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Live Reviews

Ottawa Jazz Festival, Days 4-8: June 21-23, 2012

Ottawa Jazz Festival, Days 4-8: June 21-23, 2012
By Published: July 1, 2012
Days 1-3 | Days 4-8


TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Canada

June 21-Jul 1, 2012

With a total of five main venues—the main stage at Confederation Park, the Studio and Fourth Stage in the National Arts Centre, the OLG Stage tent across the street from Confederation Park at City Hall, and, for the Holland/Brahem/Surman Thimar show on June 23, the First Baptist Church, the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival is set to handle crowds from a couple hundred to upwards of ten thousand. Programming Confederation Park for maximum accessibility and appeal means an ability to program more eclectic fare at the Fourth Stage Improv Invitational Series, and place groups that really belong indoors—like guitarist Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, drummer Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums
, and trumpeter Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
and saxophonist Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
's new Sound Prints group—in an intimate venue where both sound and sight lines are assured throughout the room.

The festival also programs local talent at the nearby Rideau Centre shopping mall and World Exchange Plaza. And local bassist John Geggie
John Geggie
John Geggie
b.1960
bass
—whose annual Geggie Concert Series at the NAC Fourth Stage has become the go-to place for jazz off-season—has, with just a couple years' exception, been running the late night jam sessions for so long that the festival would simply not be the same without him. As has been the case in recent years, he's invited Torontonian pianist Nancy Walker
Nancy Walker

piano
and, this year, drummer Ethan Ardelli to form a core trio that's ready, willing and able to take on all guests, ranging from local musicians and participants in the Galaxie Youth Program—a week-long master class for student musicians handpicked from across the country, and brought together to work towards a performance at the end of the week—to high profile guests of the festival like guitarist Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks
b.1957
guitar
, who was in town as part of bassist Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass
's new Prism project, and was clearly here to play, both at Confederation Park and at the ARC Lounge, in the nearby ARC, The Hotel, where Geggie, by now clearly an Ottawa institution, is hosting the late night jam sessions throughout the festival.

Chapter Index
  1. June 24: Marc Ribot and Dave Holland Prism
  2. June 25: Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano Sound Prints and Mathias Eick Quintet
  3. June 27: Bill Frisell Plays Lennon
  4. June 28: Jack DeJohnette Group and Médéric Collognon "Jus de Bosce"
  5. Wrap Up


June 24: Marc Ribot and Dave Holland Prism

But back to business. Guitarist Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot
Marc Ribot
b.1954
guitar
has become an institution of his own, in a career that, despite being often predicated on left-of-center values on his own releases—like the Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
-inspired Spiritual Unity (Pi, 2005) and Silent Movies (Pi, 2010), a largely solo recording, with the exception of Keefus Ciancia's soundscapes on a handful of tracks—has rubbed shoulders with mainstream singer/songwriters like Elvis Costello and John Mellencamp...even Elton John. He's been recruited by everyone from gritty songsmith Tom Waits (with whom the guitarist has worked for over a quarter century), Tzadik label creative driver John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
and undervalued singer/songwriter Freedy Johnson to New York's infamous Lounge Lizards (where he first made his name), singer Marianne Faithful and bluegrass superstar Alison Krauss, and so a solo performance by Ribot is bound to be an equally esoteric blend of the myriad composites that have come to create a style that remains in great demand across almost the entire musical spectrum.



For his 5:00 PM show at the NAC Fourth Stage, it was just one man, one guitar; in this case, a battered old Gibson acoustic that had clearly logged a lot of travel miles. After being announced, Ribot arrived on the stage, only to say "Wait, just two minutes," leaving the stage and returning with his guitar case. Remarking that his guitar teacher always told him to have something to raise his left foot, Ribot propped his foot on the case, and launched into a nearly 20-minute improvisation based around Ayler's Holy Ghost—Revenant's remarkable 10-disc set that collected a massive amount of previously unreleased music—specifically "Spirits," but Ribot's interpretation was, indeed, more about spirit than direct reference.

What was, perhaps, the most impressive aspect of Ribot's performance, for someone who hasn't had a prior privilege, is that while the guitarist was, indeed, an improviser of the most unfettered kind—as ready to slide angular chords up and down the neck as a glissando, scrape the strings with his pick or layer single note lines while hammering a bass note ostinato—he's also one whose mastery of his instrument was far greater than it might have seemed when he was in deep extemporization mode. Ribot took a lot of risks and had no problem with being raw and unschooled, but his knowledge of not just the jazz tradition but music well beyond its broadest purview was in full force throughout the 70-minute set, where he played everything from a hint of ragtime and a little John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
("Sun Ship"), to a closing tune written by his guitar teacher and an encore of the Mack Gordon/Harry Warren chestnut, "There Will Never Be Another You," that was surely amongst the fastest versions ever played. There were hints of Americana and no shortage of blues in his visceral bends, and a clear understanding of Latin tradition.

And yet, despite this breadth, and despite all the jagged edges, when it came time to be soft and gentle, Ribot demonstrated immaculate classical technique, along with an inimitable ability to keep a foundational motif going—even a chordal one—as he layered linear melodies that, in demanding he move up and down the entire range of his neck, also meant that he had to constantly shift where he played that motif. Everyone in the audience may not have been aware of what he was doing, but based on the tremendous response, he was reaching them, and that, in the final analysis, is what it's all about.

Unfortunately, however, after three days of primo weather it was almost inevitable that there be a couple days of inclement change—though for the right show, that's doesn't have to be a complete impediment. When bassist Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass
was in Ottawa a little over a decade ago for an exploratory main stage set with saxophonist Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, pianist Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
and drummer Brian Blade
Brian Blade
Brian Blade
b.1970
drums
, nearly 8,000 people stayed, huddled under coats, plastic sheets and umbrellas, for an entire show delivered under a near-torrential rainstorm. The attendance for Holland's performance in his final show of his three-day residency was not as large, but even as the rain went from a drizzle to a downpour, a surprising turnout stuck it out until the end of the set.



And why wouldn't they? Holland's new Prism group set was an even greater coup than Thimar the night before, since this is both the world premiere of the group and its only North American appearance, as the group headed off to Europe the following day for a month of festival circuit touring. And what a group. Drummer Eric Harland
Eric Harland
Eric Harland
b.1976
drums
first worked with Holland in the bassist's Overtone group, initially called The Monterey Quartet and documented on Live at the2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz, 2009)—changing names when pianist Jason Moran
Jason Moran
Jason Moran
b.1975
piano
replaced Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Gonzalo Rubalcaba
b.1963
piano
—but here the context was more electric, with keyboardist Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
b.1970
keyboard
teaming up with Holland for the first time.

Harland has proven, in countless contexts—including saxophonist Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
b.1938
saxophone
's quartet, last heard on the superb The Athens Concert (ECM, 2011), and with the SFJAZZ Collective, whose Live in New York Season 8: Music of Stevie Wonder (SFJAZZ) was one of 2011's best—that he's one of his generation's most impressive and increasingly influential drummers, capable of any context, like Lloyd's stunning trio date, Sangam (ECM, 2006), that also featured table master Zakir Hussain
Zakir Hussain
Zakir Hussain
b.1951
percussion
. Here, he effortlessly combined vibrant groove with ears-open responsiveness, no small feat given the swirling colors going on around him.

Taborn has, in the past decade, proven similar breadth whether it's the stunning solo piano record from 2011, Avenging Angel (ECM), or collaborations with everyone from saxophonists James Carter
James Carter
James Carter
b.1969
sax, tenor
and Tim Berne
Tim Berne
Tim Berne
b.1954
saxophone
to trumpeter Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
, violist Mat Maneri
Mat Maneri
Mat Maneri
b.1969
viola
...and Ottawa's own John Geggie—demonstrating, in the bassist's 2006 Geggie Concert Series duo show, an encyclopedic knowledge of the jazz tradition and, even more significantly, the piano tradition within it. So it's no surprise that Taborn fit Prism like a glove, playing both grand piano and Fender Rhodes with an approach that was decidedly left-leaning harmonically, but which seamlessly meshed with the kind of effortless, irregularly metered grooves that are a large part of much of Holland's work in the past 15 year with his quintet, septet, octet and big band.

As complex as the music was, it was also eminently accessible, thanks to those irrepressible grooves, and the group's fourth member, guitarist Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks
b.1957
guitar
, who is back working with Holland after an 18-year hiatus since the bassist's Extensions (ECM, 1990) and the guitarist's three consecutive Blue Note recordings—1992's Turning Point, 1993's Spirit Talk and 1994's Spiritalk 2: Revelations—that remain amongst the best of his career. In the intervening years, Eubanks has, of course, been the musical director for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but since leaving the show and releasing his first recording since Revelation—2010's Zen Food (Mack Avenue)—he's made it clear that he's back in the game, and if Zen Food was promising but not entirely successful, his performance with Holland and Prism demonstrated that he's still got chops to burn, in a curious combination of Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
1925 - 1968
guitar
-styled traditionalism and high octane, John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
b.1942
guitar
-esque fusion propensities. Shifting his tone from warm and clean to warm and gritty—with plenty of sustain to allow notes to breathe as long as he would let them—he was center stage both literally and figuratively, though everyone in the group commanded attention.



As with his other projects, in concert Holland provided plenty of room for everyone, but like the Overtone Quartet, Prism was more egalitarian when it came to compositional contributions, with Holland and Eubanks each contributing two songs, with one apiece from Taborn and Harland—though, had the rain let up, an encore of another Harland tune was planned, but despite a trooper of an audience that largely toughed it out with the downpour and was tremendously enthusiastic in its response, by the end of the set they'd well and truly had enough, and did not ask for an encore.

Prism was the closest Holland has ever come to a fusion band, but there was nothing retro in either tone or approach. It was high energy, to be sure—with Eubanks the most relentlessly vivacious but Holland, too, surprising the crowd (or, perhaps, we should no longer be surprised) with furious and flurry-filled solos that reflected a player unwilling to rest on his considerable laurels. Taborn ranged from ethereal to deeply grounded, while Harland, body stretched backward and eyes closed, was clearly in the zone. That said, there was a lot of looking around, and at least one place in the set where the group's ending was a tad tentative; this was, after all, a first performance, and if Prism was a bit rough around the edges, Ottawa still had the tremendously good fortune to catch this group on the ground floor, when the music (largely written for the group) was still very fresh, very new and, consequently, performed with the kind of "sound of surprise" that made it another high point for the festival. It may have been pouring through much of the set, but the rapt audience barely seemed to feel it until the very end, as the group pushed and pulled, ebbed and flowed and, most of all, played like its life depended on it.

June 25: Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano Sound Prints and Mathias Eick Quintet

If OIJF festival director Catherine O'Grady was responsible for getting the world premier of Prism, she also deserves credit for bringing trumpeter Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
Dave Douglas
b.1963
trumpet
and saxophonist Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
's nascent Sound Prints group—also featuring pianist Lawrence Fields, up-and-coming bassist Linda Oh
Linda Oh
Linda Oh

bass
and, perhaps only in competition for the title "happiest drummer in jazz" with Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson
b.1964
drums
, perennial favorite Joey Baron
Joey Baron
Joey Baron
b.1955
drums
—for its second of just three North American dates before, like Holland, heading across the Atlantic for a 12-date European tour, followed by a return to the US in August for (so far) an additional two dates, and yet another transatlantic flight for 13 additional European shows, coming home again and finishing up the year with a week-long run at the Village Vanguard.



The NAC Studio was the perfect venue for the group, and if the material was unfamiliar—there's no record, at least not yet—it was another case, like Holland and Prism, of a group so new to the material that fireworks began going off from the get-go. Any group that has Baron in the engine room is assured an intrinsic rhythmic unpredictability, as the drummer pushed the pulse but peppered it with unexpected punctuations—at times, all the more dramatic for his complete command of dynamics, as he went from thundering explosions to quiet but fervent swing, all at the drop of a hat.

Sometimes an all-star combination sounds great on paper but is less successful in reality, but if the group's evening show was anything to go by—and considering this is still early days—Sound Prints has a great future ahead, and with bookings already out into 2013, it's clear that Douglas and Lovano are firmly committed to this project. Both leaders have built strong reputations predicated on an appreciation for and knowledge of the tradition, though Douglas has, for the most part, veered off into greater extensions of that tradition, whether it's on tribute recordings like Stargazer (Arabesque, 1996) and Soul on Soul (RCA, 2000), the Eastern European-informed Tiny Bell Trio and Charms of the Night Sky quartet, or more electronic-centric groups like Keystone. Lovano—despite more outré leanings in a longstanding trio with guitarist Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
that is, sadly, now at an end with the passing of drummer/leader Paul Motian
Paul Motian
Paul Motian
1931 - 2011
drums
in 2011—has been much more centrist in his own recordings, though not without an inimitable stamp. Just as he was nurtured by older players early in his career, the saxophonist has been paying it forward with groups like US Five, whose 2009 Blue Note debut, Folk Art, was an early indicator that bassist Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding
b.1984
bass, acoustic
—now a jazz superstar, thanks to her 2011 Grammy win for Best New Artist (not Best New Jazz Artist, mind you; Best New Artist, period)—was someone to watch, and watch closely.

But if Lovano's heart is in the tradition, that's not to suggest he's without risk—his Saxophone Summit group, with fellow saxophonists Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
Dave Liebman
b.1946
saxophone
and Ravi Coltrane
Ravi Coltrane
Ravi Coltrane
b.1965
sax, tenor
, has made that perfectly clear, and Sound Prints was a group all about the nexus of predetermined roadmaps and copious happy accidents. Lovano combined with Douglas in remarkable simpatico for a set of largely new material inspired, at least in spirit, by Wayne Shorter. Sound Prints swung hard, to be sure, opening up into freer territory at times, and delivering lyrical yet sophisticated ballads, all with the kind of chemistry that usually takes considerably more time to find. Fields, a pianist who first gained some attention in drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts
Jeff
Jeff "Tain" Watts
b.1960
drums
' group six years ago—and who may now be in his mid-to-late twenties, but looks like he's barely started shaving—was the group's only weak link. A capable accompanist, yes; but compared to the arson going on around him, a somewhat pedestrian soloist. Still, it's early days and, as the set progressed, he did open up more; clearly Douglas and Lovano see something in him, so perhaps it's just a matter of time before the audience does, too.

Oh, on the other hand, looks just as young but has already racked up some significant accomplishments—in addition to her own releases, including this year's impressive Initial Here, on Douglas' own Greenleaf Music label, she is also a member of the trumpeter's quintet responsible for last year's fine Orange Afternoons (Greenleaf). Young she may be, but Douglas' confidence in the young Malaysian-born/Australian-raised bassist has clearly been justified, as she worked hand-in-glove with Baron and, in a relatively rare solo opportunity in the set, demonstrated not just virtuosic talent, but a kind of muscular tone that was paradoxical, given her diminutive size and small, delicate fingers.

With Lovano and Douglas sharing composition duties, there was plenty of strong writing to provide the context over which Sound Prints delivered a set that garnered an explosive standing ovation at the end of the set. Hopefully a recording will be coming, and if its Ottawa show was any indication, Douglas and Lovano might well consider the idea of making it a live one.

Moving to the Fourth Stage for a 9PM show, trumpet was the thread that joined it to Sound Prints, but Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick
Mathias Eick
Mathias Eick
b.1979
trumpet
couldn't have been more different—either as a writer or a player. If there's a specific touchstone to Eick as a trumpeter, it's Canadian expat Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
b.1930
trumpet
, though beyond a kind of lyrical melancholy, there's more separating the two than there is commonality. The barely 30 year-old Eick has, after all, been working beyond the jazz purview with everything from rock groups to the inestimable and category-averse Jaga Jazzist
Jaga Jazzist
Jaga Jazzist

band/orchestra
, which blew away audiences in Ottawa and Montréal last year. But if Jaga was defined by its weird amalgam of jazz, classical minimalism, progressive rock and, like Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
, a predilection for tuned percussion, Eick's quintet felt more definitively Nordic in tone.



It's been a little more than a year since catching Eick and his group in Bremen, Germany as part of Jazzahead! 2011, but if there have been some personnel changes since the trumpeter's second ECM set, Skala (2011), with bassist Auden Erlien and drummer Erland Dahlen replaced, respectively, by Elephant9's Nikolai Eiletsen and Espen Eriksen Trio drummer Andreas Bye, the core of Eick, drummer Gard Nilssen and, particularly, keyboardist Andreas Ulvo
Andreas Ulvo
Andreas Ulvo
b.1983
piano
ensured plenty of continuity.

The set drew heavily from Skala, but also from Eick's more acoustic ECM debut, The Door—but with Ulvo augmenting his grand piano with Fender Rhodes and synth, and Eick employing, along with his own small keyboard, a variety of effects that included looping and pitch shifting, songs like "Williamsburg" took on considerable more weight. Even darker tunes like "Cologne Blues" (not, in any way, a blues, but certainly blue in tone) were delivered with a greater dynamic range.

With two drummers and Eick and Ulvo's expansive gear, the Fourth Stage's normal stage footprint was simply too small to contain the group, much as happened in 2006 when trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer
Nils Petter Molvaer
Nils Petter Molvaer
b.1960
trumpet
played the same room. With the power of two drummers, and a bassist with a huge sound, there was a lot of sound blowing off the stage; that said, the sound in the room was surprisingly good, thanks to the NAC engineers, collaborating with the group's traveling soundman; clearly, however, this was a group that needed to be in a bigger hall.

Ulvo shone; a member of Eple Trio
Eple Trio
Eple Trio

band/orchestra
, he's a pianist with broad dynamics, great ears and tremendous sensitivity, even when the volume of the group cranked up to nearly eleven. He spent considerably more time inside the piano box, strumming the strings, or muting them to create a more staccato sound, and soloed with great invention, garnering huge rounds of applause from an audience in which many people were hearing Eick for the first time but, based on the show, clearly not the last. Bye—whose work with Espen Eriksen Trio is similarly lyrical but far gentler and at far lower volumes—was perhaps the show's biggest surprise, attacking the kit with finessed energy and locking in with Nilssen in ways that seemed scripted but, in conversation after the show, revealed that, in fact, these moments of synchronicity were completely unplanned and a sign of just how well these two drummers worked together. Two drummers is a risky proposition, especially if there are any egos and competitive natures involved; but they way in which Nilssen and Bye worked together, allowing each other plenty of space and joining together for some absolutely thundering grooves, was nothing short of remarkable. And Eick gave them some well-deserved solo space, both a cappella and playing over repetitive motifs from the rest of the group.

Eick was, as ever, inspired and inspirational, his intrinsic lyrical sense and seamless command of technology allowing him to create small horn choruses over which he layered lines both improvised and scripted. This may be Eick's first visit to North America as a leader, but hopefully it won't be his last—and if the response is as enthusiastic elsewhere as it was here in Ottawa, a return trip seems an absolute certainty.

June 27: Bill Frisell Plays Lennon

The last time guitarist Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
was in town it was for a two-night By Invitation run in the same venue, the NAC Studio, where he debuted his then-new Beautiful Dreamers trio and a sublime second evening with his longer-running 858 Quartet. This time, the veteran guitarist was back to promote his John Lennon tribute, All We Are Saying... (Savoy Jazz, 2012). Frisell brought the same group that recorded the album, with the exception of absent violinist Jenny Scheinman—pedal and lap steel guitarist Greg Liesz, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. There were those who felt that Frisell's Lennon project wouldn't be up to his original music, or previous Ottawa shows. How wrong they were.



After a transcendent 75-minute 7PM set that slowly found its feet with "Across the Universe" and, with no particular plan, wound its way through songs including "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," "Come Together," "Number 9 Dream" and "In My Life," the audience was so spellbound that when it finally returned to earth, the standing ovation was so enthusiastic that, as Frisell returned to the stage for an encore of "Imagine," he asked, in his inimitably gentle fashion, "Would you be able to come back at nine o'clock? We'd really appreciate it." And, sure enough, there were those who did try to find a way to get into that second show, which featured an almost entirely different set list, albeit culled from the same album.

What that demonstrated was how much freedom Frisell creates, regardless of the context, and how much everyone trusts each other in his groups. The recording may be a little more faithful, but no matter how far Frisell and his group stretched the material in concert—taking every liberty imaginable—a clear connection to it was ever-present, going beyond respect into the realm of reverence. The group found curious, dreamy ways to segue spontaneously—but often with great patience and over no small amount of time—between tunes cued in by someone, anyone—whether it was Scherr, slowly bringing the quartet around to "Come Together" with (barely) recognizable implication that ultimately found its way to the familiar bass line, picked up by Wollesen, channeling his inner Ringo to be sure, but with a lazy behind-the-beat approach, or Frisell doing nothing more than playing a couple of chords to rally everyone for "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," which the group extended into a near-anthemic highlight of the set that seemed to build relentlessly, but for exactly the right amount of time.

The simpatico amongst the players, in particular Scherr and Frisell—who, facing each other from opposite sides of the stage, shared a connection so palpable it could almost be touched—was key to the success of a show that was based on form, but as free as any jazz show at the festival. And while one local festival-goer posted on Facebook "C & W with rock rhythms!," the truth was something else. No, this was absolutely not an in-the-tradition set; and yet, there were times when the group swung joyfully; periods when the group rocked out with abandon; passages when, indeed, Liesz's pedal steel gave it a country and western vibe; and moments when the group headed way out into the ether, with Frisell employing his usual bag of sonic tricks, but Liesz, too, expanding the rich sound of his pedal and lap steel—in particular on a commanding, visceral "Come Together." Liesz was, in fact, especially strong without ever actually dominating; this was, after all, a group that rarely took real delineated solos but, instead just kneaded the music, molding it into various shapes shape throughout, with individual players occasionally coming forward in the mix, only to subsume once again in this greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts whole.

A couple of technical matters made the show all the more noteworthy. For the first time in at least a decade, Frisell did not come to town with a custom-build variant on a Fender Telecaster. Instead, he opted for a Gibson ES-335-looking axe that didn't have the twang of a Fender, yet proved, for those in doubt, that it ain't the gear; it's the person playing it. Equally significant was the absence of stage monitors; this was a rare group that, with three amplified instruments, still managed to create a working stage mix without any external assistance. Scherr, after the show, admitted, "If I can't hear everybody then I'm too loud," but the tacit response—to turn down (which is what he did)—is not what always happens. That seemingly simple truth—that everyone in the group was about hearing each other and communicating with each other—was undeniably at the core of one of the most memorable Frisell shows this city has seen, in the numerous performances he has given since first coming to town in 1989.

June 28: Jack DeJohnette Group and Médéric Collognon "Jus de Bosce"

Drummer Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
Jack DeJohnette
b.1942
drums
—a living legend who has played with everyone from trumpeter Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
and saxophonist Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
to his own groups including Special Edition, and the on-again/off-again collaboration Gateway, with guitarist John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
b.1944
guitar
and bassist Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
b.1946
bass
—released a new record earlier this year, Sound Travels (E1, 2012), right around the time of the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship Award he discussed in his All About Jazz interview. But for his two OIJF shows at the NAC Studio, rather than bringing that group, DeJohnette chose to come with the same group responsible for the download-only Live at Yoshi's 2010 (Golden Beams, 2011), a tremendous set that shone a spotlight on a number of artists deserving greater recognition.



Of the bunch, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
b.1971
sax, alto
may be the best-known, for his work with pianist Vijay Iyer
Vijay Iyer
Vijay Iyer
b.1971
piano
a few years back, and his own recordings including the critically acclaimed Apex (Pi, 2010)—a not entirely surprising smash of a record that, in addition to DeJohnette, teamed the Italian-born/American-raised altoist of Indian descent with unsung alto legend Bunky Green
Bunky Green
Bunky Green
b.1935
sax, alto
, and which the two saxophonists took on the road (with Damion Reid substituting on drums) for a 2011 festival tour that included a stop at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. As expected, his performance with DeJohnette in Ottawa combined fiery modal excursions with the microtonality that DeJohnette's entire group is both capable of pursuing and which DeJohnette suggested, in the interview, is one of its premises: "He's [guitarist David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
b.1964
guitar
] also involved with this microtonal system [using a custom-built, fretless electric guitar]. Actually, a lot of my pieces are perfect for applying the microtonal system. So you have Rudresh [Mahanthappa], who's got his Indian concepts with quarter tones, and George [Colligan]—he has a program that can detune his keyboards. So everybody can play in microtonal mode."

Keyboardist George Colligan
George Colligan
George Colligan
b.1969
keyboard
was last seen in Ottawa with clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron
Don Byron
Don Byron
b.1958
clarinet
's Plays Junior Walker show in 2007, and if the emphasis there was on accessible groove music but with the kind of depth only players of that caliber could bring, DeJohnette's set was freer, more incendiary, and took advantage of Colligan's broader textures, with three keyboards augmenting his grand piano. Colligan's latest release is a piano trio tribute to Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder
b.1950
keyboard
, Living for the City (Steeplechase, 2011), and it's a shame it's on a label with such poor distribution and visibility, as it's just one more facet of a keyboardist whose other recordings have run the gamut from mainstream-centric on Past Present Future (Criss Cross, 2005) to, the same year, the more fusion-directed Realization (Sirocco), with his powerhouse Mad Science group. Colligan is, in fact, a triple threat—a trumpeter and drummer who came to piano/keyboards later, but you'd never know it, and if DeJohnette indicated, in his interview, that, "I keep encouraging him to bring his pocket trumpet and play it with us," he's clearly succeeded, as Colligan pulled out his pocket trumpet for the down-tempo swinger "Blue," first heard on Gateway 2 (ECM, 1978), but here taken to surprising extremes by a quintet that moved, on a dime, from fortissimo to pianissimo.

Fiuczynski is another player whose name is by no means unknown, but for whom the full extent of his range remains something of a secret, beyond musicians and a too-small group of fans in the know. The leader of Screaming Headless Torsos, Fiuczynski seems best known as a fusion guitarist, and his own records, including the recent Planet MicroJam (RareNoise, 2012), are unapologetically electric and electrifying. Still, this guitarist—more often than not, seen with a custom-built double-neck guitar that features both a standard six-string and a fretless variant that allows him to explore, like his band mates, the realm of microtonality—is capable of much, much more, as he demonstrated both on Live at Yoshi's and in his Ottawa performance. Not long after Mahanthappa introduced the quirky bump and grind of "One for Eric"—firsts heard on DeJohnette's Special Edition (ECM, 1980), but finding itself in the sets of many subsequent groups—Fiuczynski let loose a primal scream before delivering a solo that demonstrated frightening instrumental command, in particular the fretless neck, where he leapt across huge intervals with pitch-perfect accuracy.



That left bassist Jerome Harris
Jerome Harris
Jerome Harris
b.1953
bass
—a longtime partner of DeJohnette's on albums like Oneness (ECM, 1996), but also heard in bands with everyone from saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
to guitarist Bill Frisell on 1984's classic Rambler (ECM), alongside trumpeter Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
b.1930
trumpet
and drummer Paul Motian—playing an acoustic bass guitar. If his role was largely one of support, he did get the occasional impressive solo spot but, throughout the set, justified DeJohnette's generous words, describing him as "multitalented and interested in all kinds of musical genres" and ..."very knowledgeable about the history of many things," as he swung hard on "One for Eric," kept things soft but propulsive on "Soulful Ballad," and demonstrated, on the Latin-tinged "Six to the Four," a clear appreciation for its rhythmic space.

"Six to the Four" was, in fact, the only new piece, and the only track that was not culled from the Live at Yoshi's set list, replacing that release's closer, "Monk's Plum." DeJohnette may have literally run down that album and in exactly the same order—"One for Eric," "Soulful Ballad" and "Tango Africaine" (the latter two both from the drummer's 2009 Golden Beams release, Music We Are and "Blue"—but it wasn't just the solos that varied from the album. Yes, the overall roadmaps were similar, but how and where the group took them was anybody's guess, with "Tango Africaine" entering Indian territory, courtesy of both Mahanthappa and Fiuczynski's ability to find the notes between the notes. Throughout the 85-minute set, DeJohnette—largely hidden behind a kit that was a little on the large side for a typical jazz drummer but, of course, DeJohnette is anything but typical—pushed the pulse, punctuated with explosive exclamations and moved around the kit like a man half his now-70 years. If reaching 70 in relatively good health, with the acknowledgement of his peers, his fans (plenty of drummers in the crowd) and organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts might suggest, for some, an opportunity to sit back and relax; for DeJohnette, however, this validation has simply freed him from the need to prove anything, though his Ottawa Jazz Festival performance still managed to prove plenty.

Up the stairs and around the corner at the Fourth Stage, French trumpeter, vocalist and all-around madman about town Médéric Collignon brought his "Jus de Bosce" project, responsible for one of the more outrageous electric-era Miles Davis tributes, Shangri Tunkashi-La (Plus Loin, 2010), to Ottawa, closing out another stellar OIJF evening.

Collignon first began to appear on the international jazz radar with performances on reed multi-instrumentalist (and fellow Frenchman) Louis Sclavis
Louis Sclavis
Louis Sclavis
b.1953
reeds
and his (sadly) one-off Napoli's Walls (ECM, 2003) project, along with France's revolving door Orchestra National de Jazz, and recordings like 2002's Charmediterranéen (ECM). But if the unfettered Collignon was kept under admittedly loose constraints on both those projects—though in performances like his 2004 Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville show with Sclavis, doing Napoli's Walls, he was already demonstrating a near-manic but never irrelevant or superfluous comedic sense of timing and humor—here, with his own project, he had full license to go to any and all extremes.



Which he did, with almost exhausting regularity. Still, with an approach that was as unshackled, spontaneous and compelling with the music of Miles Davis as Bill Frisell's Lennon show the night before, Collignon's 75-minute set drew from an almost entirely different series of Davis-related music than heard on Shangri Tunkashi-La—mostly performed as continuous suites, with just two small breaks between medleys. Touring with the same core quartet as the album, the trumpeter (unlike the recording, where he played cornet, heard here exclusively on the brighter trumpet), has also found his own approach to electronics, with an envelope filter creating punctuated wah wah-like sounds which, blended with his natural horn, filled the Fourth Stage. Woeste shared solo space on Fender Rhodes, while double bassist Frederic Chiffoleau and drummer Philippe Gleizes were largely support players, though with unerring energy and commitment.

A trumpeter able to soar into the stratosphere as easily as he explored in the mid-to-lower end of his instrument's range, and employing all manner of extended techniques—including singing into his mouthpiece and, at one point, playing without a mouthpiece—Collignon may have been Puckishly mischievous, but there was no denying either his technique or his distinct approach to homage. Still, it was when he sang that Collignon truly set the place on fire. Feeding his voice through the same processing as his trumpet—in addition to the envelope filter, using a distortion box that ramped up the grit factor—Collignon's reckless abandon was remarkable, as he did everything from snore; squeal in a range close to inaudible to humans but which might have set dogs in the neighborhood running to the NAC; babble a kind of madman's konnalol; slap his cheeks and pop his palm over his mouth; and articulate at a rate that would have seemed impossible were it not for the audience watching him do it. He was frenetic; in constant motion on a stage that placed his band to the sides and behind him, leaving him plenty of space to move around.

While the room was only about three-quarters full, the response was as enthusiastic as if it had been a full house. It's been over two years since the release of Shangri Tunkashi-La, and while it's a strong record, it's hard to imagine a follow-up being anything but better for a band that's now had the chance to tour the music and hone its sound (this was, in fact, Collignon's second trip to Ottawa, bringing the same group to the same venue a couple years back, also by OIJF but for its off-season series). Hopefully it's in the works, but for now, Shangri Tunkashi-La will give fans of the Ottawa show a chance to relive the group, if not the exact music.

Wrap Up

With three days left in the festival, the need to pack some bags and head to Kongsberg, Norway for All About Jazz Presents, the website's first-ever curation, means missing out on some more great music, in particular from Big Satan (the collective with alto renegade Tim Berne
Tim Berne
Tim Berne
b.1954
saxophone
, undervalued guitarist Marc Ducret
Marc Ducret
Marc Ducret
b.1957
guitar
and longtime Berne co-conspirator Tom Rainey
Tom Rainey
Tom Rainey
b.1957
drums
on drums), the more straight-ahead piano duo of Renee Rosnes
Renee Rosnes
Renee Rosnes
b.1962
piano
and Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
b.1966
piano
, Britain's up-and-coming Get the Blessing, and expat Canadian bassist Chris Tarry
Chris Tarry
Chris Tarry
b.1970
bass
's fine group.



As ever, the festival's hundreds of volunteers kept everything running smoothly across all venues and, under the guidance of the Director of Marketing, Sponsorship and Media, Suzan Zilahi, ensured that media was given everything it needed when it required it; and the decision to reserve two tables at the Fourth Stage and a handful of seats in the NAC Studio for media, for the first time, meant that it was not necessary to line up hours before a show and, in some cases, miss other performances. While there are those that bemoan the festival's partial abandon of a pure jazz purview, for its second year doing so the OIJF, thanks to Executive Producer Catherine O'Grady (who is singularly responsible for the Fourth Stage Improv Invitational's careful choices) and Programming Manager Peter Cancura's growing confidence since coming aboard in 2011, the litmus test described in the All About Jazz article, When is a Jazz Festival (Not) a Jazz Festival is not just easily met by the OIJF, but by programming plenty for jazz fans of all tastes, and for longtime fans as well as jazz newbies, the festival is clearly making the right decisions to maintain both relevancy and popularity.

Drawing a younger crowd is not something that can be measured from one year to the next; rather, it's got to be assessed over a longer passage of time, and requires a long-term commitment, one to which the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival clearly seems to be committed. Roll on 2013!

Photo Credit

Page 1, Marc Ribot: John R. Fowler

Page 1, Kevin Eubanks, Dave Holland, Eric Harland: John Kelman

Page 2: John R. Fowler

Page 3, Jack DeJohnette, Médéric Collignon: John R. Fowler

Page 3, Bill Frisell, George Colligan: John Kelman

Page 4, David Fiuczynski: John Kelman

Days 1-3 | Days 4-8


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