' music is, nevertheless, thoroughly modern, comfortably marrying a deep-rooted understanding of the traditions that are at the core of his music with more sophisticated harmonies, especially in the case of Fortner, who brought a rich sense of thoughtful invention, even when the group delivered a blues mid-set. His eyes often on the rest of the group, he demonstrated a keen sense of when to inject a driving harmony to push some of this very accessible music ever so slightly on its edge.
Eye contact, smiles and, at times, enthusiastic laughter amongst the players created an infectiously strong connection with the audience, made all the warmer by Charles' relaxed and affable song introductionand his band intros as well, which clearly demonstrated his respect and appreciation for those around him. When not playing trumpet with a plangent tone and fluid delivery, Charles switched to percussion, thickening the compelling grooves and becoming an engaging foil for Calvaire, especially towards the end of the set, where they engaged in thrilling combination of trade-off and in-tandem soloing.
Williams only took one solo, but he was an unshakable anchor throughout the setlithe yet muscular, and seemingly as happy to work a simple pattern as he was pushing the music forward with more complex ideas. But, amongst a group of standout musicians, Schwarz-Bart was, perhaps the most charismatic, a powerful presence who was capable of executing Charles' high velocity heads, but was equally disposed to solos that built to fever pitch with the saxophonist working a single note over and over again, often in the upper range, not unlike alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett.
But singling out any performer in a group this good isn't meant to diminish the rest of the musicians. Whether swinging with fiery intensity, or grooving with Afro-Cuban polyrhythms, Charles and Folklore delivered an afternoon show that pulled a bit of the outdoor sunshine and warmth into Library and Archives Canada.