GuitarNow! 2013, Day Two: Ottawa, Canada, May 4, 2013

John Kelman By

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Bernstein left the stage, leaving Warnock to perform Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova standard, "How Insensative" in duo with Mike Rud, but it was when Warnock exited and Bernstein returned, this time with a fat hollobody electric guitar, to play the Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal classic, "I'll Be Seeing You," where Rud demonstrated that not only is he a hidden treasure on guitar, but as a vocalist as well. The last time Rud was seen at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, he was a significantly larger man; he may have dropped considerable weight in the intervening years, but it has done nothing to diminish his talent. Effortlessly dropping in unexpected unison scat/guitar lines, Rud was practical support of Vic Juris' suggestion, earlier in the day, that it's critical to become so intimate with a song that there's no thinking involved...just playing.

After a short break, Juris and Roddy Ellias began the second half of the evening, also performing "How Insensative," and demonstrating the value of having worked together (the two have performed in Ottawa a couple times in the past few years) and building both a relationship and a language. Most of the other duets were first-time meetings, and there's no discounting the value of that sense of discovery in such contexts, but there's also value in knowing something about how your partner will play so that a sense of trust can be established. The Jobim tune was a good warm-up, as the duo's set moved into originals by both guitarists. Ellias has, in recent years, focused more on classical guitar and, in addition to jazz writing, composing in the classical sphere as well—featured at the Ottawa Chamber Festival as well as proving his ability to leap into a jazz context with virtually no preparation in 2007 when he replaced the unavailable Peter Bernstein with Dr. Lonnie Smith at the organist's somewhat controversial Ottawa Jazz Festival performance.

Ellias' performance on nylon-string guitar was impeccable, and a more percussive contrast to Juris' warm, reverb-enhanced electric tone; still, it would have been interesting to hear the two together, both on electric instruments. Both players proved more than capable of navigating material that, in sound check, looked like it might have some problems—proof of how the energy of hitting the stage in front of an audience can sometimes, magically, bring everything together, Ellias' "What Did You Think Would Happen" was complex in its construction of changes, while Juris' "Sweet Sixteen"—a tune featured on Omega is the Alpha—had its own set of harmonic challenges, but the two delivered both (and the entire set) with a blend of improvisational élan and the kind of relaxed comfort that almost made it feel like a window into an intimate, private performance rather than a live show.

Guitarist Ben Monder—who had only arrived that day and was set for a workshop the following afternoon—closed the evening with a near-30-minute performance that demonstrated why he's held in such high esteem by critics, fans and other guitarists. It's been eight years since his last solo record, the stunning Oceana (Sunnyside, 2005)— and the good news is his follow-up, "eight years in the making," he said, before the show—and with characteristic dryness, "I'm glad it's over"—is set for release later this year, again on Sunnyside.

But while his upcoming recording will feature his ongoing trio, with vocal contributions from longtime musical partner, Theo Bleckmann, and a number of other singers, here it was just Monder: one man, one guitar and a handful of effects that he used to build his relentlessly finger-picked excursion to an overdriven climax so massive that it could barely be contained by the Kailash Mital Theatre. Monder's ability to build on dense chordal ideas, ebbing and flowing while, overall, building a narrative arc that gave the continuous piece a gradually evolving form, made it the ideal closer.

For many of the attendees, however, this was not the end of the evening, as guitarists packed cars and headed over to nearby Naji's, in the Glebe, for a jam session that went on into the wee hours of the morning. And for those who'd signed up for the whole weekend, there was one more day left, with workshops to come from, in addition to Monder, Sylvie Proulx, Jérôme Ducharme, Julien Bisaillon and Okar Graf, and a late afternoon performance by Bisaillon, Ducharme, Mah, Proulx, Raegele and Guilherme VIncens that would bring GuitarNow!'s first year to a close.

Based on the second day, it was certainly a well-organized and successful start, though it would have been good to see a larger audience for both the workshops and performances. One suggestion already being bantered about to bring in a larger group of younger aspiring guitarists is to recruit someone from the rock world like Guthrie Govan, as well as creating concurrent streams during the day, as one thing that would have certainly been good for the jazz day would have been to identify the level required for each workshop. Juris, for example, was clearly aimed at intermediate to advanced levels, while Mah could have provided value to a guitarist at any level.

But every festival has to find its way, and for a first year, GuitarNow! was an unequivocal success that could well put Ottawa on the map as a serious place to come for a weekend of informative workshops, eye and ear-stunning performances, and the chance to jam with some of these world-class musicians in an informal setting.

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Kelman


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