Day 9 - Ottawa International Jazz Festival, June 30, 2006

John Kelman By

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Every year the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Galaxie station sponsors an opportunity unique to the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Galaxie is a continuous music network that provides 45 music channels uninterrupted by commercials or talk. Their commitment to this program has cultivated something which makes the Ottawa Jazz Festival stand out as more than simply a festival that brings outstanding artists to the city to perform year after year, but also one that views the philosophy of nurturing aspiring young artists to be an important part of keeping jazz alive for years to come.

The Galaxie Jazz Clinic All Stars brings together a group of students, ranging in ages from 16 to 21, from across the country, through a somewhat complicated selection process, for a week-long intensive series of workshops overseen by jazz professionals, including some of the very artists who perform at the festival. The workshop also works to turn a group of musicians who at the beginning of the week may have never met before, but at the end of the week is truly a band. The week culminated in a performance on the festival's main stage and the award of two cash grants, to be applied to post-secondary education in a jazz stream.

The primary instructors at the workshop over the years have been two of Ottawa's most prominent and diversified artists- -bassist John Geggie and saxophonist Rob Frayne. At a workshop with guitarist Rez Abbasi, who performed the previous day at the Connoisseur Series, Geggie commented to the young players about just how remarkable it is that, after meeting a week ago, they are now truly a band.

At the close of the 5 pm performance Montreal drummer Marc Béland received the Galaxie Rising Stars Award for $2,000. Peterborough bassist Daniel Fortin was the recipient of the $1,000 bursary from Harvey Glatt, a local entrepreneur who, amongst his own many accomplishments, ran a successful record and audio equipment chain in the 1970s and started CHEZ 106, one of Ottawa's most successful FM stations for nearly 30 years.

This year's Connoisseur Series at the Library and Archives Canada theatre has been widely regarded as one of the best—if not the best—series in recent years. With nary a weak spot to be found, it was also a diverse mix, from the Indo fusion of Rez Abbasi and the incredible explorations of Sonny Fortune and Rashied Ali to the outstanding performances by Brad Mehldau's trio. The final show of the series featured Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen, who first leapt into the spotlight with pianist Chick Corea in the late 1990s, but recently has been focusing more exclusively on his own projects and label, RazDaz.

Cohen is a virtuosic player with a deep knowledge of the tradition, but in the interview that took place with CBC's Andy Sheppard before the show, he talked about how folk music—"people's music," as he put it—is a stronger source of inspiration. When asked about his broad musical influences and the way in which he blends them together, he saied "I never came to think this way, I just am this way," which dovetailed nicely with the sentiments of Rez Abbasi and Vijay Iyer at the previous two afternoon performances.

Cohen's set list was drawn primarily from his latest record, Continuo (RazDaz, 2006) and At Home (RazDaz, 2005), and brought together the same two musicians who are part of the core group on both discs—pianist Sam Barsh and drummer Mark Guiliana, who has his own record out on Cohen's label with his group Neernt, Locked in a Basement (RazDaz, 2006). Both are young players but not only show significant promise, but feel very simpatico with Cohen's personal cross-genre concept. Cohen, in fact, described the two of them as people who became friends first, then players in his group.

Andy Sheppard's description of Cohen's playing—"he surprises the bass"—is an apt one. While the material was an interesting mix of classical constructs, folkloric melodies and jazz harmony, and there were strong melodies throughout, the solos were what made this a strong closer to this year's Connoisseur Series. Barsh would often take his time developing his solos, building in intensity and dexterity. Swaying backward and forwards as he played, there were definitely some of the magical moments where Barsh made it "into the zone," lithe and lyrical. In some ways his overt melodism compares to the previous days' performance by EST's EsbjÃrn Svensson, but without the electronics (although he did have a small synthesizer that was not ultimately used).


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