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Day 4 - Ottawa International Jazz Festival, June 25, 2006

John Kelman By

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The diversity of jazz is one of its most appealing qualities. Some practitioners aim for improvisation around written forms that range from bare sketches to detailed complexity. Others prefer to live life on the edge, performing completely improvised music without a safety net. Day four of the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival provided a cross-section of artists, ranging from the relatively accessible and form- based piano trio of Robert Glasper to the total spontaneity of trumpeter Brad Turner and percussionist Dylan van der Schyff—and the music of Dutch trombonist Joost Buist and his group, which straddle the boundaries somewhere between the two but add a complexion all their own.

Glasper is Blue Note's latest piano signing, the label's first since Jason Moran in the late 1990s, and there's been a lot of buzz surrounding his first recording for the label, Canvas (Blue Note, 2005). Much has been written about his fresh and contemporary approach to the piano trio, and there's no doubt that Glasper—supported in concert by bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid—occupies territory shared by both modernists like Brad Mehldau and traditionalists like Bill Evans.

While expectations were high for Glasper's first appearance in Ottawa, he got off to a tentative start with a nevertheless elegant look at Sam Rivers' "Beatrice. His command of the instrument was strong, but his touch was almost too light, even with Reid's responsive dynamics and open ears. Archer kept things firm underneath, but the connection just didn't seem to be there. Despite Glasper's clear lyrical sensibility, the first half of the set was perhaps too inward-looking. And while one wouldn't expect high energy on tunes like these, one might have expected the group to go for it a little more.

As an interesting side note, this is the third show where veteran Ottawa bassist John Geggie has loaned his instrument to a festival performer—proof that more than the instrument itself, a player's touch and even physiology have a significant impact on his or her sound. It was interesting to contrast Archer's tone with that of bassist Hans Glawischnig, who borrowed the instrument for the Miguel Zenón show on the festival's opening day. Glawischnig hit more in the gut, while Archer—an equally fine player—didn't have the same visceral punch.

Glasper may be a young player with a contemporary bent, but he's as rooted in the tradition as players twice his age, making a brief reference to "Satin Doll at one point during a solo. He successfully linked the old and the new, seamlessly segueing from Dave Brubeck to Stevie Wonder halfway through the set, where the trio finally seemed to coalesce and kick into high gear.

When speaking to the audience, Glasper seemed as tentative as his playing for most of the performance. Perhaps it's just the pressure of being thrust into the spotlight too quickly, but it wasn't until the second half of the set that the members of the trio seemed to relax and really start hearing each other. And it was only on the set's last two tunes—the gentle ballad "If These Were Words and the energetic "I Told You So"—where the musicians started to look like they were having some real fun. Reid, loose and intuitive throughout the set, became more animated and powerful, pulling Glasper and Archer along. Glasper's playing became more assertive, giving the other two players something stronger to hang onto, and it was unfortunate that Glasper chose to end the show at this point.

Still, Robert Glasper is an artist who holds significant promise, and it will be interesting to see if he ultimately delivers on his potential.

In terms of intrepid reach, Brad Turner may well be Canada's answer to Dave Douglas. Unlike Douglas, however, the virtuosic trumpeter is also a fine keyboardist and drummer, and he has become a fixture on the Vancouver improvising scene. He's been involved in projects ranging from the Juno Award-winning fusion band Metalwood to the Americana (or, perhaps, Canadiana) roots music of Zubot & Dawson. But he's at his best in purely improvisational contexts, and so his duet performance with Vancouver percussionist Dylan van der Schyff—opening this year's 8 pm Improv Series at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage—was eagerly anticipated.

Van der Schyff has been gaining exposure as well, most notably for his work with artists like Dave Douglas, guitarist Ben Monder and cellist Peggy Lee—not to mention his own recent first album as a leader, The Definition of a Toy (Songlines, 2005). It was with Lee's band, in fact, that Turner and van der Schyff began playing together, and in the past seven years they've developed a simpatico that borders on telepathy.

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