2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival

John Kelman By

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For eleven days in late June, the traditionally conservative government capital of Ottawa, Canada became a place where risk was de rigeur and chances were liberally taken. With arguably the best line- up in their twenty-four year history, the Ottawa International Jazz Festival delivered a wide range of music. From the West African fusion of Roswell Rudd's MALIcool to the intimate duo of pianist Marilyn Crispell and Ottawa bassist John Geggie; from the fiery intensity of Kenny Garrett to the more post-modern, but no less passionate work of Kurt Rosenwinkel; from the abstract impressionism of Herbie Hancock with Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade to the equally cerebral but more grounded work of Fred Hersch and his trio; Ottawa was transformed into a place where nothing was assured except a sense of adventure and discovery.

Along with ticketed performances at three venues, there were a variety of free shows by local artists scattered throughout the downtown core. In addition, John Geggie once again led a trio at the late- night jam sessions that also featured pianist Nancy Walker. Over the course of the festival a variety of artists, including reedman Jeff Coffin from Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, pianist Bill Mays and Kenny Garrett's rhythm section showed up to lend their support to the many local artists who also performed, creating a warm after-hours ambience for those with the stamina to handle music into the wee hours of the morning.

While not all-inclusive, the following report details the wide variety of styles and sounds heard at this year's festival.

Chapter Index
  1. Fred Hersch Trio
  2. Bob Brough Quartet
  3. Hancock/Shorter/Hancock/Blade
  4. DFW Trio
  5. Michel Donato/Billy Robinson
  6. Dave Turner Quartet
  7. MALIcool
  8. Larry Coryell Trio
  9. Thom Gossage/Other Voices
  10. Bill Mays Trio
  11. Effendi Jazz Lab
  12. Latin Jazz All- Stars
  13. Jean Beaudet Trio
  14. Wayne Eagles Quartet
  15. Marilyn Crispell/John Geggie
  16. Mike Murley/David Braid Quartet
  17. William Parker Quartet
  18. Marilyn Lerner/Sonny Greenwich
  19. Kurt Rosenwinkel
  20. Stahl's Bla
  21. Pangaea
  22. Kenny Garrett Quartet
  23. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
  24. Hiromi
  25. Marian McPartland
  26. Dapp Theory

Fred Hersch Trio: Library and Archives Canada, June 24, 2004 4:00PM
Fred Hersch (piano), Drew Gress (double-bass), Nasheet Waits (drums)

Opening the indoor Connoisseur series at Library and Archives Canada and, indeed, the festival, Hersch and his trio set the standard for which all other shows would be measured. With a set that mixed Monk, Shorter and Coleman tunes with Hersch originals, the trio demonstrated a simpatico that can only come from playing together for a long period of time. One of the things that was to become a signature of this year's festival was the number of remarkable drummers to come through town, and Waits was no exception, with an ability to hang onto every note, every nuance, and push them ever further. A highlight of the set was Hersch's tune, "A Lark," dedicated to Kenny Wheeler and demonstrating the same melancholy and implied swing. The medley of Shorter tunes, "Miyako" and "Black Nile," demonstrated the group's strong time sense, with rhythm often more implied than explicit.

Bob Brough Quartet: Confederation Park, June 24, 2004 6:30PM
Bob Brough (tenor saxophone), Stan Fomin (piano), Artie Roth (bass), Kevin Brow (drums)

Canadian tenor player Bob Brough delivered a pleasant straight-ahead set that, while capable, when compared to Hersch's performance was like the difference between eating off stoneware and fine china; both are functional, but there is a difference. Still, Fomin's compositions consisted of clever themes that led into more straightforward swinging solo sections, where Brough played with a dry tone that was somewhat reminiscent of Shorter, but less cerebral. With material largely drawn from Brough's A Decade of Favourites , the group played well, but lacked the inspirational spark. Brow was the weak point with accents and punctuations that seemed, after Waits' sense of empathy with Hersch, to be somewhat arbitrary.

Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter/Dave Holland/Brian Blade: Confederation Park, June 24, 2004 8:30PM
Herbie Hancock (piano), Wayne Shorter (tenor and soprano saxophones), Dave Holland (double-bass), Brian Blade (drums)

The threat of rain became an unfortunate reality as Hancock, Shorter, Holland and Blade took the stage, but a remarkable eight thousand people braved the weather to hear one of the more abstract and adventurous sets of the festival. This being their first performance of the tour, things began somewhat tentatively, with Shorter seeming uncertain as to which horn he wanted to use. The performance had the uncanny feel, despite the inclement weather, of sitting in a living room and watching while the group searched and explored, looking for common ground and finally, after about thirty minutes, finding it.

By no means the "greatest hits" band that some might have expected, even known tunes were twisted and turned in ways that made them barely recognizable. "Footprints" was only clear from Holland's insistent 6/8 figure, as Blade was a veritable maelstrom on the kit, Hancock layered impressionistic harmonies and Shorter flitted in and around the theme, barely settling on it before heading off into uncharted territory. As the set progressed the group seemed to coalesce, at one point building into an ostinato figure with a sharp double stop that kept building in intensity, drawing strong applause from the crowd.

The only moderately conventional piece in the set was their encore of Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island," but Hancock and Shorter still played loose and free with it, taking time to get to the familiar theme with elliptical figures that seemed to ebb and flow. Overall the group played in a completely unexpected way, but along with Hersch's performance, was an exciting and challenging way to kick off the festival.

DFW Trio: Rideau Centre, June 25, 2004 12:00PM
Ben Duschene (guitar), Peter Newsom (bass), Bruce Wittet (drums)

As part of a series highlighting local artists, the DFW trio, with bassist Peter Newsom filling in for Mark Fraser, who was absent due to emergency surgery, kicked things off with a set that featured material from their strong début CD, Passing Note. With a sound that bridges the gap between Wes Montgomery and the ECM cool of early John Abercrombie, the trio's material is defined by a strong melodic sense and song sensibility. While Duschene's reverb-heavy sound was somewhat swallowed up by the hollow characteristic of the room, Wittet's playing was clear and crisp. Newsom did a fine job sitting in on short notice, solidly anchoring the material. The tunes were engaging and the performance confident and assured.\

Michel Donato/Billy Robinson: Library and Archives Canada, June 25, 2004 4:00PM
Michel Donato (double-bass), Billy Robinson (tenor saxophone)

Billy Robinson is something of a local legend, with a background that saw him work with a variety of known musicians before settling into a more academic life in Ottawa. He possesses a bold, rough tone that is distinctive for its unusual rapid vibrato and acerbic tone. Donato is one of Canada's most well-known bassists, and has played with artists including Bill Evans for a short spell. His playing is characterized by a resonant tone similar to Dave Holland's, but combines it with a darker tone reminiscent of Ron Carter and Ray Brown.

The performance was freer than expected, and only marginally successful. At times the duo seemed to be at odds with each other, as Donato tried to catch onto what Robinson was putting forth. But they occasionally blended together, creating moments of sheer excitement and proof that, while it may not always succeed, the risk inherent in the best jazz is what makes it worth checking out.

Dave Turner Quartet: Confederation Park, June 25, 2004 6:30PM
Dave Turner (baritone sax), Dave Grott (trombone), Vanessa Rodrigues (Hammond B-3), John McCaslin (drums)

Dave Turner, more commonly seen on alto and other horns, restricted himself to baritone for his latest quartet project, which fashioned itself after the '60s Blue Note soul and groove music, but with a distinctively bottom-heavy sound that combined baritone and trombone in the front line. The surprise of the set was Rodrigues, who is clearly a talent to watch. With the melodicism and excitement of Shirley Scott, she played with a maturity that was all the more remarkable given her young age. She built solos to a fever pitch, yet always had her ears open to what was happening with the rest of the group. She seemed especially well-tuned to McCaslin who, while capable of much more, always put the groove first, knowing exactly when to lay back with a simple backbeat. Grott was a competent player, but lacked any real panache; Turner demonstrated, however, that regardless of the horn he was capable of confident playing in a relatively straight-ahead context.

Roswell Rudd's MALIcool: Confederation Park, June 25, 2004 8:30PM
Roswell Rudd (trombone), Mamadou Diabate (kora), Jorge Amarim (drums), Fode Bangoura (djembe, percussion), Jay Hoggard (marimba), Mawuena Kodjovi (guitar), Henry Schroy (bass)

Appearing in full African gear, Rudd took complete command of the stage as he wandered around, encouraging his fine entourage of international players. Now nearly seventy years old, credit is due to Rudd for continuing to stretch himself and explore different musical avenues in a career that has spanned styles from Dixieland to the Avante Garde. MALIcool is about fusing western styles with West African rhythms and harmonies, and while the entire ensemble was strong, special mention must be made of Mamadou Diabate, whose remarkable speed and precision on the unusual-looking twenty-one stringed Kora, was a sight to see and a sound to hear.

Why this project hasn't reached a broader audience is curious, as it succeeds on so many levels. It is engaging music that, while centred on structured forms, allows plenty of room for risk and exploration; it is eminently danceable music, with infectious rhythms that had the audience on its feet; and it is completely accessible. While the combination of instruments may seem a little peculiar, they ultimately work together. Rudd's trombone was capable of true emotion, from tender and poignant to brash and bold. Kodjovi was a fine guitarist who usually scatted along with his solos while Hoggard's marimba work was invigorating. All in all a fine performance that will hopefully spark some CD sales and see this project continue.

Larry Coryell Trio: Library and Archives Canada, June 26, 2004 4:00PM
Larry Coryell (guitar), Mark Egan (fretless electric bass), Terry Clarke (drums)

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Larry Coryell has operated just below the radar in a forty-year career that has seen some clear highlights. Like many of his peers, his career has been characterized by a restlessness that has translated into projects in many contexts. In recent years he has been working in a trio setting, and the surprise of this show was that Paul Wertico, his normal drummer, was not on the bill, replaced instead by veteran Canadian drummer Terry Clarke.

Any cause for concern, given Clarke's reputation as a more subtle and understated player, was blown away by the time the first tune was over. While Clarke has always been a fine player and long time first call drummer for Jim Hall, the fire and energy that he demonstrated playing behind Coryell was completely unexpected. Coryell kept looking over, part in bemusement, part in complete surprise, as Clarke raised the temperature several degrees in a programme that combined Coryell originals with a couple of standards.

Coryell himself was also a revelation. As well as he does on recording, the audience was completely unprepared for the level of technical excellence and sheer musicality that he demonstrated throughout the short one-hour set. From dazzling chord passages to frightening harmonic runs, Coryell is a player who clearly warrants a wider audience, and hopefully performances like this one will help raise his visibility to a more deserved place.


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