25th Ottawa International Jazz Festival - Day Ten, July 2, 2005

John Kelman By

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Day 10 and it's back to regular programming for the Ottawa International Jazz Festival, following the special events on Canada Day, July 1. With the festival's end in sight, it's time to look back and realize just how successful a year it's been. Despite pressures that have been affecting all jazz festivals to bolster numbers, the OIJF remains relatively unique in its steadfast commitment to delivering a programme that is unequivocally jazz. Reductionists might argue with the inclusion of hip-hop experimentalists, The Quartertones, or even the more easy listening sounds of Harry Connick's performance with the National Arts Centre Orchestra; but in the greater scheme of things, even these acts have a place in a broader-scoped definition.
Meanwhile, local bassist Adrian Cho's Impressions in Jazz show at the Library and Archives Canada's Connoisseur Series couldn't be mistaken for anything but jazz. Reprising his nonet performance of Miles Davis' legendary Birth of Cool from last February's performance at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage, Cho decided to make some changes which made it a more successful performance. By rearranging the pieces more democratically so that his fine group—Nicholas Atkinson on tuba, Ian Babb on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, Nick Fraser on drums, Mark Ferguson on trombone, Brian Magner on alto and soprano saxophones, Montreal's John Roney on piano, Elizabeth Simpson on French horn, and Jean Trudel on trumpet—would receive more airtime (as opposed to the original performance which, like Davis' original, leaned on the trumpet as primary soloist), Cho both rectified one of the few weaknesses of February's performance and gave the music a different complexion, retaining its reverence but lending it something new as well.
Taking advantage of the theatre's fine acoustics, the nonet's performance was essentially an all-acoustic affair and the blend of the horns in the hall was close to perfect. Soloists were clear and the group was able to recreate the sonic richness that so defined the original group. Tackling any legendary piece of music is always a risk and the success or failure often depends on how willing the group is to take some chances—in the past year, Branford Marsalis' interpretation of Coltrane's A Love Supreme is an example of the former, with his brother Wynton's more self-aggrandizing reading with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra being of the latter. Cho's arrangements were more inherently faithful and the soloists tended to stay within the stylistic purview of the piece, but there was enough energy and commitment to give it legs.

Magner may come relatively recently to jazz from an R&B background, but after seeing him develop over the past year with performances at last year's jazz festival, the February Impressions in Jazz show, and now this date, he's clearly working hard at it and it's paying strong dividends. His ability to navigate changes just keeps getting better and he's always possessed an appealing tone, regardless of what horn he happens to be playing.

Fraser, who replaces Montreal drummer Jim Doxas from last February's show, has already proven himself to be a flexible player and a quick study this year, as evidenced by his last-minute inclusion, along with local bassist John Geggie, in the Trio! Show with banjoist Béla Fleck and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty on day six, when bassist Stanley Clarke was mysteriously denied entry into the country. Inherently more confined by the rigid arrangements of Birth of Cool, he managed to stay in context while, at the same time, remaining true to himself.

John Roney, whose playing was a highlight of the February performance, continues to demonstrate stylistic breadth and a remarkable ability to get to the core of whatever's put in front of him. Recently heard on Montreal saxophonist Remi Bolduc's imaginative chamber jazz arrangements of themes from Quebecois children's shows, Cote D'écoute, Roney's playing always has the ring of truth. It's authoritative and commanding when necessary, but equally supportive and suitably restrained when required. He has recently recorded a trio date and is currently shopping it to record labels, so keep your eyes and ears open.

Other ensemble members worth mentioning are Simpson, a classically-trained musician who can swing; and Ferguson—who's been all over this festival, leading the late-night jam sessions and taking his own show with local saxophonist Hugh O'Connor and strings to the main stage—exploited a rich tone and expressive ideas that never lost sight of the spirit of the material. And, of course, Cho himself provided not only a firm anchor this time around, but also a short and sweet solo at one point in the programme.

One can't overlook the amount of work Cho has done to bring this show to fruition. Transcribing the Birth of Cool charts himself, he's done a remarkable job of recreating the vibe of the original. And his own composition, "Impressions and Fugue in D Minor, surprisingly married the music of Bach and Coltrane, providing an opportunity for everyone to get one last solo in before the show was over. Once again Magner—this time on soprano—and Roney were spot on, both taking solos that said all they needed to say, despite their short duration.

Cho has plans for even more ambitious projects in the future: Suite Freedom, planned for February of 2006, will see a 25-piece ensemble tackle Coltrane's Africa/Brass and Ellington's Liberian Suite. He's certainly creating a buzz on the local jazz scene. And it's great to see local artists getting exposure, not only on the smaller off-hour stages, but also on the primary ones as well.

For the fifth year, Galaxie, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Continuous Music Network that delivers 45 commercial- and talk-free stations through broadband cable and satellite, has collaborated with the OIJF to bring some of the country's brightest young players to Ottawa for a week of intensive study with saxophonist/pianist Rob Frayne and bassist John Geggie—two of Ottawa's most illustrious artists and music educators. The week always culminates in a main stage performance on the last Saturday night of the festival that is well worth seeing, with at least a couple of players invariably making it clear that they'll be heard from more in the future.

With players from across the country—Halifax's Galen Pelley on drums; Montreal's Richard Rosato on bass, Jacob Henry on trumpet, and Colin Power on alto saxophone; Toronto's Allison Young on alto and tenor saxophones and Daniel Jamieson on alto and soprano saxophones and flute; Peterborough's Jonah Cristall-Clarke on piano; and local guitarist Lucas Haneman—the Galaxie Jazz Youth All-Stars put on a strong performance of known material cleverly arranged by Cristall-Clarke, as well as original compositions from Frayne and a surprisingly mature piece from Power.

The remarkable maturity demonstrated by these players, still in their teens, provides assurance of a future for jazz in more than capable hands. While Rosato had the occasional intonation problem, he more than made up for it with a rich tone, imaginative lines, and big ears. Cristall-Clarke was also impressive for his modernity of musical thinking, as was Power—a creative player whose "Qwigybo, named after a word created by Bart Simpson in a scrabble game, provided an especially strong vehicle for Haneman, a guitarist with an almost frighteningly broad stylistic reach and tone that ranged from clean and warm to distorted and aggressive.

Most impressive about the whole ensemble was its clear sense of "going for it. These weren't unformed players tentatively trying to navigate the sometimes complex material; a clear sense of engagement permeated the hour-long set, marked by total commitment from each and every soloist. And while all of them have bright futures ahead of them, we'll be hearing more from a few in particular—specifically Rosato, Cristall-Clarke, Power, and Haneman.

Following the performance, two awards were presented to the Galaxie Jazz Youth All-Stars: a scholarship award and the Bill Shuttleworth Fund Award—both to be applied to the recipient's study of choice. This year was unique in that both awards went to a single recipient—Lucas Haneman, whose improvisational acumen, intuitive breadth, and exploratory spirit made him the clear choice.

Following the Galaxie Jazz Youth All-Stars performance and awards, the jazz festival also presented its Award of Distinction to two recipients this year—Gaby Warren, whose contributions in a variety of roles have been exemplary; and Joe Reilly, an integral part of not just the OIJF, but the entire music scene in Ottawa, providing programming expertise to events including OIJF and the city's annual Tulip Festival, in addition to all manner of significant media work.

Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers closed out the night, a perfect way to celebrate the success of both the OIJF's 25th Anniversary and the Galaxie Jazz Youth All-Stars. They may not be boundary pushers, but Pucho and his nonet know how to put on a show that's impossible to resist. Many people were up dancing, with the rest hooting and hollering in appreciation of the group's talented players.

Henry Lee Brown, or "Pucho, may not be a Latino, but you'd never know it from his compelling amalgam of Latin rhythms that infused a stylistically diverse programme featuring everything from the funk of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island to the slow burn of "It Was a Very Good Year, the hard swing of "Take the A Train, and even a down and dirty blues. The percussion-heavy performance, bolstered by Pucho on timbales, Tyrone Goran on drums, Santos Riviera on bongos, and percussion and Johnny Griggs on congas, was all about show. Pucho's a born frontman, and even though his singing on "It Was a Very Good Year was a little rough and not quite up to par, any deficiencies were more than compensated for by his ability to engage and communicate with the crowd.

Pucho's band is yet another example of how many fine players are out there working in the trenches—never receiving particular recognition, but consistently delivering the goods. Bassist Tehrin Cole was full of energy, yet never less than completely supportive; between him and Goran, the groove was constant and unbreakable, regardless of the stylistic context. Likewise, pianist John Spruill was an impeccable accompanist and a soloist capable of meeting every demand. The horn section, with saxophonist/flautist Edward Pazant, trumpeter Richard Lee Wendell, and trombonist Michael Grey, created a powerful and flexible front line.

Despite the music's scripting—even in the solo segments where, for example, Cole's bass solo had a clear form that would involve the rest of the group at various points—there remained a feeling of spontaneity throughout the show. And while Pucho and his Latin Soul Brothers aren't necessarily moving music forward, they've managed to create a distinctive combination of Latin and soul jazz, bringing in elements of hard bop, soul, and Afro-Cuban grooves. In a career that spans fifty years, Pucho has shown that good jazz can also be good entertainment.

Tomorrow is the festival's final day, featuring vibraphonist Matthias Lupri and a double bill with saxophonists David Sanchez and Joshua Redman.

Visit Adrian Cho, CBC Galaxie, and the Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.

Photo Credit
John Fowler

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