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Day 5 - Ottawa International Jazz Festival, June 26, 2006

John Kelman By

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While the experience of seeing iconic jazz performers is part of what makes any jazz festival great, sometimes it's more exciting to come across talent you haven't heard of (or, at least, heard) before. Day five of the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival may have featured the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band on its main stage, but the real magic happened off-site.

The 4 pm Connoisseur Series continued its winning streak with French saxophonist Jean-Christophe Béney and his quartet. Béney, a fine tenor player from France who is known to some Canadians for his two records on the Montreal-based Effendi Records label— Polychromy (2004) and Cassiopée (2000)—is, in fact, moving to Montreal later this summer. Based on yesterday's performance, that's great news for the Canadian scene in general, and the Montreal scene in particular.

Unlike those two recordings, which teamed Béney with artists from France, his Ottawa performance featured a quartet of outstanding Canadian musicians. Pianist John Roney is no stranger to Ottawans, having played with local bassist John Geggie, as well as bassist Adrian Cho and his Magic of Miles Davis show at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage back in the winter of 2005. He's recently released his first record as a leader, Rate of Change (Effendi, 2006), and since moving to Montreal from Toronto a few years ago he's established himself as a fixture on that scene.

A remarkable pianist, Roney brings together a multitude of sources into a style that can range from pensive introspection to overt expressionism. Yesterday's performance found him splitting his time equally between acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, and he clearly appreciates the difference in approach that each instrument demands. His solos, as harmonically complex as they often were, always told vivid stories, and the audience's response to his playing was considerably more energetic than the reaction to Robert Glasper the day before.

Bassist Fraser Hollins is an Ottawa ex-pat who has also made the move to Montreal. He's a player with a rich tone, an unerring sense of groove, and ears open enough to respond to his surroundings without losing the core of Béney's deceptive compositions. Hollins received few opportunities to solo, but when he did, he was, like Roney, a player with a narrative in mind.

The surprise of the set was drummer Greg Ritchie. Even though he looks like he's just started shaving, Ritchie's playing was reminiscent of the late Tony Williams, but filtered through Brian Blade's even more liberated and highly fluid approach. Capable of providing a rock-solid rhythm, he remained nevertheless unpredictable in the best possible way, injecting surprising and sometimes powerful shots that may have seemed like non sequiturs at first, but ultimately and always made perfect musical sense.

Béney's writing couched complex harmonic changes in simple melodies. He understands the meaning of space, which made those moments when Béney and the rest of the quartet really let loose and became collectively denser all the more meaningful. Béney plays with a strong tone, but also appreciates how dynamics can sometimes suggest greater power, occasionally blowing so softly as to be nearly a whisper.

The set list was comprised exclusively of Béney's challenging to play but listener-friendly writing. The entire quartet was completely committed from the first note, again in contrast to Glasper's show the previous day. Hopefully when Béney relocates to Montreal later this summer, he'll be able to continue working with this quartet. The chemistry was strong and the performance was filled with many magical moments of pure synchronicity.

A stage filled with more electronics than you'd find in most local stores and a large banner filling the back of the stage are not the norm for the festival's 8pm Improv Series. (However, you can expect something similar at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage on June 30, when Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer brings his group to the same venue.)

The Norwegian group Wibutee is as far removed as it could get from Brad Turner and Dylan van der Schyff's free improvisations of the previous night. Wilbutee's performance (at rock concert volume) was accompanied by a light show that occasionally featured a jarring strobe light—and dry ice would also have been part of the show, had the NAC not prohibited its use. This sort of ambience is not what most people who come to the Improv Series expect.

Still, the first North American appearance of this intrepid group attracted a capacity crowd. The trio expanded to a quartet for this performance with the addition of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Tor Egil Kreken. While the show's structured format was equally far removed from any conventional definition of jazz or the traditional jazz language, it became immediately clear that the spirit of improvisation is an important part of any Wibutee concert.

Woodwind multi-instrumentalist, keyboardist and occasional vocalist Håkon Kornstad was the apparent leader, not only because he spoke to the audience, but because his powerful saxophone, flute and flutonet (a strange hybrid made by placing a clarinet mouthpiece on a flute body) defined the strongest melodies during the group's 75-minute set, culled mainly from their latest disc, Sweet Mental (Sonne Disk, 2006) and Playmachine (Jazzland, 2004).

On saxophone Kornstad revealed a strange confluence of influences—at some points reflecting the inescapable influence on any young Norwegian saxophonist of Jan Garbarek, at others sounding like an updated and more psychedelic Charles Lloyd. Elsewhere still, his percussive tonguing technique and leaning of the bell of his horn against his leg suggestted a less extreme John Zorn. The programmed aspect of the material necessitated predefined solo lengths, but Kornstad made every one count.

It seemed as though everyone on stage was triggering loops at various points during the show. But despite all the electronics, what elevates Wilbutee—something that's equally true of Nils Petter Molvaer's groups—is that they're a playing band. Wetle Holte often triggered programmed loops, but he was also a strong drummer who could rock hard but was also capable of more delicate, almost ECM-like cymbal work. Rune Brøndbo was most often seen playing electric guitar, but he was often triggering electronics at the same time, as well as adding textural keyboard work throughout.

At the end of the performance a nearby audience member shouted "Prog Music Lives! , and he wasn't far from the truth. Wibutee may rely on electronics to build a sound that could be spacious but more often is densely-layered. But their song structures defy convention—sometimes episodic, but other times building up logically from nothing until they reach a fever pitch. And while their sometimes pulsating rhythms might be just as comfortable in a dance club, they are considerably more idiosyncratic than those dance grooves would suggest.

Credit is also due to the members of Wibutee for their stamina—their trip to Canada, where they are performing a handful of dates before heading back home for a series of Norwegian concerts, was a long and arduous one, complicated by delays, and they arrived only a few hours before the show, rather than the planned day before. The start time of was delayed by an hour, but that didn't stop the audience from demanding that the group return for a well-deserved encore.

If they're to have a future as the baby boomer generation age into retirement, all jazz festivals will have to bring in groups which appeal to a younger audience—and, equally, an older but more open-minded demographic as well. Kudos to the Ottawa International Jazz Festival for responding to this need, although they'll have to become even more aggressive in pursuing this line of programming in subsequent years.

Woodwind multi-instrumentalist Alberto Pinton was born in Italy but relocated to Sweden a number of years ago, where he's become something of a fixture, playing on saxophonist Fredrik Nordstrom's Moment (Moserobie, 2004) as well as in their cooperative quartet, Dog Out (Moserobie, 2004).

But he's also led his own quintet for the past couple of years, and it was that group that he brought to last night's 10:30 pm Studio Series. While the names may be new to some, Pinton's group represents some of Sweden's finest young players.

Vibraphonist Mattias Stahl has been to Canada before—once with his own quintet two years ago, and a year before that with Nordstrom. Along with Severi Pyysalo, whose duet recording with bassist Andes Jormin, Aviaja (Footprint, 2006), is an album of understated beauty, Stahl is a player who deserves to be heard more fromDay 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11

While the experience of seeing iconic jazz performers is part of what makes any jazz festival great, sometimes it's more exciting to come across talent you haven't heard of (or, at least, heard) before. Day five of the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival may have featured the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band on its main stage, but the real magic happened off-site.

The 4 pm Connoisseur Series continued its winning streak with French saxophonist Jean-Christophe Béney and his quartet. Béney, a fine tenor player from France who is known to some Canadians for his two records on the Montreal-based Effendi Records label— Polychromy (2004) and Cassiopée (2000)—is, in fact, moving to Montreal later this summer. Based on yesterday's performance, that's great news for the Canadian scene in general, and the Montreal scene in particular.

Unlike those two recordings, which teamed Béney with artists from France, his Ottawa performance featured a quartet of outstanding Canadian musicians. Pianist John Roney is no stranger to Ottawans, having played with local bassist John Geggie, as well as bassist Adrian Cho and his Magic of Miles Davis show at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage back in the winter of 2005. He's recently released his first record as a leader, Rate of Change (Effendi, 2006), and since moving to Montreal from Toronto a few years ago he's established himself as a fixture on that scene.

A remarkable pianist, Roney brings together a multitude of sources into a style that can range from pensive introspection to overt expressionism. Yesterday's performance found him splitting his time equally between acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes, and he clearly appreciates the difference in approach that each instrument demands. His solos, as harmonically complex as they often were, always told vivid stories, and the audience's response to his playing was considerably more energetic than the reaction to Robert Glasper the day before.

Bassist Fraser Hollins is an Ottawa ex-pat who has also made the move to Montreal. He's a player with a rich tone, an unerring sense of groove, and ears open enough to respond to his surroundings without losing the core of Béney's deceptive compositions. Hollins received few opportunities to solo, but when he did, he was, like Roney, a player with a narrative in mind.

The surprise of the set was drummer Greg Ritchie. Even though he looks like he's just started shaving, Ritchie's playing was reminiscent of the late Tony Williams, but filtered through Brian Blade's even more liberated and highly fluid approach. Capable of providing a rock-solid rhythm, he remained nevertheless unpredictable in the best possible way, injecting surprising and sometimes powerful shots that may have seemed like non sequiturs at first, but ultimately and always made perfect musical sense.

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