2013 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival: Ottawa, Canada, June 21-26, 2013

2013 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival: Ottawa, Canada, June 21-26, 2013

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TD Ottawa Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Canada
June 20-July 1, 2013
Having made the decision, in 2012, to broaden its stylistic purview to include not only music on the periphery of jazz, but artists with no real connection to the founding raison d'être of the festival, the 2013 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival continued to bring extracurricular music to its main stage in Confederation Park, looking to both bolster its bottom line and bring a younger demographic to an event now in its 33rd year. While controversy continues to exist about whether or not a jazz festival can be called a jazz festival if it's anything but pure—a subject covered in the 2012 AAJ article, When is a Jazz Festival (not) a Jazz Festival?—there's still no doubt that the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival is a jazz festival. There may be acts like ex-Talking Heads singer David Byrne and his project with St. Vincent and even (gulp!) the Doobie Brothers (more about that in a moment), but during each and every day of the festival's 12-day run, there's so much jazz going on at venues like the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage and Studio, Dominion-Chalmers Church and the OLG stage—a party tent located across the street from Confederation Park at Festival Plaza, which hosts late evening shows largely aimed at a younger demographic—that the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival remains an event still easily and justifiably jazz, keeping its name and continuing to be true to it.

One of the most notable achievements that the OJF has successfully accomplished in its extracurricular programming is to bring prestige artists to Confederation park, whether it's Robert Plant or Elvis Costello, who put on terrific shows last year, or this year's opening night with Willie Nelson, which was a smashing success, according to Director of Marketing, Sponsorship and Media, Suzan Zilahi, a woman who wears many hats but, amongst them all—and despite being seen in almost constant motion during the festival—always manages to take care of accredited journalists and photographers as if they were the only ones covering the festival, thanks to her own work and that of her efficient and friendly staff. Perhaps the only bump in the prestige road was the festival's booking of the Doobie Brothers—nothing but a nostalgia act at this point—but when the festival's original show with the legendary Aretha Franklin was pulled due to serious health problems, OJF, like all the other festivals now stuck with a gaping hole in their program, had to find, at the relatively last minute, something to fill that gap, and finding a group that's on tour, is in the general vicinity and has an opening on that particular night (June 26) is no small challenge.

And so, with the Doobie Brothers matching all three criteria, it may not be the most prestigious find for the festival, but it did bring a large crowd to Confederation Park and so, if nothing else, when it comes to finding acts to bolster the bottom line and fund the smaller shows at the Fourth Stage's Improv Series and Studio series—including the spectacular Dutch group BOI AKIH, Norway's stellar Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, ex-Ottawan, now Euro- resident saxophonist Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask group, British saxophonist Courtney Pine's House of Legends, American pianist Steve Kuhn's trio with bassist Steve Swallow and Joey Baron, and so much more—well, all can very easily be forgiven.

With the addition of Dominion-Chalmers this year—a venue the festival has often used for its off-season programming, so using it makes good sense, even though it's a little farther away from the ground zero of Confederation Park (which abuts the National Arts Centre) and still within walking distance—there was a new and ideal home for acts ranging from gospel maven Mavis Staples, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes and the Fats Waller Dance Party, featuring pianist Jason Moran and bassist/singer Meshell Ndegeocello, to African a cappella singing stars Ladysmith Black Mambazo and, closing out the series, the greatly anticipated Wayne Shorter Quintet, whose pianist, Danilo Pérez, opened the series on June 20 with a trio show that, by all accounts, was absolutely transcendent.

Of course, there's more. While the festival originally canned its late night jam sessions, citing financial reasons—and a small but very vocal group of dissenters demonstrated that there is value in making some noise—a sponsor came in at the eleventh hour and saved it. The problem? Its location in Westboro (absolutely not walking distance to Confederation Park) at the sponsor's club, AlphaSoul. Local bassist John Geggie returned to host the jam sessions, which also featured a core trio of Montrealers Josh Rager (piano) and the ever-inventive Jim Doxas (drums) for the first half of the festival, then replaced by local guitarist (and 2013 recipient of the Jazz Journalist Association's Jazz Hero Award) Roddy Ellias and ex- Ottawan/Toronto-resident drummer Nick Fraser. While it would seem to be inherently problematic in that the best chance of having successful jam sessions is to be located in close proximity to where the artists performing at the festival are staying (if not in their hotel), the festival provided a shuttle service to take interested musicians to/from AlphaSoul, a service which, based on some of the top-tier musicians who went, seemed to work. And, of course, the jam sessions have also always been heavily attractive to local musicians (and those involved in the educational TD Youth Summit) who want the opportunity to, perhaps, raise their game by playing with musicians at a world-class level.

The festival also continues to support local musicians with its series at the Rideau Centre, but it's also giving a select group of artists the opportunity to play in a better environment, the OLG Stage, with noon-hour and 3:00PM shows featuring groups including reformed Ottawa legends Los Gringos, Chocolate Hot Pockets, singer Nicole Ratté's Jazz Quintet, and a trio featuring guitarist Wayne Eagles, pianist James McGowan and drummer T Bruce Wittet.

For the first time, The Brookstreet Hotel, a luxury resort/hotel located in the far west end of Kanata, will also be hosting jazz artists throughout the week, including western Canada's Hutchinson Andrew Trio (bassist Kodi Hutchinson, pianist Chris Andrew and drummer Karl Schwonik, who also played Confederation Park's Great Canadian Jazz series), Toronto's Hobson's Choice, Vancouver pianist Tyson Naylor, and Cuban expat pianist Rafael Zaldivar. It's a smart move as, despite Ottawa's relatively small size, there are those who never leave their residential areas to venture into the downtown area and so, rather than enticing them to come downtown for the festival, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival is bringing it to them.

It's another banner year, with some of the additional acts worth checking out including guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, British saxophonist Julian Arguelles (with the superb pianist Kit Downes in his quartet), the improvising duo of Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee, Cloning Americana (with saxophonist Billy Drewes), rising Israeli expat guitar star Gilad Hekselman and his trio, singer Gregory Porter, the longstanding trio of organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, Canadian saxophonist {Mike Murley}}'s Septet, trumpeter Nicholas Payton's XXX, with drummer Lenny White, a quartet featuring saxophonist David Sanborn, pianist Bob James, ubiquitous drummer Steve Gadd and almost as busy bassist Scott Colley, enduring jazz mavericks The Bad Plus...and trumpeter Tom Harrell, doing his "with strings project."

June 21: Tom Harrell Quintet and Strings

Sadly missing the first night of the festival and what was meant to be a superb performance by the Trondheim Jazz Festival, the following evening at the same venue, the NAC Studio, trumpeter Tom Harrell delivered a show that combined unfettered group interaction with what seemed like, at the start of the show, to be support from a local five-piece string ensemble fronted by cellist Julian Armour but ultimately became something much more integrated by the 80-minute set's midpoint.

Harrell has been working with the same core quintet ever since he began what is now a seven-year relationship with HighNote Records, beginning with Light On (2007) and culminating in last year's surprising Number Five (2012). Still, while this group now has five albums under its collective belt, Harrell's set didn't include a single track from those recordings. Instead, he looked back to three albums dating as far back as 1990's Sail Away (Fantasy), culling its popular title track, to 2003's Wise Children, whose vocal track with Jane Monheit was significantly reworked for his Ottawa performance.

But the majority of the music came from Harrell's 2001 recording, Paradise (RCA/Bluebird), which featured music arranged for a richer, more bottom-heavy string quintet that featured one violin, two violas and two cellos, along with a harpist and quintet that included bassist Ugonna Okegwo, who has been the trumpeter's bassist ever since and remains the unshakable anchor of his current quintet that also featured tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, pianist Danny Grissett and drummer Johnathan Blake, whose The Eleventh Hour (Sunnyside, 2012) turned out to be one of the more unexpected (and welcome) surprises of the year.

Beginning with the multi-sectioned "Paradise Spring," Harrell slowly, softly counted in the string quintet's opening solo passage only to come to a pause, where the trumpeter then counted in the quintet, reiterating the same passage but, in conjunction with the strings, becoming lusher in tone while remaining decidedly balladic. It was only when the third section came, with the quintet picking up the pace and leading to solos from Escoffery, Grissett and Harrell, that the music really began to swing, with Blake proving an effervescent player who, nevertheless, never overpowered the overall group dynamic.

Harrell's tone remains, paradoxically, one of the most buttery and pungent in jazz, whether on trumpet or flugelhorn, and while he largely stood inanimate when he was not playing—and only spoke to the audience to identify the names of his fellow players—when he picked up his horn it was something else entirely. Harrell's ability to get deep to the heart of his writing and deliver solos that combine inimitable ingenuity (that only matched the originality of his writing) with sublime lyricism has always been a trademark, but here, in a "with strings" context that, for some, turns good music saccharine, Harrell managed to sidestep that potential trap with ease.

And his quintet matched Harrell's every move. Escoffery may be a player more often associated with incendiary post-bop, but here he demonstrated a softer side, his solo on the darker ballad "Nighttime" showing not just tremendous allegiance to the needs of the song, but control, in particular in the altissimo register of his tenor. Grissett may have been stuck rather far in the back in order to accommodate the added five string players on the studio stage, but his presence was felt throughout, especially in his particularly lovely intro to "Nighttime." Okegwo soloed rarely, but when he did he demonstrated why he's also been the choice of everyone ranging from saxophonists Bob Belden and Sam Newsome to pianists Jacky Terrasson and Spike Wilner. Blake played with an unorthodox setup where his cymbals were so low as to seem barely inches above the drums, but it clearly engendered Blake's remarkable fluidity, both in support and, in particular, at the end of the brighter "Wishing Well," where he delivered an impressive solo over the rest of the group's ostinato.

While he wasn't brought back for an encore, Harrell enjoyed the response of an audience that became increasingly enthusiastic as the set progressed—reflecting, in ways that most probably could not articulate, a set where interaction and integration turned Harrell's Quintet and the string ensemble into a true dectet—all the more surprising, considering that Armour and his fellow string players only had one rehearsal with Harrell the day before the show. It demonstrated the strength of Ottawa's classical scene that these five players could be brought into this context so quickly and apparently easily, as well as Harrell's ability to lead them through a set of music that will resonate in the hearts and minds of those in attendance for a long time to come.

June 23: Mavis Staples / David Byrne & St. Vincent

The festival's fourth night was an evening of uplifting joy and a reminder of the power of nature, with two separate concerts at Dominion-Chalmers Church and Confederation Park.

First up, at 6:30PM, Mavis Staples brought her six-piece group to Dominion-Chalmers Church, the most appropriate place for this gospel singer to bring, as she proclaimed after the first tune—the positively buoyant a cappella tune, "Wonderful Savior," bolstered by five backup voices which, along with singers Donny Gerrard, Vicki Randle and Staples' sister Yvonne (just nine months older than Mavis), also included guitarist Rick Holmstrom and bassist Jeff Turmes—"I am here to bring you all some happiness, some inspiration and some powerful healing vibrations."

Arriving onstage with a cane, Staples may have been walking a little slowly, and needed both a mid-set break—which gave her three-piece rhythm section, also including drummer Stephen Hodges, a chance to shine even more than it did throughout the rest of the well-paced 75-minute set—and, for a couple songs, the opportunity to sing seated on a piano bench, but her voice was as strong as ever.

Holmstrom may have looked like a businessman when he walked on, but the minute he picked up one of his two vintage Telecasters, he morphed into a visceral, animated, blues-drenched guitarist whose tasty tone, ability to move between the sparest of accompaniment and screaming solos at the drop of a hat, and his constant support for Staples throughout the set demonstrated why this unlikely-looking six-stringer has racked up a resume filled with credits like Smokey Wilson, Johnny Dyer and John Medeski. A consummate showman, he squeezed gritty lines filled with cathartic bends and rapid-fire strumming into solos that would have brought the house down first, had Staples not already done so with her powerful voice and charismatic presence. Turmes---tall, lanky, and, with a set of horn-rimmed glasses and a beat-up Fender Precision bass—looked like he'd just come out of a time machine from the 1950s, his fuzz bass supporting the funkified "I Like the Things About Me" and working, lock-in-key, with Hodges, who was rarely flashy but kept the pulse so in-the-pocket that, long before Staples got the capacity crowd on its feet,—filling not only the church's main floor, but the balcony as well —had them moving like waves in their seats.

Largely culling material from her two recent recordings produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy—the Grammy Award-winning You Are Not Alone (Anti-, 2010) and about-to-be-released One True Vine (Anti-, 2013) (literally due the following day), Staples lived up to her initial promise with a set that was filled with spiritual joy and positive energy. She was also a generous leader, giving her backup singers their own moments in the spotlight on songs like One True Vine's "Can You Get That," where Gerrard demonstrated his surprisingly broad range, and, of course, on The Band's "The Weight"—their 1994 hit with country star Marty Stuart on the various artist release Rhythm, Country and Blues (MCA)—giving Gerrard, Randle and Trumes a verse each. The only singer who didn't receive a solo spot was, surprisingly, sister Yvonne, but there must surely have been a reason, one which the crowd will never know.

After Staples finished "The Weight," Staples screamed out "Levon ... Levon ... LEVON!," in tribute to the recently deceased drummer from The Band, Levon Helm, whose voice helped define the original version on Music From Big Pink (Capitol, 1969). It was a fitting tribute to the drummer who maintained, until his passing, that much of The Band's material attributed to guitarist Robbie Robertsen should have been co-credited to the rest of the group. "Our brother Levon had to leave us, but he left so many memories and so many great songs," she said, asking the crowd to "give it up for Levon Helm" before jumping into the roots-driven medley of "Too Close" (once again featuring Gerrard) and "On My Way to Heaven," where Mavis picked up the baton for a deep-throated rendition backed by Holmstrom's note-perfect, tremolo-driven guitar.

By the set's end, Staples had the entire audience on its feet, clapping and singing; Staples may have continually referred to this as her first visit to Ottawa—having forgotten past appearances like her double bill with the Blind Boys of Alabama, at the city's Bluesfest—but hopefully it won't be her last. In times of trouble, everyone— regardless of their spiritual predilection—needs someone like Mavis Staples to bring a little happiness, inspiration and powerful healing vibrations into their lives.

A quick walk to Confederation Park and it was time for ex-Talking Heads vocalist/guitarist David Byrne to take the stage with St. Vincent for their show, largely drawing from the pair's acclaimed 2012 album, Love This Giant (4AD). Byrne has already surprised many in his post-Talking Heads career by proving he's had far more to give than his work with a group responsible for adding hits like "Once in a Lifetime" and "Burning Down the House" to the rock lexicon, collaborating with other artists including Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso, Fatboy Slim and Brian Eno. Teaming up with St. Vincent (aka Annie Clarke)—a relative newcomer, but one whose well-crafted songs brought her both critical and popular acclaim for her second album, 2009's Actor (4AD)—was an inspired choice for Byrne, as was the instrumental context for the recording: a horn-based set of a dozen intelligent pop tunes brought into the 21st century with the tasteful use of drum programming, hints of synth and a thoroughly contemporary mindset.

As evening began to turn to night, the sky began to cloud over after a day of high temperatures and brutal humidity, like Staples, Byrne got the show rolling with a positive message long before he actually hit the stage. As the sparsely populated, gray-toned stage—with a variety of horns and a couple of guitars lying on the ground, waiting for their players—turned to a silvery glow, Byrne's voice suddenly appeared over the PA system, telling the audience that they are absolutely fine with people taking photos...but that they've put together a show they really like, so they hope that people won't take pictures with their iPads, blocking the view of those behind them, and that they'll enjoy the show by not watching the entire performance through their tablets and smartphones.

It was a tremendously friendly and positive way to encourage the large audience to actually forget about documenting the show and actually enjoy it. And it largely worked as the group came onstage and launched into the horn and acoustic guitar-driven funk of "Who,"'s Love This Giant, a catchy opener and a great set-starter as it featured both singers, together and alone. St. Vincent—looking absolutely unlike her image on the album cover, having reinvented herself as a bushy- haired bleached-blonde—more often than not played electric guitar in contrast to Byrne's acoustic (though Byrne also played electric guitar at times).

As the clouds rolled in and rain began to come down about half-way through the set, songs like "Lightning," a slow-moving but propulsive feature for St. Vincent that came before one of three Talking Heads pieces Byrne included in the setlist, "Wild, Wild Life," from True Stories (Sire, 1985), were somehow a little prescient, as the skies darkened further, the winds picked up and lightning flashes began to pepper the sky. The storm ultimately became so strong that the festival had to pull the plug—temporarily- -on the show, but a surprising number of people hung in for when the group returned to the stage, picking up where it left off and, within just a few minutes dove into a version of "Burning Down the House" that took on a whole new meaning for this particular evening.

The group ultimately only lost one song but, unfortunately, also some of the momentum it had built with its 22-song set before the storm hit, which, in addition to including 10 of Live This Giant's 12 songs, also included material from both Byrne and St. Vincent's individual careers/repertoires. While nowhere near what most folks would call jazz, it was the kind of prestigious extracurricular programming that has made the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival's decision to look beyond the genre's broadest purview a choice that has retained its overall integrity, bringing in artists with plenty to offer in their chosen spaces. Byrne and St. Vincent may well, in fact, go down as the 2013 edition's best non-jazz main stage event, even though Willie Nelson drew more people to his show on the festival's opening night.

June 24: Christian Wallumrød Ensemble / Bob James & David Sanborn / Gilad Hekselman Trio

The festival's fifth day was one of contrasts, from the classically informed aesthetic of Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød's Ensemble and the unexpectedly strong reunion of pianist Bob James and saxophonist David Sanborn, to a performance by rising guitar star Gilad Hekselman that had a lot of people talking before, during and after the Israeli expat's late-night set at the OLG stage, featuring drummer Jeff Ballard (FLY, Brad Mehldau Trio).

First, at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage Improv series, Wallumrød's 80-minute set concentrated heavily on his forthcoming release, Outstairs (ECM, 2013), performing the entire recording (though not in order) with a newly revamped lineup that substituted Sweden's Tove Törngren for the group's previous cellist, Tanja Orning, and replaced harpist Giovanna Pessi with tenor saxophonist Espen Reinertsen—whose duo project, Streifjunko, also features trumpeter Eivind Lønning, a member of Wallumrød's ensemble since the pianist's Fabula Suite Lugano (ECM, 2010). That album also included violinist Gjermund Larsen and the sixth member of the sextet, drummer Per Oddvar Johansen—well-known to ECM fans of The Source and saxophonist Trygve Seim's ensemble, and a participant in all but one of Wallumrød's ECM recordings, including the pianist's previous four-piece ensemble with trumpeter Arve Henriksen and violinist Nils Okland, responsible for albums including 2005's A Year from Easter.

While Wallumrød has far from deserted improvisation in other groups, here, in the context of his own ensemble his music has become increasingly through-composed and rigorous, although the expression of the individual players means that no two performances are alike. What distinguishes Outstairs is a greater predilection for longer form: five of the album's eleven tunes stretch beyond the five minute mark (in a couple cases well-beyond), as opposed to Fabula and its predecessor, 2007's The Zoo is Far's greater preponderance of miniatures. The result is music that unfolds slowly, with tremendous patience and utmost control over dynamics. "Stille Rock," for example, built from near-silence, Wallumrød's piano creating a dark, brooding space over which, with periodic moments of absolute silence, Johansen slowly evolved a gentle but unrelenting pulse, as the rest of the ensemble created long-toned washes for close to five minutes, before their notes began to emerge in crystal clarity.

"Bunadsbangla" was revealed with similar care, this time driven by a simple pulse from Johansen and Wallumrød's muted piano, but with a more immediate melody emerging as the strings doubled the pianist, who then switched to harmonium to blend beautifully with the horns. As much as Wallumrød's music explored a strange place where baroque sensibilities met more contemporary concerns and hints of Norwegian folklore, there was an equal exploration of sound—individual and in combination, as each player employed various extended techniques to both broaden their individual palettes, but to also provide the pianist (who is the group's sole composer) the opportunity to explore a multitude of permutations and combinations. Johansen, for example, moved to vibraphone on a couple of pieces, like "Tridili #2," where low, ethereal metallic tones underscored melodies which floated above, contrasting Reinertsen's almost unbelievably low-register multiphonics.

Challenging music it may have been, but it clearly captivated the near-full house of festival goers who had little knowledge of what to expect, but were treated to a sublime performance of hitherto unheard musical colors, oblique harmonies and the occasional strong rhythms and demonstrations of greater majesty. For the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, it may not have been about individual virtuosity, but as the set progressed and finally came to a close with the renaissance-evoking imagery of Fabula's "Jumpa," the audience was clearly impressed enough to demand a brief encore, Outstairs' closing "Exp," a particularly introspective exploration of a single motif, but one where the harmonies were changed so subtly as to give this three-minute miniature its distinctive form.

Heading back to the park, having already listened to Quartette Humaine (Okey, 2013)—the reunion of pianist Bob James and saxophonist David Sanborn, with bassist James Genus and über-drummer Steve Gadd—it may have been clear that this was going to be a group that didn't lean towards the smoother end of the jazz spectrum that both James and Sanborn have often been wont to occupy over the years, it was impossible to anticipate just how powerful this group would actually be live. From the first moments of the Latinesque "Montezuma"—with bassist Scott Colley (replacing Genus on the tour) and Gadd locking into a fervent pulse that gave both Sanborn and James the opportunity they needed to take some real risks—it was clear that this was going to be an impassioned performance with four top-notch players delivering the goods every step of the way.

It's not that either James or Sanborn haven't got more than sufficient cred, but with groups like Fourplay and some of Sanborn's solo efforts, the music was, at times, too slick, too formulated and a far cry from the saxophonist's early efforts (and work with the Brecker Brothers), or the pianist's support work on so many albums from Creed Taylor's classic CTI Records. The question was: would they really be able to perform Quartette Humaine with the same level of energy and commitment?

Thankfully, the answer was yes. When the quartet was first announced, reuniting James and Sanborn for the first time since Double Vision (Warner Bros., 1988), the question was: would it be a retread of an album (on which Gadd also appeared) that sold very well, to be sure, but was more aligned with the smooth jazz contingent? While the quartet did revisit some material from that record at its Ottawa show, with this stripped-down acoustic quartet, the group demonstrated that sometimes it's not the song, it's the arrangement. Truthfully the ambling "You Better Not Go to College" that opens Quartette Humaine could, with its easygoing vibe and catchy melody, be interpreted in a smooth context, but here, with no synths to be found, it was just a pleasantly melodic tune, driven by Gadd's effervescent swing on brushes.

It's quite likely that, with Gadd rarely touring and last seen in Ottawa with guitarist Eric Clapton, a good percentage of the fair-sized crowd consisted of both aspiring and professional drummers looking for a few lessons on how it's done from one of the instrument's undisputed masters. Unfortunately, with Gadd positioned at the very rear of the stage and seated so low in his kit—and beyond being surrounded by that kit, with chairs, music stands and people in the way—it was almost impossible to see more than his face (expressive though it was, on occasion) and the occasional high-flying stick hitting a cymbal. Still, Gadd, in combination with Colley—a masterful bassist who may not normally be a part of this particular musical clique, but who, once again, proved himself more than capable in any context—created a formidable rhythm team; even if you couldn't really see Gadd, the chance to hear him stretch out and go for it in a live context was reward enough.

Except that Sanborn and James also played their asses off, in particular Sanborn, a player who has somehow managed to successfully fit into any context as well—his sadly gone and unavailable Night Music late night TV series representing the last time network television really took some risk and allowed a musical program to sometimes bring together the most unlikely partners from across the entire musical spectrum. Sanborn may have made massively accessible (and, in a time when records actually sold big numbers) massively successful records, but he has also released more outré recordings like Another Hand (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1991) to make clear that, when he aims for the commercial market, it's a choice—not a restriction.

Make no mistake, James and Sanborn's show was eminently accessible, with plenty of booty-shaking grooves, like the funky "Deep in the Weeds," which featured an especially tasty solo from Colley, who rarely gets to demonstrate his inner funk but who clearly has it. This was accessible music with plenty of depth and, for those who'd shaped their opinions of James and Sanborn on the basis of their smooth jazz work, time to consider reassessing the situation.

Across the street at the OLG stage, guitarist Gilad Hekselman was already playing in the time it took to get out of the park and cross the street into another, waiting to get through a tight entry line where bags were being checked. A little overboard, perhaps, but the laws are the laws, and while it was only possible to stay for 25 minutes or so of the guitarist's performance with drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Rick Rosato it was a terrific 25 minutes. The last encounter with Hekselman was in 2009 in Montreal, when he was a member of clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen's quartet, and so much has clearly changed since then. He was promising, to be sure, but even then, as he executed cascade over cascade of Mick Goodrick-informed arpeggios and broader intervallic leaps, he still retained some of the influence of the vastly influential Kurt Rosenwinkel on his sleeve.

Not that Hekselman has lost any of these attributes but, in his TD Ottawa Jazz Festival performance, his roots have become far more subsumed into a much more personal style. The guitarist's latest, This Just In (Jazz Village, 2013) is demonstrative of that growth, and a significant evolutionary step over his previous recording, Hearts Wide Open (Le Chant du Monde, 2011). This Just In is augmented, on a couple of tracks, with saxophonist Mark Turner, but it's also largely a trio record.

The highlight of this brief encounter was Hekselman's performance of "Nothing Personal," written by the late pianist Don Grolnick and first appearing on (also deceased) saxophonist Michael Brecker's eponymous 1987 Impulse! Records debut. The tune has since gone on to become something of a jazz standard, performed by everyone from drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and vibraphonist Stefon Harris to pianist Joey Calderazzo and drummer Joe Morris. Hekselman's version was relatively faithful in structure, with Rosato anchoring the tune with its signature bass ostinato, but the guitarist took the familiar melody and, while not losing sight of it, extended it into something a little knottier and elliptical.

The trio, situated very close together on the larger OLG stage, was clearly about communication, with both Hekselman and Ballard facing in towards Rosato, standing roughly in the middle. Ballard was as relentlessly inventive as ever, a fountain of ideas as well as a focal point for his trio mates. There was a constant sense of push-and-pull amidst the trio, even when there were delineated solos. It was a powerful but, sadly, brief chance to hear just how far Hekselman has come in four years; hopefully the next time he comes to Ottawa there will be the opportunity to catch a full set.

June 26: Steve Kuhn/Steve Swallow/Joey Baron

With June 26 the last day of coverage for the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, there couldn't have been a better way to say goodbye to the 2013 edition than an intimate evening with pianist Steve Kuhn, electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joey Baron. The trio came together in the fall of 2011 to record Wisteria (ECM, 2012), the pianist's follow-up (with the exception of Baron, featuring a completely different lineup) to his critically acclaimed Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009). It was the first time that septuagenarians Kuhn and Swallow had recorded together for ECM since Trance (1975), the pianist's ECM debut, and if, at their Ottawa performance at the National Arts Centre's Studio, they were moving a little more slowly to their positions on the stage, and showing considerably less hair (with, perhaps, the exception of Swallow's impressive eyebrows), a lot more gray and far more wrinkles, the instant they began to play the years melted away.

Joey Baron may be the puppy of the group (this performance falling precisely on his 58th birthday and, with his almost always shaved head, styling perfectly with the rest of the trio), but since first appearing in the late 1970s/early '80s with artists like pianists Enrico Pieranunzi and Fred Hersch—most importantly, however, truly emerging as the drummer in Bill Frisell's first touring band, recording 1987's Lookout for Hope (ECM) and remaining with the guitarist for the better part of the next decade—he's gone on to become a first-call drummer in diverse projects ranging from saxophonist John Zorn's flagship Masada quartet and guitarist John Abercrombie's recent ECM quartets, including 2012's Within a Song, to avant-songsmith Laurie Anderson and guitarist Jim Hall, whose Live at Birdland (ArtistShare, 2013) was further evidence that even for octogenarians like Hall, age doesn't matter.

The trio's set ran just over 90 minutes, including a well-deserved encore of "The Zoo," heard recently on Sunnyside Records' The Vanguard Tape (2013) but, in that version, without Kuhn singing, tongue planted firmly in cheek, the words he originally wrote for Sheila Jordan when she first sang it on Playground (ECM, 1980), one of two records they made together for the label, but the only one included in the Life's Backward Glances—Solo and Quartet (ECM, 2009) box set. In Ottawa, when he sang the tune as it drew to a close, he even took advantage of a little Français, singing " pourquoi, rather than "why," much to the delight of the packed house.

If Kuhn was being playful with his audience, throughout the set the entire trio combined tremendous cliff-hangers with a kind of joie de vivre rarely seen so blatantly. Baron—almost always smiling—was clearly in good company as the trio worked its way through a set that included two tunes from Wisteria (the ambling, swinging "Chalet" and darker, balladic "Adagio"), a couple of standards (an impressive opener, "There is No Greater Love," and a sublime take on "Stella by Starlight," later in the set), two tunes by Swallow (the lesser-recorded "Remember," which the bassist recorded with life partner, pianist Carla Bley, on Duet (Watt/ECM, 1988), and a particularly lovely version of his more enduring "Eiderdown"), a lesser- known tune from Henry Mancini ("Slow, Hot Wind") and two more Kuhn originals, brought together for a set-closer, the title track from Trance and "Oceans in the Sky," first heard on the pianist's 1975 quartet record, Motility (also included in Life's Backward Glances), and later revisited on both the 1996 trio date Remembering Tomorrow and his "with strings" project, 2004's Promises Kept (both ECM).

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