Ottawa Jazz Festival 2008: Days 4-6, June 23-25, 2008

John Kelman By

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Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-8 | Days 10- 11

Renaud Garcia-Fons / Corkestra / Lee Konitz
Mimi Fox / Amir Amiri / Berne, Anker, Speed
TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
June 23-25, 2008

When you run an outdoor festival you're at the mercy of the weather, but one thunderstorm aside, the first three days of the 2008 Ottawa International Jazz Festival (OIJF) managed to beat the poor weather forecast. And while there was some heavy rain on June 24, it cleared up in time for an evening in the park with singer Madeleine Peyroux.

But the inclement weather had no effect on the indoor shows, and festival-goers were treated to a number of outstanding concerts, most notably bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons' evocative afternoon performance at Library and Archives Canada. Chapter Index
  1. June 23: Renaud Garcia-Fons
  2. June 23: Corkestra
  3. June 24: Lee Konitz Trio
  4. June 25: Mimi Fox
  5. June 25: Amir Amiri Duo with Linling Hsu
  6. June 25: Tim Berne/Lotte Anker/Chris Speed

June 23: Renaud Garcia- Fons

It's too easy to simply call Paris-based bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons a virtuoso. Virtuosity, all too often, can mean impeccable technique but a sacrifice of style over substance and skill over emotion. Not so for Garcia-Fons who, with his custom-built five-string double-bass and an equally impressive trio featuring flamenco guitarist Kiko Ruiz and percussionist Pascal Rollando, put on what may be the hottest show at this year's Connoisseur Series. The notes may have been flying fast and furious on occasion, but Garcia-Fons' music is deeply resonant, evocative and emotive. A recent review criticized the bassist for lacking emotional content, but if he heard what the OIJF audience heard, it's more likely that the problem was with him. The trio demonstrated sweeping dynamics, unbridled passion combined with haunting melancholy, and the ability to build tension to a fever pitch, only to let it drop again with such force that members of the audience could be seen literally falling back in their seats.

Performing music from releases including Arcoluz (Enja, 2005) and the captivating Entremundo (Enja, 2004)—an album that set the precedent for an artist who works on many levels, enduring from the get-go but profound enough to reveal more with each listen—the only challenge of the set was, indeed, catching everything that was going on, since there'd be no opportunity to revisit it again. That's the beauty and the demand of any live performance, and while there was, indeed, a lot of information, the lasting impression was one of fervent energy juxtaposed with lyrical beauty and subtle interaction between Garcia-Fons, Ruiz and Rollando.

In the right hands virtuosity is a means to a very musical end, and Garcia-Fons, with a trio approach that more often than not placed his bass front- and-center, changing the conventional and expected complexion of guitar supported by bass and percussion to a trio where a complete whole is created largely without orthodoxy in the delivery. Garcia-Fons did, at times, provide a greater anchor when Ruiz soloed, but roles often reversed, with Ruiz keeping the pulse and harmonic motion moving forward while Garcia-Fons delivered a series of stunning solos that, high energy or low, were always driven by melody and thematic development.

As unconventional an evolution as Garcia-Fons' approach to the bass is, Rollando's percussion set-up was equally unorthodox. Sitting on a large wooden box that acted as his primary instrument—hitting it with hands and brushes—instead of a bass drum he had a large clay pot that was hit with a large, soft floor pedal. A shaker, normally used by hand, was also hooked up to a foot pedal so he could an additional layer without having to sacrifice either of his hands. He rarely soloed—only once, in fact, during the ninety-minute set closer— but when he did it was as well constructed as those of his band mates— impressive, to be sure, but always linked to the core of Garcia-Fons' music.

Ruiz's solos were in the flamenco tradition, but Garcia-Fons' music stretched the boundaries beyond breaking point to include melodies from the Middle East, Africa and India (at one point triggering a sample of a tanpura-like drone), encouraging Ruiz to search beyond the tradition. A powerful rhythmic player, his fluid flow of ideas and strong empathy with Garcia-Fons—they've played together for many years now—created yet another rich layer to absorb.

Garcia-Fons played with the kind of effortless mastery that made everything look easy, even as his remarkable control over the instrument made it possible to extend the potential of his bass, at times, beyond recognition. Occasional but tasteful employment of sound processing made clear that Garcia- Fons, like so many European artists, is keeping up with a modern aesthetic that looks for seamless integration of technology. His arco, in particular, was stunning as he created long, serpentine lines and, at time, evoked the sound of an oud by hitting the strings with his bow rather than tapping them.

While the capacity crowd spoke to popularity that might have seen Garcia-Fons a contender for an outdoor stage headliner at Confederation Park, the intimacy of the 400-seat theater at Library and Archives Canada was a far more suitable venue where, without any outside distractions, it was possible to become completely absorbed in the music of Garcia-Fons and his trio. This was his first appearance in Ottawa; hopefully it won't be his last.


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