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2004 Ottawa International Jazz Festival

John Kelman By

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Kurt Rosenwinkel: Library and Archives Canada, July 1, 2004 4:00PM
Kurt Rosenwinkel (guitar), Aaron Goldberg (piano), Joe Martin (bass), Ari Hoenig (drums)

Rosenwinkel's performance was one of the most highly anticipated shows of the festival, and he did not disappoint. One sign of a true artist is their ability to identify themselves with but a single note. In the sound check Rosenwinkel plugged in his guitar, and from the first note, even with your eyes closed, you knew who you were listening to.

This was the final date of a tour with his working quartet before he headed into a larger summer tour with Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, Larry Grenadier and Ali Jackson, who will be recording Rosenwinkel's next album in August. But while, with the exception of drummer Hoenig, the names were unknown, this was unquestionably a fine group, with Goldberg a unique stylist and Martin a rock solid anchor.

For those who feel that jazz is a dead end, all you have to do is hear this group and, especially, Rosenwinkel's compositions and playing to know that it is alive and well and moving forward. Rosenwinkel proved, yet again, that he is the next generation's Scofield, Abercrombie, Metheny and Frisell. His is a unique harmonic vision that includes blinding arpeggios peppered with chord shots, broad intervallic leaps and a certain rapid staccato concept and way of playing out of time while still in time that kept the audience on the edge of their seat for the entire performance. He developed his solos gradually, building into an intensity that approached the cliff but never quite made the leap, creating a terrific sense of tension.

Harmonically advanced yet completely engaging because of its unique but strong melodic context, Rosenwinkel was clearly a highlight of a fine festival, and rumour has it that he has already been booked for a main stage performance at next year's festival.

Stahl's Bla: NAC Studio, July 1, 2004 10:30PM
Mattias Stahl (vibraphone), Joakim Milder (saxophones), Filip Augustson (bass), Thomas Stronen (drums, percussion)

Mattias Stahl is a young Swedish vibraphonist last seen in Canada, with bassist Filip Augustson, in fellow countryman Fredrik Nordstrom's Quintet, and it was that fine performance that set the stage for this return performance with his own quartet, which also featured percussionist Thomas Stronen, known for his work in Iain Ballamy's Anglo/Norwegian free band, Food. While different in emphasis, the performance was no less engaging than Nordstrom's, this time being a showcase for Stahl's fine compositions and playing.

There was some lineage between Stahl's work and Nordstrom's, specifically with both groups coming from a clear love of Ornette Coleman's work. But unlike the relatively simple themes that Coleman would use as a jumping off point for more extended improvisation, Stahl's Bla's motifs were denser, more complex. What was remarkable about the group was how, out of apparent freedom, the group would almost magically coalesce around structured constructs. There were times when what they were doing appeared to be free, but then the group would stop on a dime and shift gears into a new passage that would imply more definition than one might think. Clearly there is more to this music than meets the eye.

All players were excellent, but Stronen stood out in the way that, while establishing a regular groove appeared secondary, he still did much to establish essential rhythms, occasionally even swinging. But clearly this music is more about European abstraction than it is about any allegiance to the American tradition.

Pangaea: Rideau Centre, July 2, 2004 12:00PM
Adrian Cho (double-bass), Jean Trudel (trumpet, flugelhorn), Brian Magner (tenor saxophone), Garnett Picot (guitar), Matt Aston (drums)

Pangaea is a local band, formed by bassist Adrian Cho, to explore music from Miles Davis' first quintet, as well as transitional periods like Seven Steps To Heaven. While the line-up featured guitar as the chordal instrument rather than piano, they created an ambience that was reverential without being completely imitative, and demonstrated a comfort that, from the beginning, gave the band a clear identity.

Trudel was a fine trumpet player, but his best work was on flugelhorn, where he demonstrated a warm rich tone. On trumpet he seemed a little more Woody Shaw than Miles Davis, but that was fine as it took away from this being a direct homage. The surprise of the set was tenor saxophonist Brian Magner, who works more with R&B bands in the city, but was a fine soloist with a robust tone, comfortably navigating the sometimes challenging changes. Cho provided solid support and was a lyrical soloist, while drummer Aston was a light player in the Jimmy Cobb tradition.

Kenny Garrett Quartet: Library and Archives Canada, July 2, 2004 4:00PM
Kenny Garrett (alto and soprano saxophones), Carlos McKinney (piano), Ronald Bruner (drums), Kris Funn (bass)

Like Rosenwinkel the day before, Garrett has a sound that is instantly recognizable. Opening with a modal burner from Standard of Language Garrett took no time to establish what this band was about: intensity, pure joy in playing, and a frightening chemistry. The tune ultimately broke down into a duet between Garrett and drummer Bruner, who was another outstanding drummer with a fountain of ideas that seemed bursting to get out, and clear roots in Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Tony Williams. At one point Garrett just kept nailing a single note while Bruner created a rhythmic maelstrom around him.

Everyone in Garrett's group deserves wider recognition. McKinney was a powerful pianist in the Tyner/Hancock vein, which suited the modality of the majority of the pieces performed. His duet of Oriental folk songs with Garrett was a welcome respite from the sheer energy of the rest of the performance. Funn, using a borrowed bass and amplifier, proved that a strong player's personality comes through, regardless of the instrument he is playing.

In comparison to Jean Beaudet's performance of a few days prior, the difference between his unrelenting intensity and Garrett's is the use of space; as capable as Garrett was of sheets of sound, he was equally capable of letting notes sing, ideas breathe, clearly something he gained from his years with Miles Davis.

Garrett's albums simply don't prepare for the extent of improvisation he and his band are capable of. The first two pieces took up close to thirty minutes, and his extended closer, "Happy People," had the crowd clapping along, even as Garrett moved it from hip hop into modal territory, showing more overt soul than the rest of the performance. The audience wouldn't let him go without an encore, a brief and burning version of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee."

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones: Confederation Park, July 2, 2004 8:30PM
Béla Fleck (banjos, guitar), Jeff Coffin (saxophones, clarinet, flute, synthesizer), Victor Wooten (basses), Future Man (Synthaxe Drumitar, percussion)

Drawing the largest crowd of the festival, partly due to an increase in the youth faction, little can be said about a group of four virtuosi who, for close to two and-a-half hours kept the audience riveted with playing that combined incredible technical skill with musicality and humour. Equally remarkable was the clear sense that, while three of them had been on the road almost continuously, living in each other's pockets, for the past fifteen years, they still enjoyed being on stage with each other and, even more to the point, could still create moments of surprise.

While Coffin is the youngest member of the band—he's only been with them for eight years— he is now fully integrated, and obviously shares the same sense of adventure and communication. More than the rest he brings a direct sense of jazz tradition to the band.

What is also uncanny about the band is how they integrate increasing amounts of cutting-edge technology seamlessly, without losing site of the essence of the material—strong writing, outstanding playing and telepathic communication. Wooten, in particular, performed a bass solo, building up a series of loops that seemed just on the verge of getting out of control; but of course that never happened as he handled them all with complete confidence.

While the last three Flecktone records have featured a variety of musical guests, this performance proved that they are really at their best when they pare things down to their core quartet. There is more room to be playful, to explore, and to just plain relax and have fun.

Hiromi: Library and Archives Canada, July 3, 2004 4:00PM
Hiromi (piano, synthesizer), Tony Grey (bass), Martin Valhora (drums)

Diminutive and humble she may be, but Hiromi Uehara is possessed of a prodigious talent, a technical ability and almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the traditions that came before. With a virtuosity that includes elements of classical and jazz backgrounds, she and her trio delivered a performance that had the audience on the edge of its seat. With engaging songs that verged on, but never quite crossed the line into, smooth jazz territory, as well as energetic funk and an almost fusion sensibility, Hiromi and her trio of Berklee-trained musicians were never less than committed.

When Grey's bass amplifier experienced technical problems, Hiromi played a solo that demonstrated that her roots reach far back in the tradition, to artists including Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.

Still, with all the technical ability on display the performance sometimes ran the risk of losing focus, becoming simply a vehicle for staggering ability. Perhaps indicative of the boldness of her youth, Hiromi was sometimes guilty of overplaying. Still, she is clearly an artist with promise, but needs more time to develop and mature. Undoubtedly she and her group of fine players will be heard from in the future.

Marian McPartland: Confederation Park, July 3, 2004 8:30PM
Marian McPartland (piano), Don Thompson (double-bass), Barry Elmes (drums)

She may have taken her time getting to the piano, but 86-year old Marian McPartland proved she could still play with the elegance, dignity and grace that have characterized her long career. Not content to fall into predictable patterns, she was still able to surprise with her more modern approach to harmony, and a choice of material that, while mostly straight-ahead standards, managed to surprise with the inclusion of Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin.'"

Thompson and Elmes were the perfect rhythm section for her; sensitive and capable, playful without ever getting in the way.

McPartland, from years of experience on the radio with her series, "Piano Jazz," was clearly comfortable talking to the few thousand people who came to hear her. Engaging, witty and charming, her introductions to the songs were almost as entertaining as her playing.

There are many piano trios interpreting the Great American Songbook, but when you hear McPartland play you know you're hearing a legend, someone who not only adheres to the tradition, but helped to define it.

Dapp Theory: NAC Studio, July 3, 2004 10:30PM
Andy Milne (piano, keyboards, vocals), Loren Stillman (alto and soprano saxophones), John Moon (vocals), Anthony Tidd (bass), Sean Rickman (drums, vocals)

Keyboardist Milne originally played with Steve Coleman, and the M-Base influence can still be felt in his music, which combines the complex funk and elliptical motifs of that style with a more song- structured hip hop influence. Drummer Rickman is another find of the festival, with a clear footing in the Dennis Chambers school in terms of dexterity, but with a powerful yet finessed ability to displace the rhythm while maintaining a firm pulse that is all his own.

The arrangements were complex with a unique harmonic language, yet the whole performance was easy to listen to, with tunes that covered the spectrum from light to dark, yet always maintained the groove. All about counterpoint, each instrument created its own rhythmic space that, on its own, defined only one piece of the puzzle, but together created a compelling polyrhythmic blend.

Moon's raps were nicely integrated. Less hip hop-meets-jazz, his work represented yet another rhythmic part of the polyrhythmic whole. Even when playing in straight time, the variety of conflicting rhythms seemed to work in an odd yet attractive way.

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