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.


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