Ottawa Jazz Festival 2009: Days 1-3, June 25-27, 2009

John Kelman By

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Days 1-3 | Days 4-6

John Stetch TV Trio / Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy / Roberta Gambarini
Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio / Jimmy Cobb's So What Band; S.M.V.
The Botos Brother / Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue / Al Green
TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
June 25-27, 2009

As festivals strive to stay afloat at a time when sponsorships are down due to the global recession, the 2009 TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival (OIJF) got a much-needed financial boost from the Canadian government—though the funding came in at the last minute. Still, that added funding, along with the unparalleled efforts of OIJF Executive Producer Catherine O'Grady, made it possible for a triple bill featuring Toronto flamenco guitarist Pavlo, Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra and trumpeter Terence Blanchard to be pulled together in just 48 hours, for a free pre-show on June 24, the night before the festival kicked off officially.

TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival

But even if that weren't enough to make front page news (it did, in The Ottawa Citizen), when the festival line-up was announced back in April of this year, it was already clear that the 2009 edition had far and away the best roster of any in recent years. With an especially strong main stage line-up at Confederation Park (in downtown Ottawa just minutes from Parliament Hill) that includes Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy, singer Roberta Gambarini, the bass trifecta S.M.V. (Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten), Gary Burton Quartet Revisited with Pat Metheny, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Julian Lage, Al Green, Esperanza Spalding, Chris Botti, Wayne Shorter, Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Charles Lloyd and more, there's something for everyone.

And that's only part of the line-up. At the annual Connoisseur Series, in late afternoon at Library and Archives Canada about a mile away, the festival once again focuses on piano with a series of young pianists including John Stetch, John Roney and Robi Botos and more established artists including Toshiko Akiyoshi. Patricia Barber and Lenore Raphael, while the Studio Series in the nearby National Arts Centre boasts a roster including a special performance by trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Stefano Bollani, along with a wealth of lesser known talent nonetheless deserving of broader recognition.

As if that isn't enough, in addition to daytime programming at a variety of indoor and outdoor locations to feature local talent, the Improv Series brings an experimental edge to the festival at the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage, with double and triple bills including Trio M (Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Matt Wilson), Andy Milne and Benoit Delbecq Duo, Christy Doran's New Bag and Trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher. With a particularly strong focus on jazz that's nearly unmatchable by any other festival its size, it was strong recognition of that singular eminence when, as Dave Douglas took the stage on the opening night of the festival, the trumpeter remarked, "It's great to be playing at a real jazz festival."

Chapter Index

  1. June 25: John Stetch TV Trio
  2. June 25: Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy
  3. June 25: Roberta Gambarini
  4. June 26: Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio
  5. June 26: Jimmy Cobb's So What Band
  6. June 26: S.M.V.: Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten
  7. June 27: The Botos Brothers
  8. June 27: Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
  9. June 27: Al Green

June 25: John Stetch TV Trio

Opening a six-date Canadian festival tour that will see him cross the country from Montreal to Vancouver, Canadian pianist John Stetch brought his touring group, featuring Ithaca, New York-based bassist Nicholas Walker and New Brunswick, Canada-based drummer Greg Ritchie, to the National Library, kicking off the 4:30 PM Connoisseur Series with a program largely culled from his recent release, TV Trio (Self Produced, 2009). Stetch feels that the '70s was "the golden age for TV music" and, while that contention might be arguable, there's no disputing the music he chose to adapt which, even when the actual shows they supported were less than high- grade television, worked well within the context of his complex arrangements.

TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival / John Stetch

There were plenty of "it's on the tip of my tongue" moments for the audience, as Stetch and his trio worked through everything from a quirky rendition of the theme to The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and a George Gershwin-esque take of The Love Boat to a balladic look at Dallas, bright and knotty reading of The Price is Right and fittingly dramatic (and, floridly melodramatic) arrangement of Star Trek.

In covering theme music for The Waltons, Sanford and Son and The Might Hercules, Stetch also broke the program up with three originals. The episodic and appropriately titled "Black Sea Suite" featured an especially impressive, Middle Eastern-tinged arco solo from Walker, and a tough chart that wound its way through multiple meters, feels and keys to make it one of the 90-minute set's highlights. "Oscar's Blue/Green Algebra" was a tribute to Oscar Peterson but, while the late pianist's inerrant precision and incredible virtuosity were being channeled through Stetch, his playing was original and unpredictable throughout, taking simple motifs and working them until they were stretched beyond recognition: indeed, he demonstrated a lighter touch and penchant for the oblique that incorporated many of Peterson's markers into something more contemporary.

It's a good thing Walker works in the classical world as well as in jazz, as some of Stetch's charts were sufficiently complex to challenge even the most accomplished reader. Walker and Ritchie were often reading (though Walker, remarkably, had a surprising amount of the music committed to memory), it didn't stop them from playing "off the page." Still, while soloing and interplay were a part of Stetch's music, the emphasis was on the arrangements, which were filled with stops, starts and punctuations—a particularly entertaining one being a dark, dissonant chord that Stetch injected at the point in The Love Boat theme where the lyrics are "Love won't hurt anymore."

TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival / John Stetch TV Trio l:r: John Stetch, Nicholas Walker, Greg Ritchie

That ironic sense of humor imbued both the show and Stetch's between-song patter, especially his introduction to the closing Star Trek theme—delivered in his best, over-the-top William Shatner voice. It was a fitting ending to a set that may have leaned largely towards the cerebral, but never lost sight of the fun component.


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