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

John Kelman By

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Smiles and flat out laughter were fundamental to a show by three masterful players who, with ears wide open, seemed to respond to each others' subtlest gestures. Kuhn has a very personal ability to create seemingly effortless waves of sound, while Swallow has—since first picking up an electric bass after, as legend has it, seeing bassist Jack Bruce when he opened for Cream at San Francisco's Fillmore in August 1967 with the Gary Burton Quartet—developed an approach to his instrument that combines all the necessary anchoring of a traditional role (and an ability to swing in an inimitable fashion) with a more contrapuntal approach, oftentimes a melodic foil for Kuhn and, with his custom-built five-string electric, able to move up into near-guitar range as well. The entire trio's dynamics were especially definitive, but in particular Baron, whose ability to eke seemingly endless tonal variations from every part of his kit- -with cymbals, drums, sticks, hands...even fingers which, when wetted, created a brief low register glissando—was all the more impressive for his ability to move from a tumultuous thunder to a barely audible (but absolutely essential) whisper, oftentimes in an instant.

Kuhn is one of many pianists who are known but, for some unknown reason, not considered in the same echelon as more household names like Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau. Why is anybody's guess, because here, in his Ottawa Jazz Festival performance, he proved his mastery time and again, graciously thanking the audience more than once for supporting "this music, to which we've quite literally dedicated our lives." Equally generous to his band mates, he cited Swallow as the composer from whom he's drawn more material than any other, outside of his own writing. It was a terrific opportunity to see these two fine composers play in a relaxed but manifestly deep way, along with a drummer who may come from a younger generation, but whose own credibility has long since been established, fleshing out this egalitarian trio predicated on the concept of music as conversation—and, in this case, a conversation amongst three friends having a really great time doing it.

The festival continues for another five days, moving onto Montreal on June 28, though only seven shows were seen, they were all winners, each in its own very different way demonstrating the breadth of the festival's largely superlative programming. The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival is clearly doing a fine job putting together a lineup that, in addition to celebrating the rich diversity of jazz, now extends that celebration to the diversity of all music. The lines may often be blurred as to where jazz begins and where it ends—and there were certainly shows that were completely beyond its farthest reaches—with a program that permits those singularly interested in jazz the ability to not only see jazz each and every day of the festival's 12- day run, but to have to make choices about which performances they'll attend, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival remains steadfastly and rightfully a jazz festival.

As ever, with its terrific and ever-helpful staff, ranging from full-timers—Executive Producer Catherine O'Grady, Programming Manager Petr Cancura (now in his second year, and more completely finding his way in the job) and Director of Marketing, Sponsorship and Media Suzan Zilahi, who ensures that accredited media can do its job with a minimum of muss or fuss—to the hundreds of pleasant and hard-working volunteers, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival is always a joy to cover, and something to be proud of as a hometown event.

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Kelman

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