Ottawa Jazz Festival 2009: Days 4-6, June 28-30, 2009

John Kelman By

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Days 1-3 | Days 4-6

Amina Claudine Myers / Gary Burton Quartet Revisited
John Roney Silverbirch Project / Julian Lage / Enrico Rava-Stefano Bollani Duo
Andy Milne/Benoît Delbecq Crystal Magnets / Sylvain Kassap Quartet
TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
June 25-27, 2009

With hot, humid weather hovering over Ottawa and a threat of rain that, other than one brief shower, failed to materialize during the first three days of the TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival (OIJF), it was inevitable that at least one show would see a torrential downpour. That it had to be the hotly anticipated Gary Burton Quartet performance, featuring über-guitarist Pat Metheny, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Antonio Sanchez was unfortunate. But more about that later.

As the festival moves into its second quarter, one of its busiest most exciting days was coming up on June 29, with more "can't miss" shows in one day than anywhere else during the festival. And with two lunchtime "Jazz Matters" panels at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage kicking off on the same day—featuring journalists and authors including Mark Miller, Ashley Kahn, Ron Sweetman, Jesse Stewart and others—moderated by Ottawa's own James Hale, there's the opportunity to sit in on roundtable discussions about modern jazz piano and the seminal year of 1959, when artists including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus contributed breakthrough works or performances that would change the shape of jazz forever.

OIJF is also running another new series at the new OLG stage on three days during the festival. The Jazz Workshops series features sessions that will provide a window into such areas as how artists develop individual voices, the worlds of percussion, saxophone and guitar and more, featuring leading improvisers interacting and exchanging ideas for an educational look at how the musicians of today work towards making the music of tomorrow.

And, of course, the late night Jam Sessions continues to be the after-hours place to be. Hosted by local bassist John Geggie and his trio, featuring Toronto pianist Nancy Walker and drummers Nick Fraser and Ethan Ardelli, it's a chance to see some of the festival's artists in a looser, more relaxed context where the only thing that can be expected is the unexpected.

Chapter Index
  1. June 28: Amina Claudine Myers
  2. June 28: Gary Burton Quartet
  3. June 29: John Roney Silverbirch Project
  4. June 29: Julian Lage Group
  5. June 29: Enrico Rava- Stefano Bollani Duo
  6. June 30: Andy Milne/Benoît Delbecq Crystal Magnets
  7. June 30: Sylvain Kassap Quartet

June 28: Amina Claudine Myers

After three days of virtuosic and often complex interaction in the Connoisseur Series at Library and Archives Canada, pianist/organist/vocalist Amine Claudine Myers delivered a solo performance lighter on technique and heavier on spirituality.

Born in Arkansas, and living in Chicago for a number of years, where she was a member of the heralded Association for the Advancement of Creative Musician (AACM) before moving to New York in 1976, Myers has led a career largely outside of the mainstream working with artists including the late Lester Bowie, Henry Threadgill, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra and James Blood Ulmer. Her own work has been characterized by a diverse set of influences ranging from the avant-garde to the blues of Bessie Smith. Her performance integrated many of her interests into a set that was, perhaps, the most oblique of the Connoisseur Series. TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival / Amina Claudine MyersBeginning with a song called "God," which led, as she explained, into "Prayer" and "Ritual," Myers on piano was dark, with her innate classicism meshing with a freer approach to interpretation and more percussive attack. Soundman David O'Heare commented, during the sound check, how there had been four pianists in four days and how remarkable it was that, with the same piano and the same room, each one sounded completely different. Transcending ideas of style, it was all about touch and Myers' was immediately distinct and separate from those who came before her in the series, as she sang a simple prayer before heading into what sounded like some Native American chanting.

Myers' passionate approach imbued "Be I" with a deep melancholy; yet she played boldly as she approached more angular free territory with hard block chords and angular lines that suddenly coalesced and juxtaposed with consonant counterpoint demonstrative of her stylistic breadth. Even though the piece revolved around just two chords and a modal approach, Myers found expressive ways to work around them and keep them fresh and interesting. "Arms" was another song of almost naïve lyrical simplicity—direct in its sincerity as well as its touching sentiment.

The high point of her set, however, was a trio of songs from her Salutes Bessie Smith (Leo, 1980), the best of them being "Dirty No Good Blues" on which, as she sang the line "Have you ever loved a man who was no good," she engaged the audience by first saying "Bessie Smith said that—I didn't," and then urging "Everyone raise your hand who's had this experience." It was the first direct connection with her audience and, between that and her unassuming and heartfelt delivery, set the pace for the rest of the concert as she moved to the Hammond organ for a few tunes.

Myers has an intriguing double-disc coming out soon that features music with a vocal group, music for pipe organ, and more, most recorded live in Europe. Choosing the road less taken, Myers may operate on the periphery, but she's contributed some significant work to the jazz canon and her OIJF performance was an intimate window into the gospel, blues, jazz and classical references that coalesce to make her who she is.

June 28: Gary Burton Quartet

As the skies darkened during opening act of Dave McMurdo's set, it was clear that there was going to be no avoiding a weather storm for vibraphonist Gary Burton's much anticipated set with Pat Metheny, Steve Swallow and Antonio Sanchez, revisiting material from the late-'60s and '70s. But a torrential downpour that began virtually moments after the quartet took the stage and lasted 30 minutes into the group's two-hour set before finally abating tested the dedication of an audience there to hear music that, while it may not have been played for 30 years or more, remains fresh today. But just as in 2003, when a similar downpour kept up for the entire set by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade, Burton's dedicated crowd remained largely faithful, putting up umbrellas, throwing on hooded coats and, in some cases, just plain sitting there and getting wet.

The reward was a set that began with the four opening tunes from Quartet Live (Concord, 2009), but soon deviated to include a broader selection of material, including a lovely duet spot for Burton and Metheny in the second half of the performance—first, with Metheny on his unwieldy (for anyone but him) 42-string Pikasso guitar, and then on baritone acoustic guitar for a driving version of the George Gershwin classic, "Summertime."

Highlights were many. Carla Bley's dark ballad, "Olhos de Gato," featured some of Metheny's most lyrical playing of the set, and an early indicator that he was going beyond some of his trademarks into new territory. Swallow's own classic, "Falling Grace," remains an elegant yet gently swinging inspiration that featured the bassist's own unadorned approach to soloing. No slapping, popping or tapping pyrotechnics here; just wonderful melodies, played with a perfect sense of time and placement. "Syndrome," another Bley classic that's been covered a number of times over the years by Burton, featured a barnstorming duet feature for the vibraphonist and Sanchez—who may be the only non- original member of the quartet (as Burton pointed out, he wasn't even born when some of the material they played was written) but plays with the same attention to detail, interplay and energy as the rest of his band mates.

As for Burton, he was nothing less than his usual impeccable self. A soloist of near-perfection, he made it clear from the first tune, longtime musical partner Chick Corea's "Sea Journey," that Metheny may have a larger name—and attract audiences coming from as far away as Edmonton, Alberta and farther abroad—but he was and remains a relentless innovator and encourager of young new talent, including guitarist Julian Lage, who will be opening for Maria Schneider's Orchestra the following night. Sanchez's position has yet to be determined—though he's been off to a terrific start, since emerging with Pat Metheny Group on Speaking of Now (Warner Bros., 2002)— but Burton, Swallow and Metheny are all important musicians in their own right. Their respective popular profiles may differ, but their contributions and significance are of comparable quality.

The set's second-to-last song, Metheny's "Unquity Road," was another high point in the group's performance, a fiery and change-heavy tune that challenged all the soloists. Metheny's solo was especially compelling, showing how far he's come in over 30 years while, at the same time, making a brief reference to the solo he played in the original version on Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976), his debut as a leader. The set may have lasted two hours, but despite the rain it seemed over almost as quickly as it began, leaving a dedicated audience wet, but more than happy.

June 29: John Roney Silverbirch Project

Canadian pianist John Roney has been making a name for himself, first in Toronto and now in Montreal, over the past few years. In addition to playing with artists including Canadian monster bassist Alain Caron and French saxophonist Jean- Christoph Beney, he's been hosting the jam sessions at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. His work with saxophonist Chet Doxas on Sidewalk Etiquette (Justin Time, 2006) demonstrates his ability to play in more modernistic electric contexts, while his own disc, Rate of Change (Effendi, 2006) is a more introspective affair that might easily have found its way to ECM Records, had the German label been accepting unsolicited material.

Roney's performance at the afternoon Connoisseur Series with his latest project, Silverbirch, finds the intrepid pianist collaborating with Silverbirch String Quartet first violinist Christopher Robinson, looking for new ways to integrate their shared interests in classical music and jazz. Documented on Silverbirch (Effendi, 2008), it features a combination of original material by Roney and imaginative covers of everything from John Coltrane's well-heeled "Giant Steps" to the inspiration for the string quartet's name, the traditional "Land of the Silverbirch," which featured a particularly moving solo feature for violist Jane Russel (subbing for regular Silverbirch member Jamie Arrowsmith).

Continuing the streak of largely virtuosic performers at the Connoisseur Series, Roney's command of the piano is impressive. He possesses an uncanny ability to merge various vernaculars into a seamless whole, including clear references to American composers like Charles Ives and Aaron Copland, tango, folk and country sources—even turning in, at one point, a solo piano version of John Denver's enduring "Take Me Home, Country Roads" that was a nuanced tour-de-force of passion and grace. Roney also demonstrated an unmistakable command of the jazz language that turned the lengthy and complex arrangement of "Giant Steps," with the group elaborating on the tune's relatively simple theme over completely reharmonized but equally complex changes, before heading into a more jazz-centric solo segment for Roney, capably supported by cellist Alexandra Lee's walking pizzicato.

A democratic leader, Roney, who was featured as an unaccompanied soloist on "Take Me Home, Country Roads," saw the Silverbirch String Quartet go it alone on his "American GSus," an at times haunting, elsewhere strangely hopeful, composition for the survivors of the 9/11 disaster. Ranging from curious moments of stasis to more fervent motion, by focusing exclusively on Roney the composer, the work created an even more impressive view of this rising young pianist. Still, his playing throughout the set was consistently moving, as he played with effortless precision, unequivocal virtuosity and refined elegance, qualities that could easily be applied to Silverbirch String quartet—who operate out of Sudbury, Canada.

All-in-all a stunning performance that, by completely avoiding the potential for saccharine often inherent in "jazz meets classical" ventures, suggests new possibilities for merging the two genres with greater success.


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